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Feature: Leveling the Field

Before coming to ASTM’s consensus standards development table, OEMs and remanufacturers of printer toner cartridges were on anything but a level playing field. Overmatched by the OEMs’ marketing dollars and sometimes harshly assessed by users misinformed about what to expect from remanufactured printer cartridges, small remanufacturers struggled to maintain or improve marketshare. Working within the ASTM standards-development process, however, all players in this manufacturing subsector may have found a way to compete in a fairer environment.

The Problem
As representatives of competing printer cartridge manufacturing companies—original equipment manufacturers, testing facilities, and remanufacturing companies—the members of ASTM Committee F05 on Business Imaging Products’ subcommittee on Electrostatic Imaging are natural enemies. However, for a few days twice a year, they come together as colleagues for the good of the entire imaging products industry.

For remanufacturers of printer cartridges, developing standards in ASTM’s consensus process at the same table with large OEMs has leveled the playing field and benefited this subsector. The cartridge remanufacturing industry is comprised of small- to medium-sized businesses that must martial resources carefully. Sophisticated testing equipment is an exotic luxury beyond the reach of many. Most are pleased to afford suffi-cient numbers of test printers. Sandwiched between the demands of the consumers and the power of OEMs, aftermarket entrepreneurs devote themselves to meeting the challenge of withstanding these two pressures.

However, the threat of extinction from well-endowed external sources pales in comparison to a far more devious threat from within: self-annihilation caused by producing a poor-quality product.

A cartridge remanufacturer that produces an inferior quality product will eventually lose his customer. That customer now has acquired a negative perception of remanufactured cartridges—all remanufactured cartridges.

In this day and age, with all the technical resources available to the remanufacturer, such a scenario is tragic and unacceptable. Yet, it happens often. Recently, a major international organization contacted remanufacturing industry representatives to seek a source for remanufactured cartridges. The buyer failed to solicit bids from the recommended sources, and with no standards on which to base the bid, it accepted the lowest-priced bid. When the cartridges leaked in the printers, the organization returned to buying new OEM cartridges.

Another example of the quality priority dilemma occurred in the industry’s legislative efforts. Three states have passed legislation to limit single-use cartridge purchases and enhance purchases of remanufactured products. The purchasing office in one state conducted an informal survey of agencies’ purchasing opinions. Generally the agencies indicated a preference for new products because the supplier that provided remanufactured cartridges in the past was inconsistent in supplying quality products.

Improvement, But…
On the other hand, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has already issued public statements proclaiming the parity of remanufactured products with new ones. Legislators across the country have agreed and are enacting legislation that gives a remanufactured cartridge preference over new in-state purchasing.

This is good news for remanufacturers. But this necessary first step is followed swiftly by the next obstacle. How does a remanufacturer prove that his cartridge is equal to or better than another? For that matter, how does the customer, state agency or otherwise, have any criteria on which to base a purchasing decision other than price? Using the ASTM system to develop standard test methods for printer cartridges offers a solution as well as the potential for market parity.

The Solution
Working through Subcommittee F05.04 on Electrostatic Imaging, the printer cartridge industry has taken important cooperative steps toward leveling the playing field for OEMs and remanufacturers. Standard F 1856, Practice for Determining Toner Usage for Printer Cartridges, was adopted in 1998 and provides guidance on accurate measurement of toner usage and its subsequent effect on page yield.

This test is an essential cornerstone to a barrage of other planned test methods. It offers the entire imaging industry a definitive method for determining the number of pages a cartridge will produce in a controlled atmosphere. In addition, the new standard will afford the remanufacturer a new sales tool. Printer owners rarely recognize that the OEM page yield is based upon five percent coverage. Thus when a remanufactured cartridge falls short of the stated OEM yield under normal printing conditions, the consumer mistakenly believes that it is inferior. ASTM F 1856 will allow a remanufacturer to approach a customer complaining of yield shortfall with a standardized, independent example of what five percent actually entails.

Since the development of F 1856, a standard test method for evaluating all-in-one toner printer cartridges has been proposed and it builds upon the previous standard in several ways. It provides an overall basis for comparing all printer cartridges, new or remanufactured, based on product quality and integrity. In addition to testing page yield pursuant to ASTM F 1856, it also provides methods for evaluating image density. For cartridges that are transported via a common carrier or in packaging designed for transportation other than by hand, tests are included to evaluate cartridge and packaging integrity.

The implications for the proposed standard test are dramatic, especially for remanufacturers. Once their cartridges have passed the testing requirements, remanufacturers of any size can bid on contracts against larger competitors with the assurance that their product measures up. Moreover, consumers will now have a purchasing requirement with which to select suppliers other than price.

The subcommittee has many more plans beyond test methods to evaluate cartridges. It hopes soon to undertake standards that will address both the quality and endurance of components. The subcommittee’s chairman, Dr. John Wyhof, envisions a day when the standard test process becomes so entrenched that regional associations pose issues that their members encounter, and the committee responds with test methods to overcome the obstacles. Until such a pipeline of information becomes available, Wyhof hopes more remanufacturing industry participants will become involved in the ASTM process, or share ideas for new standards with him if the time to volunteer is unavailable. “There is no end to what we can do,” Wyhof says. //

This article was excerpted and adapted from articles written by Tricia Judge in the March and August 1999 issues of Recharger Magazine.