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Konica's R1 Introduces New Digital Lab Look



Konica's R1 Introduces New Digital Lab Look

In the minilab industry, Konica has long had the reputation for being a very innovative company in the area of product development but has not been able to fully capitalize its originality at the market level.

I bet you forgot, or are too young to know, that in 1984 Konica rocked the industry with the introduction of its Nice Print minilab, a true forerunner of the compact minilab of today. It featured a 'washless' paper processor that eliminated the wash step, and the need for huge amounts of water in the printing process, and replaced it with a 'super stabilizer.' (If that had been achieved today, Konica would have been given a gold medal by some environmental group.) The innovation was, at first, mocked by all but eventually adopted by the same alls.

Konica's Other Often Overlooked Innovations

In 1992, Konica proved to the industry that it wasn't necessary to manually mix 25 or 50 gallons of chemicals at a time in the back room, storing it in holding tanks and transferring it to the machines in batches-inevitably spilling some on the floor and leaving a permanent stain while en route. They introduced the Ecojet tablet, a solid chemical that dissolved into the water within the machine as needed. This was a precursor to all sorts of innovation for minilab chemistry delivery.

For the past few years Konica has put all of its digital chips on the QD-21 and its various upgraded versions. According to Todd Tereshkow, Konica's vp, tech service and on site marketing, there are about 420 on them installed around the country: about 110 in Brooks Pharmacy (New England); 40 each in Winn-Dixie and Giant Eagle supermarkets; a few more at Ritz and the rest in independent installs.

Konica has always had strength in the cruise ship industry, claiming about 80% of the market with about 100 systems on Carnival and Princess ships. A handful of these are QD-21 installations. Todd reports that the photo operation is the highest profit department on the ship.

If you've been on a cruise you've seen the wall of photos the ship's photographer takes on spec. I was amazed to learn from Todd that 50% of these prints get sold. I was always part of the other 50%.

Stepping Up to the Plate

Now it's 2002 and Konica is stepping up to the plate again. Maybe it's not a groundbreaking product this time, but it is definitely a departure from the QD-21 concept that has been the firm's sole digital minilab entry to now. The lab is called the R1 Super, a fully digital system that was first shown in Orlando in the Spring but is now ready for shipment. This new unit could open some doors for Konica.

Unlike other digital minilabs, or even optical labs, the R1 is not a totally integrated system with the scanner, printer and paper processor all wrapped into a sleek, colorful sheet metal cabinet.

The printer-processor section remains in that category, but the rest of the system is set up very functionally, more like a work station, with a variety of components placed in compartments on a specially designed table. According to Todd, the separate work station is connectible to any of a number of input or output stations.

It is a different look that offers considerable flexibility and maybe the first unit in the business that says, "Hey folks, I don't have to be the showpiece on the retail floor that I used to be. I work for a living and am comfortable no matter where you plug me in-back room or behind the counter."

The introduction is timely for Konica as digital minilabs are entering Generation 2. The $175,000-200,000 versions of the Fuji and Noritsu systems are being supplemented by smaller, lower-output but fully featured units, Frontier 330 and Noritsu 3000 series, hitting the streets at about $100,000. Coming soon (???) is the Phogenix DFX, an inkjet system for $40,000. Somewhere out there, maybe, is the threat of the Kis-Photo Me digital at about $80,000.

If Konica were to continue to play in the game it was necessary to re-think the QD-21, a system that had obviously peaked and may have been dragging along some negative baggage. It was last priced at $129,000.

The R1 Super appears to be the Konica Gen 2 response. According to Todd Tereshkow the system will list at $99,500 though I suspect there may be some lower introductory pricing offered at Fall PMA.

Where does this leave the QD-21? Todd would not admit that the unit was being superceded by R1 stating that the QD-21 was still be offered by Konica and "has not been officially discontinued." Spoken like a man who has an inventory that has to be cleaned out.

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