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PHOGENIX: Lifting The Veil of Secrecy



On Site —The Minilab Scene

PHOGENIX: Lifting The Veil of Secrecy

By Jerry Lansky

May 2001

The Phogenix digital lab will feature an ink jet output system that will contain six of these 680ml ink cartridges. Colors are: cyan, magenta, black, yellow, light cyan and light magenta.

The veil of secrecy surrounding Phogenix Imaging is being lifted. Very slowly, to be sure, but there are definite signs of willingness on the part of management to let us in for a peak. But, only a peak.

Since I was recently on vacation in San Diego I was invited to visit their offices in Rancho Bernardo, CA, less than an hour drive from San Diego. I figured this was a great opportunity to see if there really was a Phogenix. After all, since the original announcement of the joint venture between Kodak and Hewlett Packard at the PMA 2000 show in Las Vegas, official information has been sparse. These included an April, 2000 announcement that the company had been legally formed followed by an August statement that the name had been finalized. No more 'Joint Venture,' at the least.

Even their 'presence' at three consecutive trade shows, Las Vegas, Photokina and Orlando, was only known to those invited to their back room presentations. Mostly, this was more for info. gathering and introductions to people and concepts, not an offer to sell known products, at known prices, with known features.

I had previously met with their two top execs, Fred Heigold, CEO, and John Ward, VP and chief marketing officer. But only on neutral ground. This was my first opportunity to see Phogenix 'in the flesh'.

Nice Digs
When I arrived at this gorgeous facility in the Southern California hills, Fred and John joked that they had rented the facility and the furniture just for the day to impress me. Remember the movie The Sting? We all laughed. But I did get some fresh paint on my shirtsleeves.

In fact, the facility is for real. Some 65,000 sq. ft. with about 50-60 employees and conveniently located in walking distance from a large Hewlett Packard facility that is headquarters for the division making certain home ink jet machines. Handy for some quickie tech conferences.

I got the nickel tour meeting some of the Phogenix folks, a mix of ex-patriots from Kodak and HP along with some others. Then to the conference room for coffee and Girl Scout cookies to get the latest poop.

Let me say at the outset that I was still not to be introduced to any hardware bearing the Phogenix name. They're not ready to be that friendly to me. In fact, during the tour they called ahead to the R&D lab to say I was being brought down. I was only allowed to look through the window. What I saw reminded me of what a city morgue must look like as all I could see were tables shrouded with black plastic covering odd-shaped things.

All this aside, it is obvious that progress is being made in many quarters at Phogenix. Their reluctance to show me physical things is sort of like my wife who doesn't want me around the kitchen until the whole meal is cooked. Sometimes the preparation doesn't look so good and that could ruin the whole meal before it's even eaten.

The Ingredients
We already know that the system is designed to take any one of the usual digital media input sources as well as negative film and output to paper through ink jet printing. The digital software is being provided by Kodak's Digital Lab System (DLS), used in the Noritsu 2711, with HP contributing the ink jet technology. And while I haven't seen a finished product I know these to be the components: 17-inch touch screen monitor; print laminator; ink cartridges; print heads; 12-inch paper roll; label printer; flatbed scanner; film scanner; and removable media drives.

Nevertheless, there are new things going on in the kitchen, or, more likely, in the morgue downstairs, that Fred and John were willing to talk about at this stage. Not the whole machine, but parts of it that are certainly interesting and innovative.

For example, we know that one of the features of a digital minilab, such as the Fuji Frontier or the Noritsu 2711, is the ability to scan the images from an entire roll of film and put out some configuration of images in a package print layout. This might include a 5x7 and a few wallets on a single sheet of 10-inch paper, or maybe two 5x7's on the sheet. Coming out of the dryer the paper passes through a cutter which makes a cut across the paper at a specific length. It is left up to a real person to then take the print to a table cutter and hand trim each of the pieces of the package print. Labor intensive, time consuming and potential for sloppy cutting. Or, perhaps letting the customer do the cutting.

The sequence of events from the 12-inch width paper exiting the ink jet printer to its x and y axis cutting of package prints, an innovation in a minilab environment.

Phogenix has developed a unique cutting system that will cut on both the x and y axis. In other words not only will it cut across the paper as it passes through the system, but it will slit lengthways, as well, to deliver a fully cut package print to the delivery tray along with the rest of the customer's order.

Traditionally, from day one in our industry, roll paper coming out of a printer has been cut across to length. It seems to have taken some out-of-the-box thinking by outsiders to the photo business, namely HP, to figure out there was a reason to cut in two directions and find a way to do it. I wonder how many minilab product engineers, when they see this cutting system, will say something like, "Why didn't I think of that?"

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