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How tech has taken printing into new era

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Printing technology has made significant strides in recent years. Designed to provide consumers with a more convenient, efficient, and eco-friendly user experience, the print industry is buzzing with the latest innovations, writes Timothy Thomas, Consumer Channel Sales Manager at Epson SA.

Technology is constantly evolving to meet growing market needs and improving how people accomplish tasks – whether at home or in the office – and the print industry is no exception. From systems designed to help users save money on monthly overheads, to innovative ideas that contribute towards a greener planet, printing technology has made significant strides in recent years. Here are just four innovations that have recently made a major impact on the printing industry.

  1. Ink tank technology – The introduction of ink tank technology caused a shift in the industry that saw printing for small or home-based business become a great deal more cost-efficient and eco-friendly. This ultra-low-cost printing solution is designed to increase print capacity without compromising on quality, with a variety of ink tank options available on the market. Epson, a leading tech brand across the globe, was the first to introduce its EcoTank ITS printers to South Africa in 2014.

The Epson EcoTank range reduces printing costs by up to 90%, and comes with up to three years’ worth of ink included in each box – that’s the equivalent of up to 60 cartridges worth of ink. With the innovative ink tank systems, users can print as much as 14,000 pages in black and white and 11,200 pages in colour before needing to refill. Users welcomed the move, particularly small business owners relying on bulk-printing solutions.

  1. The rise of 3D printing – Once people mastered the art of two-dimensional printing on flat sheets of paper, the next logical step was of course to create a way to bring those prints to life. Using raw materials such as plastic, metal and glass, 3D printers turn digital files containing 3D data into three-dimension renderings using an innovative ‘layering’ process.

The technology was first introduced in the early 1990s and intended mainly for commercial use, but 3D printers are becoming a lot more affordable to the mainstream market. While their uses are virtually endless, with applications from spare car parts made on demand and architectural design, home furniture, jewellery and novelty items, they could one day even drive the democratisation of industry and their full potential remains to be seen.

  1. Kinder to the environment – Whatever the scale of digital innovation, there will always be a need for hard copy prints in a variety of environments – whether it’s official documents in the workplace or photographs of your favourite family memories at home. However, there are ways to lessen the impact that printing has on the environment without having to do away with it completely.

For instance, the toner found in laser printers uses tiny plastic particles that are heated up to melting point, a process consuming considerable energy, and limits the recyclability of printed material. Ink tank systems are not only a cost-effective solution, but also help conserve the environment by utilising inks that are easy to break down in the recycling process.

In addition, innovative papermaking systems like Epson’s ‘PaperLab’ (not currently available in SA) allow businesses and government offices to recycle waste paper without using water[, where it would ordinarily require about a cup of water to make just a single A4 sheet of paper. The waterless system also allows businesses to produce paper of various sizes, thicknesses, colours and even scents on-site, optimising the paper delivery and purchasing process.

  1. Wi-Fi capabilityPrinters that allow users to connect and print wirelessly are by no means a revelation, but this functionality is still one of the biggest conveniences to happen within the industry. Considering the ubiquity of smart phones and other devices, not to mention the growth in popularity of platforms like Instagram, having a quick and convenient way to print straight from your device makes a world of difference, especially for the busy, on-the-go consumer.

Users can easily connect all their devices to a wireless printer without the use of pesky wires that get in the way, with the added benefit of being able to print from the next room or lounging by the pool across the country. For those who prefer having all their documents, pictures and even event tickets stored on their smart phones in the palm of their hands, wireless printing is one of the greatest innovations to hit the market.

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Money talks and electronic gaming evolves

Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.

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The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.

The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games. 

It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.

MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.

“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”

New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.

“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”

Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.

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Blockchain unpacked

Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.

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This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.

A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.

Each block stores:

–           A number of valid records or transactions.
–           Information referring to that block.
–           A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.

Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.

As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.

How is blockchain so secure?

Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.

Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.

In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.

What else can blockchain be used for?

Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.

Use of blockchain in healthcare

Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.

Use of blockchain for documents

Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.

Other blockchain uses

This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things  (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.

Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.

Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.

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