As the time passed , many of these start ups developed into full scale enterprises and are doing very good business these days. With the growth of digital age , increasing computer applications and multiplying printer installations, demand increased in multiples and today it can be estimated to be around Rs 2000 crores industry ( excluding OEMs ). This includes the actual refilling / remanufacturing and ancilliary suppliers.
Technology and knowledge has been the biggest challenging factor for this industry compounded with the policies of OEMs – which are predictably in their self business interest. Developments in China for alternate / option to original cartridges – in the form of new mould compatibles has added the spice to the scenario. Printer manufacturers keep introducing new printer models with new cartridge varieties and add new innovative and restrictive features to cartridges. This makes it necessary for the refiller to learn new technologies and keep making new investments in acquiring latest knowledge. At the same time this also opens up new business opportunities. There are many printer manufacturers like HP, Canon, Samsung, Epson, Toshiba, Ricoh, Konica Minolta, Kyocera Mita, Lexmark, Dell, Xerox, and each of these have sold many printer models using different types of cartridges using different types of parts. This makes it very difficult to understand various technologies and keep inventory of so many hundreds of parts for refilling or remanufacturing.
This industry of refilling and remanufacturing of toner cartridges started in USA around 90s and flourished into large industry by 2005. It spread to Europe and other parts of the world and has got industry status all over the world. As it spread to Asia and China, newer ideas were introduced and the era of new mould compatible cartridges emerged. Today there are thousands of Toner cartridge manufacturers in China supplying new alternate cartridges to entire world market. OEMs are invoking artillery of patents to keep Chinese invasion out of their market share , however the cost difference of original and aftermarket ( compatible ) product has been so attractive that these barriers look very feeble many times.
At present, In India, there should be more than 50000 refillers spread in every district and taluq and providing this service of cartridge refilling. This industry has been highly unorganized by virtue of its nature and had never been able to grow into high level organized business. Because most of the entreprenures are first generation businessmen, they are financially weak, not making much investment in quality and often compromise , use inferior quality materials for cost cutting. Eventually this has become extremely competitive today and quality has been thrown away to doldrums now because of compromise at every step. Thus refilled or remanufactured product is purely a value proposition. However this is not the case with all suppliers and there are many who create identity of their own by strictly practising high quality standards.
One branch in this industry is of MPS – Managed Print solutions. This is very ingenuine method of providing good quality solutions to corporate and institutions and has benefits for all stake holders – meaning service providers and users. This in its real form, takes away all headaches associated with digital printing costs and printer maintenance and is attractive options for large corporate with 25 plus printers. Success of this method has forced many OEMs to adopt to MPS as their selling proposition.
Another challenge for this business activity is slew of taxation. Multiple and nonuniform VAT tax rates in states of India on Toner Powder, Toner cartridges and other parts has created scope for tax evasion. Confusion over how to apply service tax rules , because of high value of material required , has added to complexity. And all first generation businessmen, and unorganized sector by its very nature brings in tax evasion at every step as unhealthy competitor for many who wants to grow as established large players or for those who wants to make investment plans on larger scale.
In nutshell, this industry has plenty to offer as value for users, as alternate option to expensive original supplies,and as protecting environment from waste . However it needs to practice high quality standards and create its own identity. Market size and wider opportunity will help in this endeavour. At the same time , it always remains to be a challenge to look forward to unexpected initiatives by Original Printer manufacturers.
– Penned by Shashank Ruiwale, President of Indigo Prints Smart Pvt Ltd, leading solution provider for refill and remanufacturing industry under trade name of formujet , since last 24 years.