KM toner issues could run into 2022

Jo Francis
Thursday, October 14, 2021

It could be next year before some Konica Minolta customers in the UK have toner supplies restored, and the manufacturer is now losing sales of new equipment because of the crisis.

KM's Professional Print business accounts for just over 21% of group sales
KM's Professional Print business accounts for just over 21% of group sales

Last month Konica Minolta warned that graphic arts toner production at its Tatsuno factory in Japan would not resume until November, following two separate incidents at the facility in July and August involving a fire and subsequently an explosion. 

Tatsuno makes the patented Simitri HD polymerised toner used in KM’s high-end production digital presses.

KM said it was “highly likely” that the static electricity generated in the toner drying process was the cause of the dust explosion.

Production at its Kofu factory, which makes toner for office devices, has also been paused while a risk assessment was carried out. It will resume production on 28 October.

In its most recent statement at the end of last month KM only addressed toner supplies for its domestic market in Japan. It has provided no further update on supplies for other territories. 

A source close to the situation said that Konica Minolta was also asking employees here to sign non-disclosure agreements in an attempt to keep a lid on the crisis. 

Customers in the UK are also wary of speaking out in case they end up at the back of the queue when supply lines are restored. 

Although one KM client told Printweek that they were “OK at the moment” and said “Konica Minolta are looking after us”, others are not so fortunate. 

A different user of KM’s production presses said they had been told it was likely to be January before the toner they desperately need is available again. 

A separate customer told Printweek: “No one knows or has been told any solid dates, apart from production for toner is due to recommence in late November, so realistically it could well be January until we see delivery of toner resuming to any form of normality.”

The hiatus is also known to have resulted in cancelled orders for capital equipment. 

An informed source told Printweek that customers who had recently ordered KM’s toner-based digital presses had received a letter from the manufacturer stating that it may have difficulty supplying toner and cannot guarantee toner availability until next year. 

Ricoh, Canon and Xerox are understood to have picked up orders as a result. One rival manufacturer said that desperate KM users were also looking to rent alternative production devices to fill the gap: “A lot of people have been ringing us up asking if we have machines available for short-term rental, as well,” the person said. 

Printweek has asked Konica Minolta for an update on the situation specific to the UK, and whether a third-party toner solution – hinted at in a previous missive from Japan – would be an option. 

There are unconfirmed rumours that KM has bought up large quantities of third-party toner. 

In the 27 September statement, KM indicated it could turn to this solution, and stated: “Regarding toners for on-demand digital printing systems, we are trying to recover at an early stage, including adoption of alternative toners.”

A UK spokesperson said that all communications regarding the matter were coming from KM HQ in Japan.

Separately, the secure print portal for UK customers is now live. It is being operated by Paragon Group’s Service Graphics wing and is understood to involve jobs being printed on a range of output devices, at KM’s expense. 

In August Service Graphics installed the UK’s first Konica Minolta AccurioPress C7100 at its new Southern Mail direct mail operation.

It’s not clear whether the crisis afflicting UK customers is being replicated elsewhere in the world. According to local reports in the US and India there is not currently an issue in those territories due to the stocks of toner available. 

Konica Minolta's Professional Print business unit, which includes production print, industrial print and marketing services, accounted for 21.2% of sales and 13.5% of operating profit in the manufacturer's most recent results.

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