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It's Nice to Deal with Pros

By Geoff Baehr

One of the reasons I buy high end, professional equipment is in the hope that, when things break, as they always will, the service rendered will be fast, accurate and professional. Sadly, it's been my experience that paying more does not always ensure high quality service. However, I recently had such superior service that I was frankly astounded, I think you will be too.

I use an Epson 9900 Professional series ink jet printer to print my large format landscape prints. It has been a reliable and ultra high quality machine for the past 5 months. Three weeks ago, I was preparing to print some images from the Antarctica expedition. I turned on the machine and the display read "Ink Cartridge Not Detected - Install Ink Cartridge" for the #9 or Green cartridge. Uh oh !

Being an engineer (I can fix anything - ya sure!), I ejected the cartridge and installed a new one. Same error. Time to call Epson.

Upon calling the Pro products technical support line, I expected the usual maddening tree of phone options "Press 1 if you are frustrated, 2 if homicidal 3 if lunatic fringe", imagine my surprise when I had to go through exactly two button pushes to reach an Epson support person. Three rings and there they were. Hmm.. this isn't like calling my local power Utility.

Jim at Epson listened and said they had seen several bad cartridges, would I like a replacement sent via FedEx tomorrow. "You bet".

Sure enough, next day it arrived and.. the problem was still there.

I called Epson back, same easy 3 rings and James (not Jim) answered, we discussed the issue and they said they'd dispatch Decision 1, their support contractor, to my studio. 15 minutes later Matt Pellizarri from D1 called, when would it be convenient to come out ? We set a date 3 days out, due to my schedule. Also, Epson stages the suspected needed parts to the customer via FedEx prior to the visit, so we needed at least a day to receive them.

On the appointed day, Matt called and told me his travel progress. How many times has a service technician called to report that he'd be a bit early ? Would that be all right ? I think so (laugh).

FedEx arrived with two large boxes of parts right on time. Matt and I dug in to printer, essentially he removed the motors, clutches, encoders, contact board to the get to the ink level detector contact boar and Automatic Ink Detection (A.I.D) controller. This involved unhooking literally dozens of cables, boards, screws and so on. We powered it up once things had been fixed and saw, what's this, a "Fatal Error 1452".

Double 'Uh Oh ! Darn (actually a few more choice expressions of dismay did slip out)'. This took about 6 hours of work to get to this point. Error 1452 means "Ink in wrong slot", which is impossible, as each ink cartridge is physically keyed. It seems that the contact board had bad logic circuits, after discussion with Epson, Epson will remove a known good board from a factory fresh printer and send it on up. Now that's service, break a perfectly good printer to keep a customer happy.

Much discussion with Epson Support in Long Beach, time to swap ink bays. Matt departed, parts on the way. Printer still down. Again, due to my schedule we set a date 4 days out.

One week has gone by.

Matt calls, we set the time, he shows up right on time, parts have arrived. 6 more hours of disassembly, reassembly. The factory is concerned,we learn, they request about 8 test prints, NVRAM dumps, parameter memory dumps and so on for analysis. When was the last time anyone collected data from one of your gadgets in order to fix it. We swap contact boards and hold our breaths. It works ! Much handshaking and congratulations, it helps that Matt is a truly nice fellow, he really likes what he does, it shows.

Ok, let's print ! I roll out of bed the next morning and head to the printer. Power up and "Ink Cartridge Not Detected - Insert Ink Cartridge". Oh no! I call Epson Pro support, usual 2 levels of phone tree, 3 rings and I speak to another knowledgeable guy, they will get Matt back out, more parts will be shipped. The FedEx guy is fast becoming a personal friend. Epson calls back, if this round doesn't fix the machine, they will air freight an entirely new printer to me and apologize for the repeated calls. I call back and ask Epson to please send me 6 ink cartridges for the right side bay, as opening the ink bay lines when swapping the ink bay, if we have to, will lose a lot of ink. "I am sorry sir, Consumables are not covered under warranty, but I'll ask my boss and see what we can do."

Two weeks have gone by, mainly due to my schedule being crazy.

I set the next time with Matt, he arrives very early on the appointed day so we can spend the entire day, if necessary. Now we will swap ribbon cables and main logic board.

You have to understand electronic troubleshooting, swapping everything is not cost effective, incremental testing is the way to go. They are following this plan. Parts arrive, Matt arrives, the close friend (by now) FedEx guy shows up with.. 6 new ink cartridges. Right on Epson, way to go ! Thank you to whomever pulled this off at Epson.

The consensus now is that the Green ink cartridge in question has to be "burped". It seems that small air bubbles can accumulate in the cartridge and cause this failure to appear. Why did 3 different Green cartridges all need this ? We don't have a clue. Burping consists of inserting a paperclip in the ink orifice while gently blowing to a tube attached to the pressurization port on the cartridge via a small rubber tube or straw. We burp the cartridge (outdoors, it makes a mess), re-install it and it works ! We run the entire suite of diagnostics, AID tests, everything seems fine. After running several prints, we are back. We decide to upgrade the firmware, do that with only minor hair pulling and everything is fine.

It seems this bubble issue was a major problem with the 11880 prior model, Epson redesigned things in the 9900 to avoid this, there must be a lot of hair pulling back at Epson Engineering over this.

The summary of the entire affair was that, from the initial contact to the last, spanning 3 visits and about 18 hours of labor, I received the impression that I was the only person Epson cared about, ie that I was priority #1. At all times the Epson support staff was friendly, helpful and knowledgeable. They turned things around overnight for each visit. They set a limit on the number of visits by promising a new machine if #3 did not solve it.

The service personnel on site were sharp, efficient and pleasant, to the degree that they had a weekly conference call among all service personnel and this subject was discussed so others can be advised of this hot topic.

Sure, I had to take 3 days of my time to work with Decision 1, I can hear you saying "Why did it take 3 days to start with?" If you could see the complexity embodied in this machine, you'd be amazed they could fix anything in 3 days . For example, did you know they use the inks to cool the print heads before spraying them on to the paper ? Things like that impress me, complexity wise. This is one seriously complex device.

Needless to say, I am more than impressed. Stunned is more like it. When was the last time you saw service in action like this. Bravo to Epson, I eagerly await your next Pro printer, it will surely occupy a spot in my studio.

It's nice to deal with Pro's !

Geoffrey Baehr
September, 2009


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Concepts: Inkjet printer, Ink cartridge, Printer, Ink, Printing, Hewlett-Packard, Computer printers, Inkjet refill kit

Entities: FedEx, Antarctica, Long Beach, AID, Michael Reichmann, Epson, Matt, Matt Pellizarri, James, Geoffrey Baehr, Jim

Tags: Epson, ink cartridge, epson support, ink bay, contact boards, FedEx, green cartridges, Install Ink Cartridge, Epson support person, FedEx guy, Insert Ink Cartridge, Epson support staff, ink jet printer, Epson Pro support, Green ink cartridge, machine, high quality, ink level detector, Automatic Ink Detection, person epson, Epson Engineering, ink bay lines, new ink cartridges, service personnel, factory fresh printer, format landscape prints, usual maddening tree, parameter memory dumps, ultra high quality, ink orifice, local power utility, high quality service, different green cartridges, products technical support, bad logic circuits, small air bubbles, small rubber tube, main logic board, Matt Pellizarri, Uh oh