Appearing as déjà vu for printer users accustomed to cartridges “failing” after a certain number of pages, manufacturer Epson is also accused of sabotaging printers by programming a wear interval after which the equipment simply refuses to work.
Specifically, Epson is alleged to have introduced an automatic “wear-out” function at the firmware level, which once reached manifests itself by inducing artificial failure, with or without a physical cause. Thus, even if low-cost printers shipped by Epson somehow manage to overcome common problems such as cartridge clogging or damage to the paper feed mechanism, the manufacturer would have introduced a mechanism that ensures the inevitable “death” of that printer if it is used too much and still does not break down from “natural” causes.
The strategy of selling cheap printers and expensive supplies led to a burgeoning market for “compatible” cartridges, with Epson and other printer manufacturers caught in a constant race to secure profits, oscillating between sabotaging replacement cartridges and sabotaging the printers that use them. Foreseeing the consumer “escape” into the cheap consumables market, Epson and other printer manufacturers have equipped the devices they sell with a check function to verify the origin of installed cartridges, but have not activated it from the outset, leaving buyers under the impression that they can make a bargain purchase by choosing a printer that allows cartridges to be refilled or replaced with inexpensive compatible products. The “scam” only comes to light when, after a significant number of devices have already been sold to buyers motivated by the promise of the lowest possible operating cost, the manufacturer “fixes” them with an urgent firmware update, which blocks the use of third-party supplies. And if this strategy doesn’t work either, with some users finding ways to continue installing non-genuine supplies, the last resort is a programmed printer failure, even at the risk of costly class action lawsuits in US courts.
A small number of disgruntled consumers will join these class action lawsuits, seeking damages. But overall, the equipment manufacturer stands to gain far more from the chaotic use of DRM systems, blocking supplies and firmware sabotage of equipment that users have paid for in full.
In this case, the error message is for sponge pads used for collecting excess ink. These are activated each time the printer is turned on and are used to clean the cartridges. Based on a known size of the sponges and the average amount of ink absorbed, the “wear” of the printer can be determined based on the number of successive starts, regardless of the number of pages printed per use. According to Epson, damage to the cartridge cleaning pads (through physical wear or ink saturation) can lead to damage to the printer itself. So, after a certain period of time, the equipment preventively stops working. But the cause is not immediately apparent to users and anyway, involving a costly visit to an Epson authorised service centre, is equivalent to forcibly removing out-of-warranty equipment.
The list of Epson printers prone to scheduled failure due to saturation of cartridge cleaning sponges includes several relatively recent generation low-cost models such as the Epson L130, L220, L310, L360 and L365, but could include many others that are at least five years old. The list includes the Epson EcoTank series, sold in large numbers using the promise of low-cost refills and long-term equipment life.
There are already YouTube videos showing Epson users manually replacing these ink pads to bring their printers back to life. Trying to fend off possible legal action, the company also offers an ink pad reset utility, available only for the Windows platform, that can extend printer life for a short period of time. Without giving up the pre-programmed “death”, Epson has provided for the use of this utility only once, with the printer subsequently requiring repair at an authorized service center, or complete replacement.