“The Great Print Toner Depression”

Toner Spill

Tim Murphy

A photo taken by HHS teachers of a printer toner spill in Workroom 303B. Toner, a powder mixture used in printers and photocopiers to form printed texts and images on paper, is in extremely short supply due to an explosion at a toner factory owned by printing company Konica Minolta in Tatsuno, Japan, making the incident even more costly.

The start of the 2021-2022 school year has seen many teachers presented with an unprecedented challenge, not only at Hopkinton High, but in schools across the nation: a global shortage of printer toner.

“It was brought to our attention when towards the beginning of the school year we ran out of toner in a few of the workrooms,” said HHS Executive Assistant Kayla Sables. Sables is responsible for handling transactions and buying supplies for the school.

“I went to place the orders and they said that quite a few different models had backorders on particular toner styles.”

“We thought it would be like a normal backorder situation, maybe in a few weeks when normally the turnover is like a couple days,” Sables said.

“And [now] it’s gone on for longer than a month. And the school…we’ve actually been having to not print unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

“Every department, the teachers aren’t really printing out packets, they’re barely trying to print assessments,” Sables remarked. “So it has really affected how much paper we’re printing.”

“We have multiple copiers that are still down with no toner and no ETA on when that toner is going to arrive.”

This is due to a fire at a toner factory in Tatsuno, Japan owned by printing company Konica Minolta in July.
According to press releases by the company regarding the incident, an explosion was triggered on July 6 causing a fire in the factory, which manufactures 46% of Konica Minolta’s toner.

An investigation by the company identified static electricity within production equipment as the cause of the explosion.

“We will take countermeasures after obtaining the opinions of a third-party organization specializing in occupational safety regarding the method of identifying the cause, countermeasures, and safety,” stated a press release by KM a few weeks after the fire.

After implementing new safety measures, the factory was reopened for production on August 7, 2021.

Five days later, on August 12 there was a second explosion and subsequent fire. The same equipment damaged in the first explosion was once again damaged, but this time an exterior wall was also damaged.

The Tatsuno plant, as well as a second KM plant in Kofu, Japan, have been shut down until Konica Minolta can convince the Japanese government they have made the manufacturing facilities safe again.

It has been five weeks since the last blast/fire and the plant continues to be down with no updates from KM.

This has had an impact on schools and businesses in the US that rely on Konica Minolta to supply them with toner as well as other printing equipment.

Hopkinton High is one such school and has been working hard to deal with the newfound scarcity of printing.

English teacher Tim Murphy had arrived in Workroom 303B when he learned about the issue.

“I went up to the English workroom, and people were kind of freaking out about the fact that, you know, there was no place to print in the entire building,” Murphy said.

Photo: Photocopier Touchscreen
The photocopier in Workroom 303B, one of only 2 remaining working printing machines in HHS. It has been used much more by teachers throughout the building since the toner shortage.

“From my understanding, we replaced a lot of copiers over the summer, and then when we ordered toner, it was the wrong type for most of the (new) copiers,” Murphy said. “So most of the copiers in the building have not been functioning since the beginning of the year.”

“The one in the English workroom (303B) was functioning, so I saw all kinds of teachers I rarely see up on the third floor using that copier.”

“And then suddenly…last week, it became clear that we were out of toner.”

With no updates from Konica Minolta regarding the reopening of its plants in Tatsuno and Kofu, it seems as though this “Great Printer Depression” will continue at Hopkinton High and beyond.

“That’s kind of where we are right now,” Sables concluded. “There’s really no end in sight.”