Toner Trouble


For weeks, students and teachers at Kennebunk High School have been turned away from printers that could only print error messages. The second floor B Wing and D Wing copiers are out of toner, making the library copier the only one in the school that is accessible to students. With these printers out of commission, students on the second floor need to walk across most of the school every time they print their work. As well, the color printer in the main office is running low on toner, and if a single color cartridge runs out the entire printer will cease to work. 

The printers at Kennebunk High School use toner as opposed to ink. Toner is a fine powder that consists mainly of plastic dust and silica. It also contains a few elements such as zinc, iron, and chromium that control its charge. While printing, these elements are activated to give the powder a positive charge. This allows the toner to stick to the negatively charged drum roller, where it melts and is adhered to paper.  

The printers and toner cartridges used at KHS are manufactured by a company called Konica Minolta. To ‘protect’ consumers from inserting bootleg toner into printers, most printing companies embed computer chips on the cartridges. If the chip is absent from a cartridge inserted into the printer, the printer will disable itself until the offending cartridge is removed. This has the effect of ensuring customer loyalty, as well as removing alternate and cheaper toner options from the market, which would be useful in a case where name-brand supply is disrupted. This scheme has worked well for years, but recently Konica Minolta encountered an issue. 

On June 6th, 2021, the Tatsuno Factory in Japan erupted in flames, destroying much of the toner being produced. Two months later, as Tatsuno Factory resumed its operations, an explosion ripped through the factory, causing extensive damage to the structure of the building. It was initially cited as a disruption on the production line, and it was later identified as an excess of static electricity during the second stage of toner drying. Out of an abundance of caution, Konica Milota shut down their factory, effectively halting all of their toner production. They would not reopen for an additional two months. This means that while much of the existing Konica Milota toner was being purchased and used, no additional toner was being created. This has created a perfect environment in which the demand is vastly exceeding the supply. While toner is being produced in Tatsuno Factory right now, many toner-bearing ships are stranded in international ports, and the toner that does reach the United States is rapidly sold and consumed. Every day, more and more toner is being used up without replacement, creating more and more demand. 

For students with printers at home, it would be advisable to use them rather than drying up KHS’s remaining supplies. In addition, every time a paper fails to print due to lack of toner it is added to that printer’s queue, which could have the unfortunate result of using up much of the toner when the printers are finally restocked. So if you can, print at home. If you can’t, the KHS Library remains a good alternative. And with any luck, this shortage will shortly be changing its tone for the better.