Despite its successful efforts to remain at the forefront of the data storage and medical imaging industries the intensity of competition was keeping 3M's data storage and medical imaging divisions in the red. 3M's management decided to concentrate on its industrial, consumer, and life sciences product lines. By late 1995 3M was sending letters to 12,700 of its employees offering them a place in the new Imation spinoff. Gallup pollsters canvassing the "Imation designees" on their reaction to the plan were greeted with such responses as "shocked," "betrayed," and "apprehensive," and only 75 percent of 3M's data storage and medical imaging workers eventually wound up in Imation cubicles. Two layers of management, five manufacturing plants, seven labs, and some 5,000 jobs had been jettisoned.
Why would Imation succeed where its businesses had failed under 3M? 3M's management pointed to the new company's streamlined operations, which would enable Imation to move more nimbly in its competitive business segments through the "natural synergy" of its product groups, and a new management compensation program that would incentivize Imation executives by linking their pay to the company's fortunes. Finally, as an independent entity Imation would get the attention of Wall Street, enabling it to fuel its growth through public stock offerings. At its inception, Imation would be that rarity among newly minted corporations--a fully developed business enterprise with already-existing customers in 60 countries (most importantly, Italy, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany), no fewer than 10,000 products, an arsenal of 1,800 3M patents and hundreds of worldwide licensing agreements, and the right to market its products under the powerful 3M brand name for three years. 3M and Imation would not compete in each other's businesses for five years.
On Day One--July 1, 1996--Imation opened for business as the world's largest supplier of branded removable magnetic and optical media; the world's leading supplier of medical imaging systems for generating diagnostic images from magnetic resonance, computer timography, nuclear medicine, ultrasound, and other electronic imaging systems; one of the world's largest manufacturers of private-label 35-mm color film for the amateur photo market; and one of the world's largest suppliers of color proofing systems for the graphics arts industry. Its Matchprint and Rainbow printing industry products were industry standards, and it boasted an installed base of more than 7,000 thousand laser imagers for medical imaging applications. An enviable 50 percent of its sales went overseas, and its product lines covered four major markets: information processing, management, and storage (including computer diskettes, data cartridges and Travan cartridges, computer tapes, rewritable optical media, and CD-ROM replication services--41 percent of its 1996 revenues); information printing (including conventional color proofing, digital color proofing, printing plates, image setting and graphic arts products, and carbonless paper products); medical and photo imaging (laser imaging products, laser imagers, X-ray film, "dry" imaging products, film processors, and photographic film products); and information processing services (including technical field service support for equipment, customer service, documentation and training for equipment, engineering and office document systems).
It also stayed true to its 3M roots by unveiling a slew of new products and services, including winning its first non-3M patent in October 1996 (for a Travan RDS minicartridge design). In 1996 alone, Imation introduced a digital proofing system for the printing industry under its Matchprint brand, won a multimillion-dollar contract from the defense department for its medical imaging equipment and X-ray film, and launched a large-format color proofing system that promised to eliminate two hours from the prepress process used in the printing of posters and other oversize printed materials. In the fall of 1996 it announced a further advance in its continuing contributions to the digital revolution underway in the printing industry by announcing that its Rainbow digital color proofing system had been integrated within an automated prepress workflow environment created by Luminous. In a flurry of year-end product launches, it also introduced a Windows-compatible version of its printing workflow productivity software, Rainbow, which had previously been available only in a Macintosh version; installed its 1,000th DryView Laser Imager (only nine months after the product's introduction); unveiled an improved version of its single-use disposable camera; introduced its Image Acquisition Manager Plus system for transmitting medical images across computer networks; and began shipping a compact film handling and processing system.
In 1997 Imation continued to act like a miniature version of 3M by unleashing a new torrent of products and features. In March, technology giant Hewlett-Packard announced that Imation's DryView Laser Imager was its choice for hospital demonstrations of its new ultrasound system. In April, Imation unveiled a software product for monitoring and improving the productivity and security of backup tape libraries in client/server environments, which it developed in a joint arrangement with Sterling Software of California. Later that month it announced the expansion of its Rainbow color proofing software to work with Adobe's widely used PostScript language and through Luminous it unveiled a new software program that would allow printers to send proofs of their printing work to clients via a remote phone line connection for their approval. It also introduced new features for its Matchprint Laser Proof product line that would enable it to move closer to its goal of providing a "total customer solution" for the new age of digital printing technology. Its new PrintersWeb software, for example, would enable printing firms to create an entire web site out of the box, which would allow them to offer clients job tracking, estimating, quotes, customer service, and even over-the-Internet transmission of completed printing jobs via the World Wide Web.
Though admitting that its earnings for the second quarter of 1997 would fall under analyst's estimates, Imation kept its new product juggernaut rolling with the introduction of a new family of RDS cartridges geared specifically to the business client/server and workstation environments, a tape library system that automates tape backup and data archiving for business computer networks, and a new generation of X-ray process films that use 50 percent less developer chemicals than existing products but with no loss of image quality.
Imation was meanwhile holding its own in its most visible and important product line: removable data storage for the business and consumer PC market. Although more and more vendors and computer manufacturers--including Hitachi-Maxell, Fujitsu, and Exabyte--were offering Imation's LS-120 backward-compatible disk drives, the pace of growth was slower than expected despite the fact that Iomega had partially fumbled its early market lead by being forced to recall thousands of its Jaz drives for defects. To jump start LS-120 sales, in June Imation renamed the product SuperDisk, wrapped it in a new snazzy package, and introduced a new external SuperDisk drive that would enable users to switch it from computer to computer. Major obstacles remained in Imation's path, however. It seemed unable to win Wall Street's confidence, and though Iomega had signally failed to make good on its claim that its Zip and Jaz drives would replace the tired-but-true 1.44-MB diskette, so too had the LS-120/SuperDisk. By the spring of 1997 only 15 percent of Compaq's computers came with the LS-120/SuperDisk preinstalled instead of the standard 1.44-MB 3.5-inch disk drive.