It was back in the early 1990’s at an IMI Ink Jet Conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts that a couple of young students talked to me about work they were doing at MIT Labs. This involved jetting an adhesive in a pattern onto a powder bed. After each layer had been imaged a further layer of powder was spread across the bed and imaged, and so on. Eventually you could blow away the loose powder, revealing a 3D object. I wished I’d accepted the invitation to take a look at it now!
Since that time 3D printing has changed from being a novelty process to a major industry. It is still very much in its infancy in terms of the scale of production and the exploration of what it can do. It has become an easy source for media articles, with the most outlandish claims at times. The frenzy has grown so much that I read a story last year in a 3D printing magazine entitled “How to hype your 3D technology”! Many expect it to lead to a new industrial revolution, transforming the way we develop and manufacture products, in the same way that manufacturing changed from hand production to machines 250 years ago.
There are many different 3D printing technologies, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. At present no one technology can satisfy a broad range of requirements, so normally you select the best process for a specific application. In many cases the restriction concerns the materials that can be used. For instance some just work with a particular polymer, others with metals, rubbers or ceramics.
Autodesk aims to become the 3D printing industries ‘Android’
Many of the fundamental patents for the different processes have now lapsed, which has led to a broadening of the industry. On May 14, 2014 Autodesk, the leader in 3D design and modelling software, announced plans to launch its own 3D printer. But perhaps even more significantly it will allow others to make their own versions of the printer or they can use Autodesk’s Spark software to drive their own designs. This business model is expected to drive up the numbers of 3D printers, just like Google have grown the smartphone market using their Android operating system.
Estimates vary as to how big 3D printing currently is, but it is at least $2B and growing fast. Therefore a lot of companies are exploring how to engage with this fast growing industry. There are a great number of opportunities, from building new processes to developing new materials.
So how do you begin to explore the wide range of process, materials and capabilities 3D ink jet printing has to offer? One way is to attend the 3D Ink Jet Printing course, part of IMI Europe’s Summer School, June 16-20 in Milan. Dr Alan Hudd of Alchemie Technology, an expert in ink jet functional materials, will describe the processes, applications and markets for 3D printing, and then explore in depth the functional materials that can be used. The course concludes by describing the processes and issues relating to new 3D printing applications.
When was the first ink jet textile printer developed? 2002? 1995? 1988? Actually, a lot earlier than that. In the early 1970′s a small consultancy in Cambridge, UK was asked by the large chemical group ICI to come up with a new way of printing textiles – digitally. They adopted continuous ink jet technology and built a prototype that printed 2 colours over a 10 inch wide web of fabric. And it worked (just).
But it was just too far ahead of its time and the project was abandoned. The developers at Cambridge Consultants bought the IP, and the project leader span off an ink jet business soon after. He called it Domino Printing Sciences. Cambridge Consultants went on to pioneer many other ink jet technologies and spin-offs, such as Xaar and Inca Digital. The textile printer may not have made it to commercialisation, but the project spawned a large cluster of ink jet activity in Cambridge.
Perhaps the first commercial use of ink jet textile printing was by the Japanese company Seiren, who in 1989 began building several hundred scanning head printers using piezo drop on demand printheads for in-house production. By 2000 Seiren had gross annual sales of over $100M, supplying automotive upholstery, swimwear and apparel.
Today, after a couple of false starts, the ink jet textile industry is thriving. According to SPGPrints, the digital textile market for 2013 was 310 million m2, and is growing at 24% per year. Yet it is still only around 1% of the total printed textile market of 30 billion m2. However, in 4 years time it is forecast to more than double to 733 million m2.
Ink jet textile printing offers rapid fulfilment of new designs, essential for the fast moving fashion industry, but also a key part of the professional interior design market too. The bulk of the medium and high volume ink jet textile machinery manufacturers are based in Europe, with some of the large players located in Northern Italy. So when IMI Europe decided to hold their annual Ink Jet Summer School in Milan this year it was natural to propose an Ink Jet Textile Printing course.
Running 18-19 June 2014, three experts within the industry will give delegates a thorough overview of the ink jet textile industry. Thomas Poetz, of 3T Consulting will describe the markets and applications for ink jet textiles, the drivers for growth, the main players, and how the industry is likely to evolve in the next few years. Dr Simon Daplyn, Ink Sales Manager at Xennia Technology will describe the various ink chemistries that can be used, and the pre and post processing required. Finally, Paolo Torricella, Product Manager at Reggiani Macchine, just up the road in nearby Bergamo, will teach delegates about building machines, the issues of selecting printheads, architecture options such as scanning and single pass printing, and the system design issues of implementing ink jet in production environments.
Anyone with an interest in this increasingly important ink jet application is welcome, and full details can be found at www.imieurope.com.
Another interesting presentation at the 21st European Ink Jet conference run by IMI Europe was from FUJIFILM Speciality Ink Systems. Jon Harper-Smith described a new hybrid UV ink technology that they have been developing.
A trend in ink jet is towards higher resolution printheads, which tend to require low viscosity inks. At the same time the range of applications for ink jet is growing, and with it the range of substrates that users wish to print on, requiring increased functionality of the ink which tends to increase the ink viscosity.
Conventional UV-curable inks consist of monomers, polymer/oligomers, and other additives. Basically the functionality comes from the polymer/oligomer and the viscosity from the monomer. It is hard to balance these to achieve the required performance. In addition all of the volume of the ink is left on the substrate surface, which can lead to undesirably thick layers for some applications.
The new ink consists of solvent, to adjust the viscosity, and a special hybrid polymer to create the functionality. After the drop reaches the surface, the solvent (which can be aqueous or a volatile organic solvent) evaporates to leave a smooth even film. This is then cured using a UV light source as usual.
The ink is free of monomer, which is important for food industry applications. Because the image is flatter than normal UV-curable inks the print quality is claimed to be higher, and this should suit consumer applications such as labels.
With the apparent demise of Olivetti in Italy as a source of thermal ink jet heads, it was very interesting to learn of developments from Taiwan at the recent 21st European Ink Jet Conference run by IMI Europe in Lisbon, Portugal. One of the speakers, Dr Daniel Lan, Managing Director of IUT, described their experience in developing thermal ink jet technology. This began at ITRI in 1993 and R&D led to the formation of three manufacturing spin-offs. IUT has manufactured 11 million ink jet printhead cartridges over 13 years, and since 2004 a major shareholder has been Asus.
Dr Lan explained that what they have been able to offer in the past has been restricted by patents, particularly those from HP. Although they were convinced their technology worked around IP restrictions, the cost and timescales of challenging any legal action was prohibitive. But that may change next year when in late 2014 a significant number of fundamental patents, including matrix addressing, over-edge ink supply and nozzle densities greater than 300 dpi expire.
In addition IUT is developing some new printheads. Special materials are being evaluated to allow solvent inks to be used. And 2 and 4 inch wide heads are being developed. These are intended for fixed array single pass applications.
SII Printek has been making ink jet printheads using the shared wall architecture for many years. More recently they have adapted these designs to use every other channel, so-called isolated channel technology. This enables a large increase in drop frequency, for instance 35 kHz, and also aqueous-based inks, although the number of useable channels is halved. It also led to being able to produce 3 different drop sizes per nozzle, giving a greyscale capability. Although less well known than other ink jet printhead vendors, SII Printek has a broad customer base.
The latest development announced at the IMI 22nd Ink Jet Conference, Arizona February 1st 2013 is continuous circulation technology. This is implemented in conjunction with the isolated channel technology. Like other vendor’s printheads using continuous flow through the actuator chambers, the priming is fast, fresh ink is always passing the nozzles, and the temperature of the printhead becomes much more uniform, leading to increased stability.
SII Printek ‘s product announcement is the 512 JetFlow printhead with 512 nozzles in 2 rows, a native resolution of 180 dpi, drop volumes variable between 20-150 pl, and drop frequencies in excess of 36 kHz. Oil, solvent aqueous and UV inks can be used. The new head is targeted at ceramic tile and textile printing, and digital fabrication.
This was one of the many new introductions at the IMI 22nd Ink Jet Conference, proceedings are available at www.imiconf.com
We’ve already had one big new technology launch with Landa Digital, but 2013 looks like it goes down with 2. Today HP has announced their latest ink jet technology development – a page-array printhead – together with the first printers and multi-function machines that will use them. These machines are designed to be very competitive to colour laser printers – twice the speed at half the cost.
The spec. is 70 pages per minute in “General Office quality mode”. The printhead resolution across the page is 1,200 dpi and there are 42,240 nozzles. HP’s pigmented inks are used which in conjunction with Colorlok paper should produce strong colours by “crashing” the colorant on the paper surface.
The printhead uses the HP SPT thermal ink jet technology with surface heaters, and generates 6 pl drops at 10 m/s. If the printer is printing at 1,200 dpi along the page at 1,200 dpi then the drop frequency is around 16 kHz. The printhead is intended to last the life of the machine. The printhead is made from 10 dies in a staggered overlapping architecture.
A big issue with page arrays is nozzle failures. The new machines have a scanning optical drop detection system which uses a back scatter technique. This operates while a test pattern is being ejected by the nozzles. If nozzles have failed then other nozzles are substituted to hide the defect as much as possible and avoid visible banding. Nozzle maintenance is via a cleaning web wrapped around a wiping roller.
So, a big surprise? Well, not to the companies who subscribe to our Directions ink jet patent review service. We’ve been reviewing patents relating to this technology over the past year so we could see what might be coming. To find out more about Directions you can visit our new web site www.inkjetpatents.com.
You can find out more about HP’s technology from their White Paper.
Years ago I worked for an IT consultancy. I had an ink jet background, which led to me being continuously baited by almost everyone else that laser printers were for businesses and ink jet was for kids to use at home. Unfortunately some of that attitude still prevails with IT staff in many companies, both large and small. Even today ink jet is still perceived as blocked nozzles, paper feeding problems, and continuously changing ink tanks. As if!
Many vendors have tried to enter the networked printer market with ink jet devices. True, sales of scanning head printers into businesses is growing, but they are increasingly competing against colour laser printers which are still getting cheaper each year. Colour laser tends to be faster than ink jet, or it was until Memjet came along.
We’ve talked about Memjet’s 60 page per minute desk-top printer before. It is actually a fairly simple device, particularly compared to colour laser printers, and much faster. There is a single page-wide printhead, simple paper feed, four ink tanks and that’s it. No need for the complexities and multiple consumables of colour laser printers. The current generation of Memjet printers use aqueous dye-based inks, which means there is some sensitivity of image quality and optical density to the paper used. But what so many people seem to forget is that to get the best out of any printer – including colour laser printers – you should choose an appropriate paper type. It’s not like there is no choice!
So how will Memjet get their printers into the market? Retail outlets attract customers who print 6 pages per month, not 60 pages per minute. The Memjet printer is well suited to SMEs who use dealers for business equipment. In what Memjet hope is a “win-win” offering, customers will be offered an “all-in” pricing model. For a fixed monthly payment ranging from £49-£149 per month you get all of your printing costs paid for – machine, inks – everything except the paper. It doesn’t matter whether you print in black and white or colour, or what the area coverage is, the cost is the same. What happens if you exceed your monthly page allowance? Just like a mobile phone contract you are charged for the extra pages. The printer hooks up to a phone line, so tells the dealer how many pages you have printed, and when the ink is running out. For the customer they have fixed printing costs, for the dealer a regular income with consumables supply.
At the Memjet UK launch last week, slogan “Speed Wins”, guests could have their photo taken with Olympic Gold Medal cyclist Victoria Pendleton. The photos were of course printed out on a Memjet printer, and I attach a print sample. Thankfully there was a suitable delay between the camera flash and the print coming out so we could have a little chat. Evidently the weight of carrying the medals around is taking it’s toll on her handbag. The downside of being an Olympic athlete!
Lexmark International announced on August 28. 2012 that it is exiting the ink jet printer business. The company will continue to provide service, support and consumables for owners of its ink jet devices, but will discontinue R&D and manufacturing of ink jet devices, effective immediately. This action is expected to save $95 million annually, while resulting in 1,700 layoffs, including 1,100 in its Philippines manufacturing facility and 550 at its Lexington, Kentucky headquarters.
This is not really surprising, as Lexmark has been attempting to sell the ink jet business for some time, and rumors of its exit abounded. Still, it is a shock to see a major player exit the market after more than twenty years of participation. The company had already abandoned the low end of the consumer market in 2008 and launched a line of improved business-class ink jets in 2009. But like its rivals in ink jet, Lexmark was unable to convince businesses – especially corporations – to abandon laser technology for ink jet. Ink jet printers made up only 5% of the company’s hardware revenue in 2012 to date.
Lexmark has also tried to find other applications for its ink jet technology, with very limited success. It’s only major success came with OEM customer Dell, which most recently carried two Dell-branded Lexmark ink jet models.
It would seem to make sense for a printer company that lacks ink jet technology, such as Samsung or Seine (Ninestar of China), to acquire the Lexmark ink jet business, but with the consumer printer market in decline, apparently no one came forward. Perhaps someone will acquire Lexmark’s portfolio of ink jet patents, which numbers about 1,000 and is for sale.
Just last week, Kodak indicated that it does not consider its consumer ink jet line a core business and is likely to sell or close it. Kodak entered that market in 2007.
As Mark Twain said on reading his obituary in the New York Journal, “the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated”.
So too for Olivetti’s ink jet operations, as further to my previous post about the liquidating Olivetti’s ink jet operations, it now appears that a group of industrial investors may be successful in keeping the ink jet business going. This could be great news and we look forward to receiving more information soon.
Recently there came the sad news that Olivetti is liquidating its ink jet activities and seeking a buyer. For some years the major printer product line has been fax machines, which is a declining market. Of course it may be a surprise to many that Olivetti was even in the ink jet business.
Olivetti has a long history of ink jet technology. Back in the 1980’s they developed some unique technologies, such as spark jet printing. A spark caused a small amount of carbon to blast out of a nozzle in the end of a glass tube and form a mark on the substrate. At that time even impact dot matrix printers were expensive, and the dry spark jet printer offered a low-cost solution for the growing computer market.
Then came liquid spark jet, which I don’t think was commercialised, and work with piezo technology. But the big step forward came in 1990 when Olivetti showed their first bubble jet printer and joined the small club of desktop printer vendors.
However the Olivetti printer range was rarely seen outside of Europe, and a lot of sales were on the back of enterprise computer installations. As the desktop printer market matured over the past decade, the lack of a worldwide sales base meant shipments were at a much lower level compared to their competitors with corresponding higher costs. And sometimes the stylish and quirky Italian printer designs didn’t appeal to markets used to the more conservative looking offerings of HP and Japanese vendors.
Over the last 5 years Olivetti has been leveraging its low-cost thermal ink jet printhead technology for industrial applications. They put together a credible set of printheads, mechanisms, modules and support systems to enable OEMs to develop products using a wide range of fluids. Although piezo technology is the choice for most non-office applications it has a major drawback – high cost. If you want to develop a product using ink jet technology that will sell for $1-2,000 it is very difficult to use anything other than thermal ink jet.
Olivetti i-Jet was making it easy for developers to work with cost-effective ink jet technology and the options for the future are considerably reduced. Today the industry focus of ink jet developments is in ever faster and more productive machines, some of which run to multi-$M prices. But there are hundreds of applications for printing where a small desk-top printer to do a specific task is needed. These range from cake decorations, industrial printing and labelling of components, laboratory applications for medical and bio-sciences and so on.
The loss of Olivetti from the ink jet world would be not just the lost jobs of a few hundred people in North-West Italy, but the loss of lots of potential products that are being developed, or could have in the future. Let’s hope a buyer comes forward. In any case printhead production and support will be available from Olivetti for the rest of 2012.
If you have an interest in the liquidation, the contact is:
President and CEO
Olivetti I-Jet S.p.A
For the past couple of months we’ve heard snippets of information about Benny Landa’s new digital printing technology nanography. Yesterday at Drupa, the biggest printing industry show in the world, while everyone else was desperately trying to finish building their stands and get their machines working ready for today’s opening, Landa revealed his technology to the world’s press.
Standing between two large digital presses with huge touch screen interfaces for their front covers, the charismatic Benny Landa claimed “its great to be back”. “It was all meant to be a big secret and surprise” said Benny, but in March an Israeli finance company had let slip that Landa Labs was preparing to launch digital presses. Since then we’ve been told that Nanography uses aqueous ink containing nano particle pigments. Ink ejectors are used to print at high resolution.
Yesterday we learnt much more. The ink is capable of being jetted by any type of ink jet printhead, piezo or thermal, but for the moment piezo heads are used. Benny says the heads are modified to suit the ink, which we believe may mean tuning for the optimum drop volume and drop break-off and perhaps ensuring materials compatibility. The printheads print vertically downwards depositing the drops on to a moving heated transfer belt. This is kept at a surface temperature of around 120C and most of the carrier liquid water is driven off. The aim is to work towards a target life of 500,000 impressions life for the belt, which will be operator changeable.
There is provision for up to 8 printheads and hence colours. The belt is brought into contact with the paper sheets or web during its reverse pass and the image, said at this stage to be like a thermoplastic film just 500 nm thick, is totally transferred to the paper. No further fixing of the image is required, nor any post treatment or coating. Duplex printing is achieved in the sheet-fed machines by printing the front and back images successively along the belt, transferring the front image to the sheet, reversing the sheet and then making a second transfer onto the reverse side. With the web press the front and back of the web is printed side by side on the belt, and the web makes two contacts with the transfer belt with a turning bar in between.
The process is claimed to work well on any type of paper – coated or uncoated – as well as a range of common plastic films and foils making it suitable for packaging printing. Benny explained that at this stage many image defects are visible as the machines are still in development. Having learnt from previous mistakes these machines will not be shipped until everything is working and the technology reliable, which realistically means 18 months time at the earliest.
Landa Corporation will be selling presses themselves, but has also announced three partners – there are more on the way – who will use the technology within their own machines. Komori, Manroland Sheetfed and Heidelberg have been announced so far. In all cases Landa will manufacture and supply the ink and other consumables, such as the transfer belt.
Landa’s strategy is as follows. Businesses aren’t buying conventional presses like they used to – sales have dropped by 50% in the past 5 years. Although growth in pages printed digitally is huge and there’s a choice of digital presses on the market, at present only 2% of pages are printed digitally. Although digital media will take over from print in commercial markets over the next few decades, other areas like packaging will remain. So overall there is still a huge potential market for digital presses. The tough economic times, the poor outlook for print against social media and the rapid obsolescence of digital technology hold the market back. By offering the same technology from multiple vendors the fear of buying the “wrong” technology disappears, just as VCR sales took off once there was a clear winning format.
The economics of the Nanographic process will also help. There is a clear aim to match the cost of ownership and cost per page of offset presses, so there will be no need for printing companies to chase personalisation-type jobs, they can use these machines for any run length. The cost of the presses is forecast to be similar to high-end offset presses of similar throughput. Full details of the initial range of Nanographic presses can be found on the Landa web site at www.landanano.com .
Although the current presses will be aimed at commercial printing and packaging markets, Benny also expects the process will move eventually to office markets too.
So, where did the funding come from for 10 years of development? Well, it’s effectively self-funded by Benny Landa himself from the proceeds he made with his previous generation technology. Landa Corporation has four units – the Landa Fund helping economically disadvantaged youth, Landa Ventures investing in technologies of the future, Landa Labs working on energy harvesting, drug delivery and personal care, and Landa Digital Printing.
There is still plenty of work to do behind the glossy exterior of the machines. The banding visible in the image indicates there is more optimisation of the ink for the printhead and perhaps transfer belt. Over the past two decades we have seen many times in the patent literature proposals to print aqueous-based inks onto a transfer surface, drive off the water, then transfer the image to paper, but none has been commercialised. But heated belts and transfer were at the heart of Landa’s Indigo technology too, so if anyone can succeed Landa can.
Far from relaxing, Benny Landa is obviously enjoying the development of this new technology. Asked when he might consider retiring Benny immediately responded “never!” “One day someone will find me lying by the side of a machine!” Let’s hope that doesn’t come anytime soon.
Being a large and growing print show, the demand for hotel rooms for Drupa seems to get worse every time. True, Dusseldorf has a ‘Fairs Fair’ scheme, where hotels don’t exceed their rack rates for the show, but the rooms still get booked up years in advance. I’ll be staying one hour’s drive away and still paying over the odds. So you have to book in advance, without knowing what will be shown. Will there be exciting new technology? Or will it just be the demo machines from Drupa 2008 now ready for production?
My interest is ink jet technology, and 2008 was meant to be ‘Ink Jet Drupa’, so what will this one be? In 2008 we saw the launch of the HP web press technology, new web and sheet fed ink jet, the Fujifilm Dimatix Samba Printhead. What could possibly be new and interesting at Drupa 2012? Have I booked 4 nights hotel for nothing?
No I haven’t. Here are just some of the new developments that have been pre-announced:
Delphax will be launching the Memjet-based Elan press, which prints at 250 A4 pages/min. at 1600 x 1600 doi, or 500 ppm at 1600 x 800 dpi. It prints CMYK + 2 spot colours.
Eastman Kodak Prosper 6000 XL press using the Stream continuous ink jet technology, running at 1,000 feet/min., that’s 5 metres/sec. The press is rated at 160 M A4 impressions/month, and is claimed to be up to 45% more cost effective than thermal DOD and 31% better than its own Prosper 5000 XL press.
Epson will be showing the Surepress X single pass label press using LED UV-curable inks.
Fujifilm will add a B2 ink jet carton press using UV inks to its Jetpress 720 sheet-fed press, and also launch an ink jet web press running at 127 m/min.
Impika are launching a range of machines, the fastest being the iPrint eXtreme at 375 m/min. at 1200 dpi and a print width of 711 mm.
KBA Rotajet 76 is a joint development with RR Donnelley and uses Kyocera piezo printheads to print at 150 m/min. at 600 dpi. Over 30 inches wide. RR Donnelley also has the Apollo technology, which uses ink jet to form a temporary hydrophobic or hydroplillic image on a plate like material, which is then conventionally inked. Readers of the Pivotal Resources Directions ink jet patent reports will be familiar with this technology, which may (or may not) see the light of day.
Konica Minolta KM1 is a B2 sheet-fed ink jet press developed in collaboration with Komori. It uses new 1200 dpi KM piezo printheads to print at 3300 sheets/hour.
Landa Labs Nanographic technology should be easily the biggest launch. Claimed to use liquid ink based on nanoparticles and ink ejectors, it is claimed it will print on to a wide range of substrates without pre or post treatment. This past week has seen the announcement of Komori and MAN Roland as licensees.
MGI Digital Graphic Technology Alphajet B2 sheet-fed press has 6 colour units plus a varnish with a throughput of 3,000 sheets/hour at 1200 dpi.
Screen has increased the spec. of the Truepress SX to handle cartonboard, and is rumoured to have a label press with its own ink jet heads.
Timson T-Press book press uses the Kodak Stream technology on their own paper feed mechanisms, and prints on paper up to 53 inches (1.35 m) wide at 650 feet/min. It’s aimed at printing between 5-14 million books per year.
So is that all? Well HP will be showing their production ink jet web presses, and Xerox hasn’t announced anything but will draw the crowds with Cirque du Soleil. Canon and Océ will be showing the ColorStream 3700 ink jet press. And apologies for not including all of the other companies launching new ink jet products, peripherals etc.
Beyond ink jet there’s also plenty to see.
HP Indigo is launching a B2 sheet-fed press, the 10000.
Kodak’s Nexpress has a electrophotographic press with a 5th unit capable of printing gold, neon pink or fluorescent colours.
Miyakoshi will show a press using the HVT (high viscosity toner) liquid toner technology in conjunction with Ryobi.
Xeikon will show its Quantum technology as a demonstration, also believed to be based on HVT technology.
So, look out for me in the aisles, see you there!
This year IMI Europe is organising a Summer School. For many years these were held in Cambridge UK, where we are based. Although Cambridge is a picturesque small university town it is unfortunately not a transport hub. For delegates arriving from all over Europe and beyond it was just too difficult to get to. So since 2006 we have held our popular Summer School courses in London.
So, why not in London this year? Well as you may have heard, Coca Cola and McDonalds are sponsoring a big televised sporting event this year. Although it still retains the name ‘Olympics’ in reality it doesn’t seem to have much to do with sport. In publishing terms it is ‘audience delivery’, where the organisers deliver the largest possible audience to the sponsors, and via television companies to advertisers.
This year London is turning into a nightmare. During the games and for 2 weeks beforehand designated lanes for buses, taxis and emergency vehicles will be prioritised for sponsors and VIPs. The predicted transfer delay at some stations, like London Bridge, is forecast to be over an hour during the rush hour. There will be restricted airspace for 50 miles around London, effectively excluding a lot of recreational flying. Hot dog and ice cream vendors are being trained to spot terrorists. Mobile ground to air missile batteries are being set up, and fighter planes will be based just north of Heathrow.
Its enough to make you want to leave the country. So we are!
This year’s Summer School, with a record 6 courses, will be held in Antwerp, Belgium, incidentally the host city for the 1920 Olympic Games. Easy to get to by road or train, and with a direct link from Brussels airport. A great hotel at reasonable prices. Plenty of bars with some of the best beer in the world. Chocolate to die for. Steak frites. What is there not to like? Full details on the IMI Europe web site at www.imieurope.com .
It turns out with hindsight that there were other good reasons not to be in London this year – it would have restricted our event marketing! To ‘protect the brand’, basically to ensure the sponsors can maximise the publicity surrounding the event, the host country is required to pass laws restricting use of certain symbols and words.
The British Sugarcraft Guild, the pinnacle of cake decorating, had to abandon the theme of the Olympics for their 2012 competition as the unauthorised use of the Olympic rings, the games logo etc. would have breached copyright and left them open to court proceedings. Words and phrases that are protected include ‘London 2012′. So presumably we couldn’t have promoted the Summer School had we held it in London as ‘IMI Europe Summer School L****n 2012′!
The whole farce is best summarised by this information: ‘The London 2012 Shop is proud to only accept card payments by Visa’. A new meaning to the word ‘proud’? Guess who one of the sponsors is?
If you did manage to get tickets to an event you want to see, have a great time. Remember you’ll be searched in case you are smuggling in your own food and drink, so enjoy the delights of the sponsor’s beverages and fine cuisine!
It’s that time of year when we reflect on the past year and wonder what the new year will bring. In the area of ink jet, 2011 has brought some interesting product launches, in particular the commercialisation of the Memjet technology by Lenovo, LG, Lomond, Xante, OWN-X and others. At the recent IMI Europe Ink Jet Conference in Lisbon, we heard that ink jet textiles are a fast-growing application, and ceramic tile printing is also rapidly gaining market share.
So what will 2012 bring? Well most eyes are focussed on Drupa, the printing industries trade show held every 4 years in Dusseldorf, Germany. Although many of us in the industry associate Drupa with expensive hotel rooms miles from the city and the terrible Drupa song, it really is the pinnacle of the printing industry calendar.
Ink jet is increasingly demonstrating great potential for use within the commercial print industry. The main applications for the ink jet web presses launched so far has been books, coupons, transpromo, newspapers on demand and the like. But ink jet ink technology is evolving and the capabilities of ink jet are being extended. So far Fujifilm and Screen with their sheet-fed presses, and Kodak with their web press have claimed the ability to print on to paper types used for general printing in the industry. It’s quite a challenge, as we have been seeing at Pivotal Resources from the patent applications being filed.
We can also see from patent applications that other vendors are likely to join the market for high-speed printing. For instance Ricoh has many patents on page arrays of their own printhead technology. At present, Ricoh subsidiary Infoprint uses engines from Screen that in turn incorporate Epson printhead technology. Canon is another potential player in this market. It now owns Océ who make high-speed web-feed ink jet prises using Kyocera printhead technology. But we can see from the patent literature that Canon is developing page arrays using thermal ink jet, similar to the technology used in HP’s web presses.
But lets go back to the beginning and to Memjet. Back in April 2011 it was announced that Delphax plans to launch a Memjet-powered ink jet press at Drupa. The technology certainly has the potential print speed and cost structure to make a breakthrough product. But let’s hope they haven’t forgotten all the other industry needs, in particular the ability to print onto a variety of paper types. So far we have only seen Memjet-based products working on absorbent or coated substrates. Is there a new ink technology coming up for Memjet? That would make it a very interesting breakthrough for this market, but it would also really improve the capabilities of the Memjet technology in desk-top and wide format markets as well.
For a while now Memjet has posted on its web site and YouTube channel videos showing a wide format machine, which uses 5 Memjet printheads to print 42 inches wide in a single pass. We’ve also seen many of the patent applications covering this machine published and have reviewed them in our patent review journal Directions.
A couple of weeks ago Xanté announced the Excelagraphix 4200 which uses the Memjet wide format engine, and this week at LabelExpo 2011 in Brussels Hungarian company OWN-X announced their version, the WideStar 2000.
As usual, seeing is believing, and the speed at which a wide image emerges from the machine is impressive at 300 mm (12 inches) per second. Prints on various ink jet coated media looked excellent, on plain paper pretty good.
The OWN-X booth was busy every time I went past, with the crowds attracted to the SpeedStar 3000 label printers – also Memjet-based – that were introduced a year ago and have been selling well. The WideStar is attractive for CAD applications, including architecture, but OWN-X were printing signage and labels on it at the show to try and tempt customers.
Memjet also features in the IMI Europe 19th Annual Ink Jet Conference programme that we have been organising. Thomas Roetker, Vice President of Engineering of Memjet Labels will be talking about where Memjet has got to, and where they are going from a technological and performance viewpoint as well as commercial. His presentation will be followed by Ivan Bulaev, Head of Marketing of Lomond, who are marketing the 60 page/minute office Memjet printer, and will discuss “Taking the Memjet-powered Evojet Office into the market’.
The conference is in Lisbon, Portugal November 9-11, 2011. You can find full details of the conference and presentations at IMI Europe’s web site at www.imieurope.com We have a great line up of presentations this year from adphos, Agfa Gevaert, com2C, FUJIFILM Dimatix, Global Graphics, Hewlett-Packard, Infotrends, INGEDE, IT Strategies, Konica Minolta, Lomond, Lumen Dynamics, Memjet Labels, MGI Digital Graphic Technology, Sepiax Ink Technology, Stork Prints, Tonejet, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, Xennia Technology and Xerox.
It’s often overlooked, but Olivetti was one of the pioneers of ink jet, with a range of drop on demand technologies in the early 1980′s. They commercialised the dry spark jet technology, and had a liquid version too. Then there was early piezo technology too. But I remember well in 1990 the surprise announcement of their thermal ink jet technology. It was a surprise to HP engineers too, who I met within a few days at an IS&T conference. It turned out there had been some cross-licensing going on that not even the HP printhead designers were aware of.
Over the years Olivetti has had several different owners, but somehow the ink jet group has continued developing new heads and products. Because they are not sold in Best Buy or other retail outlets in the US, Japan or most of Europe, few people know they exist.
Olivetti were exhibitors at the IMI Europe Ink Jet Technology Showcase 2009 and talked and showed their ink jet products aimed at industrial products. Just a few days ago at the Ink Jet Technology Showcase 2011 event in Barcelona they showed even more.
First of all their MEMS fab has the capacity for 50-80,000 6 inch wafers per year. As well as ink jet printheads they also make other devices, particularly for life science applications. They have thermal ink jet printhead modules with print widths of 0.5, 1 and 2 inches, capable of jetting aqueous and various solvent fluids.
The most recent addition is a 4 inch wide module. This has 4 x 1 inch dies staggered and overlapping to allow 4 inch wide printing in a single pass. There are 2,560 nozzles at 600 dpi and the drop volume is 15-160 pl. Most incredible is the claimed drop ejection velocity of 15 metres/second, greater than most piezo printheads. This will allow a large increase in working distance from the printed substrate, opening up new applications.
You can find out more about Olivetti by following the links on the IMI Europe web site, and a shameless plug (as I also run IMI Europe) – you can now buy the conference binder with 22 supplier presentations, 6 Tech Talk Tutorials and 4 Keynotes for only €345!
Xerox has this week shown something closer to a production version of the high-speed ink jet system they showed at IPEX last year. The unfortunately named Xerox Production Inkjet System (PIS) is claimed to be the first waterless high-speed ink jet press, although some might say that Miyakoshi has shown high-speed UV curable ink systems before and they are waterless.
Xerox is using an iteration of their phase change inks, and points out that by not having water in the system they can avoid paper cockle and drying problems. The phase change inks solidify on contact with the paper substrate and sit on the surface ‘just like offset inks and toner’. Our tracking of patents has shown that to achieve acceptable drop spread on the substrate, it must be pre-heated. The paper then passes over heated shoes opposite the printheads. With phase change inks the ink supply tanks, connecting pipes and printheads all have to be heated.
The printheads are arranged in a large 2D array and Xerox says they are automatically aligned. Certainly keeping them all in register with the thermal cycling within the machine must have been an engineering issue. The heads are operator replaceable and involve 2 screws and 3 connectors, taking 5 minutes.
The print speed is a very impressive 152 metres/minute, or 2.53 m/sec. At the quoted ‘up to 600 dpi’ this would lead to a nozzle frequency of 60.8 kHz. This may be achievable but my guess is the highest speed is at a lower resolution than 600 dpi. Incidentally the patents talk of 3.75 m/sec.
Something else the patents talk about is printing packaging materials. The problem then is finishing, with the substrate, creasers and cutters having to be heated to avoid picking up ink.
The system shown will print on to low-cost offset papers without bonding agents or pre-coats, says Xerox. However noticeably absent from the presentations I’ve seen was mention of coated papers. As phase change inks rely, like toners, on mechanical keying to the substrate, coated papers are likely to be more of a challenge.
And yes, I was too cheap to fly to Lucerne, Switzerland to see the machine at the Hunkeler Innovation Days 2011 show in Lucerne, Switzerland - I’ve just attended the virtual event on-line.
You might read into this post that I’m not a great fan of phase change inks and you’d be right. I’d like to love the technology, I guess I’ve just had my fingers burnt a few times handling the printheads!
Conventional wisdom has taught us that thermal ink jet (TIJ) printing requires aqueous inks. After all, water has quite unique properties that are well suited to the technology. This was perhaps underscored by Hewlett Packard’s clever but complicating use of aqueous latex inks for printing on vinyl substrates. Surely if HP can’t find a simpler solution for its very own TIJ technology, there must not be one!
But recently ImTech (Corvallis, Oregon) was granted a patent (USP07763668) for a UV curable TIJ ink, claiming the use of alcohols, esters, or ketones as the driver fluid. Most of the examples incorporate about 24% methanol with conventional UV curing monomers, oligomers and photoinitiation packages. One of several suggested surfactants is included as protection against kogation and one of several black pigment dispersions as colorant.
ImTech offers two such inks for sale through distributors, in new HP-45A cartridges. Both inks are black; one is optimized for conventional UV lamps, the other for UV-LED systems. Suggested applications are in coding and addressing, and in printing on plastic cards.
The patent suggests (but does not claim) the use of similar driver fluids in non-aqueous TIJ inks other than UV curable ones.
In fairness to HP, there are other reasons to stick with aqueous inks than simple “conventional wisdom.” The driver fluids mentioned are emitted as VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) at a minimum and may also have low TLVs (Threshold Limit Values) for human exposure. UV curable inks for piezo printing and aqueous inks in general avoid these environmental issues.
It should also be noted that Xennia (Letchworth, UK) offers an aqueous UV curable ink suitable for TIJ printing, under the trade name XenInx Peridot.
In a burst of excitement this week HP launched a range of new products, including the Photosmart eStation. This is seen as a way to get products into the living room, a wireless all-in-one which looks sexy. Well, I’m afraid glossy black is so 2008 in the UK. When the first all-in-ones appeared they looked like scanners stuck on top of printers. This one does too, with a tablet sitting on a shelf at the front as well.
Yes, very convenient if you want to quickly find something on the internet and then print it out. Maybe I’m missing something here. But what if you have kids in the house – how are you going to find the tablet? Ever known a kid to return something to its ‘home’ when they finished using it? Before you can copy something have you got to hunt down the tablet, as that acts as the control panel too.
It’s also meant to allow you to lay on your couch, browse the internet, and send things to print. But everyone knows that when you send something to print the printer beeps to tell you it has run out of paper or ink, so you have to get up and go over to it.
So, is the Willis household likely to buy one? Well, I can see it could be useful, although it isn’t cheap. But the answer is no. The marriage that concerns me is not that of tablet and printer, but mine to my wife. I can’t see the boss agreeing to this big glossy black box in the living room. Sorry HP!
A recent announcement from Wal-Mart may skirt around the impasse that is slowing the adoption of RFID. This impasse is typical of those that occur in new technologies; potential adopters consider the technology too expensive and potential investors and developers are reluctant to move forward in an unproved market. In this case, the reluctance is compounded by resistance on the part of privacy advocates, who believe RFID will provide a means for big brother – either corporate or government – to track our behavior and movements. It’s also true that large capital investments by retailers are needed, and these are not likely given the current state of the economy.
The impasse isn’t being broken by a technological breakthrough, but instead being skirted by a higher valued application. The expected application, replacement of barcodes by RFID tags, is still too costly, with tag prices remaining at $.07-$.10. Instead, the new application is the tracking of apparel on the sales floor, to ensure that all sizes and styles are on display. Stores that have piloted this application has seen apparel sales grow by as much as 14%. In-store inventory tracking is expected to improve as well. Wal-Mart is beginning to roll out this application in its stores.
So what does this have to do with ink jet? Nothing directly, but it does promise bring the subject of RFID back to the fore in the retail environment. After all, everything Wal-Mart does is then considered by virtually every other retailer. This in turn may help to break the impasse and stimulate new investment.
The expected role for ink jet remains smaller than in previous years (see The Ink Jet Blog for May 5, 2010). The printing of antennas has fallen into disfavor with increases in the price of silver, and if they are printed, it will likely be by conventional printing technology. But ink jet has unique benefits in the field of printed electronics, and the printing of RFID chips in a-roll to-roll process will be vital to driving tag costs down to the $.01-$.02 that is needed for large-scale adoption. It seems likely that printed silicon, such as that under development by Kovio, will be the first to market.
Visionaries believe that eventually, we will see RFID chips and antennas printed simultaneously with the printing of packaging. In that scenario, ink jet may play a much larger role.