It’s a technology that has been in your home and office for the past 20 years, and in the past decade it has begun transforming industries. Isn’t it about time you considered it for your manufacturing business?
Mike Willis, Managing Director, IMI Europe
There’s a technology that has been commercialised since the 1970’s, yet it has only been in the last decade that it has begun to transform manufacturing. Ever wondered how Amazon has such an enormous range of books for immediate shipment, or if not immediate in 1-2 days? Or, if you go to a Zara store the latest fashions are available in your size? Perhaps you’ve recently sourced ceramic tiles for a remodelled bathroom and been surprised at the range available – even convincing wood and metal effects.
The book production, fashion and the ceramic tile industries have been transformed by using ink jet technology. That’s in addition to point of sale and in-store graphics for stores, billboards and building wraps. Ink jet is proving a very versatile way of digitally applying images to substrates. The next candidate likely to be transformed by ink jet is the décor and product manufacturing industries. Yet despite having such a major impact, industrial ink jet printing and decoration gets hardly any of the exposure that 3D printing gets, hence the ‘silent’ revolution. Newspapers print stories about the latest 3D printing application at least weekly, but when did you last read about the impact of digital printing in manufacturing?
The basic principles are the same as in that humble ink jet printer you use at home. However, today’s commercially available ink jet printheads can use a range of inks based on water, solvents, or UV-curable, allowing printing to take place on virtually any substrate. Ink jet is non-contact, so non-flat surfaces can be printed. There is no impact or pressure, so even very thin and delicate surfaces can be used. Laminate flooring, worktops, panels, wall coverings and furnishing textiles are considered to be the next affected by the ink jet revolution. Even the automotive and aerospace industries are getting in on the act, promising a whole new level of customisation in the future.
So what does ink jet do for the customers who purchase products?
It helps streamline distribution channels by allowing responsive manufacturing rather than produce for stock, allowing a faster time to market and reduced waste and inventory. Therefore customers can decide what they want to buy, and get it, rather than select from what’s in stock. Manufacturers can streamline production and significantly reduce costs. Ink jet decoration can be implemented on-line.
What has enabled this revolution is the availability of the necessary components. A wide range of both industrial-grade ink jet printheads and different ink types are available. Data control and printhead drive cards allow printing on webs, sheets and shapes. Ink supply systems are available to maintain the ink in optimum condition. Drying and curing systems specific to ink jet allow control at a wide range of production speeds, and integration services and inspection systems are available too.
So, whether you manufacture toothbrushes, kitchen appliances, footwear, power tools, cars, trains or aircraft, this new way of applying ink to surfaces is having a great impact, even though there is ‘no impact’!
To find out more about ink jet technology, how it is transforming industries and how it can be implemented, join us for the Industrial Ink Jet Technology Showcase taking place in Munich, German 24-25 June, 2015. Prior to this is the Ink Jet Summer School 22-23 June offering three courses related to ink jet.
Mike Willis, Managing Director of IMI Europe, reminisces about the beginnings of a leading ink jet printhead manufacturer
You’d think that, like the day you get married, your children are born or your cat dies, you’d remember the day you set up a company. But the problem is founding a company can be a long drawn out process. When do you count from? The day official documents were signed? The day you got funding? Opened bank accounts? Moved into the premises? Probably joining the payroll is what most employees would remember.
But sometime in early May, as best as I can remember, 25 years ago, four of us with two investors and the help of Cambridge Consultants formed a yet to be named company. The name came a month or so later. We couldn’t come up with a name internally and so the lead investor got a marketing consultancy to come up with one. Xaar. None of us liked it. The concept was that it sounded like something Russian – perestroika was big news at the time – and it was spelt like it was from California. We learned to like it more when told that without a name there would be no bank accounts and therefore no pay at the end of the month. And we joked that it was short for ‘biz-xaar’.
Xaar was set up to exploit a new ink jet printhead technology developed at Cambridge Consultants in 1986. Two of the inventors joined Xaar, David Paton (sadly no longer with us) and Steve Temple, who for 20 years served as Technical Director. Mark Shepherd had joined the team in the early days of the CCL development as an experienced process technician and quickly rose through the ranks of the new company. I’d project managed the development at CCL, leaving the others to concentrate on the technology. Once an MD had been appointed to Xaar I adopted a business development role and sold the first licence to Japanese company Brother.
You have to remember that ink jet was still in its infancy at the time. In 1990 we had trouble convincing manufacturers of impact dot matrix printers that ink jet would soon wipe them out. I’d also been ridiculed by an expert from one of the investors for predicting that the sub-$1,000 laser printer was just a few years away!
The focus was very much on office printing as that’s where the action seemed to be. The same was true of other developers of ink jet printheads. US company Spectra, now known as Dimatix and owned by Fujifilm, was the main competitor. They were developing a colour printer for Apple, but then had to downsize when the contract was pulled.
It seemed to me that the way forward for Xaar was to licence the technology for mass markets, like the office, and to develop and manufacture printheads for graphics and industrial applications. Sadly the investors didn’t agree with my view, nor many of my other ideas, disagreements leading to my leaving within 18 months of the start. For some reason I still remember that day very clearly!
As with many changes in life, with hindsight the move was positive. I’ve spent the last 25 years advising most of the major players in the business around the world, and many smaller ones too. Through IMI Europe I’ve been organising conferences and courses for 15 years, contributing to the leading position that European companies have in commercialising industrial ink jet. Amazingly our Ink Jet Academy course, run in partnership with Dr Alan Hudd, has had over 3,000 attend from over 800 companies. And Xaar has managed without me just fine, becoming one of the leading printhead manufacturers and a major local employer.The next Ink Jet Academy course will be held at the IMI Europe Ink Jet Summer School 2015, Munich June 22-23. You can also get the latest information on industrial ink jet printing at the upcoming IMI Europe Industrial Ink Jet Technology Showcase, Munich June 24-25, 2015. Details on both at www.imieurope.com.
The trials and tribulations of developing ink jet products and processes
Some say being a project manager is the worst job in the world, where you just can’t win. You’ve been given a budget and resources, probably in your mind nowhere near enough. By now you have probably proven the feasibility of a new printer or printing process. Marketing has been talking to a lot of potential end users and has agreed with you the specification of what’s needed. Oh, and they also gave you the deadline of when the product is needed, probably for a trade show coming up in the next year.
So now the impossibility of what you need to achieve becomes clear. How can you please everyone? There’s a lot of risk associated with the project; if there wasn’t it probably won’t be competitive by the time it’s launched. And time is not going to be on your side. You and your team will need to work hard to complete the design, test it and carry out further development.
But along the way there will be problems. Some ideas that worked with the prototype may not suit the full-scale machine. Of course the requirements have probably also evolved during the feasibility phase. You may therefore have to question everything you have decided in the past. Am I using the most suitable printheads for this application? Is our ink supplier the best choice for moving forward? How do I redesign the curing system to work at double the process speed? It’s probably a long list.
There is in fact a whole industry of companies whose business is to help you through this process. These days there are many sources of components and consumables. Some companies specialise in ink jet integration. And they are there to help.
Many years ago I used to work as a project manager so I know what you are going through. These days at IMI Europe we organise conferences and courses focusing on ink jet printing. For 13 years we’ve been running an event called the Ink Jet Technology Showcase, especially designed for the ink jet development community. It has been interesting to see the growth of ink jet for industrial printing in Europe, as almost all of the new adopters have been to our events at an early stage in their developments.
At the Ink Jet Technology Showcase we have keynote speakers to explain how the different industrial ink jet markets are evolving, and to give case studies of how they have grown successful businesses from nothing. We have technical experts giving a range of Tech Talks, passing on useful tips and information you can take back with you and immediately use.
But most importantly we have the suppliers to the ink jet community who give short product presentations to bring you up to speed with their offerings. Unlike other events we don’t ask the speakers to dress up their talks as technical presentations; here they focus on what they do and how they can help you. At the end of each session at the breaks, lunches and receptions you have the chance to visit their table-top displays and have follow-up discussions. So you get the chance to meet existing and new suppliers who can help you, as well as the latest information, all packed into 2 intensive days.
This year the Industrial Ink Jet Technology Showcase is in Munich 24-25 June. Expect over 30 presentations. And for the first half day we have invited Frazer Chesterman and Marcus Timson, the organisers of the InPrint trade show, to hold the InPrint Industrial Print Forum, where a series of experts and end users will discuss the state of the art of decor, textile, packaging, industrial and 3-D printing.
In addition on the 2 preceding days we are holding the Ink Jet Summer School, featuring the three most popular courses we run – the Ink Jet Academy, Ink Jet Ink Manufacturing, and Jetting Functional Fluids.
We already have the basic information available on our web site at www.imieurope.com/IJTS15 and we will be updating this regularly as we announce more of the programme.
So project managers, here at IMI Europe we love you, and we hope to see you in June!
In the book ‘The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’ Douglas Adams describes how the hero meets Slartibartfast and hears how a race of hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings built a computer named Deep Thought to calculate the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. After many millennia, the answer is revealed to be 42. They then realise they don’t know what the question actually was.
Being a big fan of this story I always associate the number 42 with the answer to the ultimate question. It was therefore interesting to hear that our forthcoming Digital Print Japan events December 2-4 will be held on the 42nd floor of the Keio Plaza Hotel, Shinjuku.
So, 42 is the answer, so what is the question this time? Well, it’s all to do with digital printing, and in particular ink jet. The IT Strategies Executive Conference focuses on the big questions of when and how digital printing will enter commercial printing markets. We all know one day it will make an impact, but when and to what degree? Anyone involved with sales of equipment, consumables or substrates for the vast printing industry will want to know more. A subsidiary question is whether digital can generate new revenues for the printing industry, not just replace it for short runs. Through a series of presentations and panel discussions by industry experts we hope to improve the vision of what will happen.
As well as commercial printing, ink jet is becoming increasingly used for other applications as well. Once desktop printing produced the majority of the ink jet industries revenues, but pages printed in the home is in rapid decline, and vendors are looking elsewhere for new business. Ink jet is already strong in graphics printing and has grown at a phenomenal rate for decorating ceramic tiles. The ink jet textile market is now taking off, soon to be followed by packaging and labelling applications, and decor printing – flooring, wall coverings, panels and so on. The technology involved in all of these non-office printing applications requires different printhead and ink technology to desktop printing. Building reliable machines to deliver high quality print in manufacturing environments involves addressing new issues and challenges. For this reason we are bringing the Ink Jet Academy course to Japan. The course gives an overview of all of the issues involved in industrial product integration. Over 2,500 have attended this course already, helping build the industrial ink jet industry. This is the first time we have held the course in Japan, so don’t miss it.
And hopefully there will be no need to build ‘Earth2’ to discover the question this time, all will be clear!
PS When writing this I was surprised to see ‘Slartibartfast’ come up as auto-predict, obviously fans at Apple too!
The IMI Europe Ink Jet Conference in Barcelona next week is looking again to be very successful, with registrations higher than last year and some great presentations reviewing the hot topics within the industry. This is a high level event, focused on emerging ink jet technology and markets.
So why do we cover all types of ink jet and applications? This approach might appear to lack direction. But ink jet applications are emerging at different rates. If you find out more about how other segments are developing, then you can have a better understanding of your own application and interests, what questions to ask, and what key indicators to look for.
The majority of our conference speakers are invited. We look carefully at how ink jet is evolving, and look for the hot news and developments. Our speakers are therefore chosen because they have new things to say. We don’t charge anyone to speak at our European Ink Jet Conference, their registration is complimentary.
This year we have some great presentations from companies such as Landa Digital, Hewlett-Packard, Heidelberg, Fujifilm Dimatix, FFIC, Konica Minolta and so on. We have new technology announcements from STMicroelectronics, Alchemie and Thallosjet, and much more, in total 21 presentations. The full list is at http://www.imieurope.com/2014_Barcelona/2014_ijp_barcelo.html
We also recognise that a key part of our events is the networking. Two complimentary receptions are held with delicious canapés and local wines and beers. It’s an opportunity to meet senior industry contacts within a relaxed environment.
Over the past 3 years IMI Europe has worked hard to double its database, increase its web content, and engage with the industry through social media. And our events have evolved over the years too. But two things haven’t changed. The quality remains high, and the delegate fee has remained the same for over a decade.
So how do we know we are doing a good job? Satisfaction ratings remain high year after year. And with more registrations that in 2013 we must be doing something right.
Aimed at providing a foundation of basic knowledge of ink jet technology for those new to the industry, and an update for those already working in this field, the Ink Jet Academy has been running for over 15 years.
So how did the Ink Jet Academy begin? Well, around 1997 if I remember correctly, Dr Alan Hudd and I were sitting in Amsterdam airport waiting for our delayed flight back to the UK. We were of course sitting in the bar, and while enjoying our beers we reflected on the IMI Ink Jet Conference we had just attended. We’d both been surprised when close to the end of 2 days of presentations someone from the audience had asked a speaker “what do you mean by piezo?” We realised that not everyone who attended the conference was an ink jet expert. In fact some were very new to ink jet and were attending the conference to find out all about it.
But the conference wasn’t an ideal way to find out about ink jet at all! It consisted of a series of invited speakers to talk about the state of the art of ink jet. Anyone new to the industry would get a very distorted view of what was going on.
So we concluded that what was needed was a course describing the fundamentals of ink jet, and an overview of all aspects of the technology. I could cover the printhead and hardware topics, and Alan the ink and materials. But what should we call it? “Something catchy, like ‘Ink Jet Academy” said Alan, “but not that”. I disagreed, it was perfect, capturing what we were setting out to do, and it was memorable. But would it be successful? We estimated that maybe 200 might attend over 5 years.
Proposing the idea to Al Keene, President of IMI, he suggested we try the course prior to his US Ink Jet Conference the following January in Orlando, Florida. Amazingly 70 signed up for it, around half the numbers attending the conference!
Over the years the course has evolved as we have adapted it to reflect the change of focus of the delegates. At the beginning around half of the course was devoted to desktop technology and coated media, these days it is almost exclusively industrial piezo ink jet and applications.
So how many are there working worldwide in the ink jet industry? Amazingly we have had well over 2,500 attend the course, and will probably exceed 3,000 by 2015. Delegates from just about every company in the industry have attended. We have run courses in the US and Europe twice a year, we’ve been to India 3 times, and early in 2014 ran a course in Hong Kong. And this December we are delighted to be running our course in Tokyo for the first time. Over the years 30 Japanese have travelled to the US and Europe for the course, so this will offer a greater opportunity to attend.
What’s the point of attending if you already know about ink jet? Well, we have given in-house courses to some of the major names in the industry, who make $B a year from ink jet. But their staff only know their own technology. They learn about their competitors and other applications from the course. Some companies are expert in their particular part of the ink jet industry but don’t have the full view. And new employees can get an overview of the field they are entering.
So no matter how much you already know, we are sure you will learn something from the Ink Jet Academy. Full details of the Tokyo course, December 3-4, 2014 can be found at http://www.digitalprintjapan.com. The course is also running in Barcelona November 4-5, 2014 http://www.imieurope.com and in the US in early 2015.
Ink jet technology is evolving fast, and with it the markets and applications it can satisfy. We’ve seen ink jet dominate the large format graphics market, and more recently the very rapid growth of ceramic tile printing. In both cases traditional press sales have fallen dramatically once ink jet gained a foothold in the market.
In the case of graphics, hardly any of the traditional screen press manufacturers had the vision to react sufficiently to the change of technology and retain a significant market share with ink jet products. But with ceramic tile printing it was different. Visionary companies led the way, others followed and many of the ink jet tile printing systems and inks are produced by long-term industry players.
So what about other applications? The big question is what is the next ink jet market? Candidates include commercial printing, packaging – specifically labels and ‘direct to shape’, industrial and textile printing. Even though ink jet entered all of these markets many years ago it has only had a significant effect in specific parts of each market. You can’t predict from the initial impact of products whether there will be rapid growth and disruption. It’s much more subtle than that.
With this in mind we put together an annual Ink Jet Conference; now in its 22nd year, this year it’s being held in Barcelona 5-7th November. Although we always welcome companies to approach us with new developments, we use our expertise to identify and invite representatives of what we consider to be hot news and the latest developments. We are proud of the great speakers and programmes we are able to offer you each year.
This year is no exception; we have market overviews, new technology, new companies, and new products being announced. You can hear Landa Digital talk about the commercialisation of Nanography, and why Heidelberg is going digital. Konica Minolta will be talking about their B2 press development with Komori, and FFEI speaking about the requirements for label printing. Fujifilm Dimatix’s CEO will be reviewing where industrial printing markets are heading and Xennia, the status of textile printing.
What about new printheads? We have STMicroelectronics describing their thin film piezo MEMS developments and Alchemie will disclose their plans for digital decorating. Inks are not forgotten with presentations from FFIC on aqueous inks and colorants for commercial and packaging markets, and Toyo Ink on advances in ink formulations. This is just a glimpse of the 20 presentations we have over 2 days. As well as inviting these industry visionaries to speak we make sure you have time to meet and network with them too, at our full lunch and two complimentary receptions. The full programme can be found at www.imieurope.com .
We strive to put on the best conference programmes possible, and at IMI Europe we are truly independent and don’t have to follow the interests of a membership. What we do is keep a finger on the pulse and invite the best speakers who represent emerging technologies and markets. We hope you will join us in Barcelona this year and benefit from the outstanding programme we have to offer.
When you go into a store to buy a new desk-top printer do you look at print samples? These days probably not, as just about every printer produces excellent image quality. Therefore when developing industrial ink jet products or processes, it’s an easy trap to fall into that just putting together the right printheads, inks, data path, RIP and so on, the image quality will automatically be high. Unfortunately that’s not the case, as many other factors will affect the image quality you will achieve.
There’s the 80:20 rule that everyone has heard about, that 80% of the development will take 20% of the time. These days most of the remaining 80% of the development time will be spent working on optimising image quality. After all, if you can’t achieve the high image quality required for the applications your machine is destined for, then potential customers will walk away.
So for weeks, but more likely months, the development team will be looking closely at the images and test charts that they print, and will then try to work out which parts of the ‘chain of pain’ – from the RIP to dried or cured drops on the substrate – that need further optimisation.
For instance, visible artefacts such as banding are most likely due to mis-directed jets. Or a data issue. Or a printhead alignment issue. Or the way that drops wet the substrate and coalesce. Or…you get the idea. The problem could be software, electrical hardware, a printhead or ink problem, air entrapment in the head, variations in meniscus pressure, the list is almost never-ending.
So the development of a great ink jet printer is more than just integration of the components, for which the component suppliers are offering more and more support and knowledge. It’s about choosing to do things the best way and then optimising the whole process. It’s also about understanding what development work is likely to be needed, the options open to you, and the time realistically required.
With this in mind IMI Europe has decided to launch a new seminar this Autumn, in Barcelona November 4-5th, immediately preceding the European Ink Jet Conference. A series of experts representing the chain from RIP to image will discuss the issues and optimisation of all of the sub-systems and data paths of the process. It’s a good time to find out more about the parts of the process you know less about, or to re-examine what you already know but haven’t thought about for a while.
Interested? Further details are available at www.imieurope.com
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!