Olivetti’s thermal inkjet technology

It’s often overlooked, but Olivetti was one of the pioneers of inkjet, 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 inkjet 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 inkjet 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 Inkjet Technology Showcase 2009 and talked and showed their inkjet products aimed at industrial products. Just a few days ago at the Inkjet 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 inkjet printheads they also make other devices, particularly for life science applications. They have thermal inkjet 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.

Mike Willis, Pivotal Resources