HP launches low-cost ink jet page array to compete with Memjet

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.

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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.

 

Memjet’s new pricing model

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.

I’m the one on the right!

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!

Conventional Wisdom Often Isn’t

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.