Anticipating 2012, in particular Drupa

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.

Is Memjet for Real? Part 2

In April, I wrote that the first real Memjet-based products would be shown at IPEX the following month. Indeed, the RAPID X1 and X2 label printers, manufactured by Rapid Machinery Company of Australia, were introduced at the show, as well as the Astro Machines M1 printer from Addressing and Mailing Solutions of the UK.

However, the first introduction actually occurred in April at the ON DEMAND Expo in Philadelphia, where Rena Systems showed its version of the Astro Machines M1.

These were followed in June, by the announcement by OWN-X Industrial (Budapest) of the SpeedStar 3000, a roll-to-roll, roll-to-sheet and fanfold format label printer.

Each of these is powered by the Memjet 8.66 inch (A4) wide, 5-color (CMYKK) print head, which delivers 1,600 dpi native print resolution. Top speed is 12 inches per second. One full 8 inch diameter roll of labels can be printed in just over 8 minutes.

Most significantly, I have been able to confirm that some of these devices are currently shipping to customers.

Each Memjet printhead consists of 70,400 ink jet nozzles, each less than 100 microns in diameter (roughly the width of human hair). These produce up to nine hundred million 1.2 picoliter droplets per second. The printheads are made of silicon in a semiconductor fab and driven by Memjet’s proprietary, “systems on a chip” print engine controller electronics, firmware, and software.

There continue to be strong indications that a Memjet-based large-format printer will appear at trade shows this fall, but it appears that we will have to wait a bit for the much-anticipated office printers. Certainly a phased rollout of a new technology by a new company makes sense. Speculation concerning an OEM customer for the office devices centers around consumer electronics firms like Sony and Panasonic, as well as computer manufacturers like Lenovo. This, too, makes sense, as Memjet will supply not only printheads and ink, but other subsystems and even print engines ready for private labeling.