Production Inkjet
Xerox is introducing the Trivor 2400 High Fusion Inkjet Press with the company’s new High Fusion Ink to print direct to offset coated paper on the Trivor 2400.

The company explains the new High Fusion Ink is designed to remove one of the cost hurdles of commercial printers adopting inkjet technology, which often includes the expense of pre-or-post coating the paper, adding hardware, or having to purchase specialty inkjet coated paper.

The Trivor 2400 High Fusion Inkjet Press will be available for installation starting in October worldwide. It will be available for order taking at PRINT 17 in Chicago.

High Fusion Ink is specially formulated to optimize printing and drying on offset coated media including matte, silk and glass stock from 60 to 250 gsm, up to 250 feet per minute. While High Fusion Ink is optimized for commodity offset coated papers, it also runs on a range of uncoated media, providing cost-effective redundancy for print work.

“The speed, great colour range and ability to print on regular offset coated stock with no pre- or post-treatment makes the Trivor 2400 High Fusion Inkjet Press a breakthrough innovation in production inkjet,” said David Zwang, principal consultant, Zwang & Co.
Domino Digital Printing Solutions is launching a new fluorescent ink for its K600i piezo drop on demand ink jet printer at Labelexpo Europe 2017, running from in late September in Brussels, Belgium.

The company explains this latest ink addition, UV80CL, is designed for security printing and brand protection to help firms battle counterfeiting and forgery.

Domino’s UV80CL ink prints clear, but fluoresces green, under an ultraviolet UV-A 365nm blacklight. It can be used to print 2D codes, barcodes, alpha numeric codes, images, graphics and personalised data printing, all of which may be used in security, authentication and anti-counterfeit applications.

Domino explains the combination of printing variable data with green fluorescence provides a high complexity rating which would be extremely difficult to replicate.

This makes it well suited to use to add security marks and features to currency, stamps, tax stamps, passports and certificates to prevent forgery, tampering or counterfeiting of such items. It can also be used to incorporate security features onto labels and packaging for traceability to safeguard against counterfeiting and parallel trade.

The Domino K600i printer can be integrated into an existing web-fed press, or used as a standalone roll-to-roll solution or finishing line, and the UV80CL ink is compatible with standard medias including polyethylene, polypropylene and coated and uncoated papers.

“In today’s price competitive and technology savvy marketplace, it is imperative that brand owners establish a strong and effective anti-counterfeiting and brand protection programme to safeguard their brands,” said Mark Herrtage, Aftercare Product Manager at Domino Printing Solutions. “With that in mind, the Domino UV80CL fluorescent ink provides security, label and packaging converters with an added value offering to assist brand owners on this quest.”

Four of Canada’s technology leaders discuss the current state of production inkjet technology and what impact it is having in the domestic printing market.

After  decades of intense research and development, supported by unprecedented technology partnerships, production-strength inkjet on the cusp of disrupting commercial printing. In mid-June, four of Canada’s technology leaders travelled to Burnaby, BC, to participate in a panel discussion focused on the business strategy of production inkjet at PrintAction’s one-day PrintForum West conference. The panelists included: Alec Couckuyt, Senior Director, Canon Canada, Professional Printing Solutions Group; Brad King, VP, Graphics Communications, Xerox Canada; Ray Fagan, Sheetfed Product Manager, Heidelberg Canada; and Edward Robeznieks, VP of Sales, Ricoh Canada. Below are key excerpts from their hour-long discussion.

Why should printers invest in inkjet today, are we past the bleeding-edge?

Alec Couckuyt: Yes – we are past the bleeding edge. There has been tremendous evolution in the technology with inkjet… The commercial printer right now is really looking at how can I better serve my customer and inkjet technology together with offset, wide format and digital are all services that are being offered. It really has gone from just putting ink on paper to how can I better serve my customer in a total cycle.

Brad King: Cutsheet inkjet is new from a strategic point of view. In Canada, we have one [Xerox Brenva] install that we can talk about and two others we cannot talk about, so it is still fairly new. There is a lot of interest from commercial printers about these products – how it fits, what are the applications, where does it play. More products and applications are coming and the inkjet space is very close to exploding.

Ray Fagan: If you think about cutting-edge or bleeding-edge technology it is still, in my opinion, in its infancy in terms of long-term development. We took the advantage of some existing platforms of the XL 106 sheet transport, feeder, delivery that have been around a long time.. and we partnered with Fuji for the inkjet heads using Samba technology and their expertise to combine both technologies into one machine. We got to market fairly quickly and launched it at drupa.

There are still a lot of learning curves, a lot of consistency challenges… But our first [Primefire 106] press has been installed in Europe with a beta site at a packaging customer and we will do another machine this year. The roll out will continue to be slow... By 2018 we will finish our beta testing and move into serial production.

Ed Robeznieks: Because we migrated to our [Ricoh] 60000 platform we are able to now go to commercial printers and say you can move offset work over. We can run coated stocks, thicker stocks… we are not running 300, 350 gsm, but we are running 250, 260 and that has opened up the door.

Copywell in Toronto put in a VC60000… They took an original application which was sold as an [offset] sheet run and have now billed 2.5 to 3 million feet a month, which are true offset transfer applications.

How does inkjet present new opportunities for printers?

Couckuyt: An example of a new application for one our clients is magazines… They are actually personalizing or regionalizing the advertising in the magazine. Part of the magazine is printed offset and then the variable part is printed on the inkjet web and then they assemble it. That is an advantage they can sell to their client – the ability of having regionalized information for a specific advertiser.

So it is a new way of approaching the market and creating new opportunities. The critical part is that we can now combine variability with static… The question of whether inkjet can replace offset is the wrong question. Offset and inkjet together open more opportunities for clients.

King: When inkjet came out it was roll-to-roll, big machines, two million plus investment in capital. You needed big volumes to justify the roll-to-roll devices and there were not a lot of printers who could participate in the economics of inkjet.

Now the technology is coming down for lower volumes, as an investment with cutsheet devices, so that mid-sized commercial printers can start playing in this game...  You can do a short-run campaign with similar economics that the big players are using today. That is where inkjet is really going to open up big opportunities.

These devices are not $100,000 yet – still a pretty good number that you have to spend – but they are not $2.5 million roll-to-roll devices that need to be running 3, 4, 10 million impressions a month to have the economics make sense.

Fagan: Because [Heidelberg’s] Primefire is basically focusing on the packaging market, as we roll out the product, there are a lot of things happening in packaging that are forcing those printers to look at economics a little bit differently. As run lengths decrease in packaging, it is harder to make money because you do not have the pure volumes. The customer demand for individualization is growing and it is really in its infancy.

We have seen jobs where a 100,000 sheet run is broken into batches of 500 cartons... and this is where the digitization of the industry and the industries around us in advertising are driving manufacturers to do something quite a bit different. Major brands are really forcing that upon packaging printers.

We also see a lot of legislation for packaging with batching and traceability of the package through UPC codes. It could be in the European market in the near future where every single box has an individual identification marker on it so that we can trace it back to its origins. And this is due to the amount of piracy.

Robeznieks: As the price goes down for devices inkjet will become more attractive. It is good for us in a way as manufacturers. Because there is so much downward pressure on operating costs right now, it is becoming difficult for us to make a profit because of servicing the equipment and toner-based technology requires a lot more service than inkjet-based technology.

So it is better for us in the long run, from our perspective, to move toward inkjet. Your gain [as a printer] is operating costs and flexibility where you can do variable, but you are going to be able to take advantage of significant cost savings with inkjet versus toner.

How do you describe total cost of ownership for inkjet to printers?

Couckuyt: Inkjet uptime is a really critical issue. If you are used to a digital press, uptime is in the 60, 70 percent range. If you look at [Canon’s] i300, for example, it has a minimum uptime of 95 percent. When we start talking about total cost of ownership, for a commercial printer and a specific job, that could mean dedicating three shifts [on a toner device] or doing it with inkjet in two shifts… when you look at the evolution of inkjet devices a lot of R&D effort went into building those machines so that they really look after themselves.

King: Inkjet is new technology, that over the next 15 to 20 years, I feel is going to change the printing industry. It allows variable print onto all substrates... It is going to allow us to offer our customers, and printers’ customers, some pretty impressive product solutions to help keep print alive... having strong economics to keep print relevant for people who use marketing communications.

This is really where inkjet TCO will help keep print alive, because it is variable and it will have something valuable to sell to the people who want to use print as a marketing vehicle versus just going digital.

Fagan: We do not see inkjet supplanting offset in a large way for quite some time. We think they are going to run in harmony based on what is being produced. And if you follow that philosophy, the total cost of ownership for the offset printing press can also be improved... because you have another alternative which improves the total cost of ownership on your other equipment.    

You are also reducing costs in prepress and you are reducing costs in other areas of building. You do not have to warehouse products. There are a lot of other costs that inkjet lends itself to... that lends itself to a facility’s overall production cost.

Robeznieks: There are still heavy users of offset technology that are going to be difficult for us to strip away... it really comes down to a manufacturer partner who understands a certain vertical really well and who can help you understand your client base and then figure out where the footprint fits.

Why will variable be more impactful for inkjet than it was for toner?

Robeznieks: I’m going to give the non-politically correct answer but it is not. If you have a good working relationship with your client and can help them with variable campaigns, it doesn’t matter what you use – inkjet, toner, there are lots of ways to interact with the client.

What is very interesting is the next phase of inkjet which will be direct to shape... That is a whole different ball game, because now you are going to have things done on the manufacturing line. All of a sudden our devices are no longer creating labels, they are going directly to their object. And all of us are looking at how to get into that space.

Fagan: Big Data has been slow in being understood by a lot of people... in terms of managing the data and properly executing it into a portfolio of products. I really think Big Data in general, Industry 4.0, all of that growth we are seeing right now is accelerating at a very high pace and it is going to become much more manageable to do large variable data programs, computing that information, managing it and getting it where it needs to go. I see growth in that area with inkjet.

King: There is a [Xerox] customer in Toronto who has figured a bit of this out. When you go onto a Webpage and click on a couple of items you thought of buying – and then forget about it or leave to go somewhere else – they are actually grabbing that data. That night, they run a batch file with those three items you looked at, print it the next day on a direct-mail piece and it gets mailed out to that customer within 24 hours. That is where I see some of this very interesting data management… You can do a great direct-mail campaign on a very cost effective platform like inkjet.

Couckuyt: As a printer, you have to be involved in a lot more than just putting ink on paper... you have to be able to handle data, make sure it is being utilized and sent out to the client in record time to have relevance. This is where we as an industry have to be able to take in that data, configure the data properly, and get it out as fast as possible.

We are under pressure to really understand what it is that our clients are communicating, what they need. Inkjet technology and the combination of different technologies, where you go inline or near-line, whichever way you set it up, is an answer to producing relevant communications tools for your client.

Appvion Inc. has extended its Triumph High-Speed Inkjet Paper line with the addition of four treated products: 9 pt. Triumph Treated Universal in rolls and sheets, 9 pt. Triumph Treated Ultra P in rolls, and 32 lb. Triumph Universal and Triumph Ultra P in rolls.

“We continue to expand our portfolio of Triumph High-Speed Inkjet Papers to meet the ever-advancing demands of the inkjet printing industry,” said Scott Harman, Appvion’s Director of Digital Products. “Appvion’s commitment is to add value to paper. With these product extensions, we are offering our customers added value through more high-quality, superior-performing paper choices – all which yield the excellent finish and vibrant colour that provide exceptional results to meet their various application needs.”

Triumph Universal is engineered to run smoothly on both dye and pigment based printers and, according to the company, Ultra P is designed to provide ultra bold and vibrant colour as well as improved productivity with roll-fed, high-speed inkjet presses using aqueous pigment inks.

Triumph Treated papers, explains Appvion, are ideal for high-color direct mail, transpromotional pieces, catalogs, books and many other applications, and are available in a wide range of basis weights and sizes.
Domino Digital Printing Solutions is targeting the label industry with its newest Digital Front End workflow for its N-Series range of colour presses. Described as providing improved operating speed and streamlined automation, DFEv2.0 maintains compatibility with the latest Esko code base and can work with a number of VDP (variable data printing) formats.

“Workflow integration is a fundamental component for an efficient digital printing process that should not be underestimated,” said Simon Howes, Product Manager, Digital Printing Solutions at Domino. “The effective management of press time while optimizing print quality needs to be guaranteed, especially for brand-oriented sectors such as labelling and packaging.”

The new screener, Domino ScreenPro, streamlines workflow by combining several processes into a single JDF workflow, which the company explains enhances speed and efficiency as well as enabling full offline VDP operation and additional capabilities within DFEv2.0. When compared to DFEv1.2, the increase in job processing speeds is significant, according to Domino, and has a major impact when using multiple page PDF files for variable data printing. The RIP-to-print ratio of the latest version of ScreenPro is four to five times faster than the previous DFE solution.

With the introduction of a new JDF workflow, the need for manual file conversions is removed, while key information such as lead-in/lead-out, copy count by quantity or print run length can be passed from the DFE directly to the digital press.

“While speed and automation are the two features likely to appeal the most to label printers, versatility also has an important role to play,” said Howes. “The new workflow adds the ability to work with various VDP formats, such as multiple page PDF and PDF/VT files for the printing of variable data, barcodes and 2D barcodes, offering the printer a wider range of options to work with.”
From August 14 to 18, 2017, PrintAction magazine will cover the growth of Production Inkjet printing with a range of dedicated and unique content around the sector.
Xaar, which develops industrial inkjet technology, introduced the Xaar 5501, a new addition to its portfolio of aqueous print heads, which complements the existing Xaar 1201 and Xaar 5601, and provides OEMs looking for an aqueous print head from Xaar with a wider choice. This is the first product resulting from Xaar’s collaboration with Xerox, aiming to provide high print quality combined with low printing and integration costs.  

The new Xaar 5501 is built on proven bulk piezo technology in conjunction with Xaar Drive Electronics. Xaar describes it as a lightweight and high resolution 1,200 dpi print head that is ideal for a range of water-based digital printing applications, such as textiles (digital direct to garment, dye sublimation transfer and soft signage) and graphics (banners, posters, displays).

It has 5,544 nozzles, each producing five pL sub-drops giving a 115 mm print width. The Xaar 5501’s robust construction, according to the company, makes it compatible with a range of fluids including aqueous inks, low viscosity UV or solvent-based inks.

The Xaar 5501 uses a micro alignment system to position and align print heads via software. This allows rapid and easy printer set up, explains Xaar, therefore streamlining print head commissioning and reducing downtime overall. In addition, it does not require an ink recirculation system; which helps with lower integration costs and makes it very suitable to use in scanning applications such as printing wide-format graphics and textiles. In addition, for high productivity applications, single-pass printing is possible.

“We are delighted to be bringing the Xaar 5501 to market,” said Jason Remnant, Senior Product Manager at Xaar. “With this addition to our aqueous portfolio we now have a full range of solutions to meet the majority of applications which need low viscosity-compatible inkjet print heads. With its simple ink supply system, the Xaar 5501 is a very cost effective solution for scanning textile and wide-format graphics printers, and will be widely available to OEMs later this year.”
Fujifilm Dimatix, which specializes in drop-on-demand inkjet print heads, has expanded its existing Samba family, with the introduction of the Samba GMA line of products. The GMA products will be based on Si-MEMS technology along with the Samba G3L (single-pass focus).

The Samba GMA is described by the company as a compact, low voltage, full silicon MEMs print head designed for scanning applications such as textile, indoor signage, soft (dye sub) signage and high quality UV printing. Samba GMA print heads are based on silicon micro-electro-mechanical systems manufacturing (Si-MEMS).

With 384 individually addressable nozzles, the Samba GMA 33 print head has a native 300-dpi resolution and a native ink drop size of five picoliters (pl) that can jet a range of fluids like UV curable, solvent, and aqueous inks.

Fujifilm explains through continuous ink recirculation directly behind the nozzle and several innovations including nozzle plate design, specialized nozzle plate geometry, and waveforms tailored to specific fluids, known as RediJet, this process provides a range of potential of the Samba GMA print head. RediJet allows the print heads to be quickly and easily primed, explains the company, resulting in faster time to print, minimal ink waste and greater reliability.

Fujifilm’s VersaDrop jetting technology used by the new print heads allows multiple fixed drop sizes in binary mode and grayscale capability from one print head, with no loss to productivity. In binary operating mode, the Samba GMA print head is designed to eject adjustable drop sizes from five to 18 picoliters, and can support grayscale levels as defined by the users control electronics.
In February, Ricoh, through its European division, introduced the new Pro VC40000 next generation continuous feed inkjet platform aimed at transactional and direct mail clients to deliver high quality output with enhanced productivity features. This newest addition to Ricoh’s market-leading inkjet portfolio complements the existing Pro VC60000 and InfoPrint 5000 systems.

The Pro VC40000 features what Ricoh describes as a combination of speed, resolution and ease of use. At the heart of this solution lies the Ricoh TotalFlow Print Server R600A digital front end (DFE) that has been optimized to deliver workflow management for the production of complex, data-driven direct mail and transactional output.

The Ricoh Pro VC40000 operates at speeds up to 120 metres per minute, making it capable of producing more than 100,000 A4 images per hour. With paper support from 40 to 250 gsm, application possibilities range from lightweight books to high coverage postcards.

Ricoh explains it has made significant enhancements to its software and services offerings to support the launch of the Ricoh Pro VC40000. Ricoh ProcessDirector provides transactional and direct mail workflow support designed to maximize equipment throughput, help ensure 100 percent output integrity and qualify for maximum postal discounts. Additionally, the Ricoh TotalFlow Print Server R600A provides native support for PDF, PDF/VT and AFP together with JDF and advanced colour management support.
Canon unveiled its new Océ ProStream series, which the company describes as a revolutionary new approach to inkjet printing for further adoption into the mainstream of commercial printing. The Océ ProStream prints uncoated, inkjet-optimized, gloss and matt-coated papers at a rate of 80 metres per minute or 1,076 A4 sheets per minute.

“We deliberately took a green-field approach to design, with a commitment to create a product that would open up fresh business opportunities for commercial printers, particularly in high-growth segments such as premium direct mail and marketing collateral,” said Christian Unterberger, Canon’s Chief Marketing Officer & Executive Vice President Production Printing Products. “The Océ ProStream delivers on this commitment, pushing inkjet even further into the commercial printing mainstream with its amazing quality and versatility.”

The Océ ProStream, according to Canon, combines several completely new core technologies for continuous feed inkjet, and builds on a decade of experience in inkjet with the Océ JetStream, Océ ColorStream and Océ VarioPrint i300.

The latest piezo drop-on-demand inkjet print head generation, explains Canon, is leveraged with Océ Multilevel technology for sharper details, smoother half tones and economized ink usage. An Océ-developed set of ColorGrip and polymer pigment inks creates strong colours – on uncoated, inkjet-optimized and gloss and matt- coated offset papers.

The new press series uses a sensitive floatation air dryer in which the printed paper is not touched until the print images are fully robust – there are no scratches or changes to gloss levels and minimal paper stress for maximum quality, explains Canon.

The Océ ProStream is describes as a heavy-duty production engine with a resolution of 1,200 dpi and multilevel dot modulation at full 1,076 A4 per minute productivity.

The Océ ProStream recently earned an iF design award from Germany’s iF International Forum for Design, as chosen by a 58-member jury of independent experts in a competition of over 5,500 entries from 59 countries.

“We are confident that the Océ ProStream series will continue to drive our success in our competitive market,” said Unterberger. “With more than 33 percent percent market share, Canon Océ is the undisputed worldwide leader in continuous feed inkjet. The Océ ProStream will build on this heritage and carry forward our proud tradition of innovation in professional digital printing.”
At the Hunkeler Innovationdays in Lucerne, Switzerland, HP introduced its new PageWide Web Press T235 HD, part of the T200 HD Color series. The company explains this new entry-level continuous-feed inkjet web press provides commercial printers with an economical entry point into production-strength inkjet printing.

The T235 HD platform, explains HP, is targeted for publishing, production mail and commercial print needs. It can be upgraded to the HP PageWide Web Press T240 HD for increased productivity.  

“With the introduction of the HP PageWide T235 HD, it’s easier for more PSPs to make the analogue to digital transformation,” said Eric Wiesner, General Manager, HP PageWide Industrial Division, HP Inc. “As the HP PageWide Web Press platform reaches a milestone of 210 billion customer-printed pages, it further reinforces the market’s adoption of HP Thermal Inkjet technology.”

Using HP’s High Definition Nozzle Architecture (HDNA) with a native resolution of 2,400 nozzles per inch, the duplex HP PageWide Web Press T235 HD runs at 400 feet per minue (122 metres per minute) in Performance Mode, using single drop weight printing. It is capable of producing 200 feet per minute (61 mpm) in Quality Mode, using dual drop weight printing with seven levels of half-toning per colour, and finer grain printing for smoother skin tones, gradients and secondary colour solid fills.

“HP's high-volume PageWide solutions allow print service providers to add greater value to high-volume data-driven print communications with uncompromising performance and colour quality that brands demand,” said Wiesner.
After previewing the technology at drupa in mid-2016, Xaar plc has launched the Xaar 502 product family of greyscale piezoelectric drop-on-demand print heads designed for a range of applications. The first release from this print head family is the Xaar 502 GS15 O optimized for Coding and Marking applications.

The 502 GS15 O print head, explains Xaar, meets the needs of manufacturers developing machines to print high-quality, late-stage product identification like text, product data, bar codes and graphics onto secondary packaging or directly onto shaped products and primary packaging.

Xaar states this print head delivers a step change in product identification technology by combining binary and greyscale capabilities in one wide-swathe (70.5 mm) print head. With the ability to print drop sizes from 15-75 pL, the print head can print up to six grey levels for high-resolution, intense blacks on low contrast surfaces such as cardboard outer boxes. The Xaar 502 GS15 0 works with porous or semi-porous outer packaging and cardboard, giving the ability to better manage ink usage.

“The Xaar 502 GS15 O is the pinnacle of 25 years of Xaar’s investment in developing piezoelectric drop-on-demand printheads,” said Simon Kirk, Senior Product Manager at Xaar. “Today brand owners and retailers expect to be able to put larger, more detailed, more brand-orientated product identification text and graphics onto their packaging. Another key driver for manufacturers is to have more control over ink usage while delivering higher resolution print on cardboard. This new wide-swathe greyscale inkjet printhead delivers the superb performance needed to achieve this.”

The Xaar 502 family utilizes Xaar’s latest piezoelectric drop-on-demand actuator design, PrecisionPlus, which, explains the company, provides a long throw distance and increases stability and robustness of the print head. Combined with the optimized nozzle guard to support automated maintenance routines, the Xaar 502 family of print heads is positioned for use in demanding and harsh factory environments.

Also included in the 502 print head family is Xaar’s TF Technology which can be run in Pulsed mode. This optional new mode recirculates ink behind the nozzles during non-printing periods only.

The Xaar 502 GS15 O is compatible with a range of oil-based inks popular for use in coding and marking applications, including the latest addition to Xaar’s ink portfolio black mineral oil-free (MOF) SunJet IK822. This ink is designed for use on secondary packaging, with an ability to break down easily during recycling.
At Graph Expo, continuing in Orlando this week, HP Inc. announced four new 30-inch HP PageWide Web Presses powered by its High Definition Nozzle Architecture (HDNA) technology: HP PageWide Web Press T390 HD, T390M HD, T380 HD  and T370 HD.

The new system print at 500 feet per minute in quality mode and, according to HP, are aimed at applications like colour and trade books, journals, retail catalogues, brochures and marketing collateral. The company also introduced a new technology that can be applied through the HP PageWide Web Presses, called HP Link Technology, which embeds Internet-connected codes and invisible watermarks in printed collateral, such as customized textbooks, magazines or instruction manuals.
 
Most recently, Toronto-based Webcom leveraged HP Link Technology, along with HP One Book workflow solution and its HP PageWide Web Press T360, to produce several hundred individually personalized versions of Unsquaring the Wheel,, which are being shown at Graph Expo 2016.
 
HP PageWide Web Press customers recently surpassed 180 billion pages printed since 2009. HP explains customers are now running more than five billion pages per month, up from four billion pages per month in 2015. An HP PageWide Web Press T360M customer, explains HP, recently broke a worldwide productivity record by producing 7.3 million pages in a day and more than 32 million pages in a week. MLI Marketing Solutions became its 1,000th PrintOS customer.
Part II of The pulse of print heads focuses on the advances of manufacturing piezo and thermal systems for use in inkjet presses taking greater aim at commercial printing and packaging

With the growing range of investment options, PrintAction is producing a series of articles, called The pulse of print heads, to better understand one of the most-critical components of any production inkjet press. In Part 1, last month, we took a look at the relatively simple discussion of drop size, primarily because print head R&D and inkjet messaging for more than a decade focused on printing ever smaller drops of ink with the goal of improving overall inkjet quality, even as some commercial settings may require larger drops for higher volume work.

This month, Part II of The pulse of print heads focuses on the manufacture of print heads and how it relates to the adoption of inkjet presses for a wider range of commercial-printing applications. When a production inkjet system requires dozens of print heads each costing a few thousands dollars, for example, the manufacture of print heads also relates to the initial purchase price of inkjet systems and subsequent print head replacement costs.

Crystals, diaphragms and heat
The past few years have seen the rise of two important technical terms in relation to the key piece of hardware – print heads – of production inkjet presses: Nanotechnology and MEMS. Print head makers and their press-building OEM partners – if not one and the same – have put both nanotechnology and MEMS into play for decades now. Short for Microelectromechanical Systems, MEMS basically describes any type of microscopic device, particularly devices with moving parts.

MEMS manufacturing, therefore, relates more directly to piezo print heads that eject ink with moving mechanical elements, walls or diaphragms. Thermal print head manufacturing is experiencing similarly important advances, albeit with different process definitions, as developers of both print head types absorb massive upfront factory costs to propel the printing industry’s adoption of inkjet.

“When we talk about MEMS, Xaar talks very holistically about our whole product portfolio – older [print heads] and new stuff. The difference being that we now use silicon MEMS, as well,” says Jason Remnant, Product Line Manager with Xaar, which has built inkjet print heads since 1990. He explains silicon is more or less used to form the base of the print head, providing it with fluidic chambers before a film is applied with PZT (piezoelectric pumping components).

Xaar’s older generation print heads were built with what the company refers to as Bulk PZT that would be cut down to make the actuator ejection device, with control signals and a source of energy. The advances in silicon PZT manufacturing provides print-head makers with scalability and accuracy, resulting in an ability to fit more nozzles onto the given size of a print-head plate, with corresponding drivers, at less cost – even if the head may not be as durable as a Bulk PZT build.

In 2007, Xaar started working toward silicon-based MEMS production and in May 2016 introduced its next-generation 5601 print, which is also built with what manufacturers describe as Thin Film technology for holding PZT components. “It has to be biggest thing to come along from Xaar in a decade,” says Remnant. Over the past decade, print head developments ensured the mass adoption of wide-format inkjet for commercial work, as well as ceramics printing and print products with lower quality requirements like the inner pages of books, statements and forms. The commercial printing industry – with its many applications and quality demands – requires a print-head evolution that is well under way.

“The 5601 is a new platform of print heads that will absolutely drive the opportunity to digitize more print in the world,” says Remnant. In addition to reaching higher manufacturing levels at smaller micro-scales (nanotechnology), the new generation of print heads for commercial work, packaging and laminates, need to jet fluids other than solvent and UV. Remnant explains the 5601 can jet low-viscosity fluids, including aqueous and latex-type inks, which also opens up inkjet to the world of textiles.

To deploy the 5601, Xaar is working closely with Ricoh, which holds significant press interests in commercial and high-speed printing markets. “Past print heads have included silicon MEMS techniques and now new designs are being developed. MEMS and thin-film technology are not changing Ricoh’s print head position, but rather, these two technologies are enhancing and expanding Ricoh’s inkjet print head capabilities,” says Joseph Ryan, Director Business Development, Ricoh Printing Systems America.

The most-advanced print head manufacturing models today integrate components to create more of a print chip than a print head. “MEMS is a bit of a misnomer for HP thermal inkjet technology,” says Ross Allen, Senior Technical Specialist, HP Inkjet Technology Platform, who first joined the company as an engineer in 1981. “There are no moving mechanical elements in an HP print head. The ink is the only moving part. So, HP thermal inkjet is a MicroElectroFluidic System, and that term is not in common use.”

HP builds its newest generation of print heads with silicon and photolithographic polymer technologies. Allen explains this allows the entire print head, including on-board electronics, to be built with technologies that were originally developed for manufacturing integrated circuits like computer chips. HP’s MicroElectroFluidic advances resulted in the launch of its Scalable Printing Technology (SPT) around a decade ago. Allen explains SPT enables fine structures, both electronic and fluidic, to be defined, precision-aligned and built on a silicon substrate.

Just as Xaar faced limitations producing Bulk PZT, HP also previously faced manufacturing challenges with its original thermal heads because they employed separately fabricated nozzle plates that had to be mechanically aligned and adhered to a silicon substrate with fluidic channels and chambers. Allen explains more complexity came from the use of different material properties, such as thermal expansion between an electroformed nickel nozzle plate and the silicon (polymer) component.

“By building fluidic – ink – chambers, passages, and nozzle plates out of the same photo-imageable polymer in layers up from the surface of a silicon wafer – with its electronic circuits – larger and more complex print heads may be produced,” says Allen. “HP thermal inkjet print heads are essentially integrated circuits that eject ink.”

Like Xaar’s 5601, Epson’s PrecisionCore and Fujifilm Dimatix’ Samba technology, HP SPT is print head platform, meaning it continues to receive R&D dollars to include what Allen describes as smaller fluidic structures: Smaller drop generator chambers, ink passages, nozzles and built-in filters that catch particles in the ink.

“This means that current generations of an HP print head chip – typically about an inch long – can have thousands of identical nozzles and deliver two or four different colours of ink. These chips are placed end-to-end, staggered – and with a small overlap – to build print heads that are 4.25- and 8.5-inches wide.”

Compact nozzles and zones
The ability to design nozzle-dense print heads – and manufacture them on a grand scale – is critical for inkjet-press adoption in commercial printing for a number of reasons from quality to cost. Technically, nozzle-dense heads allow press makers to build larger format presses with smaller print zones. Xaar’s 5601 is built in a Z-pattern to interlace the print heads and reduce the printing area of – ideally – a single-pass inkjet press built by one of its partners.

A smaller print zone reduces potential printing complications with fast moving paper. “Being able to assemble a number of print heads into large arrays allows large systems to be assembled,” says Ryan. “Aligning print heads, especially in high-resolution printing applications, has always been a challenge to system designers. Almost all print heads have alignment techniques using precision locating pins, flat control surfaces, and incorporating physical configurations, such as Z forms and trapezoidal configurations for interlocking and alignment.”

Employing traditional print heads in a single-pass production inkjet press, explains Xaar’s Jason Remnant, typically required staggering the print heads on a print bar to address issues like number of applicable colours and redundancy, particularly as press format sizes increased. Staggering heads can equate to deeper print bars, which in turn increases the print zone. “A small print zone is really critical because it has a [reduced] cost on the build of your machine and it also has a big influence on the print quality of your output,” explains Remnant. “If you are making a huge single-pass printer and it turns out that your print zone is two-metres wide, you have to control your substrates [to] get them from the first colour all the way to the nozzles of the last colour – and [the paper must] be where you expect it to be, so the drops end up where you want them.”

Challenges of running a larger print zone are exacerbated, explains Remnant, because it allows for more swelling when paper is hit with fluids, particularly if absorbing water. “Part of the design of this [5601] head was to allow the OEM to make a very compact print zone and, in fact, the concept for a four-colour system with our print speed would actually mean you are printing quicker than the swelling of the paper.”

The application of staggered print head bars, of course, becomes efficient when building integrated print chips with super-packed nozzles. For the first generation of print heads used in the HP PageWide Web Presses, Allen explains nozzles were spaced in two offset columns of 600 nozzles per inch to print at 1,200 dpi across the web. “The newest generation of HP print heads, called High Definition Nozzle Architecture, places small drop weight nozzles between the original high drop weight nozzles for dual drop weight printing. Across each ink feed slot – a slot through the silicon chip that supplies ink to the fluidics layer – these print heads feature 2,400 nozzles per linear inch,” says Allen. “A low drop weight nozzle prints in the same dot row as a high drop weight nozzle across the ink feed slot, so the printing resolution is still 1,200 dpi across the web.”

HP’s print head build with integrated circuit technologies means many hundreds of its print head chips can be made on one silicon wafer. “This leads to large economies of scale in manufacturing,” says Allen, “where many different print head series can be built in the same HP factory.” Economies of scale provided by today’s print-head manufacturing results in lower-cost products that will ultimately affect the price of production inkjet presses and introduce a wider range of lower-cost, smaller-format systems for commercial printing. With growing use of total-cost-of-ownership investment models, printers should also consider the cost of replacing silicon-based print heads.

“I don’t see any breakthroughs coming in any inkjet technology that could be considered a dramatic reduction in replacement cost. HP SPT already delivers manufacturing economies of scale that are reflected in print head price,” says Allen. “What could happen to reduce effective print head cost-to-print is longer print head life, which drives down cost per square metre. Of course, HP and others are always working to develop longer life, more reliable print heads, but lower prices will be evolutionary and not a dramatic breakthrough.”
German press maker KBA has worked with Xerox to develop a new B1 sheetfed press, called the KBA VariJET 106, aimed at folding-carton printing. There are currently two such presses being developed at KBA’s German facilities and the company describes the program’s progress as being in the final stages of development.

VariJET 106 combines offset printing and finishing technology with inkjet technologies, the latter developed by Xerox, in a highly modular system that can be tailored for customer requirements, including optimized inline processes.

The press presentation via video at drupa included post inkjet options, double coating and drying, rotary die-cutting, pre-treatment and drying, corona treatment, offset units, opaque white and cold foil application.

KBA explains the press is suitable for industrial production and can run a range of substrates. Described as “digital sheetfed for folding carton,” KBA expects the system to be complete in a few months for 2017.
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