When Memjet first broke cover, the technology appeared to be magic. There were videos where sheets of paper went into a machine blank and emerged covered in print just seconds later.
The speed was, and still is, astonishing. It gave rise to the idea of fake videos long before the current ideas of fake news. But it was real, although it took another year or two to turn this into a reality.
That technology was based on the VersaPass printhead using what was dubbed waterfall technology, in reality an ultra small, ultra high resolution thermal inkjet.
It promised much and delivered slightly less, mostly because the printhead has a limited life expectancy and with five colours per page wide head, blocked nozzles would cause quality issues in commercial print applications. And the life of the printhead was limited.
Consequently applications were also limited, though this has not stopped high profile companies, including Xerox and Canon, from signing deals to use the printheads in large format printers, in label presses and mailing lines.
Delphax announced a four-page machine the Elan would use the printhead for short run book printing, but Delphax itself ran into the sand before this could be tested effectively.
A further issue with this technology is that it uses dye inks only, demanding a media with suitable surface and limiting possible applications. Nevertheless there has been steady take up among entry level label presses and on mailing lines. Winkeler & Dunnebier is an OEM customer, for example.
While the technology was admired: nobody else had made a pagewide printhead with 70,400 nozzles firing 1.2pl droplets at 1600dpi, it was too limited for widespread adoption. Likewise Memjet has had to sort out its business models, how it should balance the cost of ink the cost of the printhead and service to achieve the returns it wants.
Last year everything changed with the announcement of the Duralink printhead. Duralink is a page wide printhead with greater life than its first generation Versapass printhead. It retains the 1600dpi resolution of this head and aqueous ink, but instead of firing a dye ink, Duralink uses a pigment ink. And Memjet predicts that users will achieve ten times the volume of pages before the Duralink heads needs to be replaced.
Where Versapass has been considered a printhead for low volume print applications, offering four-colour printing from a single head, Duralink is intended to take Memjet into mainstream print and packaging work. Each head is dedicated to a single colour using the five rows of nozzles and image optimisation software to prevent a blocked nozzle creating a telltale streak.
The Memjet technology is a drop on demand thermal inkjet offering CMYK printing. The company has supplied special colours for Versapass heads and could do so for the second generation printhead, but it is not going to include a white ink.
Users who want white must either print a background using an analogue technology or include a UV printhead for white.
The company quotes a head life of 50 litres of ink, firing 2.2pl droplets at a rate of 15kHz through 70,400 nozzles on each head.
A number of OEMs were quick to announce they had signed up for for the new head, others have taken longer to evaluate Duralink alongside other more conventional printhead technologies. Eric Owen, who joined Memjet from Kodak to build Memjet’s case for commercial print two years ago with the first announcement of the technology, says that interest is huge. Memjet fully expects to have 20 OEMs in place before the end of this year.
“Some of the characteristics of the Versapass head restricted its use in the commercial space. Duralink has changed that,” Owen says. “We have spent a lot of time working on the new printhead to get what we wanted including an increase of speed to 200 metres a minute and because of its fixed droplet size, it will use less ink than an equivalent piezo head.
“Duralink is a completely new design of printhead with improvements in ink delivery, the printhead itself to improve life, the supporting modules and the data path to drive the printhead.” Crucial has been the introduction of a heating element that is fixed to the head. This reduces the build up of contaminants which limited the life of the Versapass head.
The head will also run from 75m/min to perhaps 300m/min, albeit at lower resolution and using techniques to squeeze the sort of performance that few others can match.
The heads can be stitched together to make a maximum width of 2.4 metres and in multiple modules on a perfecting press to up to 192 printheads, says Owen. Some users of the Versapass head already do this to produce rapid low cost corrugated boxes at the point of packaging and mailing. Duralink will build on this application.
The first companies to make commitment to the printhead include existing OEM Colordyne and MGI which includes the heads on its groundbreaking Alphajet press.
This was something of a surprise as MGI is a subsidiary of Konica Minolta and all indications were that KM would supply its piezo printheads for this machine. It will, but for white and for spot varnish enhancement where piezo is able to handle the more viscous fluids better than the thermal printhead.
The Alphabet is a unique machine: sheets are loaded onto independently controlled trucks which travel around a fixed track using magnetic levitation drives. Each sheet can pass rapidly beneath the Memjet print section, can slow for the application of UV enhancement or foil, perhaps shuttling beneath the heads for more than one pass, then under a laser for cutting to deliver a finished, ready to glue carton.
This machine is going into a beta test phase in order to be full ready at Drupa next year. MGI reckons that interest in the concept will rocket once the test period concludes and customers get their heads around the opportunity it presents.
There will be other OEM machines that will make a debut at Drupa and while nobody at the San Diego business is identifying OEMs, these will make use of the ability to stitch the heads to deliver a 2.4 metre wide single pass printer for corrugated print.
Other iterations under discussion would amount to up to 192 printheads on a press for a perfecting 2.5 metre wide machine. Efi has been announced as a supplier of a digital front end capable for delivering enough data for this type of machine.
What perhaps makes Memjet interesting from an OEM perspective is that the company supplies all the different modules that are needed, the head, the control systems, the fluid controls. There is no need to run wave form analysis because this is a binary technology, the drops are always the same size and they are either triggered or not.
Once an OEM has signed up, the round if implementation and testing, which requires Memjet’s close involvement, takes two years.
“It’s a drop in system,” says Owen. “Rather than just supply a printhead we supply a complete system with modules which means as faster time to market.” And this benefits the OEM which spends less R&D on development and benefits Memjet because machines get into the field where they consume ink much faster.
Heidelberg is using the first Memjet technology on the entry level LabelMaster press, one of a number of small footprint digital presses that also contain the finishing line.
These are intended for short run production, in support of a more conventional flex label press, as standby for a larger digital press or as a press for a commercial printer to extend his footprint into label production.
Memjet is gearing up to support up to 20 OEMs for the new Duralink printhead. This provides the robustness and throughput that the VersaPass first generation printhead lacked, limiting the applications it could address.
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“Some of the characteristics of the Versapass head restricted its use in the commercial space. Duralink has changed that,” says Eric Owen, who joined Memjet from Kodak. He has been joined by other emigres from Kodak, Fuji and HP as the momentum behind Memjet builds.
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