In the constant quest for competitive advantage, increased production efficiencies and lower costs are top priorities in all industries. Inkjet printhead manufacturers are no exception, as microfluidic applications extend to inkjet ink and its delivery. OEMs know that microfabrication can...
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There was concern in 2011 that demand would stall again as inventories had been replenished. However, this did not happen in large part due to a trend towards single-pass inkjet printing systems that can use from 20 to up to 500 or more printheads per system. (Serial-based systems commonly use between four and 12 heads per system.) Many of these models became commercially available this year.
Demand was flat in 2012, in part because the core market for piezo inkjet printheads – wide-format graphics printers -- is reaching maturity in terms of its market demand life cycle and in part because the printheads are becoming more reliable, which translates to fewer replacement parts. Also, the number of nozzles per printhead is increasing dramatically, so fewer printheads are needed per printing system. As a result of higher nozzle density, the weighted average selling price of industrial piezo printheads has doubled to nearly $600 per head.
HP Scitex manufactures its HDR300 printheads in the United States at HP’s Corvallis, OR facility. Large-scale silicon production there provides the benefits of quality control and economies of scale. In March 2012, Kyocera began mass production of commercial print inkjet heads in Japan: its KJ4B-Y for water-based ink and KJ4A-B for UV-curable ink. Both offer “the world's fastest print speeds.” The company initially produced 1,000 units per month (total for both types combined) and has been gradually increasing production volumes.
These printhead unit volumes give some indication of the manufacturing capacity needed, which is important as an indicator of automation capability, I.T. Strategies pointed out. “While the manufacturing of industrial piezo inkjet printheads is becoming more automated, it remains far away from the levels of automation experienced by thermal inkjet printhead manufacturers whose core business relies upon desktop consumer printer demand,” the firm reported. Many of the piezo inkjet printheads sold were hand assembled during a large portion of their manufacturing process. But a migration to the aforementioned next-generation, micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS)-type piezo printheads is encouraging further automation. The trade-off, of course, is a requirement for higher volume demand to justify the upfront capital investment in manufacturing plant, “which can run up to $100 million per facility,” according to I.T. Strategies.
24,000 drops per second
HP Scitex explained the basic concept behind binary inkjet printing, which forms an image from “binary dots,” where a drop of ink is either ejected (or not) at a specific location. Each color of ink has a specific drop volume, and drop volumes are measured in picoliters (pl)—there are one million-million picoliters in a liter. (Drops may also be characterized by their weight in nanograms. For inks with a specific gravity of 1.0, the numerical values are the same.)
HP Scitex HDR300 printheads employ an innovative piezo inkjet technology, developed by Hewlett Packard engineers, where each nozzle produces drops at three volume levels—15, 30, and 45 pl—at up to 24,000 drops per second. The printhead is a compact, self-contained module with a robust, industrial design. Pull-out/plug-in servicing offers easy assembly and press maintenance, HP Scitex said. Glass, silicon, and epoxy are the only materials that come into contact with ink for long and reliable service life.
Each printhead has 192 nozzles spaced at 150 nozzles per inch for a 1.28 inch print swath. The 24-kHz design produces high ink flux for high printing productivity: each printhead can eject up to 12 ml of ink per minute. Printheads are calibrated during manufacture for uniform drop velocity and drop volume across the nozzle array, according to HP.
The HDR300 heads feature mechanical, ink, and electrical connections that allow the printhead to be simply plugged into place and secured with two screws. Two locator pins provide better than 10-micron positioning accuracy without adjustment. Ink connections are made through two ports, each sealed with an O-ring, and there are no ink tubes to attach and tighten, HP said. Electrical power and control signals come through a standard 30-pin connector that interfaces to a solid electrical bus bar to ensure reliable, error-free printhead replacement.