Month's Spectrum Summary:
following is an excerpt from the June 2008 issue of Spectrum,
proprietary monthly briefing published exclusively for the
clients of I.T. Strategies, Inc. © 2008)
Jet Heads: A Look Behind the Curtain
This month Mark Hanley and Marco Boer
take a pragmatic look at some of the issues surrounding high-speed
ink jet printing and a variety of challenges that will impact
the rate of adoption and the dynamics of market growth and
Print engine vendors may produce the
print engines, but the key technology of ink jet is the printhead,
which can be configured in three different ways: monolithic,
fixed array and wide scan array.
There are different types-thermal,
piezo and continuous ink jet (CIJ)-that may use aqueous, UV,
solvent, latex, solid, oil, and eco-solvent inks, which in
turn may use dye- or pigment-based colorants.
Improved performance of all types of
heads is coming directly from the ink jet head suppliers,
which have made numerous enhancements in nozzle density, firing
frequency, droplet placement precision, and reliability, all
of which have enabled single-pass (fixed array) printing more
One of the most dramatic differences
has been the increase in the number of nozzles per print head
and how heads are being combined to create wider arrays. Only
three or four years ago the largest print heads were about
1" wide and contained 128 nozzles, but now hundreds and even
thousands of nozzles are the norm. HP's new Scalable Print
Technology, for example, combines five heads in a single 4.25"
wide printhead array with 10,560 nozzles.
Advances in reliability are especially
important because when a head fails, the entire system goes
down, so the issue becomes not only head replacement costs
over time, but how much it costs to have the machine down.
This is a big issue for the high-volume applications because
head failure during a peak production period presents significant
costs in labor and lost productivity.
Equipment vendors have presumably thought
through and addressed the many issues related to performance
and reliability, but there is a gap in knowledge for everyone,
from vendors to head manufacturers to print providers to analysts.
"We all need to go up the experience curve on ink jet and
determine where reality lies," notes Mark.
Ensuring that printheads deliver the
quality and reliability required has driven up their cost,
which will soon approach 30% or even 40% that of the machines
in which they are installed. As part of this increase, printhead
manufacturers will be taking more responsibility for assembling
heads into arrays, modules or into entire sub-assemblies of
a print engine and for working with ink companies to provide
inks that meet the performance requirements of the new heads.
Support at the print provider level
will have to be part of what head manufacturers provide, typically
in conjunction with print engine vendors. This is a significant
change in these companies' business models, and is another
part of the changes ink jet will cause in the marketplace.