Commentary & Analysis
Drupa 2012, the Inkjet Drupa…again? A closer look at Memjet and three unique OEMs
In this eighth article of the series, David looks at Memjet inkjet technology, and some OEM implementations and offerings to address specific production print applications.
By David Zwang
Published: March 9, 2012
Until now, each article in this series has focused on a specific printer manufacturer’s technology and offerings. While many of them share integral component partners, or even the same equipment manufacturer as in the case of Ricoh InfoPrint and Screen, the Memjet OEM relationship is a bit different.
Memjet is San Diego CA color printing technology company that is a partner of Silverbrook Research, an Australian R&D company that was co-founded in 1994 by Kia Silverbrook, an inventor (one of the largest single individual U.S. patent holders), scientist, and serial entrepreneur. It is the largest non-governmental research company in Australia. Silverbrook co-founded Memjet as a spin off in 2002, and the fruits of its labors are starting to come to market to wide acclaim.
Silverbrook developed a business partnership with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) to fabricate this technology using MEMS design and manufacturing, which we have discussed in previous articles. The technology was demonstrated in March of 2007, and two years later the system was made available to a wide variety of printer manufacturers. These include manufacturers of desktop printers, production printers, label printers, photo/retail and, I am sure there will be other uses over time.
The unique position of Memjet is the offer of a complete OEM core inkjet solution. This includes printheads, controller chip, software and ink. Additionally Memjet has developed an assortment of reference printer and print engine platforms to both prove its technology as well as offer to the OEMs for integration into their individual products as an in-brand core differentiator, or to just use as a baseline of product development experience. All of this significantly lowers the barrier of entry for printer manufacturers, allowing more of them to consider and deliver inkjet solutions. As I was interviewing each of the OEM partners, there was one thing they all had in common. They were very excited about their Memjet relationship, and the opportunities that relationship has provided for them. In each case, they seemed to be less concerned about finding prospects and more concerned about their ability to keep up with demand. Currently Memjet has OEMs around the globe, in a number of printer markets. These include desktop, office, production print, wide format, and label production. We can expect more to show up at drupa as well.
In this article, I will look at the core Memjet technology as well as three of their OEMs: Xanté, with a wide format solution; Colordyne with a label production solution; and Delphax, with a high-speed production print solution.
A primer on the Memjet Inkjet technology
While Memjet sells its printing system as a whole, the printhead design is where the company shows differentiation from the other printhead manufacturers. At its base level it is a thermal drop on demand (DoD) system. However, Memjet delivers an entire inkjet solution to its OEMs for integration into front end and transport system at a relatively low cost. The base solution includes printheads, control chips, software, and ink, with optional components available depending upon the individual OEM need.
The ‘Waterfall’ inkjet technology currently centers around the 8.77” wide printhead that can deliver up to 700 million 1-2 picoliter drops per second. It prints through 70,400 nozzles at either 6 inches per second at 1600 x 1600 dpi or 12 inches per second at 1600 x 800 dpi, making it one of the fastest inkjet systems available. The head includes 11 integrated circuit chips (IC) and five ink channels that can print CMYK +1, or 5 different spot colors. The fixed head requires minimal warm-up time and prints in one pass without moving back and forth across the sheet as some other printheads do.
The controller chips are optimized for the system to support delivery of up to 12 inches per/sec., or 60 continuous pages per minute. The ‘total’ solution comes with a software development kit that minimizes the work required for OEM development and integration into transport and front-end systems.
The basic consumables for all of the OEM devices are the ink and the printheads. Currently Memjet inks are water-based dye inks that are specifically designed to work with Memjet printheads. The inks and drop size allow significant ink laydown and quick drying on inkjet compatible papers. The ink densities and resultant print contrast provide an impressive production print product. Printhead life expectancy for production print is estimated at up to 4 liters of ink printed at 70% coverage. The approximate cost of a replacement head is established by each individual OEM, but falls around $300 based on our research.
Head maintenance is delivered through a cleaning system that, on command, suctions the heads and cleans and primes them. A quick clean takes about 30 seconds and a full cleaning can take a few minutes. The frequency of cleaning is very dependent on the type and cleanliness of the substrate, although it is recommended that you do a cleaning at least once a shift at a minimum.
The print costs will obviously vary by application, but here are a few benchmarks from the field. Memjet has estimated that monochrome printing from an office printer would cost between $0.01-0.02 per page, and color at $0.05-0.06 per page. Colordyne estimated that a 4 x 6 label with 40% coverage and a full color image would cost about $0.026, including printhead and ink. This pricing level makes the running costs very competitive with other offerings in the market.
Memjet OEMs offer a sizable range of print solutions, with more coming. We expect many new OEM offerings to surface at drupa, and many new developments and enhancements from Memjet in the longer term.
Three Memjet OEM examples
Founded in 1989, Xanté, with headquarters in Mobile AL, began its life by developing upgrade boards for Apple and HP laser printers, which enabled an increase in the printers’ speed and resolution. Through development and acquisition over the subsequent years, Xanté has been able to offer a wide selection of products and solutions including a variety of electrophotographic printers including small footprint color digital printers, sheetfed envelope presses as well as CTP and CTF devices, and workflow systems that include color management functions.
The Excelagraphix 4200 is Xanté’s first product utilizing Memjet technology. This wide format production inkjet printer was first shown as a concept at Graph Expo in Chicago in September 2011, to much excitement. It’s a 42” sheetfed system that prints CMYKK at up to 12” per/sec. at 1600 x 800 dpi., making it one of the fastest wide format production printers on the market.
Using five 8.77” printheads across the width of the printer, the Excelagraphix 4200 prints a minimum width of 8.27” to a maximum width of 42” on inkjet friendly substrates up to 1/2” thick. Xanté has tested a wide variety of media and, in addition to conventional wide format display work, has found tremendous demand for corrugated materials, which have been demonstrated successfully. It is currently a manually feed sheetfed device that can support almost any length of substrate; however, Xanté has found that material handling, not the printer, is the real limiting factor. Although Xanté has printed a 42” x 27 ft. banner, this did require significant operator coordination. Due to the variety of wide format media requirements, and Xanté’s concern about keeping the cost of the machine reasonable, Xanté has not added an automatic sheet feeder. I would expect that a roll feeder is in its future. However, Xanté does have a print catcher on the output side for supported print lengths.
Xanté uses its iQueue 6 software to drive this printer. iQueue is an Adobe-based Postscript 3 prepress workflow solution that supports Job Management, Imposition, Spot Color Matching, Job Cost Estimating, Screening Options, etc. iQueue 6 is offered in 2 versions, Pro and Ultimate, depending on your requirements and the functionality you are looking for.
Xanté sees this printer successfully filling the need for production wide format applications of commercial print quality, at a relatively high speed. It doesn’t really compete with the higher-end photographic wide format devices (like the Epson or HP) for proofing or photographic applications. However, it can be more than 10 times faster than many of the production wide format printers on the market. Additionally, as a result of the development and production cost efficiencies of the Memjet OEM relationship, Xanté can offer the Excelagraphix at a fraction of the cost of other production wide format printers. Xanté plans to start shipping the Excelagraphix 4200 in June 2012.
A relatively new company founded by industry veterans in the label and tag space, Colordyne Technologies, with headquarters in Scottsdale AZ, focuses its products on the color label, tag, and signage markets. Colordyne began by looking at Memjet inkjet as an alternative to thermal, electrophotographic, and Flexo tag and label solutions. Its entire line of products uses Memjet inkjet technology. Currently Colordyne offers three different color-printing solutions, each capable of supporting variable data requirements.
The first printer is the CDT-1600C. This bench-top printer is available in both roll and fan-fold feed and is positioned as a high-speed label printer. It handles media from a minimum width of 2” to a maximum of 9.5”, with a maximum print width of 8.77” (the current Memjet printhead width). It supports media from 0.003 to 0.0012 inches thick. For accurate print control, it has media sensing capabilities by gap, notch, or tick mark. It prints CMYKK variable data at 1600 x 1600 dpi or 1600 x 800 dpi at 6 to 12 in/sec. at the maximum resolution of Memjet technology.
Colordyne’s second offering is the CDT-1600S, a bench-top sheetfed printer designed for forms, labels, tags and envelopes. It supports Label, Tag, Paper, and Envelope media with a minimum media width of 3” and a maximum width of 9.5”. The minimum print length is 4.2” with a maximum of 17”, at a thickness from 0.004 to 0.020 inches. It uses the same print control media sensing as the CDT-1600C, and is available in 1600 x 1600 dpi or 1600 x 800 dpi at 6 to 12 in/sec printing CMYKK.
The third offering is the CDT-1600PC, a continuous web production class printing system. This narrow web solution can print at 1600x1200 dpi at up to 32 in/sec (160ft/min.). It can be configured with up to 5 printheads with a minimum print width of 2” and a maximum printable width of 8.69”. It supports 5-color printing as CMYK +1, or up to 5 different spot colors. It supports both transmissive and reflective media sensing for tight tolerance print control.
The web handling for this printing system is manufactured by AzTech Converting, a 28-year-old converter system manufacturer. The 24” cantilevered unwind and rewind system supports dual servo-driven web control with an ultrasonic web guide for precision lateral web control.
In an effort to offer a very competitive short-run flexo replacement solution, Colordyne has just introduced a new finishing station option that can include varnish, laminating, die cutting, and perfing. This addition positions the printer to compete with short run Flexo.
The front end software for the Colordyne printers is composed of a Wasatch RIP along with a Niceware label design and workflow solution supporting a full range of features. These can be upgraded and configured based on individual requirements.
Colordyne has been shipping its printers since October 2011, and its bench-top solutions are finding their way into product manufacturer and retailer operations that are seeking a short run, low cost solution to produce full color labels, tags and envelopes on demand, on-site. Colordyne’s production class printer is a low cost, quality printer tailored to support the high speed, higher volume requirements of the market.
Headquartered in Minneapolis MN, Delphax, an industry leader in the digital print space for over 30 years, was one of the pioneers in the development and manufacturing of production class electrophotographic printers. The company manufactures both cut sheet and continuous roll-fed solutions that are used for transactional, book, legal and financial, direct mail, security and packaging insert applications. Thus, Delphax understands what is required for a high-speed printer to meet the demanding requirements of a production print environment. In addition to developing and manufacturing the printers, Delphax also has a software development group that creates process solutions to support its printers in different market applications. Delphax has subsidiary offices around the globe, and its products, along with a support infrastructure, can be found in over 50 countries.
Delphax has recently announced its new elantm series of high-speed production inkjet printers, based on Memjet technology. While the official launch isn’t scheduled until April, with a big splash at drupa in May, the company has strategically released some of the product specifications to the public in advance of the launch. However, specific pricing and configuration information is not yet officially available at the time of this writing.
At this point, we believe Delphax will be introducing the sheetfed elantm 250, which can produce up to 250 impressions per minute, and the elantm 500 which can produce up to 500 impressions per minute. These 2 new elantm printers are targeted at many of Delphax’s existing core business applications.
As a part of the product introduction, Delphax has created a front-end workflow and RIP that is built on core Adobe technology. It has been developed with a very open standards-based architecture to facilitate flexibility in workflow requirements and integration with existing systems.
We look forward to the official Delphax launch in April, at which time we will be providing a full review of the new product line based on further public information provided by the company.
In the next article, I will continue this pre-drupa educational series by looking at what all of this information we have presented to date means, and how you can use it to help educate yourself on what production inkjet technology is here today, how people are using it, how you could utilize it in your business, and what you can expect to see at drupa 2012.