Here we are at what the pundits have been calling the “inkjet drupa,” and they were surely on track.  There is a lot of activity around inkjet here, and some surprises, especially as it relates to innovative “inks.”

A recent Océ announcement just prior to drupa caught my attention.  I am not necessarily an expert on all of the printing technologies or their history, but this struck me as a very innovative development that might ultimately have far-reaching impact on the industry.  Océ is showing this technology at drupa. I spoke with Neil Westhof, International Product Market Manager, to learn more about CrystalPoint and the Océ ColorWave 600.

WTT:  Neil, can you give us some background on the development of this new CrystalPoint technology?

NW:  This is something Océ started developing in the mid 1990’s.  At that time, we saw a number of trends in the market that are still valid today that were blurring the lines between what had been discrete applications.  For example, there is more photography being mixed with CAD, for illustration and depiction of landscaping.  There is more business and consumer graphic printing of all kinds of things—presentation plots for projects, 25th anniversary prints, and so on.  At the same time, the application mix in color is different than black & white.  Even with our color CAD printers, one in every five prints tends to be a poster.  That influenced our technology choices.  We also saw increasing demand for sustainability, and we saw a need for more productive color systems.  We were looking for a solution that could address all of that that. 

We already had significant investments and knowledge in both toner and thermal inkjet.  Both technologies have a lot of positive benefits, but they each also have their challenges.  The challenges you see in thermal inkjet are primarily the media dependency, meaning you must use higher quality, more expensive paper for good output, versus toner that gives you good quality on simple plain paper.  Bottom line, we wanted a technology that combined the best of both worlds, and that is what led to us developing the Oce CrystalPoint technology.

WTT:  As I read the announcement and the product literature, it appears to be a bit of a hybrid between toner and inkjet.

NW:  It is somewhat like a hybrid.  CrystalPoint uses TonerPearls and gives us very robust prints that are immediately dry for improved productivity.  They are odorless prints and it is an odorless system with no ozone emissions.  One of the benefits of thermal inkjet is the movement of print heads in a swath motion that creates prints at high speed, and that is the thermal inkjet benefit we wanted to achieve with our imaging devices. 

WTT:  Does this technology use thermal inkjet heads, then?

NW:  The printheads are similar to thermal inkjet, but have two fundamental differences.  One is that they are built to last.  Typically, customers think about thermal inkjet heads as consumables which they must stock and replace themselves. With CrystalPoint, they are part of the maintenance contract, and you don’t have to do anything yourself.  That takes a burden off of the customer in terms of worrying about durability; the contract covers anything that goes wrong.  The second obvious difference is that we use a toner instead of ink.

WTT:  Can you explain how it works?

NW:  Solid TonerPearls roll into the imaging devices and get melted at 130 degrees Celsius into a toner gel.  We do this for a couple reasons.  One reason is that it mitigates the risk of satellites forming.  With thermal inkjet, the ink is basically water.  As you jet a drop of ink, when the drop is formed there is a tail that can break off and form a small extra drop called a satellite.  When that lands on media, you have the risk of running, not what you want if you are trying to print fine detail. Gel mitigates that and has a nice, solid, consistent drop.  The other reason is the fact that with this technology, we are able to get good quality output on plain, inexpensive paper, both standard and recycled.  From a cost and sustainability perspective, we wanted to get good quality on inexpensive and recycled bond. Typically, because the fibers in this type of media are very coarse, ink lands on coarse fibers and feathers or runs.  When the toner gel is jetted, it lands on the media like Jello pudding; it wiggles but won’t run into the media.  This gives the customer a cost benefit from a media perspective and a more sustainable operation.

WTT:  What is the maximum image width on the ColorWave 600, the first implementation of CrystalPoint, and how fast does it print?

NW:  The maximum width is 42 inches and its fastest speed is about 30 seconds for an A0 or E size, which is about a square meter.. 

WTT:  When will the ColorWave 600 be available?

NW:  We have started installing the first systems at customer sites in Europe and will be rolling it out to all major markets during 2008.

WTT:  What are the target markets?  This was originally conceived for the CAD market, but you have indicated it has graphic arts applications as well.

NW:  Yes, it was designed for the CAD and GIS markets as a base.  But it also does well with short-run point of purchase materials and poster printing.  Retailers love the product.  They like the blend of cost-effective full color printing and speed.

WTT:  What about energy consumption with the pearls needing to be melted?

NW:  In sleep mode, it consumes 55 watts, 250 watts in ready mode and 425 watts when active.  It is also EPA Energy Star compliant.  As a comparison, a computer and monitor will draw about 400 watts.

WTT:  What about other running costs?

NW:  It is difficult to give a general answer to that since there are so many variables depending upon the application.  The system investment cost is an average of Euro 40,000, depending on configuration.  Running costs are competitive in terms of media, service and consumables.

WTT:  Do you see any theoretical limitations of this technology that would prevent its being migrated into industrial, superwide format, production inkjet or other applications?

NW:  I can tell you that we did not develop this technology for one product.  It is the base, and we are investigating opportunities in other areas for our own products, and for other applications and industries outside of our normal product scope.  However, I would not expect that you will see any other applications for the technology for at least two years.

WTT:  What about UV durability, since it is a plastic?

NW:  It is light-fast for about four weeks in the sun, indefinitely indoors.  We have pieces that have been hanging indoors for months with no degradation.  Of course, prints will withstand water, including rain, which is another advantage of toner over normal thermal inkjet printing.

WTT:  Is there anything else you would like to add before we close?

NW:  We consider this a disruptive technology, and we have invested a great deal in its development. I would just say, stay tuned!