On September 24, 2013, in Brussels, Belgium, Epson unveiled its PrecisionCore inkjet printhead technology at Label Expo, one of the label industry's largest trade shows.
PrecisionCore is a collective term that encompasses technology for printheads that feature Epson's unique thin-film piezoelectric (TFP) elements. At the heart of this technology is the recently developed PrecisionCore MicroTFP print chip. Epson formerly used thin-film piezoelectric printheads exclusively for commercial large-format printers. Now, however, after an extensive research and development effort, the company is able to use TFP printheads across its product line, from industrial presses to office printers.
PrecisionCore MicroTFP print chips
One of the features that sets these print chips apart is their outstanding scalability, a product of their compactness, and high performance. These modular chips can be combined in different ways to build a variety of printheads, from lineheads for industrial label presses to serial printheads for desktop document printers.
The chip, a mere 1 mm in thickness, consists of a thin-film piezoelectric element that functions as an actuator to pump ink, chambers and channels through which ink flows, and a nozzle plate from which ink droplets are ejected. The nozzle plate (the green-colored strip in the photograph of the print chip above) has 800 nozzles (two rows of 400 nozzles). Each nozzle is approximately 20 microns in diameter and is capable of delivering droplets as small as 1.5 picoliters (1.5 trillionths of a liter). The print chip's 1-micron-thick piezoelectric film is formed by coating a silicon wafer with a proprietary liquid material and then baking it to form a super-thin ceramic element. The nozzle plate, piezo actuators, and ink chambers are all fabricated on silicon wafers under extremely tight quality control using MEMS* manufacturing processes that apply semiconductor chip fabrication techniques.
* Micro-electromechanical systems. MEMS are tiny mechanical devices typically built into silicon by applying semiconductor microfabrication technology.
The piezo actuators flex when a voltage is applied to them, creating the force needed to eject droplets of ink. The actuators can be flexed as many as 50,000 times per second (50 kHz), to pump the ink through high-precision ink channels and from the ink nozzles onto a substrate. Put another way, each nozzle can deposit up to 50,000 ink droplets per second on a substrate with superb accuracy. In actual printers, these chips achieve better-than-ever image quality at blazingly fast speeds.
Nozzle health self-diagnosed
The thin-film piezo elements used in PrecisionCore flex when voltage is applied to them and, conversely, generate a voltage when they are flexed. Because of this characteristic, it will be possible to use the piezo elements as sensors to diagnose the state of the nozzles by analyzing the drive signal waveforms of the piezo elements. Armed with this information, the rest of the system in the future will be able to compensate on the fly for any nozzles requiring maintenance at the next convenient stopping point, ensuring terrific quality and maximizing up-time.
Epson sees PrecisionCore as a powerful technology for inkjet printheads and is committed to expanding the possibilities for inkjet printing by continuing to develop and evolve this technology going forward.