By Melissa Donovan
A well-educated print service provider (PSP) should understand the goings on under the hood of their printer. The constant evolution of the industry—addition of applications, moves into new vertical markets, capabilities to print to any surface or substrate—are due to advancements in printer hardware and part of that is the printhead.
Above: Ricoh announced global availability of the TH6310F printhead, a new industrial inkjet printhead utilizing a thin film piezo actuator, in November 2021.
New printhead introductions, or updates to existing products, are led by the need for PSPs to deliver on high image quality while meeting increased productivity, all at quicker turn times and in many instances shorter runs. In addition, these printheads are created with the idea that they will be used in unique ways—jetting on new substrates or surfaces.
PSPs’ demands are at the forefront of these advancements. “End users ask for more image quality, consistency, and longevity with printheads, so it is important that these features are employed. These same customers want to change out the printheads themselves, rather than having to dispatch a technician, which increases downtime and complexity in resolving issues,” explains Thomas Giglio, North American latex business lead, HP Inc.
Another main driver is throw distance or the ability to accurately place ink droplets even further away from the printhead, according to Keith Nixon, ink business director, Xaar. “For some applications, the throw distance is helpful, particularly with shorter print runs where the product size and shapes and therefore the throw distance might vary from print run to print run.”
Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are responding. “The wide format digital market is mature and printer OEMs seek to distinguish their product offerings by offering customers increased value through enhanced performance including increased productivity, higher image quality, and more robust print performance,” says John P. Harman, director sales and strategy, Ricoh Printing Systems America.
“Wide format requirements continue to demand inkjet technology that is industrial-built in grand format printers, with ultimate reliability, great productivity in a single system, and meet the highest image quality standards,” notes Mike Wozny, senior product manager, FUJIFILM Dimatix, Inc.
And while Digital Output focuses on wide format digital print, we can’t operate in a vacuum. It’s important to note that printhead advancements are also made in response to inkjet’s continued growth in industrial print.
“There is an increasing demand to meet a variety of customer needs, including smaller run sizes and shorter delivery times. These needs are addressed by the rapid digitalization of industrial print, contributing to overall greater flexibility, efficiency, and productivity. These shifting and expanding requirements call for an increasing demand for inkjet printheads that offer higher productivity and high-resolution printing,” adds Harman.
New ink sets are developed to once again meet needs like higher image quality, increased productivity, and compatibility across a range of substrates. It makes sense then that these ink sets influence printhead advancement and vice versa.
“Printhead technology supports and facilitates the OEM ink chemists in providing greater latitude in the selection and combination of chemical components and fluids to formulating the optimum inks matching the desired customer performance requirements,” explains Harman.
When working with ink chemistries, viscosity is important. “In the past when developing inks for digital printing, in addition to considering properties such as adhering to a specific substrate—like vinyl—ink manufacturers have had to assure that the fluid could be successfully deposited onto a substrate. With the Xaar Nitrox printhead it is now the other way around. The printhead has potentially eliminated many of the compromises,” says Nixon.
According to Stephanie Rohn, marketing manager, Printek, Seiko Instrument GmbH, “the continuous improvement of the materials used in the printheads based on long-term compatibility tests contributes to the continuous expansion of the choice of fluids to be used.”
Importance of Updates
Legacy printers with legacy printhead technology are still in use today. While cost may be a barrier for some PSPs to upgrade to the newest model, it is important to understand that utilizing printers with newer versions of printheads may help lead to business growth.
Rob Rogers, product manager, OEM printheads, Epson America, Inc., admits that using the latest generation printheads and ink technologies enable PSPs to bolster existing business and improve costs on existing production. This is done in many ways, but of note is new technology yielding faster print speeds, which is something many PSPs look for to improve their business. “Micro-electromechanical systems manufacturing technology results in consistent nozzle size and straightness, resulting in excellent drop placement,” says Rogers.
Eliminating maintenance issues is always a concern and running printers with the newest printheads also can help with that. “Print providers are spending less time and money managing their printer, which ultimately gives them more time to manage their business, jobs, and projects. Less intervention with the printer frees up the time spent at the printer and delivers extra capacity as well—great for peak periods of production as an example,” shares Giglio.
“PSPs are being asked by their end user customers to provide industrial-built print systems, with ultimate reliability, and high-image quality,” agrees Wozny.
Nixon believes that the newest printheads enable more capabilities like additional colors or embellishments, which sets a PSP a part from the competition. “It means that we can add tactile effects on the graphics and print on different substrates, like metals. We can broaden the range of applications for flatbed printers in a mature market—for example, perhaps touch panels.”
“In adopting the latest printhead technology the PSP is utilizing and becoming familiar with the printhead technology that is and will increasingly be used in printers addressing adjacent market segments; thereby increasing the PSP’s confidence in participating in these new markets and revenue streams,” adds Harman.
Cross-use of printheads is advantageous to the OEM as well. “In the ceramics market, for example, everything from the decorative part to glues and glazes can now be produced with one printhead, which can also be transferred to the corrugated cardboard market with primers, colors, and varnish. This simplifies the complete installation of the system for the machine manufacturer, but also the handling for the end user, both from a technical, but also from a financial point of view,” notes Rohn.
Next Gen Understanding
Getting up to speed on printhead advancements is important in understanding why the latest wide format print technology works the way it does. Having inside knowledge is one of the greatest ways to prepare for a new printer.
Mar2022, Digital Output