Something that will be interesting to watch is a potential shakeup of the $100+ billion printer (photo printer) and copying markets. This is a new physical manufacturing (of printed pages) process with large disruptive potential. It will be instructive as a small preview of what the impact of molecular manufacturing and a nanofactory might look like. Memjet could also be the basis for disruptions in 3D printing and rapid manufacturing and rapid prototyping.
It prints letter-size output at 60 ppm—that’s one page per second—with a 1,600- by 1,600-dot-per-inch (dpi) printer that Silverbrook says will be available in 2008 for maybe $200 to $300. Not only that, but the projected cost per page is less than 2 cents for a monochrome page and less than 6 cents for a color page
The printheads are a major piece of Memjet technology, spanning the printer’s page width so they can print across the entire width at once.
They consist of an array of individual microchip segments, with 6,400 nozzles in each 20mm-long chip, and as many chips as needed for the width of the particular printer. That means there are fewer chips in a dedicated photo printer, for example, than in a letter-size printer.
The second piece is a driver chip that, in the case of the letter-size model, drives 70,400 nozzles and calculates the firing of 900 million drops per second, according to Silverbrook. The remaining two pieces of the puzzle are ink that’s designed to work with the printer and software that makes it easy to create drivers for the particular printer model.
If you’re familiar with HP’s Edgeline technology, you’ll notice a similarity in concept, with a printhead that spans the width of the page, and also a similarity in some of the key numbers. HP’s approach, however, is very different in detail, and far more expensive. The HP CM8060 Color MFP, introduced in early April, for example, claims a peak speed of 70 to 71 ppm, and an average speed of 60 ppm for monochrome and 50 ppm for color, with a base configuration price—if you were to buy it outright—of well over $23,530
Memjet technologies plans to increase its output sixfold in two to three years, to a theoretical output of 360 pages per minute from an ordinary printer. Memjet also has set its sights on the commercial printer market, hoping to change newspaper and magazine printing. Future plans include a commercial printer capable of an unheard-of 64,000 pages per minute.
Silverbrook (research company for which Memjet Technologies sells) was founded by Kia Silverbrook, who has spent a decade perfecting the technology. The U.S. Patent Office has approved 1,452 patents with Silverbrook’s name on them, more than Thomas Edison. The third most recent? A patent for placing a printer in a cellular phone – which Silverbrook has demonstrated a working model of as well, said Bill McGlynn, the chief executive of Memjet’s home and office business.
The Memjet technology depends on something else: the rate at which the ink can be squirted through the micronozzles.
And Memjet executives said they’re already thinking about the future. “This is not a one-trick pony,” McGlynn said.
The Memjet heads cycle at 20 KHz, enough to produce the 60 pages per minute on the A4 printer. “But that’s not that fast,” McGlynn said.
Other inkjets cycle at 24 KHz. Memjet’s plan is to develop a 120-KHz cycle head in two to three years, increasing the print speed sixfold to 180 pages per minute at photo quality, 360 pages per minute at normal color quality, and 720 pages per minute in draft mode.
Another thing the company could do is add more rows of nozzles. Already, the company uses 10: two each for the CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black) inks, plus an additional back-ink nozzle. There’s no reason why a customer couldn’t “stack” the nozzles in four or five series of rows, placing more rows of inks on the paper and speeding up the process even further. One of Memjet’s customers are talking about placing heads on the front and back, doubling the Memjet effective output by printing in duplex mode, Beswick said. Another is considering a black-and white office printer, she added.