Apparent resolution – what does that even mean?

I wrote this article for Inkjet Insight to explain the justification for the weaselly term ‘apparent resolution’ when applied to an inkjet printer. I encourage you to read the whole thing, but here’s the technical heart of it:

Recall that in traditional offset litho printing, ‘AM screening’ is used in creating half-tones to reproduce photographic images. That is, variably-sized dots are produced by a high-resolution imagesetter (capable of creating laser dots at 2,450dpi, for example). A square dot might be made up by filling in from 1-100 pixels in a 10×10 pixel matrix, with each dot lying on a fixed-resolution grid of 245 lines/inch – the ‘screen ruling’. The screen dots are ‘amplitude modulated’ by the changing photographic image density, but their relative positions are fixed by the grid. The pitch or screen ruling is 245lpi, but the individual dot sizes vary from 1% (highlight) to 100% (shadow). A more recent printing development was ‘FM’ (or ‘stochastic’) screening, in which the variations in image density are reproduced by varying the distance between the dots – the frequency –  rather than the dot size, which is kept fixed. The printer is effectively printing a collection of highlight dots, bunched closely together in the shadow areas of the image, and spread out in the lighter areas.

This is how binary inkjet printing works too – the inkjet printer varies the positions of dots of fixed size to match the varying density of a photographic image, usually using an ‘error diffusion’ algorithm to place the dots. The dots on the paper are made by ink drops of a fixed size.

Greyscale inkjet printing is like a combination of AM and FM screening – the dot size can be varied, by changing the drop volume, AND the relative positions of the dots is varied by the error diffusion algorithm. So now we can draw an analogy between traditional half-toning and inkjet: whereas a traditional (AM screened) image might use a 10×10 matrix of pixels to create screen dots of up to 100 grey levels (0-100% density), an inkjet RIP driving a printhead with, say, 9 grey levels can be thought of as using a matrix of 3×3 pixels for each dot, placed on a grid with dimensions equal to its advertised resolution. Hence the claim that the inkjet printer’s “apparent” or “effective” resolution is equal to the nozzle density multiplied by the square root of the number of grey levels. So our 360dpi, 9 grey level print engine can be said to have an “apparent resolution” of 3 x 360dpi = 1,080dpi, effectively matching the single-drop-sized 1,000di printer. The marketing person working for the greyscale printer manufacturer has a simple metric that matches the competition’s resolution claim, and she can justify it by citing Farrell and others, whose research shows that images reproduced by greyscale printers look better than images of the same resolution from binary printers.

But there are a couple of important caveats – the first is the point already made: “apparent resolution” is subjective and unscientific, even though the analogy I just described gives it a fig leaf of theoretical justification. The second is more important – the concept of equivalent resolution applies only to continuous tone images. Although greyscale printing can reduce the staircasing (aka “aliasing”) visible in low-resolution line-art and text by filling in the stair-steps with smaller drops, the print quality cannot match a higher-resolution printer. The “apparent resolution” of the 360dpi greyscale printer might give comparable results to the 1,000dpi printer on photographs, but it will not match it on 4-point type.

So the answer to the question “What does ‘apparent resolution’ even mean”? I hope I’ve shown that it means something – but it doesn’t mean enough to base a purchase decision on.

Posted by Chris in Blog Posts, Inkjet, Printing & Packaging

Action at a Distance: Inkjet’s Original Sin

Originally published on Inkjet Insight, October 2017

Inkjet printing is action at a distance. A convulsion of the piezo or a belch in the silicon chamber causes a droplet the size of a millionth of a teardrop[1] to fly from a nozzle. Though ‘fly’ might be the wrong word, conveying as it does the impression of great speed, since most droplets leave the nozzle at a leisurely 18mph or so – Usain Bolt could outrun them. Still, they don’t have far to go:  the result of this pulse in the print-head is a mark on a substrate. The substrate (paper, plastic, carton-board or whatever) is positioned a millimeter or two away from the print-head, and the droplet lands a hundred microseconds or so after it left the nozzle.  There may be thousands of such nozzles in a typical inkjet printing array, each ejecting their individual droplets thousands of times per second. The micro-teardrops become tears – cry me a river – and in a few seconds, an image is built up as the substrate moves under the array of nozzles. Action happens at a distance, albeit a small one.

This ability to create permanent images at a distance is both inkjet’s unique advantage and its original sin[2]. Why? Because inkjet is the only printing technology that does not rely on squishing the ink onto the substrate. Think of the rubber pad transferring the image from cliché to plastic part in a pad printer; the squeegee pressing the image through a silkscreen; the web pressed in contact with the gravure cylinder; the sheet nipped to the blanket cylinder in an offset press, or to a flexographic plate – all of them rely on pressure to transfer ink to substrate. (The clue is in the name: a printing press!) Even the original digital printing technology –electro-photography, otherwise known as laser printing – uses pressure to transfer toner particles from the photo-conductive drum (or a transfer belt) to the substrate, which is usually paper.

Inkjet printing stands apart from these technologies, both literally and figuratively: without the need to be in intimate contact with the substrate, inkjet printers can be agnostic about both the type of material they are printing on, and the form factor of that material. Rigid or flexible, paper or plastic, rough or smooth, woven or non-woven, metal or ceramic – inkjet is indifferent, because all it needs is a transport mechanism that moves the print-heads over the substrate. The indifference is not complete, of course – curved surfaces, lips, nooks and crannies all present problems, as they do for all printing techniques.

Without the need for pressure, inkjet is ideal for fragile surfaces. For example, inkjet has transformed the ceramic tile printing industry over the past few years, replacing decades of investment in screen printing lines, in part because inkjet printing cracks fewer tiles than screen printing and allows tiles to be made thinner and lighter.

Another inkjet benefit: without the need to wrap the substrate around a cylinder, or to constrain an image to the maximum size of a rectangular sheet, inkjet allows images of ‘infinite’ length to be printed there is no ‘repeat length’, opening up new possibilities in textile printing, signage and décor applications like wallpaper and laminate flooring.

For document printers, inkjet’s attraction lies mainly in its cost model rather than the technology per se; the higher capital cost is offset by lower cost per sheet and greater uptime than toner-based systems. But this is a topic for another article.

This is the good news – so where is the original sin? That lies in the nature of inkjet inks, and the downside of not squishing the ink into the substrate. I said earlier that all inkjet needs is a transport mechanism, but this is a ‘necessary, but not sufficient’ condition for success. Inkjet also needs extra carefully-designed inks.

All conventional print service providers are concerned with the interaction between ink and substrate – surface tension versus surface energy, film thickness, drying, absorption and so on. But inkjet inks are different – the burp or the squeeze in the ink chamber behind the nozzle can’t impart much energy, so the ink droplets have to be small and watery. Flexo, offset, or screen inks are hundreds of times too viscous to be jetted.  The inks must function in a narrow ‘operating window’ of viscosity, temperature and surface tension in order for make well-formed drops that emerge from the nozzles reliably, and at a consistent velocity. And because the nozzles are a fraction of the diameter of a human hair, the pigments[3] must be ground more finely than in conventional inks, and mustn’t stick together, or ‘agglomerate’. All of these factors make inkjet inks more challenging (and more expensive!) to manufacture than conventional printing inks.

The problems of inkjet action at a distance don’t end there. An inkjet print-head is a micro-fluidic pump that can quickly place thousands of precisely-metered drops of fluid with great accuracy onto any surface. But when they hit the surface, anything can happen. They might get absorbed into the substrate where they land, causing dot gain, or conversely, washed-out colors; they might be well-behaved, sitting docilely until they are dried or cured; or they might roll around and, under the influence of surface tension, join up with an adjacent drop. This can give rise to the well-known ‘corduroy effect’ of alternating light and dark lines on the print if the drops do not spread out enough to hide the density variations. This ’reticulation’[4] is not necessarily confined to one color – if you want to get your inkjet printer salesman to break into a sweat, ask him to print some flat tints of colors that need at least 3 inks – muddy browns and dark greens, for instance. The ability to avoid banding in such patches is a good test of both the mechanical engineering of the printer, and the compatibility of the ink and substrate.

Conventional presses have these problems too, but to a much lesser degree. Because they press the dots into the substrate – stay there, dammit – they can tolerate variations in inks and substrate characteristics that would cause unacceptable print defects on an inkjet printer. So that millimetric stand-off between print-head and substrate is both the source of inkjet’s main advantages, and its original sin. But the technology and the chemistry are continuously improving. The machine designer’s reach exceeds his grasp (else what’s a heaven for?), and perhaps inkjet engineering, like golf, is the last bastion of mankind’s belief in its perfectibility…

[1] “The mean tear volume in normals was found to be 6.5±0.3μl (S.E.M.) with a range of 3.4 to 10.7 μl.”

[2] “By analogy the term is used in fields other than religion to indicate a pervading inherent flaw.”

[3] Dye-based inks, of course, do not have this particular problem – instead, they suffer from different drawbacks – mainly related to longevity.

[4] From the Latin, ‘reticulum’: a mesh, or forming a network

Posted by Chris in Blog Posts

Drive Electronics Drive

The announcement this week of the sale of print-head drive electronics manufacturer TTP Meteor to software vendor Global Graphics (Euronext: GLOG) has cast a rare spotlight onto an often-unappreciated corner of the inkjet market. Meteor Inkjet, as the new subsidiary will now be known, was formed 10 years ago, one of many technology businesses nurtured by ‘The Technology Partnership’ (TTP), a Cambridge, UK-based incubator.

In inkjet printing, the focus – understandably – tends to be on the print-heads and the ink. But spare a thought for the “datapath”: the circuitry that translates the bits and bytes of stored data in a ‘page description language’ like Postscript™ into instructions to fire drops of ink from an array of nozzles. This is the demanding task of the drive electronics part of a print engine. A print-head array in a single-pass inkjet printer might contain 100 or more printheads, each with 1,000 or more nozzles firing tens of thousands of drops per second. This means that data-rates of many gigabits/second have to be fed to the amplifiers that create the voltage pulses to eject ink drops. These voltage pulses, sometimes as high as 100 volts and switching in micro-seconds, create electrical noise in what is already a noisy environment, with motors, controllers and fluorescent lights all contributing to the electrical cacophony. A single glitch can cause a visible print defect. Good design, not only of the circuit boards, but also of the cables, shielding and grounding systems, is critical. This is the (relatively rare) expertise of Meteor and its competitors.

Who are these competitors? There are several distant ones: of similar scale are China-based Amica, and the Russian/Swiss DPS-Innovations; and the gorilla in the field is California-based Electronics For Imaging (NASDAQ: EFII), founded eponymously by Efi Arazi in 1989. But the nearest competitor to Meteor, both geographically and in market terms, is Global Inkjet Systems (G.I.S.), also based in Cambridge. G.I.S. is younger than Meteor and is privately-held, so revenue and customer data are unavailable (the OEM customers of both companies tend to be secretive about what is inside their printers), but G.I.S. is widely believed to have accelerated past Meteor in terms of market share. The reason in part is that G.I.S. offers a turnkey sub-system that includes the software needed to make a production printer work, in addition to the electronics. This includes a Raster Image Processor (‘RIP’) to turn a PDF or image file into a bitmap; color management; and Variable Data Printing (‘VDP’) software. Meteor had only an ‘SDK’ (software development kit) that allowed customers to plug-in their own RIP, color management and workflow software.

The acquisition by Global Graphics changes this situation and the marketing dynamic. GLOG, which owns and licenses the Harlequin and JAWS Postscript RIPs, can supply all the software that Meteor was previously lacking, together with well-established expertise in color management and high-speed document printing. So, from the Meteor point of view, the acquisition looks highly synergistic.

From TTP’s perspective, the company has sold a portfolio company that, I surmise, has not met growth and profitability expectations. According to the numbers provided in the press release, GLOG paid £1.2m in cash, plus deferred cash compensation of up to £3.6m over ten (!) years. Depending on cost of capital, this equates to a maximum NPV of about £4m, or about nine times Meteor’s annualized 2016 earnings. For a technology company, this is hardly a rich valuation. (Near neighbor Xaar plc, for example, trades at a P/E of about 20, and GLOG’s own P/E is over 100. It is also worth noting that Meteor lost money in 2015 – more on this in a moment.)

From GLOG’s perspective, the publicly-traded company has bought a Meteor customer base to which it can sell its RIP software and ‘Fundamentals’ print consulting services, and a hardware partner that allows it to offer turnkey datapath solutions to its licensees. These include big names like OKI, Casio and Roland. The acquisition, albeit at what looks like a very reasonable price, cost it over one third of the cash on its balance sheet. GLOG would probably have preferred to use its stock as currency (its share price has gone up 50% in the last 3 months), but in these uncertain post-Brexit times, TTP evidently preferred cash to a thinly-traded European stock.

A final point: GLOG, in common with most software companies, enjoys gross margins in the 90% range. It will have to get used to the fact that hardware companies are less profitable than this, and often have higher fixed costs. If we look at the delta between Meteor’s reported 2015 revenues and profit, and the annualized 2016 values, we see that revenues increased by about £1.25m and the bottom line increased by £0.5m. Assuming no change in fixed costs, this implies a contribution margin of 40%. This is probably in line with the other suppliers of drive electronics, but GLOG’s management will want to be sure that its acquisition is accretive to earnings, and delivers both the corporate growth and the 10-year earn-out that it expects.
From the perspective of their customers, the acquisition of Meteor by Global Graphics provides expertise and more assurance that their printers can achieve the print performance and reliability expected. For the industrial inkjet industry as a whole, this marks a step towards maturity.

Posted by Chris in Blog Posts, Inkjet, Strategy

Is the NDA Stifling growth for industrial inkjet…or are payment terms?

Posted in response to this article:
One hesitates to criticize idealism (the world needs more of it!), but I think this plea (for more openness and fewer NDAs) is unrealistic. Inkjet is being adopted by CPG and other manufacturing companies as a part of their manufacturing processes. These companies typically view their manufacturing processes as a key source of competitive advantage, and so are understandably secretive about them. The digital advantages – of quick changeovers on short runs, personalization, shorter time-to-market and lower inventories – are SO potentially advantageous (and possibly game-changing) that adopters of new technology will want to maintain any advantage they have as long as possible. Compounding this is inkjet’s difficulty – if it were simple, everybody would be using it. But the complexities of ink/substrate interaction, printhead reliability, data rates, mechanical transport stability and so on mean that most successful inkjet implementations into a demanding production environment are the hard-won results of a lot of process knowledge. This know-how is not willingly shared with potential competitors.

This situation is not unique to inkjet – Silicon Valley thrives on NDAs and ‘dark’ start-ups, and almost every major manufacturing technology (pick & place, flow soldering, injection molding, panel stamping to name a few) started off proprietary.

I suggest that there is a bigger obstacle to widespread adoption of inkjet technology than the NDA: most of the inkjet integrators, whose knowledge fills the crucial gap between the large companies making printheads and inks on the one side and industrial manufacturers on the the other, are small and under-capitalized. Some investors are starting to appreciate this opportunity, but meanwhile many small companies have to deal with the fact that their large customers have payment terms that can extend to 90-120 days. These same companies often trumpet their desire to support innovation and new technologies, while effectively starving the innovators of cashflow. I suggest that this issue, and not the NDA, is the bigger brake on inkjet adoption.

Posted by Chris in Blog Posts, Inkjet, Strategy

The Lure of Digital Packaging

Ink World magazine has published a useful summary of the post-Drupa state of the Digital Packaging opportunity:

But it contains one baffling statement, one misunderstanding and two serious omissions.
The baffling statement is that “the growth and success of the consumer packaging industry is related to the industrial, capitalistic, and market-driven interests and values of the Western World” – to which one can only respond “well, duh!”

The misunderstanding is the implication that commercial printers are not also active in packaging because they are unaware of the opportunity. This seems unlikely – commercial printers are well aware of the decline of print in the face of online means of communication, and that packaging demand generally grows with GDP (or at a greater rate, as products and package designs proliferate and life-cycles get shorter). The real reason is that there is significant barriers to entry, most of which are due to the fact that packaging has to fulfill more functions than commercial print – visual communication being only one. (The others include: product protection, logistics support, and convenience.)

The omissions relate to the technical challenges facing digital printing OEMs: first, how to deliver machines with the productivity and reliability that analog devices provide today; and second, how to satisfy regulatory and societal food-safety and environmental requirements. To give an example: single-pass inkjet arrays are susceptible to ‘jet-outs’ which cause streaks in the print. Water-based inks are more likely to dry in the print-heads than UV-curable inks, so reliability considerations argue for the latter. But even ‘low-migration’ UV inks are not widely accepted for food packaging. Perhaps the answer is electron-beam curable inks, which require greater investments in drying systems; or high nozzle redundancy in water-based print arrays – but the point is that these issues are only now getting addressed by OEMs. A related regulatory issue, also not mentioned, and one that absolutely demands digital technology, is the growing requirement for traceability of products – for food (“from farm to table”), pharmaceuticals, and industrial goods.

I remain bullish on the digital packaging opportunity for all the reasons cited in this article, and the article is a helpful introduction – but there is a lot more to be said on the topic, and much still to do to make digital print a significant part of packaging production. Let me know what you think.

Posted by Chris in Blog Posts, Inkjet, Printing & Packaging

The Uncertainty Principle in New Products

If you ever studied physics, you will have come across Professor Werner Heisenberg’s famous Uncertainty Principle, which states – roughly – that you either know the position of a sub-atomic particle, or you know its momentum, but you cannot ever know both. And moreover, these uncertainties are inversely related: the more precisely you know the particle’s position, the less precisely you know its momentum, and vice versa.

Many years ago, as the marketing manager of an electronics company, it occurred to me that my frustration over developmental delays in the launch almost every new product resulted from an analogous relationship, and I humbly formulated Lynn’s Uncertainty Principle: for any new hardware or software development project, you either know the exact functional specification, or you know the launch date, but never both. If the functional spec must be rigorously adhered to, the first shipment date is unknown; and if the product absolutely has to be delivered by a specific date, the spec of Version 1 is unknowable in advance.

My boss, a physicist by training, offered a quantum corollary: the act of observing the project changes the result. In other words, whenever you have a design review to check on progress, it immediately either causes the project to slip another 6 months, or causes the spec to be reduced.

In the three decades since we agreed on this cynical view of new product development, there have been many attempts to mitigate the Principle’s effects – scrum, agile, critical chain, lean start-up’s Minimum Viable Product, and so on. But like Murphy’s Law (“Anything that can go wrong, will”), and the satisfyingly recursive Hofstadter’s Law (“It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law”), the Principle always applies. If you doubt it, look at this nice chart on construction industry over-runs from the excellent CB Insights.

Posted by Chris in Blog Posts, Marketing

You poor fools (Brexit frustration post)


I don’t do political posts, but the cataclysmic results of yesterday’s poll make today an exception, since the business impact will be huge.

The British people have spoken and a plurality of them have told the rest of Europe to get lost. Like many Americans, they’re mad as hell and they ain’t going to take it any more. And, just as the angry ‘Leave’ voters wanted, the world is trembling and the leader of their government has fallen on his sword. This is no doubt immensely satisfying to those who feel that prosperity has passed them by and they have been losing control of their lives to remote and unelected bureaucrats.

This wasn’t just about the European Union, which was always a project of the elites, and easily scapegoated for its ‘democratic deficit’ and mocked for its tendency to excessive regulation. Nor was it only about immigration, although the UK Independence Party tapped into a nasty racist and xenophobic streak in a section of the electorate, just as America’s equivalent populist has succeeded in doing – to the shame of both countries. The referendum result reflects a deep discontent with the way many people saw the country going, and a ‘plague on both your houses’ attitude to the leading parties: the poorer, traditional Labour areas defying the half-hearted efforts of Labour’s ineffectual leader to get them to vote to ‘Remain’; and many Conservative voters believing that the UK can turn the clock of globalization back, and ‘go it alone’.

The poor fools. They felt themselves betrayed by politicians and big business – the people who caused the financial crisis, forced austerity on them, and allowed hundreds of thousands of foreigners into the country. They lashed out, but the betrayal was not the one they thought. The betrayal was the weakness of David Cameron in giving the promise of a referendum to his Eurosceptic Right in 2013; the self-serving opportunism of Boris Johnson and others in cynically backing the Leave campaign to further their careers; the feebleness of Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn support for the Remain campaign; the utter vacuity of Nigel Farage’s UKIP’s appeals to some mythical ‘Little Englander’ fantasy of an ‘independent’ Britain; and the failure of the entire Remain camp to articulate what the Leave vote will really mean. (Message to Farage: if you think American, Asian, and Commonwealth governments will give a damn about Britain when it is no longer a gateway to, and influencer of Europe, you’re delusional.)

For the result will be that Britons will now be much worse off – a recession is likely, the currency is devalued, billions have been wiped off the stock market, Britain’s debt will be downgraded, interest rates and unemployment will rise, and there will be a period of huge economic and political instability. And for what? Some ill-defined notion of ‘sovereignty’ that is an emotional appeal without substance. Trading with the EU will require Britain to abide by EU rules governing everything from freedom of movement (so no reduction in immigration) to environmental health and product safety. The country will remain bound by UN conventions on human rights, and NATO treaty obligations. Meanwhile, international companies may move their UK operations to other EU countries, costing jobs and foreign exchange. And the other 27 EU members will be tough in negotiating Britain’s future trade relationships, to discourage others from leaving.

Furthermore, last night’s result is likely to lead to the break up of the United Kingdom, narrowly avoided 2 years ago, with the Scots overwhelmingly voting to Remain in the EU.

Britons have just taken a step off a fog-bound cliff, with no idea what kind of landing to expect. Worse still, they have weakened an institution that, for all its faults, has mostly kept a blood-soaked continent peaceful for a couple of generations. The fools.

Posted by Chris in Blog Posts

Should a Job Title include “Strategy”?

When I first had the S-word in my job title 25 years ago, the position was a headquarters ‘staff’ role (not P&L responsible), but the accountability was to help the organization as a whole – including line managers globally – to develop plans that included actions and initiatives to build competitive advantage. In other words, to borrow Delaney’s words, “Empowering people who don’t have the word “strategy” in their job titles to think strategically about what they’re executing on for the business”. He cites this as an alternative to having a ‘strategy’ job title, but in fact it ought to be a description of what that job entails. I currently chair the strategy planning committee of a non-profit, ArtsATL, and I advise technology businesses on go-to-market strategies. The people I work with while wearing each of these hats are well aware of the truth of Selnick’s doctrine, and usually find that Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints (from the novel ‘The Goal’, approvingly cited by Delaney) is helpful in moving from strategy to action.

If there are still organisations around that see strategy as somehow divorced from operations, perhaps changing the strategists’ job titles might help them come into the 21st century – but I doubt it.

Posted by Chris in Blog Posts, Strategy

More on The Innovator’s Dilemma – with Unicorns

I responded to Lou Kerner’s article on ‘prunes’ with this:

The line of argument appears to be that companies fall out of the S&P500 because they fail to innovate; they fail to innovate because they invest in value-destroying M&A instead of break-through innovations; so they will continue to decline until they learn….something – but what?

Christensen’s key point that it is almost impossible for an incumbent to respond to a disruptive technology – the incumbent simply has too much invested, and too much to lose by changing its business model to embrace the new technology. Acquiring a new tech business is easier than setting one up and genuinely letting it compete with the parent. Christensen said (in ‘The Innovator’s Solution’) that the incumbent investor should be impatient for profitability from its investment, not indulgent. And that, even so, this is really HARD.

Most of the companies that have dropped out of the 2014 list have not failed – they have simply been supplanted at the top of the market cap mountain by others. Most of the 2015 unicorns have not made it up the mountain, and most will fail before they do. It is fashionable to sneer at Yahoo for its failure to sustain its early Internet promise, but it, and most of the other ‘prunes’, are not basket cases, nor are they bottle-rockets. They are not even all threatened equally by disruptive forces – they are simply part of the normal churn of today’s business.

Posted by Chris in Blog Posts

Single-pass inkjet printing

An interesting summary by Mike Raymond of inkjet printers at the 2015 ITMA textile print show in Milan led to a good discussion , in which I contributed the following:

“I’m more inclined to believe Aki’s point (customers will want a single source for reasons of accountability) rather than Aaron’s (customers will want 3rd party inks). Mike, you eloquently describe the high cost of wastage and downtime with these fast single-pass printers; in my view this makes the risk of reliability problems without clear accountability too high. Textile printing is probably the most demanding environment for single-pass inkjet. Not only for the reasons cited, but also the fact that existing widely-used single-pass printers either use UV-curable inks or ceramic inks, neither of which dry in the nozzle like water-based textile inks. You might argue that the ceramics market is an example of successful penetration by 3rd party ink suppliers (and consequent price erosion!), but the quality demands of printing on tiles are much lower than the printing of fashion textiles.

As for whether these machinery suppliers will ‘backwards integrate’ by buying a printhead manufacturer, I don’t see a compelling reason for them to do so – unless they are forced into it because the supplier is in trouble, or becomes available at a bargain price.”

To expand on the first point (about inks and reliability): piezo printheads, as I once said, do not die of old age – they get murdered. That is, by far the largest causes of failure (both temporary and permanent) are operations-related: head-strikes or ink clogs or debris in the nozzles. These are within the control of the operator, and printhead manufacturers typically will reject warranty claims for these causes. Thermal inkjet printheads have an inherently shorter life (Google “kogation”…) and, as anyone who has a desktop inkjet printer will know, use water-based inks that can dry in the nozzles. Printer manufacturers use a variety of strategies – capping, vacuuming, ‘spitting’, etc – to prevent this, and the more expensive single-pass printers use redundant heads or nozzles, and clever sensing techniques to detect and compensate for ‘jet-outs’.

Most of the printers Mike mentions in his article use piezo heads to jet textile inks, which are mainly water-based and hence prone to evaporation in the nozzles. This is a problem, and the printer manufacturers’ success at solving it will determine the adoption rate of their systems. They will want to control what inks are jetted, if only to manage costs during the warranty period; and I believe that their customers will not want to risk downtime by using 3rd party inks unless those ink suppliers come up with some compelling guarantees.

Posted by Chris in Blog Posts, Inkjet, Marketing