Inkjet Large Format Printing (LFP) technology is changing fast with HP launching the prototype of its first page-wide inkjet machine that will transform the 2D printing market.
Using a scalable number of printheads that nest together in one long line, when launched in the second half of 2015, HP’s 40″ PageWide-branded colour inkjet machine will print at the same speed as its monochrome laser printers rivals.
If you’re not aware, that is seriously quick for accurate full colour, and given that the wait for such technology was based around getting the chemistry and mechanics right, would it be wrong to expect this ability to transfer to a 3D printer?
3D printers such as the Stratasys Objet Connex range use inkjet technology to put down highly accurate droplets of resin that is then cured by UV light. A single moving printhead has traditionally needed multiple passes to cover a single layer, so imagine a rack of printheads conceivably spanning the full width and making a single pass.
For instance, an Objet Connex 500 takes six passes to cover a full build tray. A page-wide printhead could do it in one, meaning a 12 hour long, high resolution print job could theoretically be completed six-time faster – a blistering two hours.
Given that the number of print heads is scalable, this means that the build area (which needs no special atmospheric or temperature controls) could, in theory, be huge.
The launch model of the LFP was 40 inches-wide (101cm), a size comparable to some of the largest 3D printers currently available, but with the potential combined speed and resolution capabilities that would be like nothing else on the market.
Similarly, this could be scaled down, allowing for rapid small model printing.
We were lucky enough at the launch to speak with HP’s inkjet expert Dr Ross Allen who was under extreme orders not to mention anything about the 3D printing program that has seemingly had its announcement put back till later in the year.
So we asked him anyway.
To try and answer whether the printer would be able to jet a UV curable resin, he told us a bit more about the new page-wide technology development.
The HP R&D team, explained Allen, had been working on page-wide printing for over a decade, with chemistry, not mechanics proving the big stumbling block.
“We have got a lot of things in our tool kit from bonding agents, to pre-treatments, to post-treatments, to different ways of curing with heat with LEDs and ultraviolet,” said Allen, speaking about perfecting the LFP process.
“Remember: we have a technology in the inkjet that can put a very precise amount of chemical exactly where we want it, and so, if you think about our latex printers, we are injecting an ink that’s full of polymers, full of anti-scratch agents, full of pigments, this thing has almost no resemblance to a dye-based ink because it’s very complicated.
“We know how to do really complex fluids and that technology is going to transfer into new generations that push on all these different performance factors.”
HP has been constantly pushing its inkjet technology during its 30 year lifecycle, so it we won’t be surprised to see HP CEO Meg Whitman announce something game changing along these lines later in the year.