Donal Reddington on mass customization, crowdsourcing and digital manufacturing

Inkjet technology may fuel on-demand printing

I am a little late in writing about this, but it is worthwhile: Last month The Guardian, a UK newspaper, described how Moshe Einat is developing new inkjet technology that uses thousands of ink drops rather than a small number of nozzles.

Einat is a lecturer and researcher at the College of Judea and Samaria in Israel. He used the LCD screen as his inspiration for the new technology, comparing the fraction of a second that it takes an LCD screen to refresh with the long delay in printing a page using current inkjet systems. The article describes how:

Instead of emitting light, his idea is to emit ink. “We found a way to make a huge print head. If the print head is the size of the media, there is no scanning any more,” says Einat.

When Einat says huge, he’s really talking about nozzle numbers rather than physical dimensions. His prototype print head measures a modest 12cm by 12cm but contains an impressive 57,600 ink nozzles – think pixels on your LCD screen – for drop-on-demand delivery. The head is made from silicon wafers forming small micro-reservoirs for ink which each feed four normal inkjet nozzles by capillary action. Grouping the nozzles into four overcomes the flow problems with conventional series designs. Laboratory experiments show a large head the size of a piece of paper could be practical.

The advantage of his system is that one page could be printed instantly, with hundreds more pages following in a few seconds. All you’d need to do is move the paper into position, print the whole image at once, and move the paper out again – rather like a simple printing press.

The Guardian article speculates that the technology, if popularised, could facilitate on-demand printing of books. I am not so sure about this, as the rapid printing of pages is only one part of the process required to actually manufacture a book.

This is not to say that the idea would not work; however the advances in quick inkjet printing would need to be coupled with other technologies that could collate, bind and cover the book to the same standard as a factory printed version.

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