A secretive, 10-year super printer, project by an Australian inventor has finally seen the light of day. Silverbrook Research said this week it has developed a new type of inkjet technology that’s five to 10 times faster than current inkjet printers. The company estimates printers based on its technology will sell for under $300 when they are released later this year.
Silverbrook Research’s Memjet technology was announced at an international inkjet conference in Prague. The technology works by packing a ridiculous number of tiny ink nozzles onto microchip print heads, and then putting the heads together in a solid line to span the page.
This eliminates the typical mechanism of an inkjet printer, the head moving on an axis bar across the page. Each print head is one inch across, so for a standard 8.5 x 11 inch page, the printer would need eight heads. As the page passes under the row of print heads, the image is sprayed onto the page.
Each chip measures just 20mm across and contains 6,400 nozzles. The print heads incorporate five color channels that can be flexibly configured. The driver chip is an integrated printing system that calculates 900 million drops per second and drives all of the nozzles at the same time.
The maximum resolution is 1600×1600 pixels. Photo quality printing can be done at a maximum of 30 pages per minute while regular printing speeds can reach 60 pages per minute, far faster than any inkjet printer can do today.
Both Silverbrook and Lyra Research made announcements related to the Memjet technology, but the printer firm could not be reached for comment at press time. Charles LeCompte, president of Lyra Research, a market research firm specializing in the printer market, said that while there have been plenty of failed attempts over the years to revolutionize inkjet printing, this could be the big hit.
“I will say that based on our exposure to what they’ve done, they seem more well prepared and have a more comprehensive strategy for deigning and building this than most,” he told Internetnews.com.
What Silverbrook is doing isn’t entirely new, he said. The company is using thermal inkjet technology, which has been around for 20 years, and page-wide printing arrays have been done by HP
What’s remarkable is how the company managed to pack so many nozzles on one head, without smearing or smudging the ink, which is a constant problem for inkjet printers. “At this point, I guess that’s one of the great unknowns. We don’t know if they’ve figured that out,” he said.
By LeCompte’s description, Kia Silverbrook, the founder of the company, is a fascinating character. He has no college education and has been working on this project in secret for a decade. But Silverbrook’s managed to scrounge up around $200 million in investments by LeCompte’s estimation, and has 1,400 patents and another 2,000 pending, almost all for this technology. HP, the granddaddy of inkjet printing, has 5,000 inkjet patents.
LeCompte said Silverbrook plans to license its technology to other manufacturers to build and market. Silverbrook will sell the parts like the print heads and control logic, and the ink. Taiwan Semiconductor will make the chips. For vendors that don’t want to do their own design, Silverbrook will offer a reference design for different size inkjet printers.