The Jetrix removes the limitation of the rate at which ink can be transferred from the ink source to the page.Imagine a bookstore that prints your purchases while you settle the bill or a personalized newspaper that contains only the news you want to read. Such expedient printing may soon become a reality using a new Israeli technology that will enable printing 1,000 pages a minute at affordable prices.
Two researchers from The College of Judea and Samaria – Moshe and Nissim Einat – have developed a revolutionary printing technique called Jetrix, which enables simultaneous high- speed printing of an entire page of text. The technology combines printing and Liquid Crystal Technology (LCD) methods to make a page-sized printing array that emits ink instead of light.
“We are reducing the limitations of printing heads,” explains Moshe Einat, senior lecturer at the college’s Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering.
Einat’s inspiration for rethinking print methods came from flat-screen display technologies. In the past display screens used a cathode ray tube to ‘scan’ the picture across the screen similar to the way a printer fills a page with text. With LCDs a screen-sized array of light emitting diodes creates the displayed picture and simultaneously changes to display each new image. Einat posed the question whether the same concept could not be applied to a printed page?
“If you can do it with light, why not with ink?” he asked.
Early printers used a continuous jet of ink to print on pages but were later replaced by modern Drop On Demand (DOD) printers in which a traveling head of tiny nozzles squirts ink at the page. The dots combine to produce the desired print. Current printers use a single print head that scans across the page but mechanical and physical limitations present a range of barriers that cap print speeds.
Combining a multitude of ink nozzles together into larger print heads is complex and fraught with technical difficulties. Einat’s solution is a matrix of printer heads fed by multiple ink chambers. With a matrix as large as the page, each head is fired only once per page allowing a much longer relaxation time and negating the need for a scanning head.
The key to the new technology is the way ink is fed to the print head. The Jetrix print head has no manifold and is comprised of segments containing micro-reservoirs of ink each connected to just a few nozzles. Each segment
only provides ink to a few local nozzles making the segments autonomous.
With no direct connection between the different segments the matrix size can be increased without limit creating a print head as large as the paper.
“You can make a matrix of as many segments as you want,” Einat told ISRAEL21c. The result is simultaneous printing of the entire matrix on the page. Released from the limitations of relaxation times and mechanical scanning high print speeds can be achieved without a loss in quality.
In Einat’s view, the idea is more than just an innovation; it marks a turning point in core technology for printers. In the past print speed was limited by the rate at which ink could be transferred from the ink source to the page. The Jetrix head removes that barrier and the limiting factor will now become another part of the print process, such as the rate at which paper can be supplied to or output from the printer, or the time it takes the ink to dry on the pages.
So far Einat has made a matrix of 12 x 12 centimeters that demonstrated the theory is sound and that the capillary action is fast enough to keep the nozzles supplied with ink. Despite its size the prototype matrix contains
57,600 nozzles, so small that the delicate capillaries and nozzles were created with the same processes used to manufacture computer chips. The print head works only in black and white but Einat is confident that it can be adapted for color printing too.
Development has cost $140,000 funded by Israel’s Industry and Trade Ministry and ‘angel money’. Costs are kept low because much of the technology is based on existing LCD know-how, a fact that will also keep down the costs for
full-size working printers. Current top of the range printers used to print bank statements and utility bills are able to print over a thousand pages a minute but the room-sized printers can cost over $100,000 a piece.
Einat predicts that a simple printer using his technology should be far more affordable, and even within the budget of home users. Such flexible and expedient printing has a wide range of applications.
“Anything that is printed today can be done with it,” Einat says.
Rapid printing could lead to a variety of ‘on demand’ printing products. Bookstores could print books as the customer waits, and at 1,000 pages a minute, the wait wouldn’t be very long. Printing on demand would make significant savings for publishers that today often see 40 percent of books remain on the shelves in stores.
‘They could print right there in the shop, fresh off the press,’ says Einat who also envisions vending machines at airports printing books for travelers as they wait to board a flight.
The print method may also give a new lease of life to newspapers and magazines that are losing customers to Internet-based media. A press could run off thousands of personalized newspapers that contain only the news topics that interest each individual reader.
The Jetrix print head was first presented publicly at the Global Entrepolis Singapore in 2006 and since then has been generating broad interest from the print industry. Several global printer companies are keeping a keen eye on
developments with the expectation of a full-working printer. In the meantime Einat plans to build an even larger prototype before moving on to a full-size working printer.
Should the technology prove itself, it may also expand into other industries. Einat theorizes that the same principle could be used to print microcircuits, which would revolutionize that industry, although he concedes that at the moment, that is still a long way off.