Meteor Inkjet has developed drive electronics and software to support Ricoh’s TH5241 printhead. I talked with Jonathan Wilson, Meteor’s sales director, who explains what that support means for the main target markets.
First, a brief recap of the head itself. The TH5241 is Ricoh’s first SiMEMs thin film piezo printhead and has an interesting history, which I’ve covered last year. It’s a compact head, measuring just 52.7mm wide, 45.4mm deep and 55.4mm high, and with a print width of 27.1mm.
It has four rows of nozzles, with 320 nozzles per row, making a total of 1,280 nozzles. Each row can act as a separate channel so that one head can jet up to four colours. Each row delivers 300npi so that two rows can be paired to produce 600dpi, or all four rows combined for 1200 dpi, giving OEMs a great deal of flexibility in how they use it.
At the same time, it’s also a very cost-effective head, which should suit entry-level scanning applications. The initial target market was sign graphics, with Ricoh also hoping that its small size will be suitable for direct to shape, and and it also appears to be gaining traction in textiles use, particularly direct to garment printing. Wilson says: “The fact that you can do four colours at 300dpi or two colours at 600dpi or in effect run it at a very fine small binary drop at 1200 dpi means you have got a lot of flexibility for things like direct to garment because you are able to get real good detail or indeed to get the drop volume down which you need for garment printing.” He adds: “I would say 70 percent of the market from our perspective is for textile and that’s because of the fluid compatibility.”
In terms of drive electronics, Meteor has developed a new HDC-R10 board. Each of these boards will support one TH5241 printhead and its possible to have up to 8 HDC’s per Print Controller (PCC-E). This board gives full access to all the features of the printhead, including complete control of the waveform.
Wilson says that Meteor designs its hardware to the maximum specifications of the printhead, adding: “So we always create the hardware to make sure that we can get the maximum firing frequency and the best possible reproduction of the waveform in what we do which is one of the reasons that we are successful against cheaper technologies. You can buy cheaper technologies but the waveform that you get out isn’t as crisp or you don’t get the right drop levels because the design of the amplifier circuits just are not right.”
He says that one of the benefits of the Ricoh printheads is that customers can edit the waveforms themselves, noting: “Its all about slew rates and angles and firing forces and you can create very complex wave forms. But we have Ricoh customers in label and packaging that have managed to create the most complex waveforms you could possibly imagine, that are stressing the head and electronics to the maximum so they can get the right amount of ink down at the right time. It’s a real dark art.”
Meteor provides customers with a baseline waveform and can also supply a waveform editor for customers to create their own waveform. Alternatively, the company also offers a waveform development service.
As well as drive electronics, Meteor has also developed a range of software tools that OEMs can use to develop their printing solutions. The starting point can be either a Software Development Kit (SDK) or a digital front end, with different versions for scanning and single pass printing.
There are also further options that can be used within these frameworks that OEMs can select depending on the applications they are catering for to get better value out of heads such as the TH5241. This includes a dual line printing capability for direct to garment machines as Wilson explains: “So if you were printing two T-shirts at once, each completely different, we are able to use our software to accomplish that. Two lots of completely independent printing as a function for direct to garment, which is a market segment that’s on the rise at the moment.”
Wilson adds: “For the direct to shape market, we have developed a specific application to split the image up into conical printing or spiral printing technologies so basically it takes all the maths and hard work out of splitting the image up into the right number of swathes or passes as the printhead moves up or down an object. We are able to understand what the object is and then we are able to render the image, so as either the head moves or the object moves, we are able to do all the hard computational work and make sure that the image is done in the right number of swathes, and all the stitch masks are done so it’s seamless.”
He continues: “There’s a lot of interest in the direct to shape market, just because of the mass personalisation technology. Instead of buying thousands of standard cups you can sell say 50 cups at a much higher value because they are personalised for a target organisation, or anything similar. So I think we will see more of these type of machines. There’s been a number of challenges in that particular space. I think the fluid is one of them, being able to jet the right fluid that will fix to things like a water-bottle.”
Although the TH5241 was launched last year, Meteor is only now supporting it through the new HDC-R10 board. It’s not unusual to see such a delay as developers try to evaluate if a printhead will be successful enough to justify the cost of developing support.
Wilson says that the TH5241 should be attractive to developers because of its flexibility and high firing rates, but notes: “We typically see that when a head is launched there’s about a year to 18 months latency between the early adopters and then if the head is going to be successful after about 18 months you tend to see it going out to the majority. The early adopters get a few machines out and then other people see that’s working and that they need that head and then it just snowballs from there.”
He points out that the pandemic has made it harder for people to show new machines and for developers to evaluate which heads are being used and how well they are performing, but adds: “The TH5241 head itself is getting lots of traction now in direct to shape and textile markets.”