In the last episode, we recommended that before you begin a DIY inkjet project, a best practice is to define your needs and establish your expertise levels concerning the elements of your inkjet system. This essential due diligence can save hours of re-engineering and avoid missteps deep into the development process. Your needs will influence which of the many styles of inkjet printheads will fit your needs best and narrow your OEM choices. As you develop the picture of what you need and decide between buying print modules that contain ink supplies and supporting control mechanisms or only the print head so that you can engineer the remaining elements to your needs, keep asking the questions from the first episode, and then add these considerations covering your support needs.
What Technical Documentation is Provided?
For some, it’s the first question they ask: what documentation will the equipment vendor supply? For others, they accept what is handed to them. No matter how experienced you are at print head integration, reading the available documentation brings huge value.
At a minimum, it should give you the information you need to get the job done. For the print head, not only mounting information but everything you need to know about the ink supply requirements (supplied by you or them), ink management, jetting requirements, and how to get straight jetting, as well as image compensation. And there should be precise information on nozzle maintenance, including guidance on cleaning regimes and troubleshooting tips.
As you review the documentation, look for the depth of detail for every system: ink supply system, droplet management system, inspection systems, nozzle capping systems, image compensation systems, and nozzle cleaning systems. If the vendor will provide the documentation ahead of contract signing, so much the better. Read through it to see if it meets your needs and is understandable. Sometimes technical documentation is written by engineers who know the systems so well that they make assumptions. Their assumptions may not be your assumptions!
Ask about ongoing communication beyond the original document dump. Will the manufacturer be sending regular technical newsletters to share information? Is there a Frequently Asked Questions page that is curated and updated regularly? Is the technical documentation supplemented regularly? Ask questions and get as much information as possible before entering a relationship. If the vendor isn’t willing to commit to communication and documentation, it may be worth moving on to another provider.
What if I Need Help During Integration?
Regardless of your experience level, at some point during integration, you may need to ask questions or confirm processes. How does your vendor handle these requests? Ask these questions:
- Can you ask questions at any time?
- Is there a dedicated phone number, email address, or social mechanism to ask questions?
- Are long does it take to receive a response, on average? What is the guaranteed time?
- Are there limits to the types of questions you can ask?
- Where is the crossover point from free help to professional, paid services?
- Are there different levels of help available, and do they have associated costs associated?
- Do they have a list of recommended consultants if you want to augment how you approach your project?
In addition to these questions, there are common issues that arise during integration that can prove time-consuming to resolve. Print output banding, consistent jet outs, air bubbles in the ink, difficulty managing ink temperatures and pressures, and challenges with resolving print artifacts can be difficult to trace, even for experienced integrators. Ask what help will be available!
What Else Should I Ask?
Building a DIY inkjet printing system, whether for commercial sale or internal use, is a big undertaking. The biggest consumable in the system, beyond the ink, is the print head, so the goal should be to engineer the environment to promote the longest possible print head life. It’s true whether your system uses a single print head or arrays of hundreds of heads.
Ask these additional questions to build the best knowledge infrastructure for your project:
- Does the vendor have recommended integration paths or recommendations on paths to avoid? That could be anything from positioning to environmental factors impacting head life.
- What ink types are most appropriate for your use? Inks come in so many varieties that the variations in jetting issues, drying issues, inclination toward print anomalies, and impact on head life are hard to avoid. Ask your vendor for recommendations on the best inks for your project.
- Maintenance and cleaning have an impact on print head life. Determine the vendor recommendations for timing and processes to ensure that your customers will have the longest life possible.
While not an exhaustive list, this is a great place to start. If you have suggestions, pass them along and share with us! Have questions? Put them in the comments or send them via email.