When Kia Silverbrook took the stage at this year’s Global Inkjet Printing Conference in Prague, what he had to say shook the inkjet printing industry by the lapels and left it reeling.
Hiding in the shadows for a decade and pumping out thousands of patents, Silverbrook Research in Sydney has been busy inventing Memjet, a new way of inkjet printing that promises to be double the speed of the fastest printers currently on the market and cheaper than all its rivals.
Said to be the biggest-ever threat to the current big four print players, the development of Memjet has been described as a "juggernaut of innovation" led by a "brilliant" engineer in the firm’s eponymous co-founder, Kia Silverbrook.
The new Memjet technology prints full colour images at 60 pages per minute (ppm), many times the current inkjet industry standard. In addition, its developers claim it will cost a fraction of the price of high-speed colour laser devices (around $199) , and will soon be available for OEMs targeting with the first printers on the market from early 2008.
"The technology itself is quite remarkable in that it was designed from the ground up to do full page width array inkjet printing," said Steve Hoffenburg, director of consumer imaging research at inkjet insdustry analysts, Lyra Research.
"Historically inkjet printers have had scanning print heads which print an inch or less in width terms with each swath across the paper.
"To do all that in a low-cost printer is remarkable and it’s off the charts in its cost:performance ratio. There’s nothing else that is as fast except products that are much more expensive. From a technology standpoint it’s a breakthrough."
The futuristic technology is only half the story. The firm’s business model is also surprising. The company will be "cracking the market open" by licensing the patented system to the established inkjet companies, which will mean the big four (Epson, HP, Canon and Lexmark).
This means no Memjet products per se. As Memjet puts it: "Each business area — labels, photo retail, and home and office printing — has a mature eco-system of companies consisting of OEM brands, manufacturing partners, service partners."
The Memjet model is for the company to be a horizontal component supplier that provides print components and consumables to OEMs. The development of printer devices will be up to them. Historically the technology in the inkjet industry has been manufactured by the big four, but again it appears Memjet plans to change history.
Hoffenburg: "Other companies that have attempted to develop their own inkjet technology have run into technical and intellectual property difficulties when establishing patents. Because Silverbrook developed Memjet on its own, it has produced technology which does not appear to infringe on other patents and have the ability to offer it up to other companies which have never before been in the inkjet market. In the next few years there could be two or three or five significant new entrants to the inkjet market.
"As Memjet technology rolls out in new product applications, it will have the capacity to turn sector after sector of the printer and imaging consumables market upside down. Without exaggeration, competitors ignore this dynamic upstart at their own peril."
The Memjet technology is comprised of three highly integrated components: page-wide printheads, driver chips and ink.
The printhead consists of a continuous row of 1mm x 20mm silicon print chips connected end-to-end. Each chip contains 6,400 nozzles, meaning 32,000 nozzles in total for a 100mm (4in) printhead and 70,400 nozzles for a typical lettersize/A4 printhead.
The nozzle density is 17 times higher than the nozzle density the market leaders offer in their leading printhead designs, which contributes to the cost-effectiveness of the new technology.
The ultra-compact, continuous colour printhead stretches from one edge of the page to the other. Unlike traditional scanning inkjet printheads, the Memjet printhead does not move, reducing vibration, noise and mechanical complexity, while dramatically increasing printing performance.