Dimatix announces SkyFire printhead

Dimatix has introduced a brand new SkyFire family of printheads, starting with a new SF600 head, which uses silicon MEMs technology. It’s positioned in the Dimatix portfolio between the StarFire and Samba series of heads and targeted at commercial and packaging print as well as the textile, imprinting, decor and encoding markets.

As the name implies, the SF600 can print at 600dpi resolution. It has a print width of 65mm. There are 1536 nozzles, which are arranged in a grid pattern of 12 rows. It produces a native drop size of 5pL but through multi-pulsing – firing multiple drops that are designed to merge in flight – this can be increased up to 25pL. 

Mike Wozny, senior product manager at Dimatix, says: “It’s a product that provides the performance, productivity and durability suitable for a broad range of applications. It leverages Fujifilm Dimatix’s silicon MEMs technology which enables us to have high nozzle resolution, feature fidelity, a very compact footprint, a broad chemistry range capability and we can manufacture it in high volume.”

It’s compatible with most ink types, including UV, aqueous, oil and  solvent. It has been optimised to handle fluid viscosity of 5-9cP but Wozny says that Dimatix has had good results beyond this to include fluids from 4-11cP. He adds: “But to get the true productivity we advise the 5-9cP range.”

It includes a trimming heater that’s integrated as part of the Si-MEMs architecture. This should help simplify the ink management for OEMs as they won’t need to worry about maintaining the precise ink temperature at the head itself so long as the temperature is reasonably close to optimum. Wozny adds: “From a jetting performance perspective that integrated heater will enable us to have extreme consistency across the printhead to within 1ºC so that has a pretty positive impact.”

Fujifilm Dimatix has introduced this 600dpi Skyfire SF600 printhead.

There’s an integrated filter that’s designed to easily replaceable. Wozny says: “That filter is used to stop any stray particulates from the ink delivery system from making its way into the printhead. So it’s not a consumable for the end users but it provides that last chance to grab something before it would affect the printhead.”

High ink coverage

As noted, this new printhead builds on the Silicon MEMs technology that Fujifilm has pioneered at Dimatix, which I’ve written about previously. Wozny explains: “The Silicon MEMs does allow us to have a unique jet layout but it also allows us to have a high productivity jet. In a multi-pulse four level print mode we can deliver speeds of over a 130mpm at 600 x 600dpi with 11grams of ink per square metre. Or in a high ink laydown print mode have up to 21 grams per square meter at 70 mpm.”

Wozny says that these are real world production speeds with greyscale printing that OEM print system architect can use to plan their systems as opposed to theoretical numbers that would be hard to reproduce outside of a lab. Ron Gilboa, senior marketing manager for Dimatix, adds that Dimatix could achieve faster speeds in a 1-bit mode but have chosen to quote speeds that assume four greyscale levels (which is slower than binary because of the need to fire multiple pulses to create larger drop sizes) because that’s closer to the real world conditions for most OEMs. Four levels assumes that the first drop is zero, plus two for image quality and a fourth for compensation.

This means that the SkyFire should be suitable for a very broad range of different applications. Wozny says that for those applications that only require a low ink laydown it should be possible to achieve speeds of up to 250mpm, while other applications that need a high ink laydown should still run at over 50mpm.

Ultimately the trick is to get the maximum amount of fluid onto the substrate as fast as possible. So resolution and print speed only tell part of the story. But now that printer manufacturers are looking to use water based inks with a high pigment loading, so the quantity of fluid being jetted becomes more important and we will see more printhead manufacturers stressing this.

Redijet features

Dimatix has developed a number of features under the Redijet name that it applies to various heads in its range. Redijet was originally developed for recirculation but now also covers non-wetting coatings on the nozzle plate and the noise dampening. Gilboa explains: “Redijet is all the elements that allow for smooth consistent and uninterrupted jetting.

The new head features a dual recirculation system that goes all the way to the nozzle plate, as well as the ink circulating within the ink chamber, as Gilboa explains: “The recirculation in both this head and the samba obviously goes all the way down to the nozzle but the printhead is fed constantly with a recirculated ink on the upper level of the manifold, on the top side of the head, and then inside of the head. The area right underneath the PZT and the area right above the nozzle, those are getting ink put into them from the top and the bottom at all times, whether the head is printing or not printing. This means that when it’s not printing we hold a very good meniscus. And even if there is slight fluctuation in pressure, because of our nozzle shape, which is like a cone, the meniscus is maintained because the game is to prevent air from coming in the head. So if you have this very smooth nozzle then that meniscus is held. That’s a part of the whole recirculation.” 

He adds: “On the flip side, when you start jetting and the piezo are working then you have ample supply of ink into it to allow it to have that very high productivity.”

Inevitably with any printhead there is a lot of movement within the head because there is a considerable amount of ink being pumped into the head and several thousand piezo actuators forcing that ink out of the nozzles. Gilboa says: “Built into our architecture is a damping mechanism. So if there is resonance on the head because of the movements of the piezo and the ink squishing along, that technology takes the noise or the extra pressure out of the system to allow for the clean jetting. So that gives us a cleaner jet performance. It’s like a shock absorber because the silicon wafer is rigid so you cannot flex it if there is fluctuation in pressure or any resonance because of the movement of the PZT. So we have designed into the silicon the ability to absorb that noise and take it out. That allows us to run fast and lay down all of that ink, to keep things under control and get clean, satellite-free printing at various configurations.”

Gilboa adds: “The ink needs a place to expand so we gave it a place to expand within the architecture of the head so that it maintains uniformity or pressure so that the head doesn’t lose its grip on the meniscus and start either sucking in air or putting up satellites.”

Wozny explains that the head has been designed to allow OEMs to place multiple heads very close together: “We have our first row of jets 5mm from the edge of the printhead so its definitely skewed towards the side and that means that the distance between one row and the next row can be very tight because that row of dots is very close to the edge.”

Having the nozzle rows so close to one edge, rather than in the centre of the nozzle plate, means that when multiple heads are combined together on a print bar, the middle head can be inverted so that its nozzles are much closer to the nozzle rows on the heads either side. Fujifilm has a display here at Drupa that neatly showcases this aspect.

Wozny adds: “And that has an impact from a productivity perspective because the carriage designs can be a lot smaller, and with a multi-pass system that means less distance for the carriage to travel which inherently means more productivity for the overall system.”

He continues: “And when your printheads are that close, getting your drop accuracy is a lot easier which helps compete with any kind of web weave or even from a curing perspective, the dwell time differences that could happen if you have big distances between colours.”

The mounting system has been designed so that the heads can be inserted into a print carriage from either the top or bottom, giving OEMs more flexibility in their design. The final alignment of the heads is down to the OEMs though Wozny adds: “We do have the same precision alignment features with this printhead as with the SG-series.” This should mean that the heads can be field-replaceable if necessary though that mainly comes down to each OEM’s overall press design.

Dimatix favours an open waveform approach so that OEMs are free to develop their own waveform. Wozny says this is part of the Versadrop technology: “This has expanded in terms of the technology that supports it. Versadrop originally came to market because of the variable drop, greyscale capability but also includes the open architecture so now customers are able to optimise any waveform for their specific application needs and maximise the total quality of the printhead because they are able to make sure that every drop lands at the exact same time on the paper, which is key for image quality.”

Bailey Smith, vice president of business development at Fujifilm Dimatix, with the Skyfire SF600.

A number of OEMs are already working with the SkyFire heads on a range of applications including single pass textile printing, flexible packaging, corrugated packaging and coding and marking.

Bailey Smith, vice president of business development at Fujifilm Dimatix, accepts that the SkyFire is probably too expensive for simple case coding but says: “There are a lot of high speed applications in coding and marking, a lot of industrial applications, which need bar codes for track and trace, so we think there is a good opportunity for it in those areas.”

One Chinese OEM, KingT, has already announced that it is using the SkyFire in its upcoming KGT 2513 which is a UV flatbed printer for sign and display work as well as some niche uses including promotional items such as computer mice, and model parts.

Another major strength of this printhead is that it’s capable of working across a very high throw distance with Wozny quoting 15-20mm for a decor application. This obviously depends on the application and Wozny points out that high quality graphics work will require a much shorter stand off, noting: “Traditional display graphics is 1.5mm so high standoff there could be 2-3mm, so its really application-specific.” Nonetheless, I’ve seen samples produced by KingT for model parts that necessitated a very high standoff because of the height of some of those parts and the results were very good for that particular use. 

Dimatix has already been working with several other OEMs over the past year to evaluate the market reaction to the SkyFire. Wozny adds: “We will continue to work with those handful of OEMs that we have been working with and provide printheads to meet their needs. We will have printheads available for other OEMs in the second half of this year.”

The SkyFire SF600 is produced at the same Silicon MEMs plant in California as the Samba head.

Fujifilm’s approach to Silicon MEMs is based around sputtered PZT, which is a manufacturing process that’s unique to Dimatix, and gives a very long life. Wozny says that this should not wear out so that the head life is rated in trillions of actuations. “It doesn’t mean the head will never need to be replaced, but in terms of the printhead itself and the different components, the PZT will not be one of the reasons that it needs to be replaced.” He adds: “And that resonated with some of our early end users that we’ve been working with because they have seen other architectures where the mechanism does wear out and that affects the reliability and the lifetime of the printhead.”

The SF600 will be built mostly at Dimatix’s plant in California, alongside the Samba. This plant was set up specifically for Silicon MEMs manufacturing and Fujifilm has expanded it over the last couple of years in order to increase the capacity to produce both printheads. 

However, unlike the Samba, the final assembly of the SkyFire will be done at Dimatix’s main plant in New Hampshire. This is because the casing is similar to that used on existing printheads such as the StarFire, and the expertise for that is in New Hampshire. Wozny says: “We are able to leverage both core competencies that we have within the organisation.”

Dimatix has also been working with drive electronics developers in both Europe and China and expects to see these vendors announce their support for the new head shortly, starting off this week with Meteor Inkjet.

Naturally, Dimatix will bring out further variations on the SkyFire in the future but Smith says that the company first wants to gather feedback on the SF600 before deciding on any further SkyFire variants. He concludes: “We put a lot of effort into this so we have high expectations.”

In the meantime, you can find further information from fujifilm.com.



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