Epson has announced several new printheads alongside a new willingness to partner with OEMs in both graphics and industrial printing.
The new heads include the S3200, which Epson itself has used but is only now making available to OEMs. At its heart is a PrecisionCore MicroTFP (Thin Film Piezo) chip, which has two rows of 400 nozzles, 800 in total, at a rate of 600 nozzles per inch on a 33.8mm line. This produces drop sizes from 1.5 to 32.5 picolitres, on a 50KHz frequency. Epson uses these chips as the raw building blocks to construct each printhead. So the S3200 has four chips, staggered in two rows of two to form an S-shape with 3200 nozzles in all. This head takes two colour channels.
There’s also a brand new smaller version, the S1600, which resulted from requests for a smaller 2.65ins version of the S3200. So it has two chips, staggered across two row to form the same s-shaped structure, which lends itself very well to stitching multiple heads together for wide arrays. It has the same specification but with just 1600 nozzles. It’s suitable for use with aqueous, solvent and UV-curable inks.
In addition, Epson has released a version of its older L1440 MACH head that’s also compatible with UV inks where it was previously designed for aqueous and solvent inks. Duncan Ferguson, executive director for Epson’s Professional Printing and Robotics division in Europe, explains: “People we’re using the solvent version for UV and we have seen that they were cracking a lot of heads if the ink wasn’t quite there.” Thus Epson has made changes mainly to the mechanics, tubing and coatings to cope with the wider range of ink types. The MACH heads feature two rows of 180 nozzles, giving 360dpi resolution.
Perhaps more significant is Epson’s renewed commitment to supply its heads to other manufacturers. Ferguson explains: “Fundamentally we came to the realisation that the massive expansion in people using inkjet technology meant there were so many more opportunities that it makes sense for us to focus on developing and selling the printheads.”
Epson printheads were at one time widely used amongst various large format printer vendors but around 2008, with the introduction of the Precision Core heads, the company restricted its sales in order to have enough heads for its own products. This also coincided with the launch of the SurePress L6034 label printer and the F-series dye sublimation printers, which greatly expanded Epson’s own printer sales. However, as Satoru Hosono, deputy general administrative manager and deputy chief operating officer for Epson’s Printing Solutions division, pointed out: “In July last year we completed construction of a new factory built to meet all the demand.” It’s a 47,000 sqm facility that gives Epson 300 percent more production capacity.
Ferguson says that Epson is looking at various industrial applications from solar power to laminates and is “willing to investigate anything” and accepts that some things might ultimately not work out. He adds: “The idea is to expand the number of applications that we can satisfy so the priority is to look for new applications or expansion of applications that we might be doing ourselves. We cover part of the market but it’s much bigger than all the things that we do. There may be some overlap and we just have to be practical about that. The intention is to expand the applications rather than just create competition.”
Naturally, these new industrial applications will likely use a range of different fluids but Ferguson is confident the Epson heads can cope with this, pointing out the improvements to the UV handling in the S3200 and L1440. Epson is also working on a new version of the S3200 that will support recirculating at the nozzle rather than just the ink chamber and will be able to handle more viscous fluids and those with heavier particles. Thus the chamber has been removed to create a pump for the ink. Otherwise it has the same 4×800 nozzles.
However, working with more specialised fluids will also require more testing. Epson does have R&D facilities in Japan that can be used to test third party fluids but Ferguson says the company will also look to set up collaborative partnerships with other ink manufacturers, which might also have their own testing capability. He adds: “There’s a willingness to invest in the future in this area.”
Hosono goes a step further, saying that Epson is considering building a European centre to support European OEM customers, though he also says this is unlikely to be in the UK.
As well as the S3200, S1600 and L1440, Epson also continues to make the F1440, which is also available to OEMs. Ferguson says: “A lot of people use it because the cost is relatively low and it’s proven and reliable.” It’s the same generation as the L1440, with similar specifications so that both heads allow up to eight colour channels, but with the L1440 having a different housing that puts the eight channels in a cube shape that allows multiple heads to be slotted together in a line.