Memjet has released a brand new printhead, the DuraFlex, which is based on some of the technology used in its top of the range DuraLink printheads, but with four colour channels in a single printhead. As with the DuraLink heads, it takes aqueous pigment inks but the head itself has four channels for CMYK, whereas the DuraLink heads just have a single channel each.
This new head is said to sit between the VersaPass, Memjet’s original printhead with its dye-based inks, and the DuraLink printheads announced last year, which use an encapsulated pigment ink. Memjet says that the new head is aimed at high-performance benchtop and entry-level press platforms for applications such as labels and packaging, mailing and light production, wide format and office printers.
Interestingly, the DuraFlex is available in two sizes: A4 at 222.8mm wide with 112,640 nozzles; and A3 at 324.4mm wide with 163,840 nozzles. It’s also possible to stich four of the A3 heads together for a total print width of 1270mm, useful for some packaging applications.
The maximum resolution is Memjet’s standard 1600 x 1600 dpi, with a print speed of 27.4mpm, or 1600 x 954dpi, running at a reasonable 46mpm. It has a 2.1pl drop size and should produce reasonable results at the higher speed.
Essentially, Memjet has created a four channel version of its DuraLink heads, with the same silicon and nozzle structure. It’s worth noting that the single channel DuraLink heads can run at 203mpm so Memjet is now offering OEMs a choice between the simplicity of having the four channels in a single head at 46mpm, or the production capacity of 203mpm.
The DuraFlex is running a variation of the aqueous ink developed for the DuraLink heads, as Kim Beswick, general manager of Memjet’s benchtop and mini-press division, explains: “The ink is an encapsulated pigment ink with the same structure and we can achieve the same gamut and optical density but the formulation is optimised for different things because we want them to dry very quickly and for the colours to stay separate from each other.”
The DuraFlex systems do not include any additional drying as the water content should absorb into the media, even at the maximum 46mpm speed (though Memjet expects OEMs to put in a drying system for the faster DuraLink heads).
Gianluigi Rankin, Memjet’s director of product marketing, says that there are really two types of media that these heads are likely to encounter. This includes a basic porous bond uncoated media which can be a plain paper or corrugated box. Rankin says that you might need a coated media, depending on the application but that an uncoated substrate can absorb a lot of the water content even with a relatively high ink coverage. He adds: “And then we have label and some packaging applications printing to inkjet coated media. With porous uncoated or glossy inkjet media, you can print to those without drying at speed at high coverage.”
Memjet has also worked with Michelman to develop an in-line priming solution for use with the DuraLink heads, which could possibly be adapted for the DuraFlex heads though it would add the complication of drying. But the DuraFlex heads are really aimed at the bench top and light industrial printers where the lower volume of work will be better able to cope with the higher price of coated media given that the printers are likely to be much cheaper to buy than the alternatives.
As usual, Memjet has also put together a complete DuraFlex print module, which houses the printhead with an integrated wiper system and all the electronics and ink channels, and which makes it easier for OEM manufacturers to implement this solution in their printers. Memjet also supplies an ink delivery system module, which filters the ink and draws it from bulk tanks to deliver to the print module. There’s also a Waste Ink Management module.
In addition, Memjet supplies a data pipeline that includes an embedded RIP that takes PDFs in and supplies uncompressed dot-level output to the four-color printhead, and which is said to be suitable for printers with a single printhead. There’s also an option for those systems where multiple heads are stitched together to make a wider system that provides high-speed, uncompressed, dot-level control of print data streams generated from an external RIP to the four-color printhead.
Beswick adds: “Our goal with designing DuraFlex was to create a simple yet robust technology that could give OEM partners the resources to create affordable printing solutions that were powerful, yet affordable.”
Beswick says that Memjet is still evaluating the life expectancy of these heads, which will depend on the application and the amount of ink coverage. Memjet has squeezed in two rows of nozzles but with four channels it’s not surprising that the nozzle redundancy falls from the 5x of the DuraLink to 2x for DuraFlex. Nonetheless, she says that in some cases, mainly light use desktop printers, these heads will last for the lifetime of the printer, which would be an extraordinary achievement for a thermal printhead, given that thermal heads are normally seen as a consumable item. Light industrial applications are likely to see a lot more volume and Beswick suggests that the A3 heads could be good for up to 120 litres of ink, which would significantly reduce the running costs of printers using these heads.
In my opinion, the new DuraFlex printhead is an extremely interesting development, one that very neatly rounds out the Memjet portfolio and will undoubtedly give other inkjet suppliers pause for thought. So far Memjet has only really played in the low volume market space with its VersaPass heads, with the DuraLink heads offering a high speed alternative for the production print market. But there’s clearly a demand for high end desktop and light industrial printers in the label and packaging market and the DuraFlex heads should be a perfect fit for this. I’d suggest that companies such as New Solutions, Gallus and Rigoli would all be better off using the DuraFlex heads, which would give them faster throughout plus a better choice of substrates.
The high volume end of that market is a bun fight between flexo and the more expensive inkjets – with flexo presses clearly holding their own. But the low volume light industrial space is badly served, with most inkjets being too expensive and most flexo presses not cost effective on shorter runs. So Memjet’s approach of supplying a more or less turn key solution with the print modules, ink supply and data path should give OEMs an opportunity to bring relatively cheap printers with a proven track record quickly to market.
Memjet will be showing the news heads at this month’s Label Expo in Brussels. Beswick says that Memjet is currently working with OEMs and that some of these vendors may announce their intentions at the show but that it’s more likely to be Drupa before we see any actual products. You can find further details at memjet.com.