Meteor patent detects clogged nozzles

Meteor has developed a method of detecting blocked nozzles within an industrial piezoelectric head in real time, which itself has picked up a US patent numbered 11,504,966 for “Inkjet nozzle status detection” from the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

Clive Ayling, managing director of Meteor Inkjet

This is a significant step for single pass printing systems where any errors will show up immediately, unlike scanning systems where successive passes can cover up problems such as missing nozzles. It will also benefit the wider industrial print market where many machine operators won’t necessarily be trained on the printing element, which is just a sub-system in a production line. In both cases – large single pass presses and industrial printing – there’s general agreement that the future lies in automating as many processes as possible. But automation depends on those systems being reliable and printheads are notorious for suffering from clogged nozzles, which can occur without warning and at any stage in a printhead’s life. Automated cleaning and ink recirculation have played a part in reducing the number of nozzle failures with the result that printheads now last much longer than previously. But it’s still the case that nozzles can become blocked and the faster this can be detected, the easier it is to take steps to mitigate this problem. That might involve mapping other nozzles around the missing nozzle to compensate, or it might be that the printhead simply has to be replaced. 

Either way, detecting problems quickly is crucial to making inkjet reliable enough to become part of an automated industrial manufacturing process. There are different approaches such as using cameras to detect artefacts after the printing stage but that inevitably happens after problems have been printed and a certain amount of material has been wasted. Meteor’s approach, however, monitors the printhead in real time. The company is well-placed to do this since its core business is developing the electronic boards that drive most of the printheads that are currently available. 

Fernando Rodriguez, Meteor’s Director of Technology and the primary inventor, explains: “Our invention uses real-time monitoring of electrical feedback from the nozzle after piezoelectric excitation to detect clogged or clogging print nozzles. This disruptive innovation has the potential to remove a significant barrier to implementation of inkjet in applications where the impact of nozzle failure makes inkjet unsuitable.” 

Mike Rottenborn, CEO of the Hybrid Software Group, which includes Meteor Inkjet, says that Meteor has been working for three years on developing this system. He adds: “So when you send a waveform to a head, if it’s pushing against a clogged nozzle you receive different feedback than when you are pushing against an open one. Some heads are directly compatible through the board but others need a wiring change in the head itself.”

Clive Ayling, Managing Director for Meteor Inkjet, adds, “Over the last few years, Meteor has undertaken basic research to identify and develop ways to monitor and improve the reliability of the industrial inkjet printing process. We are delighted that this invention has been recognised with a US patent and are confident that our ongoing investment in technological innovation will directly benefit not only our OEM customers but also the industry.” 

You can find further information on Meteor Inkjet from and on its parent company Hybrid Software.

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