Xaar introduces new Irix printhead

Xaar has announced a new printhead, the Irix, which is a direct evolution of Xaar’s existing 128 platform and can be used as a drop-in replacement for the 128. But whereas the 128 was primarily aimed at coding and marking, the Irix also targets wide format graphics and additive manufacturing applications.

This Xaar Irix printhead builds on the 128 series to address coding and marking applications as well as wide format graphics and 3D printing.

Graham Tweedale, general manager of Xaar’s printhead business, explains: “We have a number of customers that use the 128 in coding and marking applications and they have been talking to us about requirements for longer throw distance while maintaining or improving the image quality.”

Xaar has already explored using different nozzle geometries and different nozzle manufacturing techniques to jet with better accuracy over longer distances as part of its ImagineX platform and the new Irix has benefited from this work.

Mike Seal, head of advanced applications, technologies and fluids at Xaar, takes up the story: “In addition, we also are tuning each individual nozzle which is something that we have not done before on any of our other products or had the capability to do. So we are ensuring that the velocity is the same for each individual nozzle and we have also redeveloped the waveform for the product to bring all these things together and all of these changes mean that the drop placement accuracy and uniformity is significantly improved and that’s what gets us this longer throw potential as well.”

As with most of Xaar’s offerings, the Irix is a bulk piezo printhead. It uses an end shooter architecture, meaning that the ink flows into each channel and the only exit is through the nozzle at the end of the channel. It has a narrow print swathe of 17mm and features 128 active nozzles, giving it a density of 185 nozzles per inch. It’s a compact lightweight head, measuring just 37.2 x 11.3 x 40.8mm and with a mass of 15.5g. 

The Irix is available in two different drop sizes. This includes 40pl, which has a drop velocity of 6m/s and can be fired at a frequency of 8.3kHz. It allows for a linear print speed of 1.17m/s, assuming 180dpi resolution, and offers slightly better dot accuracy. There’s also an 80pl version that has a drop velocity of 5m/s with a maximum firing frequency of 5.5 kHz and a slower print speed of 0.78 linear metres per second. 

Naturally it uses a number of Xaar’s proven technologies, including XaarDot, which is a greyscale technique to tune the drop in the ink to get the number of greys, and AcuChp, which allows for better colour uniformity across each individual head as well as between groups of heads.

It’s available in two variants, starting with the basic Irix Core that’s mainly aimed at applications such as coding and marking, as well as for functional fluids. 

There’s also a Pro variant, which  is targeted at higher value applications such as product printing and additive manufacturing. The Pro version can also operate up to 10mm from the print surface, where the Core has to be within 5mm of the surface.

This is down to the use of another Xaar technology, AcuDrp. Seal explains: “It all comes down to how we calibrate the nozzles in the manufacturing process. Theres an extra step involved in getting the better drop placement accuracy out of the Pro. The Core really has been designed as an easy stop from 128 into Irix, if customers chose to do that, whereas the Pro gives that better drop placement accuracy and therefore the enhanced throw distance that you might get if you wanted to create something a bit more. So everything that we are making in Irix is a step up from the 128 and then we are differentiating through that range.”

Functional fluids

The Irix is qualified to work with oil or solvent-based inks. However, Seal adds: “We are getting much more increased interest in functional applications from jetting conductive to the 3D print industry, bio-medical and so on and a lot of these times we look at developing bespoke or slight variants, which is why we are looking at our 128 range as a good stepping stone to the Irix to address these applications. We are trying to make more robust products for more interesting fluids or at least having something that would be a good gateway into inkjet.”

He adds: “So taking a small character printhead like the Irix and being able to incorporate it with a simple ink system and a simple XY platform to be able to do this level of testing. We are getting much more requests to have an appropriate small character solution. And some of the applications that we have talked to our customers about have then used that as a transition step to some of our other technology. But the Irix is a good representation of an industrial piezo so you can relatively easily scale up from say the Irix to a 501 and then onto the recirculating technologies in Nitrox and 2002 as well. So we see it as a good starting point for people getting into inkjet and for small character applications. There aren’t that many non-disposable piezo technologies.”

In terms of viscosity, the Irix can’t match the highest capability of some other heads such as the Nitrox, since it has a totally different architecture and lacks recirculation. Nonetheless, it does appear able to handle fluids with much higher viscosity than we might expect from a relatively basic printhead, with Seal saying: “We have had it up to about 25cp for 3D printing applications.”

I think that it’s worth remembering the roadmap that John Mills, Xaar’s CEO, outlined last year, developing a number of technologies and capabilities to overhaul its product offering. The Irix should be seen in that context, making use of some of the technologies that we’ve seen in recent Xaar product launches but also adding new capabilities. 

Tweedale concludes: “Some of the technologies that we have put into the Irix product, we will roll out across the rest of the platform, across the rest of our printhead range, so longer throw distances, using this manufacturing technique and other techniques with different nozzle plate materials that support longer throw distances will come over the next year or two years in the other products as well.”

In other words – watch this space. In the meantime, you can find further details on the Irix from xaar.com.

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