Inkjet technology is making the leap from display graphics to functional graphics. Find out about these emerging solutions and the applications for which they’re suited.
In 1899, C.H. Duell, the head of the U.S. Patent Office, surveyed the many and great technological advances of the 19th century and declared, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.”
One hundred years later, at the beginning of the 21st century, the same could have been said about inkjet printing technology; innovations that propelled inkjet to the forefront of graphics printing were known, and users could look forward only to refinements. Needless to say, that prediction would have been wildly off the mark. Although inkjet technology was developed in the 1970s, its potential for commercial and industrial printing applications is exponentially greater than initially conceived. (Figure 1).
Inkjet printers can deposit fluids without contacting the material being printed, making them both substrate and application independent. Inkjets are also driven digitally, under computer control, enabling both precision and versatility. And as a digital technology, startup costs for inkjet production are comparatively low compared to other deposition methods.
Of the three types of inkjet technologies—thermal, continuous, and piezoelectric—piezoelectric drop-on-demand (piezo DOD) is the most precise and versatile for industrial applications and is able to jet a wider variety of fluids at greater distances with accuracy and precision.
These characteristics make piezo DOD particularly suited to decorate, coat, treat and enhance existing materials. It is uniquely qualified for the precision deposition in manufacturing needed to create advanced products that have moved away from traditional graphics printing in R&D and full-scale industrial production (see the sidebar, Applications for Piezo DOD Inkjet Technologies).
Improvements to piezo DOD printhead precision, throughput, and versatility continue today, including important breakthroughs in printhead fabrication using advanced Silicon Microelectromechanical Systems (S-MEMS) technologies to produce printheads on a chip (Figure 2). These advances position piezo DOD to dominate industrial applications far beyond the scope of two- and three-dimensional graphics production, to diverse realms ranging from printed electronics (Figure 3), photovoltaics, and optics to 3-D mechanics, chemistry, and biomaterials.
New markets and opportunities
Applications for piezo DOD printheads fall into two broad categories: those used for macroprinting and those used for microprinting.
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