Oce Colorwave 900 Memjet Inkjet Printer
The Oce Colorwave 900 received a lot of attention at Print 13 in Chicago.
By Ed Avis
Memjet is an inkjet technology that uses a single-pass method to print color CAD and graphics documents at remarkable speed. While the basic concept of inkjet printing has been around since the ‘90s, this is the first single-pass, wide-format application.
Three manufacturers well known in the repro community are offering versions of Memjet-driven printers – Oce/Canon, Xerox, and RTI. Xante also offers a Memjet-driven wide-format printer in the United States, but that company is focusing on the packaging industry. The first Memjet-driven large-format printers began shipping in the United States earlier this year.
Memjet, based in San Diego, calls its product Waterfall Printhead Technology, and that aptly describes the concept: Rather than a small head moving rapidly back and forth over the media, the media passes once underneath the wide print head and ink is applied in a single pass. Each Memjet head contains 70,400 nozzles spread across 8.77 inches, and the wide-format configuration contains five of these heads in an array, totaling more than 350,000 nozzles.
The primary advantage of the Memjet-driven printers is, obviously, speed. The engine can print in two modes: 6 inches per second or 12 inches per second. That means it can output a D-size document in full color in 2 or 4 seconds, depending on the mode.
Xerox’s version of the Memjet, called the IJP 2000, is set permanently at the 6 ips mode. Xerox has made it clear that it believes the market for output from the IJP 2000 is graphics, not CAD, and the slower speed offers the best resolution, 1600 x 1600 dpi, compared to 1600 x 800 dpi at the 12 ips mode. Read an interview with Xerox about its re-entry to the wide-format market here.
The Memjet-driven printers from RTI and Oce/Canon print in both modes.
The estimates in cost per square foot from the Memjet-driven machines vary slightly.
“Our latest data indicates a cost per square foot of 16.5 cents at 100 percent area coverage. This cost includes consumables (print heads, ink, waste cartridge) and a service charge, but not media cost or hardware amortization,” says Geoff Rummel, wide-format manager of Xerox’s Graphic Communications Business Group.
Océ makes similar estimates for printing with their Memjet device, the ColorWave 900. “For ink, heads, and service we expect the average [color graphics] poster to be less than 14 cents per square foot,” says Patrick Donigan, senior marketing specialist for Canon.
Since CAD printing uses much less ink, the cost per square foot is significantly less. Donigan estimates that a CAD document with 5 percent coverage will cost about 4 cents per square foot for ink, heads, and service.
Print Head Life
As with typical inkjet printers, the Memjet printheads are considered consumables. Rummel says Xerox estimates IJP 2000 users will burn through five print heads (which would be one full array) for every 5,000 square meters (53,820 square feet) printed.
Typical inkjet media works in the printers. The Xante Excelagraphic, which is designed for the packaging industry, is set up with a flatbed feed that accommodates substrates up to 5/8” thick.
Outdoor Durability Issue
The Memjet-driven printers do have some limitations. Outdoor durability of the prints is one concern, because the heads only use aqueous, dye-based inks that can easily be damaged by sunlight and water.
Jeff Bean, vice president of brand and communications for Memjet, says the company is working on that issue.
“Our technology roadmap includes a variety of printheads capable of eventually jetting all types of wide-format inks,” Bean says, adding that he cannot be more specific with timing. “We also see several partners working with media manufacturers in optimizing our inks with coatings for increased durability for short-term outdoor or window signage.”
Indeed, using the right media can limit the durability issue. Lamination also provides protection against water and sun, of course, but that adds a step and cost. Naturally, durability is not as much an issue for CAD prints or indoor signage.
Nozzle Clogging and Headstrikes
Another issue being reported by some users is occasional nozzle clogging, which is not a surprise given the number of nozzles. Because the Memjet is a single-pass head, a clogged nozzle can create a thin streak in the print. Because the printer is outputting so rapidly, the streak can go undetected if the operator is not paying attention. This is much less of an issue on CAD documents.
The printer does incorporate automated printhead maintenance routines to limit this problem.
Another issue being reported is “headstrikes,” which result in faded or abrased areas at the lead edge of a print, caused if the media curls a bit while entering the printhead area. This can be addressed by allowing a blank area at the lead edge of a print, and by minimizing curl in the media, such as by using higher quality media and 3” core rolls.
Color CAD Applications
Outputting color CAD documents is currently a small, but potentially important, market for the repro community. The Memjet-driven printers are obviously not the only printers that can output color CAD – for example, the KIP c7800 is a toner-based, high-speed printer that also handles color CAD well. Both of these technologies adequately tackle the production limitations of color CAD output.
Whether the market is there is another question. Some IRgA members have reported growth in the color CAD area, but the percentage of CAD documents printed in color in North America is still inconsequential. The color CAD market is much larger in Europe.
However, since the production issue is addressed by Memjet and the KIP c7800, it’s conceivable that a reprographics shop using that technology could develop a color CAD market.
“Modern CAD files generally contain color content,” notes Carl Byrne, president of Evergreen Technologies, a distributor of wide-format imaging parts and supplies based in Baltimore. “However, the historically large difference in cost between printing that file in color or B&W has been compelling enough so the vast majority is printed B&W. The cost of conventional inkjet printing is driven by a combination of speed and basic production costs. The Memjet technology is poised to change that cost and production dynamic. My theory is that a reprographer who is forward thinking could acquire a Memjet machine, then offer their customers the ability to switch their B&W drawings to color at a price far below what they formerly would have cost.”
Another major market for Memjet-driven printers, and the KIP c7800 for that matter, is color signage. Many reprographics shops already cater to the large-format color market, but these technologies offer greater production capacity than current technology. However, the outdoor durability issue mentioned above will limit the outdoor market for Memjet prints.
The Memjet is an innovative technology that could affect the production capabilities of users.