Mar 19, 2014
Last week piezo inkjet head manufacturer Xaar plc (Cambridge, UK) announced the commercial availability of the Xaar 1002 piezo inkjet head for use with both UV curing and ceramic inks. The news is significant because Xaar has more than twenty OEM customers using its Xaar 1001 head for industrial printing applications; the first batches of Xaar 1002 head have been shipped to OEMs and over time will completely replace Xaar 1001, which is now out of production.
While Xaar improved its 1001 head since its launch in 2007, the Xaar 1002 is the first truly new successor to it. The new head is outwardly almost identical to the earlier one but, according to Xaar, contains 90% new components. At its heart, for instance, the 1002 head has the same number of nozzles–one thousand–but the nozzles are based on a new design and new manufacturing, changes that Xaar says ensure straighter jetting and other enhancements.
Xaar has had great success with the earlier head in ceramic tile printing and label printing, among other industrial applications. Ceramic tile printing is by far the biggest user of Xaar’s heads; thanks mainly to the success of EFI Cretaprint, KERAjet, and several other Xaar OEMs that make ceramic tile presses, Xaar claims about 75% share of the inkjet head market there. Meanwhile Xaar is the most widely used piezo head in color digital label presses and in decorative laminates, and has significant shares of piezo heads for coding and some functional printing applications, such as printed electronics. All things considered, Xaar’s heads are used in essentially all the applications that are covered by InfoTrends’ Functional and IndustrialÂ Printing Service.
Three general improvements that Xaar 1002, over Xaar 1001:
- The range of droplet diameters has been cut 50%, so jetted droplets have greater uniformity
- Drop placement accuracy is increased by 40% in terms of both landing and pitch
- Printhead stitching is easier than with Xaar 1001, easing integration into line heads
Along with the Xaar 1002, Xaar announced a new controller board, known at Xaar as the “Head Personality Card” or HPC.Â The Xaar 1002’s “HPC3” is longer and slimmer than the HPC2 and HPC1 boards, a difference that has two key benefits: (1) the width of the board is less than the width of the head, so the board can be inserted into the head cavity in an existing press that uses Xaar 1001, prior to installing the new Xaar 1002 head (2) Xaar 1002 heads can line up neatly, side by side, each with its HPC3 board, in any line heads that use Xaar 1002. Besides the new HPC board, the Xaar’s 1002 head news includes one other development, a monitoring system called Xaar SMART, which reports for each head on live voltage, current, HPC temperature, run time, pixel count, etc.
The new head, HPC board, and monitoring will improve Xaar-based products in all their applications, but they are especially relevant to ones that use line heads, where the OEM stitches together a number of inkjet print heads into a single print bar. Décor, packaging, and graphics uses such as laminates, corrugated, and signage are all ones where wide, single pass digital presses using line heads are just starting to be available. Xaar’s earlier head is already used in some line heads, such as the Jupiter press of Hymmen (Germany), which prints roll media or boards up to 2 meters wide at speeds up to 50 meters per minute. (InfoTrends will produce a major report in Q3 2014 about the digital printing of décor elements such as laminates.)
Other types of printing, though, will benefit from Xaar 1002, such as the direct printing of plastic beverage bottles (Xaar has four OEMs in this “direct to shape” print category) and labels and packaging.Â Besides the label, tile, and direct to shape uses cited, Xaar heads are found in additive manufacturing and even silicon wafer fabrication, and all will ultimately employ the Xaar 1002 technology.
What does the Xaar 1002 introduction mean, for Xaar’s OEMs and end users? The short answer is that existing products based on Xaar 1001 head will work better and be easier to use with the Xaar 1002. Also, some new products will be facilitated, especially ones that require graphics printing or big line heads, because of Xaar 1002’s better droplet control or its better head stitching. One other change, though, is that costs for the Xaar 1002 head will be higher than for the 1001, but the premium is unknown since Xaar’s contracts with its OEMs are secret.
Xaar plc has publicized its big investments in manufacturing and research in recent years; from the opening of its Huntingdon, U.K. manufacturing in 2006 through mid-2013, Xaar invested $67 million in there; Xaar will invest another $41 million by the end of 2014. Meanwhile, Xaar’s annual report shows that 12% of revenues are invested research, a level the company says it will maintain. The news of the Xaar 1002 head, which is manufactured at the Huntingdon, U.K. facility, is ultimately related to those investments, since it is the first big product development to spring from them.
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