HP Future-Proofs Customers with its Next Generation Printhead Design

Ron Gilboa
Feb 6, 2015

HP has long been at the forefront of innovation in the digital printing marketplace with inkjet solutions spanning consumer, office, and production. HP’s announcement of its High Definition Nozzle Architecture (HDNA) shows how inkjet technology is evolving, but the main take-away shouldn’t be just about high resolution, redundancy, or better print quality. The important part of this announcement is how it helps future-proof investments made by HP customers.

The centerpiece of the announcement is a new 2,400 dot-per-inch, dual channel, thermal inkjet (TIJ) print head capable of speeds up to 800 feet per minute. This top speed is 33% higher than the 600 fpm of the previous HP TIJ heads, and the resolution is twice the previous 1,200 dpi. This fourth generation of print heads is made using MEMS (Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems) technology that is widely used in silicon-based electronics manufacturing. MEMS has gained acceptance in print head manufacturing because it allows for increased nozzle density (i.e., higher resolution) and permits the creation of integrated print head circuitry. These new MEMS print heads are driving quality and reliability higher and higher, and will eventually drive down the cost per nozzle, which enables a range of page-wide (i.e., single-pass) print engines such as HP’s recently announced single-pass wide-format printer for computer-aided design (CAD) applications.

Dual-channel print heads like the ones using HP’s HDNA can be configured in several ways depending on the system requirements:

  1. High speed – Doubling the printing speed by using the two parallel channels to print twice the number of image data elements.
  2. Redundancy – Providing inherent backup (i.e., nozzle redundancy) for a single color by using each channel to back the other up to cover up jet-outs or streaking artifacts. (Note: This reduces the speed in half.)
  3. High quality – HP’s HDNA heads are capable of firing both large and small drops which in turn enhances the printing of fine details and enables smooth color transitions by interlacing smaller droplets with larger droplets. This also helps to maintain highlight details and allows for smoother gradations especially in lighter areas. (Note: This also reduces the speed in half.)
  4. Two colors – Each channel can be used for a different color, which enables multi-color printing in a small physical footprint. (Note: In this case the heads run at their rated speed.)

According to HP, the installed base of Inkjet Web Press T Series products produces about four billion A4 equivalent pages per month (volume that has grown at a 34% compound annual growth rate since the first production unit was placed in 2010). All of these HP customers in the Inkjet Web Press T Series installed base have made investments of a million dollars or more.

HP’s decision to use a modular system architecture and build its next-generation heads in the same form factor as the previous generation means, at least theoretically, that Inkjet Web Press owners can perpetually upgrade their system when new print heads become available. That means that within certain parameters they can benefit from higher quality, reliability, and print speed improvements as new print heads are introduced. They do not need to swap out existing paper transport units, dryers, coaters, or other system elements. (Though it is likely they would need to upgrade their front-end and image processing systems to handle the increased data requirements and possibly the dryer when moving to higher speeds.) With this strategy, HP recognizes that existing users can benefit from a new generation of print heads without requiring a forklift exchange of their system and that with minimal disruption they can make the most of their investment.

The higher resolution and faster speed of the HDNA technology are important factors, but the big story is maintaining an upgrade path for current users. Beyond that, if we take a broader look at the HDNA technology we can see how this new generation of TIJ technology will impact HP’s offerings in other printing segments such as wide format, consumer, and office printing.

With beta sites and initial upgrades available through 2015, HP indicated that all of its new Inkjet Web Press T series products would have HDNA as standard configuration once it becomes commercially available in 2016.

InfoTrends tracks inkjet technologies across many product areas. Ron Gilboa covers developments in Functional and Industrial printing.

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