Memjet Rising: The Company Has Never Looked So Strong
- By Charles Brewer
- Jul 01, 2012
Memjet’s unique print head is the basis for the company’s technology, now present in a variety of machines. (Photo: Memjet.com)
After getting off to a famously slow start, Memjet has made up a lot of lost ground over the past couple of years. The firm’s high-speed technology initially hit the market in 2010 in various industrial devices from smaller companies such as Astro Machines and RENA Systems. During 2011, the firm announced that some big-name customers, including Lenovo and LG Electronics, along with a few additional small firms would offer Memjet-based desktop machines in various regions. Memjet has kept up the pace this year. Demonstrating additional new machines from existing customers and announcing new partnerships with some of the industry’s better-known firms, this spring was particularly eventful for Memjet. With an assortment of devices and a growing list of OEM customers, Memjet seems to be on its way to establishing itself in various market segments.
Memjet does not manufacture hardware under its own brand but instead licenses its high-speed inkjet technology to clients. This technology is based on unique print heads fabricated using microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), which allow nozzles to be densely packed onto a complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS). Memjet heads contain 6,400 nozzles every 20 mm and can be ganged together in arrays of various widths to print output ranging from snapshots to posters. During the imaging process, substrates pass by the page-wide array, which remains stationary, allowing the technology to achieve extremely fast print speeds.
Memjet is the brainchild of the Australian inventor Kia Silverbrook, who founded Silverbrook Research near Sydney in 1994. With the help of several key investors, Silverbrook was able to amass a portfolio with thousands of patents related to inkjet technology without actually releasing a product for more than a decade. Silverbrook also founded the corporate entity Memjet, which was made up of various groups such as Memjet Office and Memjet Label that oversee the development of specific market segments.
This year’s drupa show, which was held in Düsseldorf, Germany, from May 3-16, marked a high-water mark of sorts for Memjet. Drupa is a quadrennial event that draws hundreds of thousands of visitors from the printing industry worldwide to Messe Düsseldorf, a sprawling complex with 19 halls and more than 250,000 square meters of indoor exhibition space. This year, the event acted as a showcase for a variety of existing machines based on Memjet technology and provided the company with the perfect venue for announcing key partnerships and upcoming product introductions.
Delphax demonstrated its soon-to-be-released elan 500 at drupa. This new sheet-fed production system is capable of printing full-color output with a 1,600-dpi resolution at speeds of up to 500 impressions per minute. The machine can be configured with up to 16 Memjet heads, each with 70,400 nozzles that jet up to 700 million drops of ink per second. In addition to printing CMYK, the elan 500 can support two spot colors and MICR printing based on Delphax’s proprietary technology. The elan 500 employs the Delphax SST paper transport, which ensures coated and uncoated paper are imaged with proper registration, and a patent-pending inline system that delivers a special coating to expand the range of substrates. Delphax expects to start beta testing the device later this year.
The Memjet wide-format engine. (Photo: Memjet.com)
Also at the show, Xanté had the Excelagraphix 4200 in its booth. This 42-inch wide-format device prints up to 545 square meters per hour with the same 1,600-dpi resolution as all Memjet units. It handles sheet sizes from 8.27 inches by 8.27 inches up to 42 inches by 50 feet. The machine employs a 42-inch array featuring five Memjet heads ganged together with five ink channels (CMYKK) and a total nozzle count of 352,000 nozzles (70,400 per color). In terms of consumables, the Excelagraphix 4200 uses a dye-based ink set, like all Memjet machines so far, and can accommodate 2- or 10-liter tanks. It supports a variety of substrates, including corrugated box stock and foam board. Xanté says the machine is appropriate for various markets and can render maps, architectural and engineering documents, indoor signage, POP displays, packaging and more. The Excelagraphix 4200 is slated to start shipping in June.
New desktop designs
The EvoJet Office Pro310 is a three-in-one desktop inkjet device.
Drupa marked the first occasion that the Lomond Trading Company demonstrated its new EvoJet Office Pro310 desktop all-in-one office inkjet, the first MFP with Memjet technology. The firm also unveiled the print-only EvoJet Office 2 machine. Both machines were running in Memjet’s booth. Lomond is a U.K.-based compatible cartridge and specialty papermaker that launched its first Memjet-based desktop printer in the Russian and Eastern European markets last year. The earlier EvoJet machine is similar to the Machjet LPP6010N LG Electronics released in Korea last June.
The EvoJet Office 2 features a new industrial design based on a new paper path that moves sheets from left to right within the device.
The new EvoJet Office Pro310 is a three-in-one (print, copy, scan) A4 desktop inkjet device. It offers a 1,200-dpi flatbed scanner; a 20-ipm, 20-sheet automatic document feeder (ADF); scanning functionality (including scan to server, email or cloud); and copying. The EvoJet Office 2 features a new industrial design based on a new paper path that moves sheets from left to right within the device. It is distinct from the original EvoJet Office printer, which fed paper from the front of the device. The orientation of the 250-sheet input tray on the EvoJet Office 2 has been switched, and it provides a new bypass tray that accommodates up to 20 sheets of paper. The printer also offers a new two-line LCD screen. The EvoJet Office 2 and EvoJet Office Pro310 come standard with SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol) to support remote management.
While the paper tray has been moved and the paper path has been shifted by 90 degrees, the print engine in the new Lomond devices is the same as the one found in the original EvoJet machine. The new machines have the same 60-page-per-minute color and black-and-white print speeds as their predecessor. All three machines use the same four-color (CMYK), dye-based ink set and employ the same so-called Memjet “Waterfall” page-wide, fixed thermal head with 70,400 nozzles. Lomond markets a 100-ml black ink tank that yields 7,191 pages, and each of the 50-ml individual color tanks yield 6,239 pages. The black tank and each color tank costs €86 (approximately $US107). Lomond also offers a replacement print head for €225 ($US280) that has a 45,000-page life.
Lomond will market the EvoJet units through distribution channels across Western and Eastern Europe as well as in Russia, South Africa and Turkey. The new Lomond printer is expected to be out during the second quarter, and the EvoJet Office Pro310 will hit the market in the second half of the year. Prices for the new machines have not been set.
I should point out that prior to drupa, I saw a device similar to the EvoJet Office 2 demonstrated in the United States. In April, Ricoh’s Korean affiliate Sindoh had its new P800 Memjet-based inkjet printer at the ITEX show in Las Vegas. Sindoh will release the machines in the U.S. in the third quarter along with four monochrome laser machines based on the firm’s electrophotographic technology. Few details were available, and, as of this writing, Memjet had yet to acknowledge the partnership. If Sindoh does successfully launch the P800 as planned, it will be the first firm I know of to market a desktop device based on Memjet technology in the U.S.
In addition to all the hardware that was running at drupa, Memjet made some significant announcements at the show. On May 3, the firm said Océ, now a part of Canon, plans to use Memjet technology in a new large-format color device capable of delivering up to 500 A0 (33.1-by-46.8-inch) prints per hour. The new printer is dubbed Project Velocity and was displayed at Canon Europe’s stand at drupa.
Océ plans to use Memjet technology in a new large-format color device
capable of delivering up to 500 A0 (33.1-by-46.8-inch) prints per hour. The
new printer is dubbed Project Velocity and was displayed at Canon
Europe’s stand at drupa.
The form factor of the Océ Velocity is distinct from Xanté’s Excelagraphix 4200, although the machines share many of the same specs. Like the Excelagraphix 4200, the Océ Velocity features five print heads and five ink channels (CMYKK). Océ says the Velocity head has 352,000 nozzles — 70,400 per color — which is identical to the array in the Excelagraphix 4200. There appears to be some overlap in the markets the machines are targeting as well. Both Océ and Xanté, for example, have said that their respective machines are appropriate for rendering architectural and engineering documents. The Velocity features Océ’s Power M controller, color image processing and workflow leveraged from the ColorWave 600 and 650. It accommodates six rolls of up to 1,200 meters (3,937 feet) of media and employs Océ’s Double Decker Pro stacker, which features a dual-tray system that allows for the unloading of print jobs while printing is occurring.
Memjet also announced on May 3 that it will partner with Toshiba TEC to develop an office MFP featuring Memjet print heads, controllers, software and ink. The Toshiba TEC machine sounds similar to the Lomond EvoJet Office Pro310. The Toshiba TEC unit is a three-function device capable of producing color and black-and-white pages at 60 ppm. Toshiba TEC said that it is also evaluating Memjet technology for industrial and commercial applications. A representative from the Memjet Label group indicated Memjet is currently working with Toshiba TEC to integrate its technology and components into a Toshiba color label printer capable of imaging full-color labels at up to 12 inches per second.
Memjet also announced that it is partnering with Fuji Xerox to develop yet another wide-format printer based on Memjet components. On May 5, the firm said it would provide Fuji Xerox with a 42-inch-wide print engine featuring Memjet Waterfall Printhead Technology capable of printing at speeds up to 300 mm per second. Details were scant, but like the Océ and Xanté units, the Fuji Xerox 42-inch wide-format machine will target technical and production graphics applications. The Fuji Xerox machine is a roll-fed device, so it may be destined to compete with the Océ Velocity. According to the Memjet announcement, Fuji Xerox will initiate a “formal product launch in Asia Pacific at (a) future date to be determined.” There was no word as to whether Fuji Xerox plans to sell the printer outside this region or if Xerox will sell its partner’s Memjet-based printers in other regions.
Never looked stronger
All in all, I would say that Memjet has never been as strong as it appears to be in the first half of this year. Yet, regardless of all the promise, even at this late date, the technology’s success is less than certain.
Thanks to the complicated and opaque relationship between Memjet and Silverbrook Research, it is hard to say whether Memjet is the master of its own domain. The firm’s future became clouded in March when one of its biggest investors initiated a lawsuit against Memjet’s inventor, Silverbrook’s partner and Silverbrook Research. The suit looked particularly nasty, and the litigants appeared to be readying themselves for a protracted legal battle. Miraculously, in just a matter of weeks, the matter was resolved, clearing the way for Memjet to shine at drupa. It now remains to be seen if all parties live up to their sides of the agreement. There is also the specter that some other investor may be waiting in the wings with a high-stakes suit. Only time will tell.
After all the announcements, it seems that Memjet now faces a new problem: How will it keep all its licensees happy and manage the conflicts that are bound to come up as competitive products hit the market? Can the smaller players seriously expect to continue to get all the attention they originally received from Memjet going forward, or will the bigger players get all the love? And then there’s the question of the technology itself: Can Memjet’s infrastructure scale so it can successfully continue to flawlessly fabricate such highly technical print heads?
And what about the pesky dye-based ink problem? Will customers be satisfied with fast machines that only print with dyes, or will they be attracted to the various slower machines currently available with more durable pigmented ink sets? Memjet appears to be aware of this problem, and it is working on heads that support pigments. Unfortunately, these heads are a few years away from being available.
With all that said, Memjet has emerged stronger than it has ever been this spring. After failing to get much buy-in from hardware manufacturers, the firm has managed to sign partnerships with an impressive assortment of OEMs. The OEMs have typically only signed on for a single device apiece, but clearly they are interested — and for good reason. The firm has also either brought to market or demonstrated machines for a wide variety of applications, including label-printing devices, wide-format printers, desktop devices and more. It will be interesting to see what comes next.
This article originally appeared in the July 2012 issue of Recharger.