March 30, 2007
Memjet Inkjet Printer Outputs 60 Pages Per Minute, 30 Photos Per Minute
By Jason Sattler
Reclusive Australian Company Silverbrook Research Aims to Remake the Future of Inkjet Printing With Partners it Has Yet to Disclose
The above video does not employ any special effects (click here if you can't see the video). Instead, it's real footage of Silverbrook Research''s prototype Memjet inkjet printer outputting 60 pages per minute. (Yes, a prototype as in not yet for sale. If you've had trouble waiting for Apple's iPhone, skip this article because it may cause too much excitement. You've been warned.)
In 2007 every week seems to bring an announcement that promises to revolutionize the printer industry. First the Zink inkless, portable printer, next Kodak's first line of inkjet printers featuring an innovative new ink that lasts longer and costs less than any competitor, and then HP's Edgeline Technology, which seeks to transform high-volume color printing.
Impressive, but now the biggest news the year comes from Silverbrook Research, a secretive Australian research firm, which has quietly amassed more patents than Thomas Edison.
When Silverbrook Research announced Memjet earlier this month, the inkjet printing world took a deep breath and asked, "Is this for real?" Printing at a blisteringly fast 60 ppm for documents and 30 ppm for photos, Memjet inkjet printers will start around $200. And the technology won't be hard to find. While the dominant inkjet manufacturers — Canon, Epson, HP and Lexmark — generally develop their own technology, Memjet will license its breakthrough design to a variety of partners. By 2008 you'll be able to buy a printer with Memjet technology and print about twice as quickly as you do today for around the same price. Call it Silverbrook's Law
Kim Beswick, vice president of marketing for Memjet Home & Office, gave Databazaar Blog some insight into its technology and future plans.
Memjet's technology was developed by Kia Silverbrook, the former director of printer technology R&D at Canon Australia, and his team of researchers, some whom have as many as three graduate degrees. "The initial goal was to create a small, inexpensive, high-quality photo-printing engine that could be integrated into a digital camera," Beswick said. But that goal expanded into a array of innovations that made Memjet possible. The developments were so astounding that Silverbrook Research took extreme measures to maintain secrecy in its early years. "They knew [their work] was potentially disruptive to the R&D efforts of the industry incumbents."
As Silverbrook Research started applying for patents, the secrecy became harder to maintain."Silverbrook's patent portfolio grew at about 100 per year from 2000 through mid-2005 and nobody really thought that a lab in Sydney, Australia, that they hadn't heard of before could do anything significant. At the end of 2005 our patents started shooting up to about 500 per year, approximately the same rate as Canon and surpassing HP and Epson."
But the public didn't really understand the magnitude of this development until the company brought in Lyra Research to see the prototypes in action. "We knew that private briefings with live demos were the only way to be credible with many of the industry analysts." Admitting that the inkjet industry has become somewhat famous for inflated claims, Beswick says Memjet had a goal of complete disclosure. "We wanted to give them the opportunity to vet out their questions and skepticism, look at the products printing, open up the trays, submit their own files, etc."
The Memjet surprised analysts. "The patents that are core to the printheads we are developing today and about to introduce are the patents on the 'suspended heater thermal bubble' nozzle design, the patents on the chip join (which assures great print quality and assure no missed nozzles where the 20 mm chips are butted together), and patents on the MEMS manufacturing process and printhead assembly process," Beswick explains.
The speculation about which companies will use the Memjet technology has been fueled by the secrecy surrounding the negotiations. "We will likely have three to four customers introducing home and office products initially in 2008," Beswick said. That's all we could ascertain in our interview, but Lyra Research's Charles LeCompte speculates that Apple, Dell, and Sony might have an interest. If this speculation becomes fact, it would mark Apple's return to the printer industry after a ten year absence. Not likely, but you never know.
The Memjet technology will not be limited to home and office use. "The Memjet Photo Retail company is working on customers for the kiosk market and Memjet Labels is working on customers for the label, ticket, and tag markets."
If you think Memjet is impressive now, just wait a few years. "We believe within five years we will have the capability to do color office documents at 120-150 ppm and full-page photos at 60-75ppm." Beyond 150 ppm and the prints would literally fly out of the printer.
In addition, Memjet already has a prototype of a cell phone with a printer inside. This technology will likely hit stores as soon as 2010.
Beswick remains intent on telling the entire Memjet story. "It's not just about the technology itself, but also about our ability to manufacture it and drive the data to the printhead with a capable driver chip."
She's right. An impressive prototype is meaningless without the ability to reproduce it on an assembly line. Let's hope Silverbrook Research and its partners get that assembly line up and running on schedule.
About Databazaar Blog
Virtually everyone who uses a computer uses a printer. But computers get all the glory. So we launched this blog to give printers their due. We hope you find our coverage enjoyable and useful, and encourage you to subscribe and participate.