Memjet is targeting commercial printing applications, such as photo finishing, with a unit that prints page-wide glossy photos.
For a long time, the two choices in desktop printers have been inkjet and laser. This year, a significant twist on the inkjet is hitting the market and promises higher color printing speeds—think one color page per second—at a relatively low cost.
The company behind the new technology, Memjet, hopes to snag a significant share of the $250 billion-per-year worldwide printing market.
“We’re bringing revolutionary change to the industry,” said Len Lauer, Memjet’s CEO.
Memjet can be several times faster than a regular inkjet printer, because instead of having a small print head that sweeps across the page, over and over, Memjet’s head is as wide as the page and doesn’t move. As the paper travels underneath it, 70,000 microscopic nozzles spurt ink all at the same time.
High-end laser printers can match Memjet’s speed but they cost more, both to buy and to use. Lauer expects Memjet-equipped printers to hit the market this year for $500 to $600. The ink will cost about 5 cents per page, compared with 12 cents to 25 cents per page for laser toner or consumer inkjet ink.
The page-wide heads and tiny nozzles are made possible by advances in micro-electro-mechanical systems, or MEMS. These are parts made out of silicon using many of the same techniques that go into making computer chips, so manufacturers can create tiny and very precise mechanical assemblies. MEMS are also used in digital cinema projectors and in the sensors that capture the motion of the Nintendo Wii’s remotes and such smart phones as the iPhone.
Other companies have demonstrated wide inkjet heads, but Memjet appears to be the first to make it a finished desktop product.
The inventor of the Memjet head is Kia Silverbrook, an Australian, but the privately held company is based in San Diego. Lauer comes from another San Diego-based company, wireless technology developer Qualcomm Inc., where he was chief operating officer.
The first Memjet printer for the office market will be sold by computer maker Lenovo Corp. in China early this year and by other partners in Taiwan and India, the companies announced last week. Memjet hasn’t announced a partner for the U.S., but Lauer said the printer would be sold here this year as well.
In a demonstration last week at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, a prototype of the Memjet printer churned out color pages, one per second, of a quality indistinguishable from a good inkjet printer.