by Ralph Grabowski
PageWide is the printing technology that HP is counting on for its future, particularly after November, when the printer division is split off as a separate company from the computer division. HP famously makes its highest profits from selling ink, and so it looks for ways to make it easier for customers to consume more ink, while making it harder for customers to use non-HP ink.
HP last month ran a technical Webinar about their new PageWide technology. They lined up several of the in-house developers to talk to a half-dozen CAD media assembled on Google+ Hangout. At HP, the new head is designed to work with a variety of printers: desktop printers, large format printers, and Web press printers used for newspapers and magazines.
PageWide technology prints the entire width of the media at once. It eliminates the slower speed and printer shake created by a head that moves side to side. The technology is not new. Computer departments had line printers in the 1980s that printed text-only, an entire line at a time. Competitors like Canon license page-wide printing technology for some of their inkjet printers, both small- and large-format.
For HP, this is catch-up, clouded by a slow development process. We in the media were invited to the original unveiling of PageWide a year ago for CAD users and print shops. We thought it curious HP would fly us to San Diego for a product that would not ship for more than a year. It turns out that HP was hoping to stave off losses to competitors, because print shops and large corporations tend to have multi-year leases, service contracts, and depreciation schedules. When these come to an end, customers might look at Canon's speedy page-wide printers, instead of HP.
The Development of HP's PageWide Printhead
Although HP already had a pagewide printhead in 1991, it was too expensive to release. (See figure 1.) It took another 15 years to improve the quality and reduce the price by reducing the complexity of construction. The first use of the page-wide head was in a 30" Web printer, but today the heads can span paper as wide as 110" (9'2" or 4.3m).
HP's first page-wide printhead combined 32 individual printheads and was developed in 1991
The building-block design of the printhead allows HP to build very wide printers. Each block has over 200,000 nozzles pushing out 6-picolitre droplets (6 billionths of a litre). "We thought 200 pages-per-minute was as much speed as anyone needed." But they now print up to 600 feet per minute in color and up to 800 feet per minute in monochrome. But not all printers are this speedy. For desktop users of A4 (A-size) paper,the 42,000 nozzles output at up to 70 pages per minute.
HP says that the competition for HP was their own line of laser printers, which are fast, cheap, and durable. Well, they aren't about to mention Canon, are they. HP claims that their PageWide printers are 50% cheaper than color lasers --implying that monochrome laser continues to be the cheapest. In the upFront.eZine global headquarters, we use laser monochrome for most of our (rare) printing, with a color inkjet only when needed.
Getting back to the desktop printer: At 70ppm, the paper has to come out dry because they overlapping one other as they stack in the output tray. HP had to figure out how to dry the ink quickly, yet keep ink in the printhead from drying out, as the printhead does not park and cap, as do regular printheads. The solution was to design the nozzle so that it forms a film to prevent drying. The next drop pushes out the film. (See figure 2.)
Film covering the nozzle output keeps ink from drying out for up to 10 minutes
As the Webinar carried on, It became clear that the other reason to implement page-wide printheads was to more effectively block third-party ink suppliers from substituting for HP's own ink sales. It would be tough to make ink that works under such tough conditions: tiny droplets that dry fast.
Q: Is there any innovation regarding improvements in photographic quality for page-wide print technology?
A: Page-wide is not meant for photographic quality, but for faster printing. However, photographic quality is HP's aim, and so the first iteration will be a two-dropweights head that prints smoother tone gradations, using a larger and smaller droplets.
Q: What is the projected life expectancy for a typical head in terms of liters of ink it will pass before needing to be changed out?
A: It depends on the printer. An office printer uses less ink than a Web press, and so the warranties for each printer type is different. As soon as non-HP ink enters the system, however, all that goes out of the window.
Q: What about applications that require inks other than water-based pigments?
A: HP also has latex and solvent-based paints. Rather than adapt them to page-wide, we are extending water-based pigments to print on more types of materials, like banners.
Q: Are there any technical barriers to using latex ink in pagewide heads?
A: With latex inks, there is nothing specifically technically not allowing it to go into page-wide tech, but we would have to work to make it possible at the quality customers expect. Technically: yes; but it would require a lot of development.
Q: Can the printheads be replaced by users, or would they need to call a technician?
A: It depends on the printer. The OfficeJet ProX requires a service call or shipping it back to a service center. For the XL and Web press printers, users can replace the modules. It takes about a minute or two. A Web press has 200 heads, and typically one is replaced per shift when the paper rolls are being reloaded.
Q: Print volume has grown in recent years, despite the large amount of digital content. So cost-per-page is still an important factor. How this has changed with this new technology?
A: We can print at twice the speed and half the cost of [color] lasers. We are determined to cut the total cost of ownership.
Q: Do you believe that the ink formulation used in the page-wide technology could be more difficult to copy, thus reducing the possibility of the appearance of pirate ink cartridges in the near future?
A: The formulation is not easy to copy. We have trade secrets and IP [intellectual property] protection around each of our 100 ink formulas. People could reverse the formulation, but not to our quality. We believe in fair competition, but if someone is transgressing our agreements, we will go after them. We will put legal pressure on them [who produce ink independently]. We have further advancements, like film [that protects the nozzles], which are difficult to copy.
Re: upFront.eZine Celebrates its 20th Anniversary!
I can't believe it's been 20 years. Sometimes it seems like all of this happened just a few years ago.
While it's true that Visio "created" the ITC and ODA, without the vision from Mike Bailey and the work of his team in "birthing" Intellicad, neither the ITC or ODA would exist today.
Just after closing the deal to sell Landmark (then ADE) to Autodesk, Mike told me about his plan for IntelliCAD. At the time, that was a real BHAG [big hairy audacious goal]: using Autodesk's money to create IntelliCAD. It was a wild ride before it ended up with Visio.
The idea for the ODA came from a conversation with Rob Curran during Visio's IntelliCAD PR tour. Unbeknownst to me, many other things were at play in the background at Visio (Microsoft's [pending acquisition] being the biggest), but the spark happened in Boston, and took on a life of it's own from there.
Perhaps now these are just footnotes, but given this is your #1 story, I wanted to give credit where (I think) it's due. Looking forward to 20 more years.
- Robert Drummer
Congrats on 20 years. Wow. I’m trying to remember when I first discovered and signed up for the newsletter, and I’m thinking 1997 or 98, maybe! A long time whenever it was.
- Mike Burke, CAD Services Manager
Thanks for 20 years of reporting -- it has kept me in the loop.
- Ron Powell, CAD Developer/Operator
Two decades of the newsletter is a great achievement! As is surviving so long in this industry with your sanity intact. Hope the third decade goes well for you.
- Cyrena Respini-Irwin, CADalyst magazine
Congratulations on your 20th Anniversary. Back then I was but a lowly junior CAD Monkey. We've both come a long way since! Your newsletter has always been an invaluable source of information for me.
- Mj Smyth
Congrats, Ralph, on 20 years. We are celebrating the 20th anniversary edition of the Wohlers Report at http://wohlersassociates.com/press69.html . It has been 32 years since I taught AutoCAD at Colorado State University. We believe it was the first semester credit college/university course ever taught worldwide on AutoCAD. How time flies when you're having fun! :-)
- Terry Wohlers, Wohlers Associates, Inc.
I think you do a great job covering the CAD industry(s). Wish you would cover the SEARCH-ENGINE segment of the CAD world more often.
- Brad Bishop, BizDev
The editor replies: A lot of my story ideas come from readers. I am not knowledgeable about this search-engine topic, so would I welcome an interview with you to talk about the state of the industry for readers!
Re: Yet Another Modeler (or Two)
Dave Ault wrote that "I believe that the lack of Solid Edge import capabilities may well be a deliberate play by Siemens PLM." Why do you blame Siemens for something AutoCAD can't -- or won't -- do?
The editor had responded, "So, I would say it depends on the purpose that the drawings serve." And that's the issue here: you're trying to do something that less than 1% of Solid Edge user need, and yet somehow Siemens management is to blame. I can appreciate your frustrations over this, as you point out Solid Edge is the best mid-market CAD software, even if many have never heard of it. But your reasoning for the problems are off base, IMHO.
- Bob Mileti, on WorldCAD Access