Since 2004, Memjet has been developing high-performance inkjet printheads and related components for OEMs to install in a variety of inkjet printing devices under their own brand names. It’s been a smart strategy for the company, enabling it to drive an installed base of more than 10,000 Memjet-powered solutions of all kinds since the appearance of the first such product in 2007. Most of those implementations, however, have been in desktop equipment. Now, Memjet has its sights set on bigger machines and more lucrative markets. With the introduction of a new printhead technology called DuraLink, Memjet will try to cultivate OEM partnerships that lead to the development of full-scale digital inkjet presses for commercial print and packaging production. Memjet made the announcement about DuraLink to a small group of journalists and analysts at its San Diego, California headquarters on August 22. It also outlined future plans for VersaPass, its original inkjet printhead technology, which will now be reserved for wide-format and labeling applications.
Ink-Cascading Waterfall. Memjet holds more than 3,000 inkjet-related patents and was, according to CEO Len Lauer, the first company to market “page-wide” inkjet printheads capable of imaging the full width of an A4 sheet. Initially dubbed “Waterfall Printhead Technology,” the solution consisted primarily of a fixed, 8.77” printhead module emitting 700 million droplets per second across the breadth of a page from a matrix of 70,400 nozzles. This single-pass printing method was said by Memjet to be more efficient, higher in quality, and faster than the back-and-forth action of a moving printhead.
The first-generation product, now being marketed as VersaPass, used aqueous, dye-based inks and could place up to five printheads side by side for a total single-pass printing width of 42”. In DuraLink, Memjet offers OEMs pigment-based inks, greater speed, longer printhead life, and the ability to stitch as many as a dozen 8.77″ heads in devices, printing up to 2.5 metres wide for a printing area of 100”. The value proposition to partners that make presses with DuraLink printheads includes flexible integration, rapid time to market, and ease of support once the presses are installed. Commercial and packaging printers are promised high-quality, high-speed inkjet printing in up to eight colours at a very competitive cost per page.
Besides representing a technological leap forward, DuraLink also is Memjet’s bid to rise in the hierarchy of digital print equipment suppliers. To date, Memjet has worked with about 30 OEM partners, mostly smaller producers with a few in the front ranks. Now, said Rankin, the collaborators Memjet hopes to attract to DuraLink are “first-tier” OEMs. These are partners he defined as having “established product and market presence with experienced development, service, sales and marketing resources.” Also to be courted are second-tier OEMs with less influence and recognition, but with the intention of “working towards disrupting and entering as a primary market share participant” with Memjet, Rankin said. DuraLink partnerships, according to Lauer, will enable Memjet to leverage the commercial print market, which the company sees as the largest potential application for DuraLink. OEMs with which it’s currently working in this area include SuperWeb, Halm, Winkler+Dünnebier and Colordyne Technologies.
Potential for Packaging. Folding carton and corrugated packaging can also become applications for DuraLink by adding printheads not just to presses, but to converting and finishing lines. Partnering in packaging with Memjet are CMC, IPT Digital, New Solution, and Xanté. Textile printing represents yet another area of opportunity for the company. Look for “household names” among OEM suppliers of production inkjet equipment to be on board with DuraLink in the near future, said Lauer, who added that Memjet has been “very encouraged” by talks and beta tests it’s engaged in with potential first-tier and second-tier partners. He estimated that it would take an OEM 9 to 12 months to develop a working press after receiving the DuraLink components from Memjet. Rankin said that while Memjet doesn’t control the launch schedules of its partners, “we anticipate seeing the first DuraLink solutions being announced in the second half of 2018.”
Lauer said that most of DuraLink’s competition will come from piezo inkjet technology, which he characterized as harder to integrate than DuraLink’s thermal drop-on-demand architecture. He identified the “sweet spot” of the market for DuraLink-equipped presses as the under $1 million category, where devices like the Canon Océ VarioPrint i300 and Xerox’s Brenva cut-sheet inkjet presses are trying to establish themselves. DuraLink will be most competitive, he said, in a “disruption zone” where piezo DoD presses selling for under $1 million and consuming 300 to 4,000 litres of ink per month struggle because of the costs associated with them.
OEM partners will build the disruptive presses that Memjet envisions around a modular system that includes printheads, supporting modules, RIP-friendly software, and pigment ink. Eric Owen, General Manager of Commercial Press for Memjet, suggested thinking of the modular components as analogous to “Lego pieces” or the ingredients in “Blue Apron” meal kits – both designed for do-it-yourself assembly out of the box. Although up to now, he said, Memjet’s practice has been to supply complete print engines and leave the adaptation to the OEMs, DuraLink’s modular approach will let them use more of their own “creativity” in fashioning the final product.