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 user 2004-04-13 at 10:50:00 am Views: 44
  • #5142

    HP’S Ink interactions

    A single change in ink can affect everything related to printing because ink interacts with the paper, printer components and the cartridge. HP tests an ink’s compatibility with more than 100 kinds of plastics, adhesives, metals and other materials. Researchers pore over data from sophisticated equipment that shows them the shape of a dot or the atomic structure of paper as it absorbs ink.

    A lot of things can go wrong. Humidity can throw off the shades of color for toner prints. The color can bleed if the ink droplets aren’t formed right. An inkjet cartridge nozzle smaller than a human hair can get clogged, making an image prone to streaks.

    “Our message is that if you want to get it right, you have to view printing as a system, and that you improve it by looking at ink, paper, printing and computers,” said Pradeep Jotwani, senior vice president of worldwide supplies at HP.

    HP’s expertise in printing supplies goes back to the 1970s, when it made plotters, the bulky machines that made engineering drawings with a robotic arm. When Xerox invented the laser printer in the 1970s, HP jumped into that market and took a leading share. HP launched its first inkjet printers in the 1980s, and the printing-supplies research got under way in earnest. The company has been formulating its own inks since 1982.

    Today, HP holds more than 9,000 patents on printer-related inventions.

    A high-end inkjet printer today is precise enough to heat up ink to several times the temperature of the sun, and shoot 36,000 droplets of ink through 512 nozzles each second.

    In 1985, HP’s inkjet printer could shoot 1,200 droplets of ink a second through just 12 nozzles.

    Besides San Diego, HP does printer and ink research in Corvallis, Ore., and Boise, Idaho.

    The job of HP researchers is not only to beat rival printer makers, but also to outdo the companies that take discarded HP printer cartridges, refill them, and sell them at deep discounts.

    “If we can’t do much better than the refillers, we aren’t doing our jobs here in research,” said Nils Miller, a senior scientist for ink and media at HP.

    So far, HP is staying ahead, said Jim Forrest, senior analyst at Lyra Research, an imaging market researcher in Newtonville, Mass.

    HP sold 328 million inkjet and toner cartridges in 2003, Forrest says. And ink refillers only have about 13% share of the market for HP inkjet cartridges. On a $28 cartridge, HP makes a profit of about $16.80, Forrest said, allowing it to sell its printers at a loss.