I recently had the opportunity to visit Hewlett-Packard's (HP) Corvallis, OR operations, to see what the company, whose 2013 sales reached $112.3 billion, is working on in the printing and ink fields.
Corvallis is a 2 million square foot facility, focused on technical innovation and new product development. The emphasis of the program, titled HP’s Science and Printing Day, was HP’s new HP Officejet Pro X copier technology.
The new 8.5 inch PageWide array printheads on the copier have 42,240 nozzles, can produce 30 color pages per minute. By contrast, in 1984, printheads had 12 nozzles and could print one black and white page in a minute.
HP’s inkjet printers were also an important topic. The T-400 Web Press, which uses pigmented water-based inks, has more than 2 million nozzles that fire a total of 100 billion droplets a second. The T400 can print up to 5,200 pages a minute, and run 125 liters of ink an hour.
On the ink side, HP does not actually manufacture its own inks, but rather has them toll manufactured. However, it does have an extensive R&D ink laboratory in Corvallis, which is responsible for formulating inks that can match the company’s speed and performance requirements.
The Corvallis ink lab has been busy – it has more than 1,300 granted patents on its inks. Typically, it takes three to five years to develop a new ink, and the lab works closely with the designers of new printers and printheads. The company utilizes pigmented inks, with 70% to 80% water-based.
Dr. Jay Shields, IP strategist, Printing Technology Platforms, discussed the importance of the ink.
“Revolutionary printers need revolutionary inks,” Dr. Shields noted. “Our PageWide array has 42,240 nozzles, which presents a large challenge for our ink chemists.”
“Ink is essential to the function of a printer,” said Don Hill, R&D manager at HP. “It’s what we sell.” Hill added that recent HP ink innovations include new dispersion blends for color, new dispersion technologies and high solids ink formulation.
HP officials also emphasized the differences between HP and remanufactured inks, saying that after-market ink makers do not have access to key ingredients.
“Cheaper inks cut corners and lose value. If you don’t use the same ingredients, strange things can happen,” said Thom Brown, HP’s inkologist. “If the ink isn’t designed specifically for the printhead, it changes the amount of pages that can be printed.”
A few other things I thought were interesting:
• The Corvallis headquarters was built in 1996, and its initial focus was on pocket calculators.
• It is interesting to see the display of what the old printers looked like 30 years ago, and see what the capabilities are today.
• HP has its own MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical systems) factory, which is only used for its printers. The factory runs 24 hours a day, five days a week; HP officials say that their company is the fourth-largest MEMS manufacturer in the world, although it is for captive use only.
• The various testing facilities were also unique, I thought. There was an acoustic lab, used to test the noise that the printer makes, and compare it to other printers on the market. The most fun lab was the dynamics lab, where the goal is basically to damage packages by dropping them and exerting force to test the packaging.