Innovative MEMS technologies are spearheading the inkjet printing industry’s transformation.
From technology push to market pull, inkjet printing is entering a new era
Inkjet printing, which offers a flexible, cost-effective solution for printing personal documents, is still largely associated with home and small office printing. In parallel, large & wide format printing for CAD and graphic arts applications considers inkjet printing as its technology-of-choice for single prints and very small print runs. The democratization of digital applications in the early 2000s, spurred on by greater home internet usage and the appearance of digital cameras (which dramatically impacted the photo business), has influenced OEM printer manufacturers to develop high-quality, high-resolution printheads. MEMS technologies represent an attractive solution for creating a higher native density of nozzles-per-printheads at an acceptable manufacturing cost via mass production.
Office printing is one of the sectors that has recently benefited from MEMS printhead performance, competing with entry-level to mid-end laser printers. Moreover, the digital revolution is also gaining momentum in new sectors. For years, commercial and industrial applications have used analog printing solutions like flexography, offset printing, and screen-printing due to their high-volume production capacity and associated lower cost. However, these techniques are restrictive due to the use of a master, and not compatible with short runs < 4000m² printing surface. Today’s industrial and commercial applications require more diversity, as well as more instant service customization. Digital printing, specifically inkjet printing, is the solution to penetrating the three trillion square meters (m²) industrial market.
In this report, Yole Développement analyzes how the use of MEMS technologies is responding to market demand and how it can create new market opportunities. For example, MEMS printheads offer a high level of integration and scalability, enabling the use of single-pass printhead modules. These modules cover the entire width of the medium, thereby raising speed and productivity. Evolution of piezo printheads using semiconductor manufacturing processes will continue to improve performance, offering new market opportunities in industries like textiles, packaging, and printed electronics, and most recently in 3D printing.
A $1B MEMS printhead market in 2021, of which $365M lies in office, commercial, and industrial printing
Yole Développement forecasts the MEMS printhead market to be around $1B in 2021. From a continuously-decreasing, mature consumer printer market, printhead manufacturers will re-think their market strategy and create new opportunities in office, commercial, and industrial. Market opportunities for 2021 are estimated at $375M.
With more than 250M disposable inkjet printheads shipped in 2015, the consumer market still offers high-volume production, but it’s losing ground every year. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the printhead market for office, commercial, and industrial printing is expected to exhibit a double-digit increase from 2015 - 2021.
To achieve the double-digit growth mentioned above, printhead manufacturers must reinvent their business model. The “razor-blade” approach used in the consumer market is not suitable for other applications. The printhead is more and more a permanent (or semi-permanent) device, core of an industrial printing apparatus,. Industrial companies are not ready to pay for inks like today’s consumer does.
New players want their piece of cake, but at a reasonable cost
The printhead manufacturer landscape has changed in the last decade. Minor consumer market players like Olivetti and Kodak have discontinued activity, and Lexmark recently sold its inkjet unit to the Japanese company Funai.
Giant firms are consolidating their position in order to cover the entire printing industry and offer a broad range of printheads in various droplet sizes, grayscales, and ink types to fire. These companies are also looking to increase sales through organic growth or via acquisitions. For example, Epson announced plans to triple its MEMS PrecisionCore printhead production by building a new factory, scheduled to commence operations at the end of 2016. And in 2009, Canon acquired the Dutch company Océ as a means of expanding and strengthening its position in the commercial printer market. The most interesting phenomenon in the last month is the fast-growing interest in MEMS technologies, with several companies currently working to develop MEMS-based printheads.
This report covers the new entrants and projects in the MEMS market – for instance, XAAR’s 5601 printhead and Ricoh’sTH5240 printhead – as well as the challenges new players face related to MEMS development and manufacturing.
Thermal and piezo: two major technologies, two different approaches, one common goal
From HP’s “Scalable Printing Technology” (SPT) and all its related printhead technologies, to Canon’s “FINE” technology and Epson’s PrecisionCore, printhead manufacturers worldwide share a common goal: to produce better, faster printheads at a lower cost.
Most piezo-based printheads use PZT materials, but there’s strong interest in using thin-film PZT deposition instead of bulk PZT. Advantages to using thin-film PZT include better control of drop size for grayscale and lower required power consumption. PZT material can be deposited by sol-gel or sputtering techniques. Thin-film PZT is already being used in the Samba printhead from FujiFilm Dimatix, and PrecisionCore TFP-based printheads. Several companies (including STMicroelectronics, Rohm Semiconductor, and Silicon Sensing Systems) are currently offering PZT deposition services for manufacturing inkjet printheads.
MEMS technologies provide high-resolution capabilities and a high level of scalability that’s of interest to a broad range of applications, particularly in commercial printing, packaging, and textiles. MEMS offer a diverse suite of single-pass printheads requiring accurate assembly control and integrated maintenance for avoiding misalignment of drop ejection and clogged nozzles.
Objectives of the Report
This report’s objectives are to:
- Provide an understanding of MEMS printhead market evolution
- Clarify the different market segments and applications
- Offer a clear understanding of each market segment’s trends, drivers, and issues
- Deliver key information on MEMS printhead players
- Discuss MEMS technology trends for printhead devices
- Highlight changes in supply chain organization