Epson banks on updated Micro Piezo ink tech

Goes on the offensive at its own event in Spain

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At a recent conference in Spain, Epson announced it is to replace its entire consumer printer and scanner range this autumn. Tech.co.uk learned that at least a dozen new products will go on sale. But the print giant also took the extraordinary step of slamming the competition - by name.

New market entrant Kodak took the biggest slamming. Epson director of inkjet business, Robert Clark, claimed Kodak's printers would reach the end of their life-cycles before the consumer had recouped the cost of the hardware through cheaper ink.

Ink efficiency and the end cost to the consumer over time is what printer manufacturers want the market to be shaped around. But consumers are still seemingly mostly only interested in initial printer price. Still, Epson claims its improved Micro Piezo (Thin Film Piezo) print head technology is the answer.

To back up its claims, Epson commissioned German testers TUV Rheinland to conduct a study into ink efficiency. Unsurprisingly, Epson's cartridges came out on top with single-ink tanks being more efficient than the three or five-colour cartridges used by competitors such as HP and Canon - although both also offer single-ink options.

It's all about the wastage

However, the findings also highlighted how much ink is wasted by the average inkjet, from all manufacturers. Kodak's EasyShare 5300 used just 36 per cent of the ink in its tanks before one colour ran out and the cartridge had to be discarded. The average performer faired at around 60 per cent, meaning a huge amount of the average ink in a cartridge never gets used.

Hartmut Muller-Gerbes from TUV admitted that the test didn't account for how much money the consumer would waste, but the "ecological outcome". Espon says its Micro Piezo TFP technology can overcome the ink efficiency problem.

So what is it? The technology uses electrical signals to change the shape of piezo elements. It then fires ink droplets according to the physical force generated by the change in shape of these elements. Epson believes that compared to other inkjet systems, Micro Piezo technology offers superior ink ejection performance, compatibility with a wide variety of inks, durability and efficiency.

As a result, Epson has managed to develop a nozzle with a density of 360 dpi - the world's highest for an inkjet print head using piezoelectric technology.

Beyond the home

Pointing to the future Norio Niwa, executive vice president of Seiko Epson, said at the event in Spain that the company will "continually develop Micro Piezo beyond the home". Citing LCD displays as an example, Mr Niwa said Micro Piezo technology is now being used in the fabrication of the colour filters for eighth-generation LCD panels that are used in large flat-screen TVs.

Compared to conventional processing techniques, the use of Micro Piezo technology to apply the necessary red, green, and blue (RGB) colour combination greatly reduces the num­ber of processes necessary to make the colour filters. This consider­ably improves productivity and cuts costs.

Another promising area for Micro Piezo technology is printing on demand. "We're taking advantage of our Micro Piezo technology to popularise POD systems," Mr Niwa said.

"This will allow people to produce the prints they need, when they need them, in the exact quantities needed, and on whatever material they choose. We'll be developing our own products as well as selling our head technology to other companies."

Christian Hall