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Xaar Irix Pro Printhead Targets Inkjet 3D Printing

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Xaar has released a new printhead the Irix on its ImagineX platform. There are two versions, the Irix Core and the Irix Pro, with the latter having been developed with 3D printing in mind for oil or solvent-based inks.
Xaar’s AcuDrp technology improves drop placement by the print head which has been engineered to print consistently with a wide range of fluids with uniform drop velocity and volume. Furthermore, the head is robust, reliable, easy-to-integrate, compact, and lightweight, according to the firm with “simple fluid and electrical connections”.
The Irix is meant to last long across many different print platforms and form many applications. Graham Tweedale, General Manager of Xaar’s printhead business unit, stated:
“We are delighted to be launching the Xaar Irix as the next printhead from our ImagineX platform. Designed with the user in mind, the Xaar Irix ensures accurate, reliable and easy print for coding and marking, wide format graphics and additive manufacturing applications and provides efficient, effective and impressive results, time after time.”
Xaar is a printhead leader and has for years been offering print heads, most notably for high speed sintering (HSS) and Stratasys’ selective absorption fusion (SAF) technology. Xaar wants to sell inkjet heads to other OEMs and then work with them to commercialize the systems. This is different from other firms, as Xaar aims to collaborate and help businesses commercialize new technologies atop of its inkjet technology platform.
Stratasys and 3D Systems have used inkjet based technologies for years relying on Ricoh and other inkjet heads to print colorful and even gradient parts. Now, with HSS and SAF, we’re seeing high-yield inkjet technologies come to the fore while HP is industrializing and growing its Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) technology worldwide. While a lot of the attention in our market has traditionally gone to lasers, for stereolithography or powder bed fusion, or to fused deposition modeling, inkjet is an exciting technology for 3D printing.

3D printing using high speed sintering with Xaar 1002 GS6 printhead

The inkjet industry is considerable, with billions in IP being created across that market. Millions of inkjet heads are used every single day in high-reliability applications. Inkjet heads are relatively inexpensive but build on decades of research and continuous improvement. They are good at accurately depositing millions of drops down on a surface. This means that they are eminently suited as a core aspect of 3D printing technology.
So far, Stratasys’ Polyjet was always considered rather esoteric, until recently, when it found its niche in medical models and other applications that make use of its ability to do color and gradient parts. Color Jet (Zcorp) parts were always a bit of a nightmare to work with and produce, though 3D Systems’ developments of the technology to establish its own Multi Jet Printing have lead to a niche technology of its own. Now, for the first time with MJF/HSS and SAF, we’re seeing inkjet heads used as a battering ram for a full-scale assault on the bastion that is powder bed fusion.

Stratasys’s new SAF technology features the use of a counter-rotating roller, which coats powder layers onto the print bed and applies absorber fluid, which images the part layers. These imaged layers are then fused together when an infrared (IR) lamp is passed over the whole print bed. These processing steps are performed in the same direction across the bed in order to ensure uniform consistency and thermal experience for all parts, no matter where they are located in the build. Image courtesy of Dyemansion.

It will take time for these technologies to become established and to percolate through the market. People in our industry are, understandably, wary of anything new by now, so they wait to switch until they absolutely have to. But it does seem that, by being lower cost per part, MJF and HSS/SAF, by being higher yield, are a choice worth considering for many people in the industry. This should lead to many more firms looking at inkjet heads in 3D printing. There are still no desktop inkjet machines and are few technologies that use it except for the aforementioned and RIZE 3D.

The Xaar Irix inkjet printhead. Image courtesy of Xaar.

The impact of inkjet on our market has been limited so far. But, it should be a technology that more people should look at. I believe that, through piggybacking on inkjet, we could develop very exciting bioprinting, polymer 3D printing, and even indirect metal 3D printing technologies. Inkjet is difficult to work with initially and the learning curve is steep, but ultimately it could be a path to many more exciting surfaces and potentially full-color options, as well.

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