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Click to view a special, video that offers a comprehensive overview of the Inkjet Technology.

No.05 Doing Great Things All Around You Inkjet Technology

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Our Science Reporters with the Inside Scoop INNOVATION REPORT Who knew inkjet technology could be used to do so many different things?? The surprising strengths of Fujifilm inkjet technology!

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  • Our Technology
  • Examples and Outlook

Meet Our Reporters

  • photo:YUKO WATANABE

    YUKO WATANABE

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Our Technology

Actually, inkjet technology can be found all around us.
Yuko Watanabe, our innovation reporter, spoke to Fujifilm inkjet specialists Takao Aihara and Orie Ito to learn more.

PHOTO:Orie Ito
FUJIFILM Corporation Advanced Marking Research Laboratories. ,Takao  Aihara Inkjet Business Div.
FUJIFILM Corporation

[What is “ Inkjet Technology”]Watanabe:I’m here today to ask about inkjet technology. When most of us hear “inkjet”, it brings to mind technology used in home printers, for printing on paper. Is that accurate?

Aihara : As you point out, usually when we think of “inkjet”, what comes first to mind is probably household printers. In fact, though, inkjet technology is more than that. In addition to printers for the home, inkjet technology can be found in use all around us and those uses are quickly expanding.

Watanabe : Really!

Aihara : Yes! Inkjet technology has a significant advantage in that it is capable of meeting growing needs as times have changed. For example, as the Japanese character included in the word “print” indicates, in the past printing commonly involved creating a single die, like a stamp, which would then be used to print large quantities.

However, many industries are looking for greater flexibility today—the ability to change or quickly update designs to meet individual needs or specific schedules. In that sense, inkjet technology is both inexpensive and fast, requiring no physical “die” and making it possible to create new designs—even a single copy—simply by preparing the right data.

Watanabe : That sounds convenient! More specifically, where is inkjet technology actually used?

Aihara : I think it’s easy to picture inkjet technology’s publishing-related uses, such as photographs and pamphlets. But it is also used in fashion, including clothing, shoes and bags; in beverage and food packaging; as well as for wallpaper, tile and even chairs and other furniture, not to mention smartphones, automobiles and other machine-made goods. In other words, it can be found just about everywhere in our lives, from food to clothing to shelter.

Watanabe : That really does cover just about everything! Still, just thinking of some of those possibilities, they must involve printing on a wide range of materials and shapes—isn’t that difficult, and is there a technology that can handle all of them?

Ito : There is indeed! We’ve put together some typical samples for you to look at while we explain the technology.

Watanabe : Great! Let’s see, over here we have some fashion-related items—shoes, cushions and so on.

Ito : That’s right. In fact, in some cases inkjet technology is used to make products for famous brands everyone has heard of. In order to accurately reproduce the beautiful colors and fine gradations of the designs created by professional designers, and turn them into products, we use inks developed specifically to best match the fabric being used. Luxury brands focus on small-lot production of items designed for each season, rather than mass production, and that is where the advantages of inkjet technology really come into play.

Watanabe : Wow, so inkjet technology is sometimes used even with brand merchandise? I had no idea. In fashion, though, materials vary—fabrics can be silk, or cotton, or even synthetics—and some, like leather, have textured surfaces. Does that mean you have to develop a variety of inks for different uses?

Ito : That’s right. Some products are heated as part of the molding process, so we have to develop and offer the best possible ink for each type of material and process. Part of our future R&D effort is aimed at developing a single, all-around ink that can be used on anything.

Watanabe : That’s amazing! Aside from their use in fashion, what other kinds of inks are there?

Ito : Inks can be broadly classified into two types: water-based and oil-based inks. Next, we have UV ink, which is fixed by ultraviolet light and used mainly on plastics and similar materials. There are also metallic inks, which are used to print electronic circuit boards for smartphones and other products, as well as edible inks, which can be used to write messages and designs on cakes, or to print information directly on drug capsules to prevent accidental ingestion.

Watanabe : You can even print on electronic circuits and drug capsules? I’m really surprised to hear that inkjet technology goes beyond just printing patterns and other beautiful designs, and plays a role in the information sector as well!

PHOTO:Example of inkjet technologies

Ito : Thank you. Naturally, beautiful reproduction is important and the ability to customize designs also offers significant economic benefits. For example, take a look at this tile. The surface looks like natural stone, but the pattern was actually printed using inkjet technology.

Watanabe : Wow! You’re right… it appears to have the rough texture of stone, but it’s actually smooth to the touch!

Aihara : We spoke earlier of economic benefits. For example when building a house, the homeowner can choose a design they like and have it inkjet-printed on blank tile. Only the number of tiles required for that individual house need to be made, and last-minute orders for additional tiles can be easily handled. There’s no waste at all. And since you only need to stock blank tiles, you can also reduce the risk that comes with having to carry and possibly dispose of inventory of individual designs.

Watanabe : So for companies that deploy inkjet technology, there are advantages both in terms of economics and the environment! And from the viewpoint of the customer, it’s really great to have the freedom to select the designs and materials they prefer.

Ito : There is an increasing demand for the ability to customize designs. Take the packaging of this snack, for example: inkjet technology is used to enable quick production of different designs, including seasonal and regionally specific versions.

Watanabe : You’re right! I often see special designs for Valentine’s Day, for example, or special flavors available only in limited numbers, and I always end up buying them! How are these actually printed?

PHOTO:SAMBA head

Ito : To put it simply, the ink is discharged on using a machine called a printhead. For example, the SAMBA head we have here has 2,048 holes, each individual hole capable of discharging tens of thousands of ink droplets per second.

Watanabe : That many! And the holes are completely invisible to the naked eye.

Ito : To print beautiful images at a high resolution, we’ve made the holes extremely small. The ink droplets themselves are just 2 picoliters each, or two trillionth of a liter. The holes are difficult to see directly, aren’t they. (Laughs)

Watanabe : I can’t see them at all! (Laughs) Still, it’s amazing—not only do you have the ink, but also the technical ability to create such tiny holes in the printhead.

Ito : Fujifilm has accumulated knowledge and expertise in a variety of fields. These include our strengths in chemistry, which enable us to develop inks for different materials and uses; our precision machining capabilities, which led to the development of printheads that can fire ink accurately under a variety of conditions; and our proprietary image processing technology, developed through our experience with photographic film. Our strength lies in our ability to integrate all of these to provide what our customers are looking for.

Watanabe : So quality inks and printheads alone are not enough?

PHOTO:Model of the pushing out molding of the form of a trunk and the car

Aihara : That’s right. I think it might be easier to understand if you look at the trunk and the extruded model of a car we have here, for example. Sometimes in the production process, the pattern is printed first, and then the shape is transformed.

Watanabe : I see! You need to calculate the design so that it comes out correctly after the shape is changed!

Aihara : That’s correct. There are other kinds of systems for rendering three-dimensional structures, such as the inks and printheads used in 3D printers, but the very act of rendering high-resolution, beautiful images would not be possible without an advanced image processing system.

Watanabe : I see…! You really do need all three—the ink, the printhead, and the image processing system! And you have all the knowledge and expertise to do that… you really are “Fujifilm, the inkjet company”!

  • About Inkjet Technology
  • About Fujifilm’s Core Technologies

Click to view a special, video that offers a comprehensive overview of the Inkjet Technology.

Exsamples and Outlook

DMP Printer Exhibit: Case Studies and Outlook

Watanabe : What will inkjet technology be capable of going forward?

Ito : Actually,Fujifilm has developed R&D equipment specifically for generating new objects using inkjet technology. This is an actual example of the DMP2850, an industrial material printer.

Watanabe : So the machines you use for inkjet R&D are also made by Fujifilm? I guess you cover everything, right down to the basics! Is this printer used by universities and research institutions?

Aihara : That’s right. It works with a wide range of materials, including plastics, glass, metal sheets, silicon, cell membranes, gels, thin films and paper. Because it is possible to use only very small amounts of ink, and the temperature can be changed for different experiments, it has been adopted by a wide range of research institutions.

Watanabe : This panel here explains the different fields it’s used in, including not only graphics, but 3D printers, life sciences, displays, chemicals… it really does seem like the starting point for all sorts of new things! It really fires up the imagination—I can picture it used for smartphones, thin film displays, wearable devices and other advanced technology, even in medical applications like DNA chips. And you can run 3D printer experiments too!

PHOTO:DMP2850

PHOTO:DMP2850

PHOTO:DMP2850

Aihara : Yes, and since you can use a camera to check how the ink is actually ejected, it also contributes to research into creating complex 3D structures.

Watanabe : Can I ask you to offer an actual case study that covers the process from research to productization?

Aihara : Let’s see, one such case might be that of a manufacturer of auto parts. For example, when developing an automobile engine, they first build a three-dimensional prototype used for running a variety of tests. They start by using clay or other materials to shape the engine, then make a mold by encasing the model of the engine in sand. Molten metal is then poured into the sand mold and hardened to create the product prototype.

Watanabe : That sounds like a lot of work!

Aihara : By using inkjet technology to create the mold directly from the design data, it’s possible to greatly reduce the number of steps involved compared to the conventional process.

Watanabe : Wow! How it comes?

Ito : Inkjet technology is used to apply adhesive to the layer of sand. Only the adhesive portion hardens, and by repeating this process over many layers, the system makes it possible to print a mold for the physical prototype that matches the design data.

Watanabe : I see! So it’s something like using a 3D printer… very useful!

Aihara : 3D printers are also used to create models of human organs, like the model of a heart a doctor might use to explain something to a patient. A 3D printer can even accurately create the internal structure of the organ.

Watanabe : I See! So, for example, you could take data from a CT scan of one of my organs and reproduce a model that you can actually pick up and observe, without having to actually remove the organ itself!
I understand now how inkjet technology is being used all around us, but I also get the sense that it really has a role to play in supporting our future, from making our lives more convenient to keeping us healthy!

Ito : That’s true. The general view that equates inkjet technology with household printers means that most people tend to think only of its use in rendering pictures on paper, but I think the technology is ideal not only for the application of color, but also for efficiently creating detailed and complex objects.While we will of course continue to focus on the more visible aspects of creating beautiful images, our research also continues in the hope of utilizing the technology in the area of manufacturing that will make peoples’ lives more convenient.

Image:Example of the use of a 3D printer

Aihara : Inkjet technology has centered primarily on rendering pictures thus far. In the near future, however, the focus will be on expanded functionality in the three key areas of food, clothing and shelter. For example, by combining 3D technology with the technology used to render the wiring for electronic circuits, or by printing that wiring on cloth or other soft materials, we might create wearable sensors that could be used to support better health and safety. Since Fujifilm has not only the ink, the printheads and the image processing systems, but also a wide range of materials to work with, we hope to offer an increasing number of new ideas. And by showing how conventional methods can evolve more efficiently, and how what was previously impossible can be made a reality, we hope to further expand the enormous potential of inkjet technology.

Watanabe : Thank you very much for your time today!

After the Interview

Yuko Watanabe

Thanks to this straightforward explanation of inkjet technology, I understand now how it continues to generate new possibilities, bringing together specialized strengths in chemistry, machinery, electronics, information and a variety of other fields.
It’s exciting to think that all around us are the results of that inkjet technology, and that in the future, it will contribute to making our lives even richer!
Thank you again for another fun and informative interview!

Click to view a special, video that offers a comprehensive overview of the Inkjet Technology.

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YUKO WATANABE Age23 Scientific Specialty: Robotics

Hobbies include anime, manga, movies, watching TV, visiting sacred spots and karaoke. Has experience in several sports, including volleyball, tennis, basketball and distance running. A real jack-of-all-trades, she's involved in both sports and the humanities. "I'm so glad that what I've learned in science and engineering will be useful to me as a reporter! I'll be giving it my best!"

photo:YUKO WATANABE

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