HP yesterday revealed a new scalable inkjet technology it says will substantially improve the speed and performance of printers.

Developing the technology has taken five years of development and $1.4 billion of investment. The solution centres on the assembly of a new inkjet printhead. Instead of the printhead components being welded together in post-production, the components in the new inkjet are created as a single unit via a photolithographic process resulting in more accurate, faster and cheaper printing, HP said.

"This technology is the next step in our business transformation - the master key that unlocks new market opportunities and further growth in our printer business," Vyomesh Joshi, executive vice president for HP's Imaging and Printing Group, said. HP's imaging and print business built up over 21 years has become a $24 billion business. "Our intention is to double that in the next ten years," Joshi said.

Fast, affordable, classy prints

HP in the US has announced a number of printers based on the new technology, including consumer models - the HP Photosmart 8250 Photo Printer and the HP Photosmart 3000 All-In-One series. Both printers can deliver 4-x-6-inch prints in as little as 14 seconds for a minimum cost, HP said. The printer will also provide a high-quality mode, printing photos as fast as 21 seconds per print, Joshi said. The Photosmart 8250 ships this month, while the Photosmart 3000 is due to appear later in the year. UK prices requested.

For the small and midsize business market, HP plans to release the HP Officejet Pro K550 Color Printer series in the fall, which the company claims will double print speeds of existing sub-$500 color laser printers at a 30 per cent lower cost per page. "It's a significant step in moving inkjet into the color laser market," Joshi said.

Joshi said that HP plans to use its new inkjet technology in its specialty printing business where the company has OEM (original equipment manufacturer) agreements with its partners in markets including the mail and POS (point of sale) printing sectors. Ultimately, the company intends to deploy the technology across the entire range of its printing operations through to industrial printing, he added. Joshi said he expects HP to make further announcements about new printers based on the inkjet technology over "the next few months."

Inkjet’s Moores Law

Speaking during a press conference, both Joshi and Steve Nigro, senior vice president and general manager of HP's imaging and print technology platforms, drew parallels between what the company is doing with inkjet technology and the microprocessor industry. Nigro talked about inkjet's Moore's Law, where printhead performance has been more than doubling every 18 months for the past 20 years. Where chip designers can add more and more transistors to a single piece of silicon, HP's new printhead design means the company can keep increasing the number of nozzles on each printhead resulting in faster, higher quality prints, he said.

Joshi said the new consumer printers on show Monday have 3,900 nozzles, while the printer aimed at small and midsize businesses has 4,200 nozzles on a single printhead. The new printhead technology will enable delivery of 93 million drops to more than 150 million drops per second, according to Nigro, substantially improving the quality of printed images. "We've moved from a micron level of accuracy to submicron precision," he said.

Nigro said that HP has also had to redesign all its inks and media to better take advantage of the new printhead technology. The new HP Vivera inks and HP Advanced Papers will help provide water-resistant photos and smear-resistant documents. The new printers will also use an HP technology dubbed "Auto Sense,"which uses barcode-like technology to sense the size, orientation and type of photo paper, he added.

Both Nigro and Joshi stressed that the new printhead design will allow HP to adopt a "toolbox" approach to building printers that scale across each of the company's print market segments, cutting development costs of new devices by 50 per cent.

Last month, HP's Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Mark Hurd split the company's printer and personal computer groups back into two separate divisions, reversing a January decision by previous CEO Carly Fiorina to merge the two operations.