This Week in Imaging: The Inkjet-3D Printing Revolution
One of the interesting things about technology is that we can’t always see where it will eventually take us. A case in point is drop-on-demand inkjet printing, which was first developed in the late 1970s by researchers at Canon and Hewlett-Packard.
Since that time, inkjet printing was first employed by humble, small black-only printers for home offices, to color models for homes and small offices, to high-speed, page-wide models marketed first by HP and Memjet, and now Canon, and which are designed for mainstream office use (Epson also joined this business-inkjet market with inkjet office models equipped with replaceable ink packs). Digital inkjet has also been adopted for commercial and production printing, and last, inkjet printing technology has been adopted for additive 3D printing, but with 3D printing, it’s not ink that’s being ejected under pressure, but other materials, such as plastics, which are laid down into layers to form objects.
A case in point was one of the more interesting news items this week focusing on Ricoh Company, also a pioneer of inkjet printing. Ricoh introduced its first 3D printer in 2015, a model designed for prototyping and manufacturing. It’s now however seeking to take inkjet-based 3D printing into a new segment, with Ricoh researchers focusing on bio-medical 3D printing – that is, printing living tissue for medical purposes, with the goal being that one day, researchers will be able to 3D-print human organs such as hearts for heart transplants. Who could ever have envisioned that the technology used by the humble desktop inkjet printer may one day be saving lives?
Meanwhile, inkjet-based 3D printing has taken traditional “PC and printer company” HP Inc. into an entirely new market: 3D printing of not just prototypes, but functional parts for manufacturing, with HP announcing in November, for instance, that BMW and Volkswagon are using HP 3D printers to make parts for automobiles. Stay tuned for more.
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