Silverbrook’s Inkjet Tech a Future Fabber?

I’d previously read about Silverbrook Research, a fascinating and prolific research lab based in Australia, and their work on some newly-patented inkjet technology. I caught the latest story late last week which went into much more detail, and the first thought in my mind was how this same technology could be used for a home fabrication device. Inkjet technology is already being used to “print” anything from food to human tissue to toys, so it’s not really much of a stretch. But the advantage to having something like what Silverbrook developed is extraordinary.

One of the biggest issues with 3D printers, just like their text counterparts, is speed. Until parts can be created fast enough to generate the revenue to offset costs, adoption will continue to be agonizingly slow. Silverbrook’s solution to speed up text printing is a potential game-changer not just for the 2D print world, but for the 3D printing world as well.

Read this from a recent Physorg article to which I’m referring (Link):

An Australian entrepreneur betting his company on a nanotech-fueled, consumer inkjet printer that can print sixty pages a minute for under $200 has successfully demonstrated the technology.

Silverbrook Research has spent the last ten years developing Memjet, a printer that uses an array of ink jet nozzles that spans the width of the paper. Company executives have said they feel that they can ship an 8×10 color inkjet by the end of 2008 that will cost less than $200 and print 60 pages a minute.

“I’ve been following this industry for 20 years, and I’ve never seen anything of this scale: 10 times faster, 20 times cheaper, all at once,” LeCompte added.

Typical inkjet printers, known as “serial printers,” use an inkjet nozzle that passes back and forth along a horizontal axis, spraying ink along the surface of the paper. The Memjet technology uses a series of individual MEMS-based inkjet nozzles, fabricated using conventional semiconductor manufacturing techniques. Each chip measures 20 millimeters across and contains 6,400 nozzles, with five color channels, the company said. A separate driver chip calculates 900 million picoliter-sized drops per second. For a standard A4 letter printer, the result is a total of 70,400 nozzles.

Imagine these chips not arranged in a row spanning a page, but as columns and rows which would cover an area demarcating the footprint of a build volume. And similar to both how the paper passes the MEMjet arm and a platen passes through a vat of liquid polymer in an SLA machine, a platen underneath a planar MEMjet array could drop down layer by layer to “grow” the part.

My first inclination was to sketch or model such a device, but I don’t know anything about the chips themselves. I was recently reminded of Google’s patent search and so I’ll be looking over some of Silverbrook’s patents and maybe get a sense of how the chips are arranged. If nothing else, I’ll get a sense of whether or not we can expect to see Silverbrook’s inkjet tech in a future 3D printer.