HP, Showing Off Printing Labs, Proves 2D Can Also Impress

HP, Showing Off Printing Labs, Proves 2D Can Also Impress
HP Wall of Print, in Vancouver
Corvallis Clean Lab
The Role Ink Plays
Every Product Benefits
HP's Vancouver Acoustics Lab
The OTB (Out of Box) Experience
Competing on Waste
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HP, Showing Off Printing Labs, Proves 2D Can Also Impress

By Michelle Maisto

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HP Wall of Print, in Vancouver

HP introduced its first ink-jet printer in 1984. "We've been doing this for over 30 years … and we have one of the best electro-mechanical firmware labs in the world," said Brad Freeman, director of research and development at HP's Vancouver, Wash., lab. "There are all sorts of robots, all moving at the same time [to accomplish things like] moving wet paper through a mechanism, being able to fire dots that are really, really teeny, using multiple sensors and millions of lines of code." All of it, added, requires "incredible competence."

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Corvallis Clean Lab

Consider, said Sue Richards, director of R&D at the Corvallis, Ore., lab, the challenge of creating a microprocessor that can sit in "what would be considered a caustic environment," and the need to create precision in a machine undergoing 1,200 psi of pressure, and with nozzles that can withstand billions of firing cycles in temperatures exceeding 700 degrees F. "A lot of fundamental [intellectual property] goes into it," said Richards.

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The Role Ink Plays

"Ink plays a big role," said Richards. The earliest printer heads each held 12 nozzles. Today, each holds more than 42,000—not all of which are being used at each moment. "We've engineered our ink to be able to form a nano-layer of film within the nozzle, so it doesn't dry out. And when it's ready to fire, that nano-layer is ejected [without introducing any imperfection to the printed product]."

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Every Product Benefits

"We take some of that high-end, high-performance engineering, and we bring it to the office space," Richards told eWEEK. "That's how we get to eventually make promises like 72 pages per minute at half the cost and twice the speed." Early ink-jet printers put out one page every three minutes.

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HP's Vancouver Acoustics Lab

"We let people listen to different printer noises—all the squeaks and screeches from our products and competitor printers," said Freeman.

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The OTB (Out of Box) Experience

At its labs, HP also brings in focus groups for studies including the out-of-box experience—how intuitive it is to set up or use a printer. "We hide behind a booth and bring in potential customers, in the enterprise and consumer spaces, and we'll talk about concept A, B, C and D," said Freeman. "Usually, we don't tell them we're HP."

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Competing on Waste

The labs also consider reductions in energy and waste. One "breakthrough," said Freeman, involved eliminating the need for a heater in ink-jet printers, which resulted in "power consumption savings of 20 percent" and significantly reduced the packaging waste associated with the printers.

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