When I say "digital printing," please think outside the page

By Warren Volkmann, Editor
HP Developers' Portal

 

I almost hate to use the word “printing” when explaining what "digital printing" is capable of. Ultimately, we move atoms around with software.

                               HP Technology Strategist Lonnie M.

Lonnie M. is a one-man think tank, a technology strategist and systems architect for all things printed. Lonnie is to his aisle of print developers what an economist is to a room full of accountants. While everyone else focuses on the nitty-gritty details (like better ways to spray ink onto paper), Lonnie is looking to the future, pointing out possibilities, always searching for the outlines of the Big Picture.

More than ink on paper

When Lonnie meets with visiting CTOs, business managers, and potential partners to discuss the potential of HP’s “digital printing” portfolio, he hates to say the word “printing.”

“You have no idea how many times I’ve wished we had a different label for it,” Lonnie laments. “Print really hasn’t changed that much since we were writing on cave walls. ‘Digital print’ is something entirely different.”

Lonnie wants every developer to understand that “digital printing,” in its broadest sense, is about using software to precisely place materials. That is not limited to the everyday miracle of desktop printing. It also includes the ability to squirt plastics, metals, drugs, semi-conductors, or even quick-curing cement.

3D printing

Strati by Local Motors makes printing mobileAffordable houses being "printed" with cementOf course, 3D printing is the obvious example of thinking outside the printed page. Add the Z axis, and suddenly you can “digitally print” a car body, like the Strati, prototyped in 2014 by Local Motors. Or with quick-set cement, you can 3D print affordable houses in China, as featured in Gizmodo magazine.

To Lonnie, 3D printing is just another example of using software to render valuable objects.

“You can use software to drive digital devices like printers that modify the physical world,” Lonnie explained. “You can digitally create valuable objects with them.”

Think permutations and combinations

HP 300 Digital Dispenser for drug testingDigital print technology has found uses in the pharmaceutical industry. HP's inkjet know-how is being applied to drug testing. Instead of shooting droplets of ink, the microscopic nozzles on the printhead can meter out drugs in extremely precise amounts (measured in picoliters – trillionths of a liter).

The HP D300 Digital Dispenser enables a pharmaceutical company to quickly and efficiently mix a whole range of doses. The product description says it can “digitally dispense any dose …with easy-to-use, intuitive software.” (There is Lonnie's theme: moving drug molecules with software.)

Solar power’s Holy Grail

HP’s ability to precisely place materials attracted Professor Bruce Parkinson from Colorado State University. He was searching for new materials for high-efficiency solar panels. He worked with HP inkjet engineers to adapt jetting technology to spray metal oxides onto a plate of glass in myriad combinations – what he called a “combinatorial library.” He baked the glass at 500°C to form the oxides, then connected the coated glass to an array of electrical sensors. When he zapped the glass with light from an argon laser, most of the metal oxides did nothing, but some combinations kicked out electrons, converted the light into electrical current.

Parkinson discovered a combination of iron, aluminum, and chromium oxides that can split water to produce hydrogen gas. (Read his research paper here.) Abundant, affordable hydrogen power could reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and even power removal of greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere, reversing global warming.

Software placement of atoms

What all of these disparate "printing" applications have in common is that they use software to control the deposition of stuff -- all kinds of stuff. It seems so ordinary when it is ink on paper, but the same principles and fundamentals that pop a 2D photo out of your printer are being scaled up, scaled down, and adapted to many innovative new uses.

Paper still practical

While digital printing holds great promise, paper has not gone away. Printing ink on paper is still a worldwide industry, and print APIs can connect your apps to millions of printers. This developer's portal will help you connect to print APIs, download Software Developer Kits for mobile print, and reach out to the community of developers who remain advocates for the printed page.

As digital print technology advances, Lonnie encourages you to think outside the printed page. The scripts and software that give your app a print off-ramp may help you catch the coming revolution in digital manufacturing and combinatorial testing.

There is a lot more to “digital printing” than ink on paper.