Almost everyone that owns a computer system has a printer. Mention the words laserjet, inkjet or even dot-matrix and people will understand the reference. The most common usage of these devices is rather dull: to print documents and photographs. But did you know that there are many other unusual applications of printing technology in the production of solar panels, concrete walls and even something as mundane as toasting bread? Here are 8 printers that make your office printer look lame, even if they do use the same technology!
1. Nanoparticle Ink Printer
Nanosolar's original goal was to mass-produce state of the art solar panels, something not really achievable using a standard high vacuum manufacturing process. This process is slow, with a maximum of 10 to 30MW capacity per year, and its operational costs are also incredibly high. To overcome these obstacles, Nanosolar created a highly innovative printer to replace the aging technology.
The $1.65 million printer is used to print the thin-film solar cells using nanoparticle ink and has an amazing output of 100 feet per minute. With a 1 GW annual capacity, the new tool is said to be twenty times faster than the traditional method and it is far more cost-efficient as the high vacuum tool would have cost 10 times more per tool.
2. 3D Printer
Primarily used in prototyping, 3D printing creates a three-dimensional model by layering and connecting cross-sections of the material based on CAD design. The most common printer used to create these models is an inkjet system. The printer is filled with a fine white powder, either plaster, corn starch or resin, and bonded by an adhesive dispensed by the inkjet heads forming each cross-section shape as depicted in the CAD design.
3D printers are generally used to develop prototypes in industries such as architecture, metal works, geospatial and the entertainment industry. This technology has also been used in forensic pathology and palaeontology for the reconstruction of bones, facial features and even fossils.
3. Concrete Printer
Like seeing a naked person running down the street, most people do a double-take when they hear of the concrete printer. A concrete printer sounds ludicrous, but it is in fact a reality. Researchers, from the USC Center for Rapid Automated Fabrication Technologies (CRAFT), have taken the 3D printing technology used in constructing three-dimensional solid objects and applied it to printing concrete objects.
The contour crafting equipment outputs neatly trimmed layers of concrete, adding subsequent layers to form the object. Liking it to inkjet printing, the overlaying process is vital to forming the shape but instead of using ink, the machine dispenses concrete. So far CRAFT has managed to create a concrete wall using this technology, but envision that the technology will one day be used to manufacture large scale buildings and infrastructure.
4. Digital Fabrication
Using technology similar in principle to 3D printers, digital fabrication systems, or fabbers as they are more commonly known, create solid objects based on the inputted design. Often summarised as a small, self-contained factory, fabbers are used to make not only prototypes but also the final product.
Fabbers are categorised by their functions. Subtractive fabbers, also called computer-numerically controlled machines, build the models by carving into a solid block of raw material. Additive fabbers are more like traditional 3D printers in that they add layers and mould the material into the correct shape. Formative fabbers apply pressure to the raw material to form the desired shape and hybrid fabbers combine one or more of the other fabber functions.
Perhaps the most ingenious adaptation of inkjet printer technology to date has been that of Professor Makota Nakamura who is using a 3D inkjet printer to eject many thousands of cells per second to form a 3-dimensional biological structure. He has already used the technology, which functions in a similar manner to other 3D printers by building layer upon layer of cells, to make a tube just 1mm in diameter with double walls similar to those found in human blood vessels.
This is only the first step towards his ultimate goal: to build a fully functional human heart using the patient's own cells. It won't happen any time soon though, Nakamura says it could take him 20 years before the bioprinter is ready for real-world application. The possibilities are, however, incredible.
6. Glass Printer
This revolutionary printer, developed by DIP Tech, a technological partner of Tamglass, is capable of printing directly onto glass. After the design has been captured digitally, the glass printer will print the design onto glass using solvent-based ceramic ink dispensed by the Drop-on-Demand printing heads. The glass is then dried traditionally using air-drying or IR-drying before being fired at the same temperature as screen printing ink which sets the design.
This printer, used for both tempered and laminated glass, is said to bring great benefits to glass manufacturers. It can print up to four colours simultaneously, reducing production time and there is no need to store, clean or maintain screens traditionally used in glass printing. It is so versatile that you can print any design, logo or serial number directly onto glass.
7. Waterfall Printer
It's surprising that the idea of a waterfall printer took so long to develop, especially when it's such a small step from jetting out ink to water. The effect, it has to be said, is quite stunning. If you've got a spare wad of cash and would like to add some interest to your event or office interior, then a water printer could be what you are looking for.
8. RITI Printer
This is a really unique printer, unlike none other ever seen before. Designer Jeon Hwan Ju created a printer that uses coffee or tea dregs instead of ink. Simple to use, all you need to do is load a piece of paper into the RITI printer and then put the coffee or tea dregs into the special ink case on top of the printer. To print, you need to move the ink case from left to right in the slot. Once you are finished, just extract the paper from the printer and wash out the ink case.
While it is true that it isn't the optimal printer to use in an office environment as it cannot print as fast as an inkjet, nor is the quality on a par with an inkjet printer, it is, however, incredibly eco-friendly. Aside from that home users will definitely appreciate the reduction in printing costs associated with expensive inkjet cartridges, so it is well worth using it for draft copies of documents.
9. Toaster Printer
This printer would be the perfect gift for any technology junkie, or for the person that has everything. Yes folks, this little device will enable you to print designs, pictures or text onto toasted bread - and it doesn't even matter if you prefer white or wholemeal bread!
It is suggested that the makers of ZUSE were inspired by the original matrix printers and adapted it to burn 12 x 12 pixel resolution images into toast by marking it line by line, just like a dot matrix printer. While commercially this printer is not of much use, unless you run a restaurant and want to imprint your logo on toast, it is still a fun gimmick to have at home that is sure to make your family smile at the breakfast table in the morning.
Digital printer technology certainly has come a long way since the first dot matrix and laser printers and it seems to be evolving at a rapid pace. The application for this technology is potentially limitless and is proving indispensable to both industry and home users alike.