Building the industrial DFE

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This is the second in a series of posts about the complexitiesof building a digital front end (DFE) for your target market by Meteor Inkjet Ltds sales director, Jonathan Wilson.

In my last post I explained what a digital front end is.Here I give an example of an industrial DFE and some of its features and functionality and demonstrate how, on the DFE continuum, not all DFE's are equal.

If we consider the ceramics market, inkjet technology has been accepted and is fast becoming the de facto technology. In this market the DFE is simple, easy to use and intuitive in operation.An example is Meteor’s DFE, MetPrint: a simple digital front end that bridges the gap between developers building ceramic presses, integrating the datapath and system configuration. MetPrint offers some basic system controls with specific features for the ceramics market, for example, setting the head voltages per row within the print bar, which is useful for ensuring any head variations are lessened, and adding individual waveforms for the different inks to ensure the right volume of ink is jetted at the right time. This is especially important in the ceramics market:as it evolves from four, six, eight to 12 colours, we must ensure that those colours are mapped in the system and the right waveforms are used.

But the real power of a ceramics DFE is in what it does with the image file to ensure the tiles that are printed are randomand there is a limited repeat of the pattern. MetPrint has ‘Tile mode’ to handle this, aspecial operation that works on taking random parts of a much larger image. Along with the other job parameters the operator has full control of the production of a tile line. This is a unique function of the ceramics market;if you were to attempt this manually you would need to use an upstream image processing tool to firstly create the image and then segment, sequence and position the images ready for printing. This simple DFE performs all those processes,ensuring any operator could run the printing system.

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This workflow shows us how a rasterised image can be handled by the DFE and used effectively without requiring the use of a Raster Image Processor or RIP. This lowers the complexity and the cost of the DFE.  In my previous post I introduced the concept of what a DFE is and why a RIP and a DFE are not the same,but can be mutually inclusive. The nature of industrial printing infers that not all processes will require a RIP - simple pre-processed images can be used. This is not the case for traditional graphics or labels and packaging markets, where the handling of differing page description languages or PDL’s such as PDF are essential, or where colour management, screening and the consumption of ‘variable elements’ is required. The industrial DFE sits at a crossroads, requiring a simple, manufacturing consideration in its construction and operation.

If we consider another industrial market, for example 3D printing, here the requirements differ again, moving from a single pass deposition process to something akin to scanning,but with controls in the X,Y and Z direction. Here the incoming file format could be a .STL file that will need slicing, rasterising and translating across the print heads. This extends the power and complexity of the industrial DFE from its humble origins in ceramics to a new level in terms of operating and system knowledge and overall complexity.

The purpose of the industrial DFE is to bridge the gap between the systems engineers and the software engineers, creating a fast and effective way to not only build prototypes but also get to production. As markets and the associated requirements evolve, the DFE needs to change. We must however remember that one size does not fit all, the DFE continuum is a spectrum of features, performance and cost that scales to address each new and emerging market.

The Meteor SDK

You can develop a customised industrial DFE using Meteor’sSoftware Development Kit (SDK) or by licensing an application-tuned Meteor DFE. Meteor’s SDK is compatible with all major industrial inkjet printheads. SDKs for scanning or single pass printers enable systems to be built from the ground up and allow developers to easily run associated printhead drive electronics. There are specific features for industrial applications, including ceramic, textile and 3D printing.

For more information about building an industrial DFE contact Meteor Inkjet Ltd at: enquiries@meteorinkjet.com

About the author

JW has worked in the digital printing industry for more than 20 years. Passionate about printing, he has a strong history of helping commercial printers transition from analogue to digital. Now with Meteor, JW leads a global sales team that focuses on easing the adoption and integration of industrial inkjet in application areas such as product decoration, packaging, labelling, ceramics and textiles. Meteor Inkjet Ltd is the leading independent specialist in industrial inkjet printhead driving solutions.

Prior to Meteor Inkjet, JW worked for Global Graphics Software and Xerox in management, business development, marketing and technical support roles. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Sales and Marketing Management and has an MBA from the University of Leicester and an honours degree in computer science from the University of Hertfordshire.