Archive for October, 2013

Ink or Toner?

Ink and toner share many similar aspects, both being able to administer color and black pigment onto media forming specified characters and integrated images that make up a printout. Each is comprised of three main elements, a vehicle, a pigment, and a holding cell. Both laser printers and inkjet printers also come in a variety types from All-In-One devices, being able to print, scan, copy, and fax, to monochrome machines that were designed to handle black and white or grayscale only printouts. These machines can be used for the same purposes, having the ability to complete nearly any type of printout, although toner and ink have distinct advantages and disadvantages depending on the type of printing you are performing. To help better understand which type of printer will be more beneficial, we have to first understand to main properties of ink and toner.

Printing ink is a liquid or paste based solution used to create shapes and patterns onto the substrate. The liquid solution is housed in a reservoir within the cartridge until being forced to the release chamber(s). Once inside the release chambers an impulse will trigger a reactive element embedded to the chamber to forcibly jet out or drop the pigment through a nozzle and out onto the media. The reaction will also force new droplets into the chamber for rapid reproduction.

Toner is a type of concentrated pigment or dye-based powder used in laser printers to complete the electrophotographic process. The powder is stored within the cartridge compartment known as the hopper. The powder in the hopper is a carbon-based polymer that will attract and repel from particular static electrical charges which is the key to applying the powder to the substrate. A transfer roller will pick up the oppositely charged toner particles from the hopper and roll the particles against an imaging drum unit that has an even greater opposite electrical charge. The laser printer will create a light impression on the drum successfully creating a magnetic impression for the toner to attract to. Once the toner is placed onto the media, a pair of fusing rollers will actually melt the powder into the page to create the desired images.

There are three main properties to consider when choosing whether to print with toner or ink, including how they dry, the structural design, and the optical output. With a laser toner printer, the fusing rollers will burn the toner that has been layered on the substrate to adhere the particles to the page. Inkjets will apply an ink solution that rapidly dries being exposed to the room temperature air. The speed at which the ink will dry varies, depending on the added drying or thermal agent inside the ink mixture.

The cartridges are also made in completely different sizes and shapes, with toners generally being much bigger in size due to the amount of components (or pieces) needed to apply the pigmented polymers. And having an entire roller covered in particles that spans the size of the accepted media and a drum unit that holds an image, allows the laser toner to swiftly reproduce that same image, which is ideal for printing out multiple copies of one page. Inkjet printers will slowly render and apply ink as the cartridges pass over the media to help capture fine details, making them better for single page printing.

Toners are made and formed with very specific particle solutions and processes that pertain to the particular printer model. For example, some toner particles can be shaped by a vortex procedure giving each grain a rounded shape, whereas the more typical chemically created particles contain jagged edges and can damage rollers that are made to transport rounded particles. Therefore, most toner cartridges will only work with a specific printer or series of printers. The inkjet cartridges, on the other hand, are often interchangeable with several printer series and even manufacturers. When the ink formulations are changed, the viscosity is usually balanced between inkjets allowing almost any printer to apply the contained ink as long as the cartridges have the same size and shape.

In general Inkjets will be able to produce higher quality images and photographs, whereas the toner particles are able to create higher quality text documents. The laser toners will also be able to produce more printouts due to the sheer amount of pigment able to be held by the toner cartridges as opposed to the ink cartridges. Ink cartridges are typically more expensive when comparing the cost to print per page although they can provide a wider color gamut to work with and added definition. So depending on what types of printing you are performing more of, will determine the type of printer and cartridges that will be more beneficial. For the photograph enthusiast, inkjets are recommended for added detail. To create multiple copies of a single page or text documents, a laser toner printer and toner cartridges will be better for your overall printing needs.

3D Printer in Space

The American Space Agency, NASA, will be sending a 3D printer into space during the Fall of 2014 to provide astronauts and scientists with a way to craft specific tools and spare parts in zero gravity. The mission will also focus on creating small test satellites from this 3D printer that are capable of transmitting data back to Earth (if the experiment is successful). With these advancements, NASA can significantly lower the transportation costs by reducing the amount of items that need to be pre-fabricated and sent up to the astronauts. The machine is only about the size of the MakerBot Replicator home models or about the size of a standard toaster oven. Despite the size, having the adaptability to design and manufacture on the fly can be an essential lifesaving benefit.

Earlier in this month, Rachel Kraft from the Marshall Space Flight Center in Washington reported that the largest 3D printed rocket engine component, blazed to life on August 22 of 2013, generating a record 20,000 pounds of thrust. The component tested, was a 3D manufactured injector which is responsible for delivering propellants in the rocket that power an engine and provide the thrust necessary to propel an object. The testing engineers injected liquid oxygen and gaseous hydrogen into the combustion chamber to measure the force of thrust produced. The results concluded that this rocket created 10 times more thrust than any other 3D manufactured rocket from preceding tests.

The force produced was enough to let the team start fabricating design layouts or templates for these mini test satellites that can now be rocketed out from the Space Station. The success of this test also provided a crucial step in bringing NASA closer to proving this innovative technology can be used to reduce the cost of flight hardware as well as the tools needed in emergency scenarios.

As a side, safety and practicality test, the Marshall engineers at the Marshall Space Flight Center have been running through mock Apollo 13 simulations, in which the crew had to quickly fabricate a lifesaving carbon dioxide filter holder using a plastic bag, a manual cover, and gaffer tape. In these simulations, the crew was able to use the 3D printer to manufacture the exact parts they needed in minutes, giving the crew more time to land safely on the moon’s surface. Although these are just test situations, having the right components can mean life or death which brings us to the next stage of pre-launch testing.

NASA has already been able to fine tune some of this technology, being able to print with laser-melted titanium and nickel-chromium powders that give projects significant strength improvements. Being able to print in zero gravity however, presents a whole new set of challenges. Typically the 3D printer will layer thin sheets of the desired material on a build platform until an object is complete. With zero gravity, there is no additional force (like gravity) that can assist the printer in laying down liquid hot layers of plastic or metal onto a lower platform. Once the melted material jets through the nozzle it will have infinite directions to travel in. With metal material, polarization could be the key to keeping the structure together in such environments, although materials like propylene (or plastic) prove to be more difficult.

Propylene is an interesting material, mostly known for its use with Tupperware and other clear plastic containers. With the latest exploratory satellite named Cassini, atmospheric researchers at NASA have discovered a plethora of Propylene on one of Saturn’s moons known as Titan. In 1980 the Voyager (a previously made, exploratory satellite) discovered Hydrocarbons in the air around Titan, which were derived from methane, once the methane had been broken apart by sunlight. This continuous process that still occurs on Titan forms long chains of molecules that make up propane, propylene, and propyne. Voyager was only able to discern the largest and smallest chains at the time being Propane and Propyne. With Cassini, researchers were able to compare new readings to Voyager’s in order to quickly isolate and identify elements that Voyager left behind.

The first molecule to be discovered using this CIRS system (Composite Infrared Spectrometer which identifies heat coming from the atmosphere), is Propylene, perhaps the most common plastic manufactured on Earth. This plastic is most commonly used to create clear plastic holding containers, such as water bottles. Any item with an identifying mark that contains a number five encased by a segmented triangle with the initials PP underneath is made of Polypropylene. Polypropylene is simply a series of Propylene molecules connected together in a longer chain to form a clear plastic sheet or wire.

We touch and use the same types of elements found on Saturn every day, without even knowing it. And who knows, maybe one day we can stop by Titan to refill a ship’s stock of PLS plastics. 

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