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26 August, 2014 - 11:40 By Tony Quested

New inkjet company born in Cambridge

Alan-Hudd

Inkjet printing industry greybeard Alan Hudd, formerly with Domino and Xennia, has created a new company in Cambridge that he believes has the opportunity to follow the path of neighbours Xaar and Domino to global greatness.

Hudd launches the new Jetronica FabriCoater at the IMI Technology showcase in the US at the start of September and says the business behind the innovation – Alchemie Technology Ltd – has laid the foundations for rapid international expansion.

Based at the Future Business Centre in Cambridge, Alchemie also announces the launch of its licensing programme for Jetronica at the North Carolina showcase (September 3 & 4).

Jetronica is a novel deposition technology combining the benefits of digital with the throughput and materials flexibility of established analogue industrial production processes.

Specified for coatings, adhesives, textile and additive manufacturing applications requiring high volume with consistent coverage, Hudd says the Jetronica FabriCoater technology provides a unique platform for delivery of ‘materials patterning’ at production line speeds.

“Alchemie is excited to bring to market this new method of selective patterning, coating and decoration by enabling organisations to obtain a license to develop this breakthrough manufacturing platform,” said the CEO.

Hudd added: “Jetronica FabriCoater technology seeks to take digital productivity to new performance levels in application areas not previously addressable through a traditional digital process. The benefits

of digital manufacturing are now well understood within industrial production however, many processes have struggled to benefit from these advantages due to limitations, primarily materials throughput, coverage and high cost.

“Enabling high speed deposition at industrial resolution with a broad viscosity range more commonly associated with analogue fluids, Jetronica takes digital into the next dimension for many coating and dispensing applications.”

Jetronica’s robust dispensing array is designed for high volume coating and patterning for production line applications. Scalable and robust, it can dispense a wide range of UV curable, aqueous, solvent and oil based fluids.

The patented technology is based on a unique piezoneedle array, which delivers a precisely defined fluid with digital control. The actuation of the piezoneedle generates a standing wave that ejects the fluid droplets from the nozzle.

Offering maximum flexibility at much lower costs, piezoneedle arrays can be engineered in a wide range of configurations for industrial use and can be tuned to accept a broad range of fluids including high viscosity and non-newtonian materials. Simplicity of design means the technology can easily be scaled for wider print widths or higher flow rates.

Alchemie currently has around 10 people involved in the project but Hudd told Business Weekly that will more than likely double over the next year or so. “We don't need to grow to any big numbers quickly,” he said.

Manufacturing will probably be handled in eastern Europe but the potential for the technology is global, he adds.

Nor is the project cash-hungry. Hudd says: “We are supporting the cashflows through our own funding at the moment. It's a good discipline to adhere to early on but we will not let funding limit our progress so will be flexible and open to external investment in the future.

“If we can achieve some early licensing success, the need will be limited.  I guess, depending on how we tackle a manufacturing strategy the need for funding may be necessary in about 12-18 months time.  We can currently manufacture in low volumes, about 100,000 piezoneedles per year, equivalent to about 1,000 conventional printheads.”

Exciting applications have already been identified for the new technology. Hudd says: “One application of this technology is about to be commercialised. There are several applications we are focused on in the near term - the next six months or so. 

“We are at various stages of discussion with customers in these applications to license the technology.  A few of the exciting applications include using the technology for production lines to selectively pattern material such as adhesives and novel coatings.

“Selectively patterning functional materials or dyes onto textiles is another application hungry for a production line solution at low cost. This the key benefit of Jetronica. It offers all the benefits of a digital process and yet providing the application performance of an analogue process, at low cost. 

“The range and breadth of applications is vast and our challenge is to focus on developing a few. It is one of the reasons why we are working on a licensing strategy.  We aim to put the technology in the hands of those that know their application inside out and by working in partnership with them, we can quickly develop successful solution.”

His CV shows the extent of Hudd’s technology and industry knowledge. He spent more than eight years with Domino, an acknowledged world leader in inkjet printing, where he was fluids technology manager.  He had 17 years at Xennia Technology, which he founded and before that was propellant development manager at Royal Ordnance and research scientist, propellants & explosives, Rocket Motors at the UK Ministry of Defence.

Hudd is therefore ideally placed to assess the opportunity for Alchemie. He says: “The success of Domino is outstanding and it is a fine company.  Xennia had lots of opportunity, some great people and much capability. I hope it succeeds and can build on this.

“I firmly believe Alchemie has a huge opportunity, directly as result of this experience and the huge appetite the industrial world now has for digital solutions. The recent success of inkjet in the ceramics world led by Xaar has done a lot to promote this interest. 

“Alchemie's technology is a consequence of listening to all the feedback from customers over the years about inkjet and creating a digital solution to match these requirements.

“Timing is everything, and the timing for Alchemie seems very good. The opportunities are there to match the success of Domino – whether we can do so, we will see.”

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