DIY Drop-on-Demand Inkjet Platform

My goal with this project is to build a hobby-grade inkjet platform, from accessible parts, for <$1000, that will enable myself and anyone to experiment with a piezo tube dispenser and different fluids. These types of lab setups are commercially available and commonly used in academia and industry, but prohibitively expensive for most of us to approach.

I previously experimented with piezo inkjets here. I moved away from the Xaar 128 because I found it’s really built to work with a narrow range of solvent inks and not easily repurposed for other materials. For example, the waveform that drives the piezo is generated on-device. The voltage, frequency, and shape of the waveform can’t be altered, so a fluid with different viscosity or surface tension may fail to jet.

Microfluidics is a broad field with applications in manufacturing, printing, and biology. My aim is for this platform to assist people in building hardware and experimenting with fluids for “drop-on-demand” applications that require precisely depositing extremely small volumes (pico- or nano-liters) of fluid.

Example drop formations demonstrate consistency of setup: 3 subsequent sample drops of 91% IPA, produced with 20khz triangle wave, captured with 2us strobe, 250us after wave pulse.

A lab setup has these parts:

  • The piezo inkjet fluid dispenser.
  • A waveform generator. Piezo devices work by deforming when exposed to an electric field. The shape and frequency of the waveform dictate how the piezo deforms and how much force is generated.
  • A high voltage amplifier. These types of piezo cylinders are effective in a voltage range of 30V-100V.
  • A fluid reservoir and handling to deliver fluid to the dispenser.
  • For analysis of new materials, a camera and strobe setup capable of capturing events within a few microseconds.

I plan to source or build each of these parts for a reproducible lab setup for <$1000 and share plans on github. I’m not done yet and I don’t know how far I will get. I’ll share progress on each part in future posts.

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