Meteor Inkjet beats chip supply shortage

New redesigned Printer Controller Card 2 uses available chips

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Meteor Inkjet beats chip supply shortage
Meteor Inkjet has developed this new Printer Controller Card 2, having had to source new chips Photo Meteor

Meteor Inkjet has taken an interesting approach to the worldwide shortage of computer chips by developing a new electronics platform that’s less reliant on the specialized chips it was using.

Meteor has suffered from the same problems that most other printer manufacturers have had since its printer controller cards – or PCC – that are used to drive various printheads all use an electronic chip that’s now in short supply.

Meteor was using a specific Field Programmable Device (FPD) array from Intel that also included a microcontroller. This is a highly specialized chip as most use one or the other. The difference is that a microprocessor is a multipurpose circuit that can follow instructions and come up with different results according to the data input, whereas an FPD is configured to do just one thing, but it will do that one thing very quickly. Combining the two functions made for a very neat device, but that complexity also meant that it would be one of the last items to return to normal supply.

That put Meteor in a tricky position, so the company took a risk, selected an FPD chip from Intel, and then had to commit to a year’s supply to ensure it didn’t run into further supply problems before knowing if this solution would actually work.

Clive Ayling, Meteor’s managing director, explains, “Then we had to design a board to use it. This time we had the big FPD chip, and then we had to source a separate microprocessor and make that talk to it. There were quite a few layers plus a lot of testing around it to see that each bit worked.”

Fortunately, Meteor was able to test it with the British press manufacturer Dantex Digital. Ayling says, “It was a big advantage having someone in the UK to test it. We did ship them off to other people, but it was nice to have someone local.”

This has resulted in a new PCC2 print controller that is now shipping in production quantities. Meteor couldn’t risk offering customers an inferior version so the new PCC2 has the potential to be faster than the older version. Ayling explains: “Most customers would not benefit because the old one does what they needed it to. So most customers will use the new one at the same level as the old one because that’s all that they need.”

He added, “We weren’t aiming to make improvements, but in some areas, it’s the same but could be better with further development. And in some areas, it’s both better and faster, and in all areas, it’s faster.”

That means that if Intel is able to resume supplies of its original chip, then Meteor could go back to using that, and develop the new controller further for those customers that do want improved performance. But as Ayling notes – “At the moment the market needs supply, not performance improvements.”

Jonathan Wilson, Meteor’s vice president of business development, commented: “Our customer base, having grown over the last decade to make Meteor the largest datapath supplier in the industry, had to wait for us to find a solution to what continues to be the worst chip supply shortage ever. I am delighted that their patience is now being rewarded, and we will quickly clear the order backlog that developed over the last two quarters.”

Ayling concluded, “It is a source of immense pride for everyone at Meteor that this enormous task has been achieved. In particular, praise is due to our engineering team in Cambridge who pivoted their attention to this one project which has resulted in a robust, backward-compatible replacement product for our customers in record time.”

It’s worth noting that manufacturers in all sectors are still facing considerable supply chain problems, with shortages of computer chips likely to persist for a couple more years because of the time that it takes to set up a silicon fab to produce them.

You can find further details from meteorinkjet.com.

This article first appeared on www.nessancleary.co.uk. Reprinted by permission.

2023 promises an interesting ride for print in India

Indian Printer and Publisher founded in 1979 is the oldest B2B trade publication in the multi-platform and multi-channel IPPGroup. While the print and packaging industries have been resilient in the past 33 months since the pandemic lockdown of 25 March 2020, the commercial printing and newspaper industries have yet to recover their pre-Covid trajectory.

The fragmented commercial printing industry faces substantial challenges as does the newspaper industry. While digital short-run printing and the signage industry seem to be recovering a bit faster, ultimately their growth will also be moderated by the progress of the overall economy. On the other hand book printing exports are doing well but they too face several supply-chain and logistics challenges.

The price of publication papers including newsprint has been high in the past year while availability is diminished by several mills shutting down their publication paper and newsprint machines in the past four years. Indian paper mills are also exporting many types of paper and have raised prices for Indian printers. To some extent, this has helped in the recovery of the digital printing industry with its on-demand short-run and low-wastage paradigm.

Ultimately digital print and other digital channels will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future. For instance, there is no alternative to a rise in textbook consumption but this segment will only reach normality in the next financial year beginning on 1 April 2023.

Thus while the new normal is a moving target and many commercial printers look to diversification, we believe that our target audiences may shift and change. Like them, we will also have to adapt with agility to keep up with their business and technical information needs.

Our 2023 media kit is ready, and it is the right time to take stock and reconnect with your potential markets and customers. Print is the glue for the growth of liberal education, new industry, and an emerging economy. We seek your participation in what promises to be an interesting ride.

– Naresh Khanna

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