When it comes to printing variable information, such as date and production codes, onto a wide range of different types of packaging, continuous inkjet (CIJ) technology has been the most commonly used process for a long time.
But, did you know how this technology originated? What was the first continuous inkjet printer?
No, it wasn’t invented by Al Gore, but its origin can be traced back to a machine called a siphon recorder patented by a gentleman by the name of William Thomson, the First Baron Kelvin (yes, the dude is name is used as the unit of absolute temperature to this day), back in 1867.
The Problem to be Solved
As the usage of the telegraph for sending Morse code messages over long distances increased, there was a need to be able to record the messages rather than the operator having to write every letter by hand.
As we know from western movies, the telegraph operator would often be tied to a a chair by a Clint Eastwood character, so there was a lot of human error in decoding the messages – there was certainly a need for automation.
The idea behind Kelvin’s device was that it would transcribe an incoming message onto a length of paper in a form that it could be decoded and delivered to the recipient.
The Siphon Recorder
The machine Kelvin invented operated similarly to the CIJ printers we are used to seeing on our packaging lines today.
A stream of ink would be sent through a nozzle containing an electrical coil, and it would land on a continuously moving roll of paper that passed beneath it.
When there was no message to record; the result was a straight line on the paper.
When the telegraph received a character, the coil would be energized and deflect the stream of ink – producing dots and dashes marks on the paper (see above – the operator would have added the text) that could be deciphered.
As well as being used by the railroads, the siphon recorder’s advent was a leap forward in making transatlantic telegraphy viable and reliable. Before this invention, the reception of messages was slow and inaccurate, often requiring multiple transmissions to clarify the communication. With the siphon recorder, the signals were markedly clearer, enabling faster and more accurate message transmission. This was a significant advancement, facilitating communication between continents and playing a crucial role in the political and economic interactions of the era.
The siphon recorder was not only an important part of the development of modern communications, the technology it used was also adapted into the modern inkjet printers we use today.
The first commercially available continuous inkjet printer for packaging such as bottles and cans was launched by AB Dick Company in 1969 as the Model 9600 Videojet (yes, that’s a familiar name!).
Current CIJ printers contain a lot of technology and chemistry, but the concept of using an electrical charge to deflect ink into the right place on the substrate remains the same.
Wikipedia’s entry on the Siphon Recorder