Engineers at the University of Missouri have taken inspiration from the human eye to invent what is being referred to as a clog-preventing printer nozzle cover. Clogged printer nozzles, as a lot of us have realised, are no good for quality prints. Explaining the reasoning behind the nozzle, Jae Wan Kwon, associate professor in the College of Engineering, said the human eye and an ink jet nozzle share a common problem – both cannot be left to dry, and both have to open, simultaneously. To tackle this tricky problem, Kwon said they used biomimicry – imitation of nature to find solutions to human problems. 

saving ink

Clog-free inkjet solution inspired by the human eye

Kwon explained that he used a droplet of silicone oil to cover the opening of the nozzle when it was not in use. This is quite similar to the oil film that prevents the thin layer of tears from evaporating off a human eye. He added, “In the surface of the human eye, eyelids spread the film of oil over the layer of tears. However, at the tiny scale of the ink jet nozzle, mechanical shutters like eyelids would not work, as they would be stuck in place by surface tension. Instead, the droplet of oil for the nozzle is easily moved in and out of place by an electric field.” 

Kwon's invention, it is learnt, could go a long way in rendering home and office printers 'less wasteful'. He explains that when attempting to open  up a clogged nozzle in a majority of ink jet printers, “a burst of fresh ink breaks through the crust of dried ink, which forms if the machine isn’t used constantly.” He explains that over the course of time, such cleaning will lead to a considerable amount of expensive ink being wasted, and his invention goes a long way in eliminating the wastage of ink. 

He added, “Other printing devices use mechanisms similar to ink jet printers. Adapting the clog-free nozzle to these machines could save businesses and researchers thousands of dollars in wasted materials. For example, biological tissue printers, which may someday be capable of fabricating replacement organs, squirt out living cells to form biological structures. Those cells are so expensive that researchers often find it cheaper to replace the nozzles rather than waste the cells. Clog-free nozzles would eliminate the costly replacements.”

MU engineering doctoral student Riberet Almieda worked together with Kwon on the oil droplet nozzle cover concept. A paper documenting the discovery was published in the Journal of Microelectromechanical Systems. 

Click here to view the clog-free ink jet printer in action. 

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