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Spark erosion printer, part


This is one of those wierd items that has almost been forgotten in the new computer age. This one is for educational use.
A spark erosion printer made use of paper that has one side black with a silver conductive aluminium layer to cover the black. An electrical stylus would run across the paper and burn away dots of aluminium to expose the black underneath. This made for very low cost mechanics but rather specialised consumables. Similar to modern thermal printers in concept.
The early Sinclair ZX80/81 Spectrum home computers had an add on printer that used this system. Some older plant and medical instrumentation used the concept as there is no ribbon or ink to consume and the head is hard to damage or wear out. The paper is not as durable as one might like and if handled a lot the coating starts to get cracks and contrast suffers. It is however immune to light and heat fading.
This unit is a old telephone call cost unit with integrated printer, the printer is the only interesting part of the unit. I wired it up to a PC parallel port some decades ago but only long enough to make up a 5x7 font and output Hello World!, a modern microcontroller would be able to drive it quite easily and the timing was not all that complicated. I think there was a single index pulse when the stylus was at the end of a line. There was one motor that would advance the paper by one pixel row for each pass of the stylus across the page and just one feed speed.
The complete unit is about 350x400x80mm but the printer is only a small portion of the whole. The printer has no housing of it's own. I have the old Turbo Pascal test program on a 5.25" floppy disk but not sure if there is a print out. It still has the D25 printer port connector and could possibly be driven from a USB to LPT converter if the timing is fine enough.
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This product was added to our catalog on Monday 09 January, 2012.

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