It is not every day that an industrial inkjet printer manufacturer faces the challenge of printing 1,000,000 digits on a 1.7 km long sheet of paper in one take. Nevertheless this was the request that HSA Systems received from Numberphile to celebrate reaching one million subscribers on the Numberphile YouTube channel. The exact request was to print the calculation of Pi to a million decimal places, on one sheet of paper. This was a challenge that HSA Systems could not resist.
Partner and manager of HSA, Jesper Hyldager said: "This was an unusual request for our company. Our print systems are usually used for printing a lot of small numbers, such as PINs for banks and expiry dates on products and for bar coding, not huge numbers. At HSA Systems we are always ready for a challenge and felt very pleased with the results we achieved on this unusual project."
At HSA Systems we are always ready for a challenge and felt very pleased with the results we achieved on this unusual project.
This unusual request came from video journalist Brady Haran, who makes videos for the YouTube channel Numberphile, which shows videos about numbers and maths. To celebrate reaching one million subscribers to Numberphile, and in keeping with the mathematical theme of the channel, Brady decided to print Pi to a million decimals. He then wanted to unfurl the reel of paper, totalling more than a mile in length, or 1.7 km, along a runway.
Various challenges had to be overcome before the print run could take place. Project manager, HSA's UK representative, Hugh McPartlan, initially had to select a print cartridge which would run continuously and then chose the software to enable the number to be printed on a single one-mile-long page. Numberphile also wanted the printing to correspond to the style of the channel, i.e. on brown paper. This had to be strong enough to withstand roll out, even in wet and windy weather.
Once these challenges were overcome, the printing was done at HSA Systems in Odense, Denmark, on a vertical reel-to-reel paper transport unit using HSAJET® HP TIJ 2.5 technology. The HP Durable Black Ink was selected because of its blackness, clarity, and permanence.
The print system ran at 50 metres a minute, taking about 40 minutes to print the number, which was formatted in 8pt. Courier New font. For every ten characters, the distance in yards and a number count was printed alongside the number.
The next destination for the mile reel of paper was Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground, Leicestershire, where HSA assisted Brady and their helpers to unroll the paper. Matt Parker, mathematician and stand-up comedian, talked through some of the significant points of the number during the unfurling of the paper.
It was a crazy request, but the people at HSA were brilliant.
Brady Haran said: "It was a crazy request, but the people at HSA were brilliant. They had an answer to every question and a solution to every obstacle. But most importantly, I think we all had fun. Many of the people at HSA are 'Numberphiles' at heart and it seemed like they enjoyed working with Pi, perhaps the most famous number of all."
Brady and HSA Systems are hoping that they have achieved a world record for the print run, (1851 yards 2 feet 6 ¾ inches), but feel confident they got a record at Bruntingthorpe for the slowest mile on the track, with a time of 4 hours 10 minutes.
Photos: 'Courtesy of Numberphile'
Watch full video
The making of the video and print