From the Road: Kodak Hosts ‘VIP Summit’
Like nearly every other supplier of digital printing equipment, Kodak wants a piece of the expanding market for production inkjet systems. It’s an objective the company has been pursuing in various ways for decades through the work of what is now known as the Enterprise Inkjet Systems Division (EISD), a research and manufacturing arm celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2017.
Not content with a build-it-and-they-will-come approach to cultivating the production inkjet market, Kodak isn’t relying solely on product launches to advance its continuous inkjet (CIJ) brands. The company also intends to drive the printing industry’s transition from offset lithography to inkjet by encouraging printers to try inkjet both as a stand-alone solution and as a hybrid with conventional press equipment. Partnerships with other vendors will be central to some of these efforts, leading to the introduction of new devices over the next two years.
Such was the picture drawn for editors, analysts and others who attended Kodak’s “VIP Inkjet Summit” at EISD headquarters in Dayton, Ohio, on June 13 and 14. Half of its 315,000-sq.-ft. plant is devoted to manufacturing printheads, inks and other key components. The facility includes 26 labs and 22,000 sq. ft. worth of clean rooms, where technicians in full protective clothing fabricate printhead arrays that stream nanoparticle, water-based inks at hundreds of thousands of droplets per second through nozzles measured in microns.
Kodak’s CIJ product portfolio consists of Versamark and Prosper presses and, for in-line use with conventional equipment, Prosper S-Series Imprinting Systems. In development for launch in press platforms from Kodak and partners in 2019 is ULTRASTREAM, a fourth-generation CIJ technology that Kodak believes will move inkjet into the front ranks of commercial and package printing.
The roll-fed Versamark line currently consists of color and monochrome, simplex and duplex machines operating in three speed ranges (246, 410 and 492 fpm). Although it is a legacy product, Versamark has declined in sales less rapidly than anticipated and still makes money for Kodak.
The three principal models of the Prosper platform, which uses Stream inkjet technology, are the 6000P, 6000C and 6000S roll-fed presses. The 6000S is available as a stand-alone simplex press or a press that can be hybridized with conventional equipment.
At the summit, Kodak reported placing about 15 Prosper presses last year for a total installed base of 64, along with the sale of about 1,300 Prosper inkjet heads to various OEMs for hybrid applications. About 150 heads reportedly are at work on packaging presses and folders, where they imprint variable content on wine boxes, cigarette packs, and other high-volume items.
Prosper technology’s high propensity for hybridization has inspired Ed Zumbiel, president of Zumbiel Digital, to custom-build a flexo/inkjet combination press around it for his paperboard packaging business. Zumbiel Digital is an outgrowth of Zumbiel Packaging, a Hebron, Ky., company that has been manufacturing packaging for more than 170 years.
His idea was to augment a Prosper 6000S simplex color inkjet web press with an in-line diecutting unit and seven in-line flexo towers for precoating, PMS color printing and other surface treatments. Zumbiel said that this 100-ft. long hybrid press would enable him to both mass-randomize and mass-customize beverage can carriers and other cartons with brand-differentiating variable content.
Kodak has a simpler inkjetting solution in its Prosper S-Series Imprinting Systems. Mounted on offset and flexo presses as well as on finishing equipment, these high-speed print stations can add fully variable black ink, spot color and process color to conventionally printed output. There are four models printing at 500, 1,000, 2,000 and 3,000 fpm respectively.
All of the ingenuity that the EISD can muster is put into the development of ULTRASTREAM, which Kodak is targeting at packaging, label, magazine, catalog and home décor applications. It differs from Stream in jetting smaller droplets (4 picoliters versus 8-9 picoliters), using electrostatic charging instead of an air stream to deflect non-printing droplets, and printing at a higher resolution (600 x 1,800 dpi) at speeds of 500 fpm. ULTRASTREAM is also a modular and scalable technology that can be configured in print widths from 8˝ to 98˝.
While Kodak may have the technological prowess to set ULTRASTREAM in motion, it knows that even with the capabilities of the EISD, it doesn’t have the manufacturing heft to make the solution dominant in the marketplace. Hence the push for partnerships, although “pull” may be a better word than “push” for the momentum with which they are being formed.
When Kodak introduced ULTRASTREAM at drupa last year, it reckoned that 10 developmental relationships with OEMs and end-users was a reasonable number to shoot for. To date, it has received non-binding letters of intent from 19 potential partners who want to explore creating ULTRASTREAM applications.
If all goes according to plan, their joint efforts should lead to the appearance of the first ULTRASTREAM product — not necessarily a Kodak-branded press — sometime in 2019. Prosper presses, upgradable for some customers to the new technology, will remain in the portfolio as ULTRASTREAM devices come to market.