Kodak’s original slogan coined in 1888 has a new resonance and applies quite well to the graphics industry. With process free plates, automated handsfree platesetters, offset quality push-button digital presses and cloud based data management, graphics production is becoming a push button business, with digital technology handling the rest.
It’s doing far from simple stuff, but automation and data are this industry’s reality. Kodak’s slow and difficult reinvention is positioning the company as a primarily digital company, in line with the reality of its sector.
Earlier this year the company restructured away from three divisions to two: consumer and commercial, both of which report to a newly created operations office. Under the helmsmanship of Chairman and CEO Jim Continenza Kodak is focusing on its core competencies and its finances. It is out of the bitcoin and mobile phone businesses and “we want to go full throttle into digital” whilst sticking with what Kodak knows. All peripheral activities have been cancelled to focus wholly on supporting digital printing and digital process management. Kodak is doubling down on digital Continenza said, adding that “the future is digital: we’re putting our money where our mouth is”.
Money, money, money
Like many companies in the graphics industry Kodak had been plagued with heavy overheads and debt, which was fine until there was not much left to cut and servicing debt created existential risks. but with the sale of its flexo division last year for strategic as well as financial reasons, Kodak is no longer facing such a risk. The company has cut debt from some $395 million to a much more manageable $104 million and has cash of some $225 million. Liabilities could pose a threat, but aside from that things are looking more promising for Kodak than they have for some years. According to Continenza “Kodak’s not been in as strong a financial position in twenty years”. This is very encouraging for the company, its people and its customers. More encouraging should be the plan Continenza has to serve those customers and Kodak’s shareholders.
Doing the rest
Continenza is focused on delivering to customers speed, efficiency and low cost for hardware, software services and consumables. Kodak is spending
over $25 million in research and development this year and Continenza said that he’s bringing Kodak back to the basics of print, film and chemicals to “take the complex and make it simple” with the added dimension of digital enablement.
Hints of Kodak’s strategic intent can be seen in new announcements, based on what Kodak planned to show at drupa, now postponed until next year. New products include a new digital packaging press designed to take share from gravure and flexo applications. In discussing the new Sapphire EVO Continenza said “a lot of our research and development dollars are going into inks for a different application”, which suggests further moves into packaging.
The Sapphire EVO delivers gravure quality at flexo speeds and is co-developed with Uteco Group an Italian maker of flexo presses and converting equipment based in Verona, Italy. Kodak makes the writing systems in Dayton Ohio and all else is manufactured at Uteco in Italy. The Sapphire EVO web press which uses Stream heads was introduced last year and has been in production at Kinyosha in Japan since earlier this year. The new Wide model uses Ultrastream continuous inkjet heads and will first be installed in the USA. The EVO Wide will be available at the end of 2020.
The Sapphire EVO Wide is the first digital press with Kodak’s Ultrastream head technology. It delivers 6.5pl drops of water based pigment inks at 600 x 1800 dpi. Kodak says it prints up to eight times faster than competitors in the digital space which Kodak sees as low volume inkjets using UV inks printing at 25-50 metres per minute. It prints CMYK onto plastic films such as polyethylene and PVC as well as papers across a 2.5m web at a rate of 111 square centimetres per hour. It can include gravure and flexo units inline, plus postcoating units and an infrared drying system. Kodak claims its running costs are less than half that of the competition. The Sapphire EVO Wide is positioned for the 20,000 square meter per month production space where the crossover with flexo is most easily challenged.
Vandagriff said Kodak “have the first press sold and installation will be later this year” in the USA. The Sapphire EVO Wide is co-branded and co-marketed with Uteco and a first packaging press for Kodak which it claims is a unique engine in that there is nothing in the digital printing space for flexible packaging with the EVO Wide’s spec and width. But it won’t be the last in the packaging sector, as Continenza hinted: “a lot of our research and development dollars are going into inks for a different [packaging] application”.
Ultrastream heads are also used in the new Prosper Ultra 520 digital press for mid volume production for printers wanting to get into digital printing. The 520 refers to its 520mm print width. The new press prints water based nanoparticulate pigment inks 2-up duplex at 600 x 1800 dpi, outputting offset quality (200 lpi) at 150 metres per minute on substrates up to 270gsm. This is around 2000 A4s per minute. The press offers the “lowest running cost in the market” according to Randy Vandagriff senior vice president for Kodak’s digital printing business, and includes the Kodak 900 controller based on Adobe’s APPE. Kodak colour management technology helps ensure a 95% larger colour gamut than is required in the Specifications for Web Offset Printing (SWOP) ICC profile which references ISO 2846 for offset inks. As to its price, Continenza said it is in “the $2 million mark” which is “less than half the cost of a Prosper”.
The Prosper 6000 stays in the Kodak lineup for customers printing higher volumes: 20 million impressions per month rather than ten million per month for Ultra 520. Models will be available for publishing and commercial print applications and although the 520 is not yet in beta, it will be available later in the year.
Plates and chemistry still generate solid income for Kodak however the company has put considerable resources into developing its Sonora process free plate technology. The company wants plates and associated technologies and chemistries to help customers produce print that pays. Sonora customers enjoy savings of 30% savings compared to processed plates according to John O’Grady, vice president of Kodak’s traditional print business.
There are over 4000 Sonora users globally and sales are growing. The next generation plate, Sonora Xtra is 20% faster to image and three times as durable for enhanced run lengths even with UV inks. It is also easier to handle with higher image contrast. This plate will be available at the end of the year.
Kodak claims that its latest T-Speed Magnus Q800 platesetter is the world’s fastest 8-up device for processless plates. The new engine images 80 pph and the Multi-Pallet Loader (capacity 3200 plates) has been upgraded to keep up so the Q800 can run up to 40 hours unattended. O’Grady said there is “no quicker alternative from platesetter to press on the market”. It will be available in September. Further down the line for next year is the Magnus Q4800 for extra large format (XLF) plate imaging. This device images 32 plates per hour up to 2900 mm. It is designed for 96-up presses and has pallet automation supporting up to eight plate sizes and 4800 plates online. The Q800 goes into beta testing in June and will be available later in 2020 and the Q4800 in the first quarter of 2021.
Last year Kodak launched the Nexfinity digital press and is now relaunching it
with a lower price. Jeffrey Zellmer vice president of Kodak’s global sales and strategy said “we made it a more competitive price … at the high end”. This cut sheet press is based on the Nexpress, originally codeveloped with Heidelberg. Zellmer says that “Nexfinity takes a back seat to no one in the industry”, with the capacity to print up to 400% more than similarly specified devices. It is designed for medium to high volumes of 500,000 to one million impressions per month.
Nexfinity prints 150 A4 pages per minute with a sheet size of 356 x 1295mm and same edge perfecting for front to back registration. Automated image correction maintains colour quality throughout the run and Kodak’s Dynamic Imaging Technology provides 256 grey levels per pixel for 1.8 billion image variations per square inch, which means tight control over colour quality. A fifth station provides spot colour and coatings support with twelve different options available. Efficient changeovers “within minutes” and ability to print substrates up to 610µ thick combine to make this a highly profitable press according to Zellmer. He said the Nexfinity is built like a press but “anyone can learn to use a Nexpress”.
Workflow has long been moving into the cloud and Kodak is strengthening Prinergy, its modular and scaleable workflow technology, to improve processing efficiency for customers. In the case of Kodak’s largest Prinergy user in Europe, Wilco, the company has seen efficiency improvements of 40-50% through cloud computing. Todd Bigger president of Kodak’s software division describes Prinergy as the “print industry’s first business intelligence system” offering data security, productivity and lower cost of ownership. With its open architecture, Prinergy supports nonKodak clients and rather than providing its own hosting Kodak is using Microsoft Azure cloud services. Prinergy on demand is a new workflow management environment and platform suitable for all types of small to large businesses. It gives access to all of Kodak’s on demand services as a monthly subscription based on data processing volumes and licenses. This model makes the production workflow management system an operational cost rather than a capital one, and provides Kodak with a steady income stream. Kodak is therefore doing away with service contracts and expects Prinergy to have “Artificial Intelligence capabilities in the near future”. Prinergy on demand is available now, with the hosted environment and multitenant engagement for smaller companies later this year.
As to the impact of Covid-19 Kodak is seeing 25-30% shortfall in commercial print according to CEO Jim Continenza. However 30% of Kodak’s plates are used in packaging applications and these have not seen much impact. It’s going to be a tough year nonetheless.