In Its Hometown, Kodak Reasserts Its Commitment to Print
For a long time, Eastman Kodak was one of the world’s mightiest consumer brands, and the familiar Kodak name is still attached to consumer imaging products - to say nothing of drones, skateboards, jigsaw puzzles, and other items that George Eastman couldn’t have imagined as belonging to the portfolio.
Less visible to the world at large was the part of the company that now almost entirely drives it: the business consisting of products and technologies for professional graphic communications. The shorthand for that is print, and print is something Kodak doesn’t want anyone to forget that it remains wholly committed to.
This message, articulated as “Taking Print Further,” inspired a two-day (Feb. 28 - March 1) gathering of about 250 customers, Kodak personnel, and trade media representatives at the company’s historic manufacturing complex in Rochester, N.Y. Led by Kodak CEO Jeffrey Clarke, senior executives gave a state-of-the-company report that outlined Kodak’s current business strategy and detailed its progress in developing solutions for print markets.
Most of the product emphasis was on the NexPress line of electrophotographic digital presses and the Sonora family of processless plates for offset lithography. Kodak also makes production inkjet presses and components; flexographic plate material and flexo plate imaging systems; coating and deposition technologies for industrial printing; 3D printing; as well as software for all of the above.
These activities span five of the seven divisions of which Kodak - extensively reorganized since emerging from bankruptcy and relisting its stock in 2013 - now consists.
The quintet is its economic engine, providing, said Brad W. Kruchten, president of the Print Systems Division (PSD), 85% of Kodak’s $2 billion annual revenue and 100% of its earnings. He added that last year, Kodak spent $90 million on strengthening capabilities across the five divisions. (The other two are Consumer and Film and Eastman Business Park, the 1,200-acre Kodak manufacturing campus that is now also home to nearly 70 other companies.)
The goal is twofold: to help printers move, as Kruchten put it, “from pennies per page to dollars per page”; and to position Kodak as a company that does a better job of enabling printers to operate profitably and sustainably than any other graphic arts solution provider. Dedicated to the tasks is a workforce that now stands at about 5,800 employees in 30 countries.
The program in Rochester focused on technical progress in the print-related divisions, chiefly the PSD, which comprises NexPress, plates, and computer-to-plate systems. Its newest products are Nexfinity, a high-output version of the NexPress platform; and Sonora X, an advanced processless litho plate. Kruchten said that PSD has introduced 10 plate types over the last five years and is enjoying 24% year-over-year growth in its Sonora plate business.
He spoke of comparable (18%) YOY growth in the Flexographic Packaging Division and noted that the Enterprise Inkjet Systems Division, with its Versamark, Prosper, and ULTRASTREAM continuous inkjet press platforms, is now profitable after enduring “significant losses.” In another part of the program, Clarke said that ULTRASTREAM, a high-speed, high-resolution jetting technology that Kodak intends to commercialize in partnership with other inkjet press manufacturers, represents “the biggest investment we’re making” and is being evaluated for development by a number of OEMs.
Kruchten said the Software and Solutions division is doing well with the Prinergy workflow and the recently launched Prinergy Cloud, a SaaS collection of production automation and business intelligence services. As for the Advanced Materials and 3D Printing Technology division, he said that in time, this unit would show printers how to use their existing production methods to manufacture printed electronics and other examples of industrial printing: “not a motherboard for a Mac,” but device screens, sensors, antennas, and similar components for the ever-expanding Internet of Things.
Briefings by other Kodak executives addressed several of these developments in greater detail.
The PSD’s Evandro Matteucci presented Sonora X as the processless plate that will persuade the 80% of printers who don’t use processless plates to change their minds. He said that its anodizing layer and advanced coating technology significantly extend its run length life, accelerate and sharpen its imaging, and make it exceptionally resistant to damage in normal handling.
Kodak will market Sonora X as an all-purpose replacement for unbaked plates that require post-exposure processing. It has been tested, Matteucci said, by 111 Kodak customers in 25 countries on more than 130 presses running 20 different types of inks and fountain solutions.
One of the testers is Dutch Greve, who took part in a Sonora panel discussion during the Rochester event. Greve, CEO of Southwest Offset Printing in Gardena, Calif., said that the 8,000 Sonora X plates he has run have all performed well, in one case reaching 230,000 impressions on one of his open web (coldset) presses with no signs of plate wear.
A 152-ppm top printing speed, a 1,200 x 1,200 dpi resolution, and a monthly duty cycle of one million A4 pages are among the features that make the Nexfinity press platform cost competitive with offset lithography in medium-quantity runs, according to PSD’s Chris Balls. In development for four years, the newest addition to the NexPress line has five dry-ink printing stations and gets its high resolution from being able to achieve 256 levels of exposure in its LED-based writing system.
Nexfinity can handle sheets up to 48" long in thicknesses up to 24 pt. A panelist, Ben Shaw, vice president and general manager of U.S. operations for online print service provider Mimeo, said the company has test-run “millions of pages” on the device and is excited about the results.
Printed circuitry and electronics isn’t a new application for Kodak: according to Clarke, Kodak technology is used in about 40% of all such production. Now the company wants to see some of it taking place in conventional printing plants with the help of that same technology.
Tom Cavanagh, vice president of the Advanced Materials and 3D Printing Technology division, projected the value of the printed electronics market to be more than $12 billion by 2022. He said that Kodak’s expertise in conductive inks and substrates can be turned into solutions capable of “making the dream mainstream” for printers who want the definition of what they do to include industrial printing.
Kodak has developed flexo-based, UV-cured, roll-to-roll “clean room” techniques for circuit manufacturing that aren’t practical for most printers now but point the way to methods that eventually will be. Offset litho and inkjet also are eligible processes for this kind of industrial printing, according to Cavanagh.
Richard B. Rindo, vice president and general manager of worldwide sales, talked about what Kodak is doing to help printers satisfy the “triple bottom line” of ecological and environmental responsibility; business and financial health; and social awareness. His examples included:
- the assembly of NexPress devices with components made of up to 50% post-consumer material;
- for printers who use an average of 20,000 square feet of plate material per year, a savings of $99,000 when switching from process to process-free plates, plus corresponding savings in energy from eliminating plate processing units;
- the boost given to literacy by “Print for Good,” a Kodak public service program that enlists printers to help put books into the hands of children from homes without them.
According to Clarke, “the warmth, technology, history, and quality of Kodak” infuses all of its operations and underlies the fact that “nearly half of all pages printed are touched by our technology.”
What this reaffirms, he concluded, is that “we are all in on print.”
Related story: Kodak Launches the NEXFINITY Digital Press Platform