Kodak Reveals Big Inkjet Packaging Push
Inside the Uteco facility, located just outside Verona, Italy, a new press has been developed to challenge the way the packaging industry thinks about digital printing. The Uteco Sapphire EVO, a hybrid flexible packaging press powered by Kodak’s continuous inkjet technology, is designed to break the mold of digital package printing being relegated to short runs, and aims to bring cost effective, high-speed, high-quality production length printing to digital’s value proposition.
During a Packaging Summit hosted by Kodak, which brought analysts and industry media from around the world to Verona, Kodak’s Enterprise Inkjet Systems Division (EISD) unveiled its renewed commitment to the packaging industry, launching its “Creative Freedom” campaign. The campaign, which is dedicated to digital package printing, kicked off with announcements including OEM availability for ULTRASTREAM, Kodak’s latest generation of continuous inkjet technology, new PROSPER Plus inkjet imprinting solutions, and the announcement that Uteco will be the first OEM to incorporate ULTRASTREAM, further strengthening its digital flexible package printing portfolio.
With these technological developments driving its push into digital package printing, the Kodak EISD is touting a new value proposition, in which its digital products can serve as platforms for high-volume production.
“The Sapphire EVO is a production press,” Dan Denofsky, director of business development for the EISD, said. “It won’t replace every flexo press in the world, but it’s not a sample machine.”
Rethinking Inkjet in Packaging
While Kodak is among the pioneers of inkjet printing, and has been a supplier of the technology to the commercial printing industry for approximately 50 years, the EISD is entering 2019 with a heavy focus on packaging. The Kodak brand is hardly a stranger to the packaging segment, as the company’s Flexographic Packaging Division has long been a supplier of flexo plates. However, when Kodak revealed its plans to sell the Flexographic Division last year, it was unknown what the company’s future presence in the packaging industry would be.
According to Patti Smith, VP of worldwide business development and marketing for Kodak EISD, the reasons behind Kodak selling its Flexographic Packaging Division at the height of its performance was directly tied to the company’s desire to invest in strategic growth areas – the EISD being among them. Smith explained that labels and packaging are expected to represent 16% of total inkjet volume by 2023, up from 6% in 2013, with even further growth projected.
“We look at packaging and labels as an expansion of our product line,” Smith said. “Another reason packaging is important to us is because it represents nearly one quarter of printed page volume. Just a small portion of that is printed digitally today, so there is a lot of opportunity to take some of that analog volume to digital.”
Smith explained that part of what makes Kodak stand out in the inkjet packaging space is that it provides a complete digital packaging platform. In addition to physical digital printing hardware, the EISD also provides the inkjet writing system, the digital front end and the materials science behind the nano particles and fluids in the ink.
But beyond its complete inkjet package printing ecosystem, a specific element of how Kodak jets its ink makes for even further differentiation in the industry. Though it was first introduced at drupa 2016, ULTRASTREAM, the fourth generation of Kodak’s continuous inkjet technology, was officially launched at the Summit in Verona. The difference between continuous inkjet and drop on demand – the other main form of inkjet printing – is that while drop on demand printing only generates and jets drops as needed, continuous inkjet technology utilizes a steady flow of drops from the inkjet nozzle. The drops that are needed for the image remain on the substrate, while the rest of the ink is recirculated back into the printer.
According to Douglas Bugner, Kodak EISD’s director of digital materials research and development, the advantages of Kodak’s water-based continuous inkjet technology are its ability to produce a wider array of vibrant colors, its cost-effectiveness, speed, and its substrate versatility.
“We call this the holy grail of being able to print on any substrate,” Bugner said.
With ULTRASTREAM, which provides 600x1,800 dpi at 150 mpm, Kodak plans to extend its reach into all packaging segments, and with Uteco being the first OEM to sign on for the technology, the flexible packaging segment will be the first to reap its benefits via the Sapphire EVO. However, Denofsky explained that the launch of ULTRASTREAM should not be considered a replacement for Kodak’s Stream technology, which powers its Prosper product line. Instead, he explained ULTRASTREAM will be used to expand Kodak’s footprint into new segments.
“ULTRASTREAM does not obsolete Stream in any way at all,” Denofsky said. “It expands our capabilities in terms of resolution and capabilities of width.”
In fact, the Summit also introduced Kodak’s new PROSPER Plus imprinting solutions, which are based on Stream technology. The four solutions that were introduced provide varying printing speeds and widths, and are designed specifically for multiple packaging segments. These inkjet modules can be mounted in-line on existing conventional presses or finishing lines, and are ideal for providing digitally printed components on a variety of packaging applications. And because of their water-based inks, can be used in applications where food safety or direct skin contact is a factor.
The Customer Experience
While the Summit provided industry analysts and media with the opportunity to learn about these new developments from Kodak and Uteco executives, it also presented a chance to hear from two users of Kodak’s inkjet technology, each from a different packaging segment.
Nuova Erreplast, a flexible packaging printer based near Naples, Italy, is the first converter to purchase a Sapphire EVO, with the second press slated for installation at Kinyosha in Japan. Domenico Raccioppoli, CEO of Nuova Erreplast, explained that the company’s desire in entering the digital printing realm was not due to a desire to replace its flexographic output, but rather to augment it with short run capabilities and provide customers with the ability to test packaging prior to moving it to flexo. Part of what drew Nuova Erreplast to the Sapphire EVO in particular, Racciopoli said, was the ability to customize the hybrid elements of the press, placing the flexo and varnishing stations where it made the most sense for the company’s specific jobs.
Representing the folding carton segment, Ed Zumbiel, president of Hebron, Ky.-based Zumbiel Digital, traveled to Verona to discuss his experience with the hybrid Kodak Prosper 6000S. Primarily serving the beverage industry, Zumbiel explained that the majority of his customers are large CPG companies that require packaging in significant volumes. When assessing the various digital options on the market, Zumbiel explained the Prosper 6000S platform, which combines inkjet and flexo printing, was the only option that checked all of the company’s necessary boxes.
“I love every digital machine I’ve seen,” Zumbiel said. “But we have to have the volume, quality and cost. Prosper satisfied all of those.”
Zumbiel explained that the machine has been up and running since May of 2018, and has been utilized to bring in new business, rather than serving as a platform to replace existing work. In year one, Zumbiel said the Prosper 6000S generated between $450,000 to $500,000 in carton sales, and for 2019, Zumbiel Digital has booked approximately $2 million worth of new business.
Because Zumbiel Digital is the first and only user of this technology serving the folding carton segment, Zumbiel said the company can go directly to brands and demonstrate the unique packaging output they can create on the Prosper. He said this has resulted in significant enthusiasm from customers when they realize the quality of the printing and its reasonable costs.
“With the Kodak PROSPER 6000S, we’ve found the more it runs, the better it runs,” Zumbiel said.
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