Commentary & Analysis
Determined to “Prosper” in Digital Print, AGS Turns to Kodak Inkjet Web Press
The centerpiece of digital production at AGS Print & Marketing Communications is an inkjet web press with a combination of capabilities that the president of the company calls “marketing’s Holy Grail” for print.
By Patrick Henry
Published: September 9, 2013
Katie Kriemelmeyer has seen and helped to foster a great deal of progress at AGS Print & Marketing Communications, a Consolidated Graphics company, since she joined AGS in 1996. President of AGS since 2011, she continues to expand the company’s traditional strengths in turning digital data into printed product—but with tools at her disposal that are a far cry from what was in use at AGS’s founding 38 years ago.
Her current centerpiece of digital production is a color inkjet web press from Kodak, the Prosper 5000XLi. Following beta testing, the device went into full operation at AGS in July 2011, a few months before Kriemelmeyer stepped into the president’s job.
Introduced at Ipex 2010, the Prosper 5000XLi is built around Kodak’s Stream inkjet technology. Nanoparticulate, pigment-based, aqueous inks, uniform drop size, and precision drop placement are the key characteristics of Stream, a continuous inkjet process that rivals offset, according to Kodak, in its print quality and range of applications.
To Kriemelmeyer, the ability of her Stream-based Prosper 5000XLi to “utilize ink in a different way” means that she can expect whatever she runs on it to be produced at “excellent quality”—and with the enhancement of variable-data output if the job calls for it.
Historically a book printer for associations and other not-for-profit customers, AGS now also produces catalogs, coupons, directories, and, as Kriemelmeyer puts it, “anything that’s data to pages.” Work in all of these categories is being shifted from other platforms to the Prosper 5000XLi web press, which feeds near-line systems for plow folding, signature cutting, saddle-stitching, and other finishing operations.
Thanks to its high-speed output and its tight integration with postpress, “this press produces in one day what 26 cut-sheet digital presses can turn out,” boasts the AGS web site. Kriemelmeyer adds that digital inkjet web is more cost-effective than cut-sheet digital printing. But, the thing that most impresses her is what the press enables her customers do with direct mail and other forms of promotional printing that take on a new dimension when they are personalized.
Consider coupons, says Kriemelmeyer, a self-professed “geek” about the potential of 1:1 marketing in print. Instead of just being generic “sheets in a #10 envelope,” coupons now can be tailored to individual recipients in ways that motivate shoppers to redeem them. She notes that the marketing allowances retailers get from consumer packaged goods manufacturers can be used to fund couponing campaigns that maximize in-store spending while also helping to reinforce brand loyalty.
Nothing like this would be possible, says Kriemelmeyer, without a press capable of printing variable-data output cost-effectively on a large scale: a combination of virtues that she calls “marketing’s Holy Grail” for print. She believes that she has found it in the Prosper 5000XLi, which she says can print with full variability “at near-offset prices.” Running jobs on the Prosper 5000XLi, she says, “we can paint the whole sheet with variable”—an option that didn’t cost-effectively exist before the advent of digital web presses.
Word about what the press can do is getting around—not least of all to the parent company. In 1999 AGS, then an employee-owned business, was acquired by Consolidated Graphics (CGX), a network of 70 printing companies in 27 states and Toronto, Canada; Prague, Czech Republic; and Gero, Japan. AGS sometimes shares its Prosper 5000XLi with other CGX plants by running work for them on it. To better to stay abreast of demand from network partners and customers, Kriemelmeyer upgraded the platform to from XL to XLi capability last year.
Equipped with an “Intelligent Print System” that monitors and automatically adjusts the press during production runs, the Prosper 5000XLi configuration also features advancements in paper handling and transport. These improvements, says Kriemelmeyer, make it possible to run certain kinds of stock through the press faster than its top-rated speed of 650 fpm.
According to Kriemelmeyer, AGS is unique among Prosper owners in using the press to print books and variable projects. Combining high-end digital printing with automated finishing lets AGS expand the definition of book printing to include new applications like variable pagination, where page counts can be different from unit to unit within the same batch of books.
To oversee these complex workflows, AGS has implemented a system called VIVA (vision integrity verification automation). Using cameras and other inspection tools, VIVA tracks production from job setup through invoicing and delivery. Continuous monitoring assures that book blocks get the correct covers and ISBNs and that the integrity of all data-driven projects is protected.
Kriemelmeyer says that for most of its 38 years as a company that specialized in single- and two-color book production, AGS didn’t think of itself as a color printer and didn’t promote itself as one. That began to change with cut-sheet color printing on Xerox iGen3s. The identification with color became complete with the installation of the Prosper 5000XLi, a full-color press that offers 4/4 perfecting on coated, uncoated, and glossy papers.
Kriemelmeyer knows that as an early adopter of a press that has been on the market for less than three years, AGS has a learning curve to master as it seeks to optimize the performance and the ROI of its Prosper 5000XLi. She points out, however, that when it comes to digital web printing with inkjet, “everybody is trying to figure out how it works best”: the press and finishing equipment manufacturers, the paper mills, and her competition.
She found that one way to ease the Prosper 5000XLi into the fold was to assign offset press operators to run it. People with conventional press experience, she says, are used to tweaking and finessing printing equipment to get the best results from it—skills that came in handy in bringing the Prosper 5000XLi up to its full potential.
As a machine with a duty cycle of up to 90 million A4- or letter-sized pages per month, the Prosper 5000XLi is a hungry press that needs continuous volumes of work in order to be profitably utilized. Kriemelmeyer has risen to this challenge by organizing a consultative selling program aimed at acquainting customers with everything that Prosper and Stream technologies can do for them.
Delivering the message effectively, she says, meant that “we had to reconfigure how we sell.” The payoff, however, seems to be within reach.
Kriemelmeyer says now that AGS—with plenty of help from Kodak—has gained better insight into what the Prosper 5000XLi can do, “the press has really come into its own” as the inkjet solution the company had been looking for.
Now, she says, whenever the press goes into production, “we’re achieving things that truly are remarkable.”