At Mercury Print Productions on June 30, from left: Antonio M. Perez, chairman and CEO, Eastman Kodak Co.; Christian Schamberger, vice president of operations, Mercury Print Productions; and John Place, president and CEO, Mercury Print Productions.

With the addition of a Kodak PROSPER 5000XL digital color inkjet press, declared John Place, president and CEO of Mercury Print Productions, last week, “we’ll play a transformative role in the whole printing industry.” On that visionary note, a red ribbon fell before a newly installed device that had already printed in excess of 20 million impressions and was well on its way, Place said, to producing many millions more.

The Rochester, N.Y. book and commercial printing company—representing, according to Place, “the largest four-color digital platform in the U.S.”—was the scene of a June 30 inaugural event that also gave Kodak an opportunity to herald its own entry into the market for high-volume digital inkjet presses. The PROSPER 5000XL was unveiled at IPEX last year, and now, said Antonio M. Perez, chairman and CEO, Eastman Kodak Co., “we have hundreds of people all over the world asking us to install one of these presses in their facility.”

At Mercury, the new inkjet press joins a digital equipment list that includes, among other assets, multiple iGen3 and iGen4 electrophotographic presses from Xerox and a roll-fed Indigo W7200 press from HP. The PROSPER 5000XL will become a mainstay of the company’s hard- and softcover book printing division, which offers digital on-demand printing for short-run books and conventional offset for long runs.

The installation of the PROSPER 5000XL, partially financed with a $250,000 capital grant from New York State, is expected to create 40 jobs as it helps Mercury to bring textbook work now produced in China back to the Empire State.

The nature of the book printing market, especially in the educational segment, is changing in favor of printers that are equipped to produce books digitally, said Christian Schamberger, Mercury’s vice president of operations.

Shrinking state education budgets, he explained, have constrained textbook purchasing, increasing the demand for just-in-time short runs. At the same time, stricter educational standards are driving interest in customized textbooks, creating another market opportunity for digital printing.

Today, with the advent of production inkjet technology, “the reach and scope of digital printing have grown tremendously,” Schamberger said. “No longer constrained by volume, digital printing is poised to have a long-standing impact on print as we know it.”

The installation of the PROSPER 5000XL was part of a nearly $4 million expansion that took place at Mercury from January to May of this year. Also acquired was a Muller Martini SigmaBinder perfect binder along with conveyors, stackers, and unwind / rewind roll units.

Operating at a maximum speed of 650 fpm, the full-color PROSPER 5000XL can print 4/4 in eight-, 12-, and 16-page signature formats up to 24.5" wide on coated, uncoated, and glossy papers. According to Kodak, its continuous-inkjet Stream technology brings offset-class print quality to variable-data and static digital output on a broad range of inkjet-optimized substrates.

Perez added that the PROSPER 5000XL also can print “at a very low cost—less than a cent per page.”

Place—the son of Mercury founder Valerie Mannix, who launched the company as a forms supplier from her basement in 1969—said that interest in buying the press arose about eight months ago when Kodak, a near neighbor in Rochester, gave him a preview of a prototype. At the time, Kodak was looking for a “showplace” location in the area as a potential installation site, he said.

The performance of the PROSPER 5000XL convinced him that Mercury should be that showplace. “We really believe that the Stream technology will get to commercial quality, and we’re a commercial printer,” he said.

The new press occupies center stage at Mercury’s 72,000-sq.-ft. book plant, one of three facilities the company has in Rochester. Twin finishing lines link it to the SigmaBinder and other near-line finishing equipment via bar code-reading “smart” conveyors. Near-line binding, explained Schamberger, eliminates the risk of press stoppage due to failure of in-line components. The redundant, 500-fpm lines operate at a combined speed well in excess of the top speed of the press—another bottleneck-eliminator.

“If we’re going to print this many impressions, we need efficient finishing,” Schamberger commented.

The press, in full operation since mid-June, racked up between 20 and 25 million impressions by the end of that month with several million pages still in backlog. Given that kind of momentum, Schamberger said, “we have high expectations for July.” According to Kodak, the duty cycle of the PROSPER 5000XL can be up to 120 million A4 or US letter pages per month.

Almost all of the output has consisted of book pages in full color. Covers are printed on one of the Xerox iGen4s. Having a high-volume inkjet option initially was expected to reduce the book division’s dependence on its toner-based systems, “but that hasn’t happened yet,” Place said.

To cope with the surge in book work, Place has temporarily reassigned some employees from Mercury’s commercial sheetfed operation (a business segment that he characterized as “steady” and growing at 3% to 5% per year). On June 30, all indications were that their help would be needed to keep up with the prodigious output of the new PROSPER 5000XL.

“This is definitely a monster machine,” said Place. “It’s going to produce a lot of books.”