Many people don’t think of Kodak as one of the production inkjet pioneers, while in fact Kodak’s inkjet roots date back to the 1970’s. In 1983 Kodak acquired Mead Digital Systems, founded in 1972, which introduced its first commercially available inkjet product in 1976. Kodak initially acquired the company as a wholly owned subsidiary then fully merged it as Diconix, introducing the first portable inkjet printer in 1984. In 1993, Diconix was acquired by Scitex, who further developed the technology and launched two Versamark production inkjet products in 2001. Kodak reacquired Scitex Digital Printing in 2004 and never looked back.
However, Kodak’s involvement in production inkjet didn’t stop there. While the Versamark technology and product line continues to evolve, in 2009 Kodak introduced new Stream inkjet technology along with two new lines of Prosper production inkjet products to carry them into the future.
A primer on Kodak Inkjet technologies
Since Kodak has different inkjet technologies, let’s take a look at each of them.
The Versamark printers really fall into three categories. The older Versamarks that use continuous inkjet technology, which utilizes 4.25” and 9” heads that can print at 300 x 300 dpi at 1000 ft./min or 300 x 600 dpi at 500 ft./min. It also now includes the redesigned VL and SED series, which uses Piezo Electric Drop on Demand (DoD) head technology. This article focuses on the VL and SED series since it is the latest technology.
The new printing head systems use a piezoelectric material in an ink-filled chamber behind each nozzle instead of a heating element. When voltage is applied, the piezoelectric crystal vibrates, which generates a pressure pulse in the fluid forcing a droplet of ink from the nozzle. Piezoelectric (also called Piezo) inkjet enables a wider variety of inks than thermal inkjet, as there is no requirement for a volatile component and little issue with ink residue buildup. On the other hand, the print heads are more expensive to manufacture due to the use of the piezoelectric material. The drop-on-demand process uses software that directs the heads to apply between zero to eight droplets of ink per printing pixel, only where needed. It controls the number of drops fired to create each pixel, and uses arrays of multiple inkjets to image the page. Each printhead module is comprised of 800 nozzles and is 2/3” wide. There are 29 individual modules stitched together making 23,200 nozzles available across the 18.6 inch print width. Each printhead array can print two colors at a speed of 250 ft/min. The new series heads have 800 jets in each and can produce print resolutions of either 600 x 360 dpi or 600 x 600 dpi, depending on productivity requirements.
These printers use water based inks, offered as both dye or pigment based. The dye-based inks are less expensive, but the pigment-based ink has a better fade resistance, water fastness and a higher density, so the choice of use is application specific. Since both of the ink offerings are water based, it does mean that the substrate needs to be inkjet compatible to allow the ink to bond to the surface of the substrate, and not be absorbed through it. Kodak offers a wide variety of inks, including: Process, Spot, MICR and Security inks for different applications.
The heads on Prosper devices are based on the new Kodak Stream inkjet technology. This was developed using Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS) technology, as are the HP heads we discussed in the previous article. MEMS is based on the fascinating science of micro fabrication of miniaturized mechanical and electromechanical devices. Using this type of miniaturization, you can develop systems that can do almost anything with an extremely small footprint. Stream uses an orifice plate that integrates mechanical elements and electronics on a common piece of silicon. It should be noted that there are many different implementations of printing heads using MEMS technology in the marketplace, and we expect to cover most of them and their differences during the course of this series.
The MEMS technology lets the Stream printheads deliver an accurate, predictable ink droplet. The benefit to using these heads over the Piezo heads used in Versamark is much better control over the size and accurate placement of each of those drops. By applying a regular pulse to heaters surrounding each of the nozzles in the printhead, the ink is stimulated into breaking into fine droplets. The nozzles fire a continuous stream of ink very fast, at high pressure, allowing the heads to be placed further from the substrate, supporting a wider range of media thicknesses. They also use air deflection to direct the non-printing drops into troughs for recycling and reuse.
With DoD systems, the drop generation and print drop frequency are the same. However, with continuous inkjet, there is a difference between the drop generation frequency and print drop frequency. Stream continuously generates drops up to 480,000 drops per second. However, they currently use a print drop frequency of 120,000 drops per second to enable them to fully control the output quality. There are 2,540 nozzles in each 4.25 inch head, and the array consists of 6 heads staggered across the 24.8” print width. This translates into 15,240 nozzles with 600 nozzles per inch spaced across the print width. Regular head cleaning should provide for hundreds to thousands of hours of print reliability. If the heads can’t be cleaned, they are refurbished by Kodak. Kodak currently has two adaptations of the Stream head: The S-series prints at 600 x 600 dpi at speeds up to 1000 ft/min, and while Kodak doesn’t publish the resolution specs on the Prosper press, they claim it prints at the equivalent of 175 lpi at speeds up to 650 ft/min.
Kodak developed patented inks especially for Stream Inkjet Technology. They are manufactured using a micro media milling technology. The Nano particulate (10 – 60 nm median particle size), pigment-based inks also include polymeric dispersants to enhance image permanence, water resistance, and reliability. The inks have an exceptionally wide gamut, claimed to be 35% larger than a comparable 175-line offset printing on coated stock. The water based ink offerings are currently pigmented process inks. Additionally they new offer a the Prosper Image Optimizer Station, which is an integrated flood based pre-coating station to allow the user a much wider selection of running media.
The Press Transports
Versamark VL and SED
These roll fed presses have a modular design and can be customized and scaled. For example, you could start with a narrow-width monochrome press and then incrementally upgrade to a wider width higher speed press supporting up to 5 colors inline as your business requirements change. They were designed with a small foot print and relatively short paper path to minimize setup and operating waste. The maximum web width is 20.5” with a maximum print width of 18.67”. The presses can be configured to print simplex or duplex with the addition of second print engine tower, and there is an inline infrared dryer to make sure the print is dry. The VL can print at speeds ranging from 246 ft/min to 492 ft/min depending on the head configuration, and how they are used.
The 8 new SED presses are available in narrow-web and wide-web configurations. They print at speeds ranging from 246 ft/min to 410 ft/min, and can be configured to print up to 5 colors. Interestingly, there is no reduction in speed as colors are added or configurations are changed from narrow to wide format.
The presses run a complement of inkjet-treated and coated papers from 60 – 160 gsm, including newsprint. There are also optional selective punching and perfing options available, as well as an in-line MICR module. Kodak designed the presses with an open architecture to support third-party finishing options, inline or offline.
As mentioned earlier, there are two different Prosper product lines. The Prosper ‘S’ line is an imprinting system that can be installed on an existing web offset printing press. This gives you the benefits of variable data without the need to purchase a completely new press. It is offered in multiple configurations. The S10 runs at 1000 ft/min, while the S20 runs at 2000 ft/minat 600 x 300 dpi. They both can be configured to include up to 12 print stations and 24 printheads to address your individual requirements.
There are two versions of the Prosper Press. The Prosper 1000 is a monochrome perfecting press, and the 5000XL is a full-color perfecting press. The 1000 can be upgraded to a 5000XL as your requirements change. Since the basic transports of the two presses are the same, the differences are found in color capabilities. They share a print width of up to 24.5”, print at speeds up to 650 ft/min., and have a variable cutoff of up to 54”. The duty cycle is 90 million letter size pages/month. They include an adphos modular inline Near-Infrared (NIR) drying technology to enable the speeds and duplexing, while using less energy.
The Prosper 1000 supports printing on uncoated free sheets, and uncoated groundwood papers from 45 – 175 gsm, while the Prosper 5000XL supports uncoated free sheets and matte coated and pre-treated glossy coated papers from 45 – 300gsm. They both support roll widths of 8” – 25.5”. The Prosper press supports Kodak and third-party pre- and post- processing and finishing options.
Kodak Front Ends
The Kodak 700 Print Manager drives both the Versamark VL and Prosper Press platforms. As the presses are scalable, so are the front end configurations. In addition to the Print Manager, the Versamark uses either the CS300 or C410 system controller, depending on configuration. The minimum configuration for the Prosper press also includes 1 control server and 2 process servers per color. So the minimum configuration of the full color 5000XL is 1 control server and 8 print process servers. As we see in almost all of the production inkjet offerings in the marketplace, you need a lot of horsepower to feed these types of devices at press speed. The 700 accepts all of the necessary file formats including AFP, IPDS, IJPDS, PDF, PS, PPML, VPS, and supports JDF and JMF control and communication.
Putting it to use
In order for you to remain competitive, Kodak offers a choice of either an all inclusive plan or ala carte offerings. Your primary operating costs are user replaceable consumables. These include print jetting modules and ink. Additionally, for the Prosper presses you need press storage solution and replenisher fluid. This, combined with the automation of production inkjet presses, allows production inkjet technology to be a very competitive alternative to offset for many applications.
Versamark presses have a long history of supporting full-color transactional documents, direct mail, etc. The Prosper 1000 has found a niche in book production, and Prosper 5000XL users have been finding real benefit in using these presses for book production and direct mail. I have also had conversations with some who are looking at using it for targeted newspaper production. Individual users have found their own benefits to using the production inkjet technology, for example:
Fenske Media, a direct mail marketing company in South Dakota, has an assortment of Versamarks and recently installed a 5000XL to further enhance production capabilities. “The new capabilities, including the use of glossy paper, should help drive higher rates of return and increase revenues for our customers,” according to Dave Fenske, Partner, Fenske Media.
Late last year, I had an opportunity to visit Offset Paperback Manufacturers (OPM), of the Arvato Print Division of Bertelsmann AG to see their new 5000XL on demand book line. Mitch Weiss, VP of Sales at Arvato, said, “We see this line as a key to our production capabilities to meet the new market requirements for short run book production.”
In the next article, I will continue the pre-drupa education by looking at the Xerox production inkjet offerings and applications. In each subsequent article we will look at a different vendor’s offerings.