15 June 2020 Digital Printing Technologies

Kodak returns to presses with inkjet Ultra 520

Kodak has revealed details of the Prosper Ultra 520, a version of its inkjet press running with the high resolution Ultrastream heads and targeting commercial print markets.

Kodak executive chairman Jim Continenza has promised to “double down on digital” and the new Prosper Ultra C520 is the first proof of this commitment.

The press is a continuous feed inkjet press running at 150m/min on a 20in web using Kodak's Ultrastream printheads. Under its previous CEO, Kodak had wound back development of inkjet and especially production of inkjet presses. The division was put up for sale. Now Kodak has shifted up the gears, making inkjet central to its future, and this is the first new inkjet press since the change in policy.

The new press uses the Ultrastream continuous inkjet technology that was introduced at Drupa four years ago as a higher resolution development of the Stream technology used in the Prosper presses. Like those machines, the new press comes in two versions, one designated Ultra P520 for publishing applications with lower ink coverage requirements and Ultra C520 for commercial print applications with higher ink coverage and fitted with the additional drying to cope with this on standard offset papers.

The commercial version has four drying units and the publishing machine has two NIR units per press. Both are rated to print up to 60 million A4 pages a month and are cost effective at less than half this, says Kodak, even as few as 10-12 million pages a month.

Both print with the 600x1800dpi resolution Ultrastream printhead which fires water based inks on all media that has been coated using the inline coating module. The Ultra C520 will print at full speed on paper from 45-270gsm; the P520 on 45-160gsm, though at heavier weights this version may need to slow down.

Kodak has called on its expertise in materials science as well as colour management, prepress and workflow to build the complete solution. Other options include post print coating, either aqueous or UV, and a flying splicer for the unwind and sheeter.

The latter option starts to make the technology attractive to litho printers wanting to move into inkjet as a more productive digital print technology than cutsheet toner, without reducing quality or being limited in paper choice. Quality is equivalent to 200lpi litho print on standard coated and uncoated papers, Kodak says."The quality is virtually indistinguishable from offset," says Continenza. The colour gamut is a claimed 95% larger than SWOP, used in US web offset printing so not directly relatable to Fogra profiles.

The total cost of ownership is kept low through the price of the inks and Kodak's experience with previous generations of the continuous inkjet technology. For applications requiring heavy ink coverage, the cost of ownership will lower than rival inkjet machines, assuming they can match this coverage. "We will be extremely competitive on a running costs basis," says VP sales Jeff Zellmer.

Kodak controls every aspect of the machine and consumables allowing it to manage price. The use of very small 3.7pl droplets using nano pigments means a very thin layer of ink, which delivers a brighter finish with less ink used. And this also means that less water reaches the paper and “we don’t have any paper cockling issues as a result of excess water” the company says. Prosper uses 9pl drops which provides extra speed, but a potential loss of edge definition.

The continuous inkjet technology is also better for keeping nozzles open because ink is constantly flowing, meaning that the press does not need to be stopped to clean the heads at regular intervals, nor does in need to fire nozzles at intervals to keep them open resulting in colour bars across the web or visible sputtering.

Ultrastream is a simpler technology to that in Stream printheads used in the first generation of Prosper machines. That uses a stream of air to deflect unwanted droplets away from the target with different sized droplets formed through a heated accentuator. This accentuate remains, but unwanted ink droplets are deflected through charge plates, the approach used in the earlier Versamark series of machines. The advantage is that Ultrastream is simpler to build with fewer parts and should prove to be more reliable.

The press design has been changed from Prosper. The Ultrastream 520 is around half the length at 15 metres long and less than 7.5 metres wide. The NIR drying unit is installed immediately after each four colour print section rather than in two locations on the initial Prosper. These presses are still available and offer speeds up to 300m/minut for higher volume applications in transactional, direct mail or newspapers.

The first beta site will receive its Ultra 520 at the end of the year. Kodak has been talking with both new and existing customers, initially to drawn up the performance criteria needed and latterly to decide on the location for the first machine. The sales book is open for machines to be installed in 2021 and will carry a price tag of around $2 million.

Open interfaces enable the new press to connect to third party applications whether in digital workflow and MIS or to inline or near line finishing. Kodak Prinergy will be an obvious connection in one direction, to Hunkeler or Tecnau in the other.

The Ultrastream technology is also at the heart of the Uteco Sapphire Evo W press for flexible packaging with other OEM customers exploring the technology for seven colour printing. And Kodak will be developing more machines around what is a core technology where it has advantages. Obvious configurations include a single sided version with sheeter for carton and sheetfed versions for cartonboard or corrugated print.

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The Ultra 520 is a new digital press from Kodak using Ultrastream printheads. It marks a return to developing and sales of printing presses under executive chairman Jim Continenza who reversed an earlier decision to sell Kodak's inkjet division. The press is aimed at commercial printers wanting to move into inkjet printing with a cost effective machine that does not compromise on colour quality, says Kodak.

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