In June 2014 Kodak announced its next generation Kodak PROSPER 6000 series presses, currently the fastest production inkjet press in the market. For Kodak, this is a new milestone on a number of fronts. First of all, there were those who wrote them off before and during their bankruptcy proceedings, and this is a statement to those doubters that Kodak is here for the long term, and will continue to innovate. Additionally this ‘clean sheet’ design has apparently been in development for a while, so the chances are that they have other new developments in the pipeline as well.
The last time we looked at Kodak production inkjet offerings, I looked at its entire portfolio of Versamark and PROSPER presses. Since that time, like many other manufacturers, Kodak has tweaked its existing product offerings. Before the release, the PROSPER 5000XLi was its flagship color production inkjet platform. Its entire PROSPER line, which includes the 5000Xli color press, the monochrome PROSPER 1000, and the very successful PROSPER S print head offerings, have produced more than 40 billion pages to date. This new press platform takes PROSPER to a whole new level. As you can see from the image below, it even looks entirely different than previous PROSPER presses.
The real innovation in these new presses is the ‘clean sheet’ redesign of the transport that currently supports speeds of up to 1000 fpm on matte and uncoated papers. This is a significant increase over the 650 fpm limit of the PROSPER 5000Xli, and the transport is now finally poised to support the much higher speed potential of the Stream inkjet head technology.
The new PROSPER 6000 series comes in two base products, with both U and L space saving configuration options. The PROSPER 6000C is designed for commercial print applications with high ink coverage, and the PROSPER 6000P is designed for publishing applications like books and newspapers that typically use light weight papers and low to medium ink coverage. The new design looks more like a typical offset web press, with individual color units. This was done to take advantage of the many lessons learned in conventional web press development, and an easier transition from offset to inkjet for customers. In addition, the design has enabled Kodak to add enhanced drying into the platform, and provides easier service access. This new system includes air-cooled NIR (Near InfraRed) dryers and internal chillers for greater, and more energy efficient, drying. Kodak estimates that if you are printing at about 30% coverage, you are actually injecting up to 3 liters of water per minute onto the paper web. As we have previously outlined in past articles, if you are putting water on paper, you need to get it back out again as quickly as possible, and this system does just that.
The platform operates with a new tight web in and out design to support the increased speeds. The system includes Kodak IPS (Intelligent Print System), a camera-based system that scans, measures and compensates for shrinking, stretching, register, etc. It also detects imaging streaks and jet anomalies. Kodak has added a large diameter high grip, full width nip drive for better front to back registration, fixed position rollers, and air assisted turn bars for quicker changeovers. It supports paper widths from 8 in. to 25.5 in., and has an optional inline auto splicer to reduce downtime. While both PROSPER presses can print 4/4 or monochrome at speeds up to 1000 fpm on matte or uncoated paper, heavy weight glossy and silk stock should be printed at 650 fpm on the PROSPER 6000C to enable sufficient drying. In fact, the system was designed with multiple selectable paper paths to accommodate the needs of heavy coverage and ink drying as seen below:
As a result of this new transport design, as well as newly formulated nano pigment grind inks, the PROSPER 6000 now offers a greater color gamut, higher print contrast, and the ability to print on a much wider range of substrates. This includes uncoated, coated and glossy papers. Kodak has removed the pre-treat IOS (Image Optimizer Station) station from the base configuration since it couldn’t keep up with the new platform speeds. They still advise that pretreated inkjet papers will provide better quality imaging, although they feel that the combination of better imaging, faster drying, and the greater availability of pre-treated inkjet papers should address market needs. However, Kodak will offer an offline option if requirements demand it.
The Kodak Stream print technology has long been one of the shining stars in Kodak’s intellectual property portfolio. This new PROSPER 6000 series was redesigned to take advantage of the exceptionally fast Kodak CI (continuous inkjet) Stream inkjet technology. Kodak has not increased the printhead resolution beyond what was in the 5000Xli, but the newly formulated inks will create a higher print contrast and better looking image.
As a refresher, Kodak Stream uses MEMS technology to let the printheads deliver an accurate, predictable ink droplet. The benefit to using these heads over the Piezo heads used in some other DoD systems 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. Kodak also uses 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. 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 up to 600 x 600 dpi at speeds up to 3000 fpm, and while Kodak doesn’t publish the resolution specs on the PROSPER press, they claim it prints at the equivalent of up to 200 lpi.
The new PROSPER 6000 series uses the scalable Kodak 700 Print Manager DFE to drive it. 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. Currently it includes Adobe APPE 2.6, but will be upgraded to Adobe APPE 3.2 early next year, which will give it better and faster support for PDF/VT as well as much more efficient PDF processing.
The Kodak 700 Print Manager is one of the components of the Kodak Unified Workflow, which includes Kodak PRINERGY offering Rules Based Automation (RBA), previously covered in many of my workflow articles.
The PROSPER 6000C is projected to sell for approximately $3.6MM, while the 6000P will sell for approximately 3.2MM, but prices will vary based on configuration. Kodak has stated that there is no planned increase in either ink (currently the lowest cost in the market) or printhead refurbishment costs over its current pricing.
Kodak has now raised the bar in production inkjet presses. This new Kodak PROSPER 6000 series will continue to share the stage with the existing PROSPER and Versamark products, but we assume that there might be some thinning of the lines in the future. However, this new platform is an impressive design, and one that should help bring the company back into the game. There are currently two beta presses in the field, and the team has been learning a lot from these installations. Kodak anticipates disclosing the names of those sites before the end of June.
Now we are even more anxious to see what the other vendors will be announcing in this space. Stay tuned…