Kodak is aiming to make large volume digital printing of packaging viable through its continuous inkjet technology, either the Prosper Stream technology or the higher definition Ultrastream that will come to market in 2019. Currently it has the same cachet as Landa – the promise of generation defining technology that will open new opportunities for print, but tantalisingly out of reach.
There are still 19 partners signed up at the early stage. These will get evaluation kits towards the end of this year involving enough print heads to assess single-colour or four-colour quality and appropriateness to application. This will include flexible packaging, label printing, carton print.
Kodak is also likely to mount the new print heads on the same transport as its Prosper 6000 presses that currently use the Stream print head. While this is not the same 600x1800dpi resolution as Ultrastream, it is faster and capable of standing alongside offset litho in most applications and on most litho papers.
Ultrastream has been designed from the outset as a printhead that can easily be implemented by OEM partners and as a unit cost rival to piezo drop on demand printheads. It is a simpler and smaller print head than Stream thanks to the way that droplets reach the substrate. Droplet formation is identical and ink supply the same, but where Stream uses air to deflect smaller 5pl droplets away from the paper and the larger combined droplet pairs that reach the paper, in Ultrastream an electrostatic charge is used to deflect unwanted droplets allowing small droplets to reach the substrate.
There they encounter Kodak's ink optimiser coating which freezes the droplet in position while subsequent drying forms a polymer lattice to trap the nano particulate pigments. This allows the technology to print on coated papers in commercial printing and on non porous materials used in packaging.
However, the first printers using the Ultrastream print head may turn out to be printing wood laminates, either by a printing press developer or by a converter. The opportunity is reducing the waste associated to printing large volumes on gravure presses, much of which is discarded before use and is subject to long lead times. Like ceramic tiles before it, inkjet can have a truly revolutionary impact on the industry supply chain.
KBA has developed an inkjet press for flooring laminates and EFI has announced that its Nozomi will be adapted to this market. This will be suited to floor laminates. The high resolution of the Ultrastream makes its suitable for laminates used in furniture: table tops, cupboards, beds and so on where close up inspection is a given.
The packaging market represents a bigger opportunity and the likes of Uteco and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries are among the announced early adopters. Uteco is close to Kodak having used print heads for imprinting and now in the Sapphire Evo flexible packaging press. The Italian company is taking orders for this machine ahead of delivery next year. The first will go to a company close to its Venice headquarters before the end of the year and a second will be shipped this year. These are using the Stream printheads.
The printheads are also in use on an adapted Prosper 6000 at Zubiel, a carton printer near Cincinnati. It has a standard reel stand followed by two flexo units, the four Stream heads of the Prosper press followed by five flexo units and semi-rotary die cutter or sheeter. The application is about printing multipack boxes for drink cans. These can be produced quickly without the set up cost of flexo for rapid response to link to an event perhaps, in volumes needed for a regional marketing campaign or as part of a social media driven promotional campaign. The company anticipated being able to print 30 million of these boxes a year, a far cry from existing digital packaging installations.
The Stream technology has a further foothold in packaging, producing inside of box promotional messages through mounting on a carton/gluer. The water based ink used by Stream is suitable for close to food applications and has been accepted by Nestlé as such.
However, expectations that Bobst would use the Kodak inkjet technology on a reelfed digital carton press have faded as the Swiss manufacturer appears to be rethinking its approach to digitally printed packaging.
The Uteco sapphire Evo uses Kodak's Prosper heads and will be available this year. The Italian manufacturer is also a partner for the Ultrastream print head that Kodak says is going to be a key part of its future in digital printing.
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