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Exclusive: Voices of drupa 2024

In this series, Alex Jahanbani, Editor-in-Chief at ME Printer, brings you exclusive, showfloor interviews with industry stalwarts representing some of the major exhibitors at drupa 2024, the world’s largest trade show of printing technologies.

In conversation with Chris Balls, VP Print, Eastman Kodak Company

How has KODAK evolved over the years? Can you give us a brief roundup of your showings at drupa?

KODAK is showing a wide range of many new products covering the whole industry, from digital, offset, workflow, plate, equipment, and consumables. The real focus of our booth here at drupa is the PROSPER ULTRA 520 press. In addition to that, we are also showcasing additional parts of the print system. We have a new KODAK OPTIMAX Pre-coater and the new KODAK Finishing Solutions. We have also introduced our new offset plate – the process-free SONORA Ultra plate – which has some significant advantages compared to the previous generation. We are also highlighting a new CTP at the show: Two days ago we introduced our KODAK MAGNUS Q3600 Titan VLF (very large format) platesetter, which has just started to sell. So when you look across the whole range of products and services for a printer, we really try to make sure that we are covering the whole range of potential requirements.

In addition to that, KODAK, in the last 20 years-plus, has really moved from a company that was film-focused to a company that is more print-focused. We still manufacture and sell film, specialty chemicals, we are now involved in manufacturing elements of electric vehicle batteries using our proven technology that we have from our long history. So KODAK is more than film, but also more than print. It’s a wide range of different technologies and products that we serve. But obviously here at drupa, we focus on print.

Chris Balls, VP Print, Eastman Kodak Company
Chris Balls, VP Print, Eastman Kodak Company

One concept of your approach is called One KODAK. How does this influence your product development and customer service?

One KODAK really means one face of KODAK to the customer. Whatever the customer’s needs are, we must have a common approach and a common philosophy of how we deal with those customers, a common approach how we work with them, the interface, the service process, and make sure we have the best method of giving solutions for every customer, irrespective of the distance they are in. For the future we will make sure that we are dealing with every customer in the same way.

Is the PROSPER ULTRA 520 press that you are showcasing here a typical digital printing machine or a press that targets a commercial offset printer?

The machinery that we have here now is really a bridge between offset and digital. The unique capability of this machine means that for the first time we have two offset capabilities of 200 lpi at full4 production speeds. So at speeds of 152 metres per minute we can print any type of image or ink coverage at the optimum quality at full speed. The 520 press could do that all day, and really create an opportunity to add the digital variable print requirements that really create the bridge between full offset or full digital. So it’s a very, very capable machine. Today we don’t just have a press but a full system that includes the optional KODAK OPTIMAX pre-coater and our new KODAK Finishing Solutions. So it’s a complete system. The inks that we have in the machine are all designed and KODAK manufactured sustainable water-based inks. We do offer our customers the complete solution.

Kodak@drupa 2024

There are many digital manufacturers now. There’s a lot of competition. So what really distinguishes this machine from the rest?

We have a whole range of presses, the PROSPER 7000, the 6000, and we got the 520. So if you want a more typical range of inkjet products, but if you need productivity, especially for the 7000, which is the fastest inkjet press in business available. If you really want something with a capability to deliver offset quality at good production speeds and efficiency and output, this is where the 520 press comes in, because it genuinely does give you the ability to print high-quality, high-resolution images in whatever ink coverage you want to at fast production speeds. So it’s the first press that really gives you high volume, high productivity, with high quality.

What are the advantages of OPTIMAX pre-coater for printers?

This is a real advantage for our printers, because for many inkjet requirements, to get good quality you got to have specialist papers. With the pre-coater that we have here, it has a reverse review process. It puts down a pre-coat layer manufactured by KODAK enables you to use a wide range of different papers, generally lower cost offset papers. It then gives you the ability to reach the same quality level as if you are using a specialist inkjet paper. So it saves money for the printer, gives more choice in terms of substrates, and enables to work at high quality in high speeds again on whatever papers you are using, from lighter substrates to the heavier substrates. So it gives a printer a much wider choices.

Kodak@drupa 2024

Digital print manufacturers are moving into packaging, what about KODAK?

Here at drupa, we are presenting the new PROSPER Print Bar, which enables packaging printers to expand their digital business without having to make a big financial investment. It can be integrated into offset, flexo, and gravure presses as well as packaging converting machines such as folder gluers. This innovation enables quality monochrome to CMYK printing with a seamless width of up to 315 mm with preconfigured solutions, or wider with custom configurations With the PROSPER Print Bar, printers can implement personalization or versioning of packaging or connected, smart packaging applications to foster consumer engagement and drive brands’ success.

What about KODAK’s finishing solutions, because one of the bottlenecks in the printing system has been finishing?

About a year ago we acquired a company in the US called Graphic Systems Services Inc. (GSS). They have for a many, many years been a provider and manufacturer of finishing systems for the printing industry. So we have inherited their portfolio and their capability. GSS have that full capability, like cutting, folding, perforating, whatever you need to do, and they are providing that capability for us. These versatile, fully customizable devices establish Kodak as a full-service provider of integrated webfed finishing solutions for high-speed inkjet workflows.

What’s your strategy regarding sustainability?

A purely process-free world is where we would like to be. There are still a lot of processed offset plates out there, but we are heavily focused on process-free technologies. When you look at our inkjet inks, they’re all water-based inks. In addition to that, when you look at the design of our equipment, they’re long lasting. Presses like our 5000 or 6000 have been there for a long, long time. Our presses are built to last for a long time. Regarding our printheads, all of them can be recycled. They can be refurbished to be reused in the pres or imprinting solution. In environmental terms, we try to reduce waste to the maximum.

Kodak@drupa 2024

Let’s discuss the significance of the Middle East market. While it may not be as large as the markets in the US or Europe, how crucial is it in terms of potential growth and importance?

The Middle East market holds considerable significance for us, despite its size being smaller compared to the US or European markets. We have established relationships with several key customers in the region, which underscores its importance to Kodak.

More importantly we see substantial growth opportunities in the Middle East. We value the potential for expansion and the strategic importance of the region. Our approach is not solely focused on the current size of the market, but rather the potential for future growth and the opportunities it presents.

Whether it’s a customer in the Middle East or Europe, what matters to us is the opportunity to grow and strengthen our presence. The Middle East offers a unique landscape for development, and we are committed to leveraging this potential to the fullest.

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