Somewhere, Johannes Gutenberg is smiling, along with modern engineers from Hewlett-Packard and Eastman Kodak. Granted, printing presses look a lot different today than they did at their dawning 567 years ago, but the bottom line still is putting ink (or toner) on paper, whether it’s analog or digital, offset or jetted. Larger scale inkjet web press platforms featuring 30-inch widths, first introduced by HP at Drupa 2008 nearly three years ago, are shaking up the printing world with breakthrough productivity for mass-market publishing and their ability to meet a range of publishers’ run-length needs—not to mention not-so-short-run, variable print direct mail applications.
Last spring at the Ipex show in the UK, Kodak debuted its slightly narrower (24.5 inches), faster (650 feet per minute) Prosper 5000XL Press, expressing its vision for “books that have never seen the inside of a warehouse” and “catalogs that don’t show every product …, just the products each customer wants to buy.” When you see the Prosper and HP’s T300 up close, their scale is striking. They’re big and tall, looking nothing like a digital press at all. And rising even higher is their potential.
Bertelsmann sub-unit Offset Paperback Manufacturers (OPM), with annual sales of approximately $350 million, says it is producing between 5,000 and 6,000 mass-market books per shift on a Prosper 1000 black-and-white perfecting inkjet web press. “Kodak Prosper at OPM has set a world record printing 2 million delivered pages in an eight-hour shift on a single digital press,” observed Technology Watch newsletter editor Henry Freedman at a November open house in Pennsylvania. “This qualifies Kodak’s accomplishment as an ‘industry-leading game changer’ … as the digital inkjet press market heats up.” And heat up it has, so much so that mega printer Consolidated Graphics (CGX), with 70 locations, thinks inkjet web supply-and-demand dynamics already are shifting in the book publishing industry. More on that later ….
Meanwhile, the Prosper 5000XL Press offers 4-over-4 perfected output on coated, uncoated or glossy stock. Featuring Kodak Stream printheads, the Prosper 5000XL offers up to a 175-line equivalent, a 54-inch maximum cutoff and a monthly duty cycle of 120 million impressions (216,000 letter iph). The Prosper 1000 is similar but with 133-line equivalent imaging. Freedman heaped praise on the 5000XL, with its 900-x-600-dpi resolution, at GRAPH EXPO 2010, where he encouraged me to check out printed samples and explained the “amazing” physics behind Kodak’s color inkjet web technology. “It runs at 3,600 digital ppm [pages per minute]—all variable,” he said on the show floor in Chicago. “That’s 7 billion droplets per second! You can’t do that with drop-on-demand [DOD] inkjet. You’d have to have many, many heads.” Kodak reports that Prosper inkjet head life is 1,000 hours—typical replacement is every 2.5 to 3 shifts (out of 70 per line) —and is expected to double by the end of this year.
Although inkjet web technology has been on the industry’s radar for 33 months, customers may need to be brought up to speed. Indeed, market education should be part of your selling strategy when it comes to these presses, advises Steve Wilson, VP of digital sales at CGX, which boasts a large digital footprint nationally and internationally. “There are customers who don’t understand the capabilities—and many who think this technology does not [yet] exist,” says business development director Diann Roffe, Wilson’s colleague at Consolidated Graphics, which installed the world’s second HP T300 some 18 months ago and purchased the unit in mid-2010 for its Frederic Printing facility in Denver. The HP T300 runs up to 156,000 letter-size iph and features 1200x600 dpi, thermal DOD printheads. The T200 model is a single-engine duplexing system with a 20.5-inch wide web, 1200x600 dpi resolution and runs up to 200 fpm in duplex mode. “We tell them they can produce a 250,000 run in five days instead of five weeks, and they look at us like we’re crazy.” A believer in multi-supplier support, CGX also has installed an InfoPrint 5000 web-fed inkjet press producing highly variable mortgage documents in the Frederick facility as well as a Kodak Prosper 5000XL, just last month, at its AGS plant in Maryland.