Kern Drives Growth and Cuts Costs with Kodak Prosper S10 Imprinting Systems

Kern GmbH is enjoying strong growth and lower operating costs after investing in leading inkjet and digital printing technologies from Kodak. The company has deployed six Kodak Prosper S10 Imprinting Systems in a unique finishing line, and a new Kodak NexPress SX3300 Digital Production Color Press with the optional oblong-size feeder.

Kern is one of the most innovative companies in Germany’s graphic arts industry, and employs 43 staff. The full-service provider, based in Bexbach in the Saarland, is expanding despite the economic climate, and has recently extended its premises.            

A cornerstone of Kern’s success is its commitment to investing in advanced production technologies. The company produces a range of collateral and commercial work, but predominantly direct marketing products. “We started out as a traditional commercial printer, but now most of our sales come from direct marketing and variable data printing,” says André Kern, Managing Partner. “We’re very strong in finishing, addressing and personalization, and are often tasked with finding solutions for tricky direct-mail products.”

Kern produces mailings and self-mailers in runs between 10,000 and one million copies. The company counts among its clientele major mobile telephone and telecommunication providers, car companies, consumer goods manufacturers, tourism operators, financial service providers and insurance firms.

In the past, customers’ exacting quality requirements meant that printing and finishing the mailings involved at least a three-stage process. The static content was preprinted in color in sheet-fed offset. This was followed by imprinting the variable, monochrome black content on laser printing systems, before conversion to the finished direct mailers on various finishing machines.

“For some time we’d been looking into how we could meet our customers’ stringent quality standards with an inkjet system that offers low operating costs,” continues Kern. “We ran trials with simple inkjet heads from another manufacturer, but they didn’t deliver the quality and resistance we hoped for.”     

Flexibility is king

Kern was impressed when it saw samples produced with the Kodak Prosper S-Series Imprinting Systems. It was clear that the hybrid digital product line using KODAK Steam Inkjet Technology could deliver requisite quality and productivity and produce cost-effective personalization on a wide range of papers.

Kodak Prosper S10 Imprinting Systems use pigment-based ink and print at a resolution of 600 x 600dpi. Kern uses the six systems for variable data printing in a one-of-a-kind mailing machine designed for double-sided personalization and complete, rationalized finishing of self-mailers in one pass.

Kern has named the system the Perfector-Flexomailer because it offers remarkable flexibility in terms of formats, the paper types that can be used, and inline finishing functions. Sheets up to 700 x 1,000 mm can be processed on the system, ensuring compatibility with the existing offset presses.

When the new finishing line was installed in May 2010, three of the Prosper S10 Imprinting Systems were integrated into the line for addressing and customizing the products. A further three Prosper S10 systems followed later in the year. The imprinting systems are supplied with ink from 20-liter cubitainers, and are controlled by two Kodak CS410 System Controllers.

Supersonic jetting—perfect results

Three KODAK Prosper S10 Imprinting Systems are arranged on each of two vacuum feed tables. These each offer a print width of 105.6mm, and can be shifted laterally on crossbars to be positioned for the various jobs.

In variable imprinting, the mailings run on the vacuum belts under the PROSPER S10 systems, and immediately afterwards run under IR belt dryers, the output of which is adjusted according to the paper stock. The system reaches speeds of up to 180 m/min, depending on the inline processing functions used—way under the Prosper S10 systems’ maximum speed of 305 m/min.            

After variable printing on the front, the sheet or product is turned on a roller table with an alignment rail for accurate imprinting on the rear. As well as variable data printing, the finishing line offers a range of inline processing options, such as folding in several buckle fold units, attaching inserts, cyclic perforation, cyclic cutting and gluing with cold glue and fugitive hot glue.

One of the main reasons behind Kern’s decision to invest in the Prosper S10 Imprinting Systems was the solution’s ability to handle a wide variety of uncoated, coated and glossy substrates. This is because the company’s variable imprinting and personalization applications call for the most diverse materials—from 60g NCR carbonless copy paper to uncoated offset paper to art paper weighing 300g/m² or more.

The PROSPER S10 Imprinting Systems also help preserve an operation’s investment in legacy offset presses, allowing this equipment to be enhanced with variable data capabilities and an expanded range of applications and value-added services. 

André Kern affirms that the Prosper S10 Imprinting Systems deliver print quality equal to laser printing, “With the inkjet systems, the corresponding areas in the offset image don’t have to be left completely blank for imprinting. The whole thing also works on light tints with a total ink coverage of up to about 50 percent.”

Personalization—five times higher productivity, almost half the cost

Inkjet customization affords Kern a variety of application advantages and time savings compared with imprinting on laser printing systems. “Because the laser systems use heat fixing, we had to print the bulk offset shells with thermostable inks—and to do that we had to do a complete ink change on our sheet-fed offset presses,” explains André Kern. “We could use very little spray powder in offset printing, which was really difficult, depending on the subject. And the preprints always had to rest for 72 hours so they could dry thoroughly before being personalized.”

“In contrast, the Prosper S10 Imprinting Systems allow us to work with our standard offset ink set. This saves us the time and effort of changing the ink on the offset presses, and means we’re not restricted when it comes to using the spray powder. And being able to use standard offset inks means we can start the finishing work on our new mailing machine after just eight hours.”

The company is also enjoying a significant productivity boost. “We now manage around 200,000 fully finished mailings per day—with laser imprinting, we could produce up to 40,000 items on a good day. We’ve virtually halved our personalization costs with the Prosper S10 Imprinting Systems,” notes Kern.

Additional color flexibility

A new Kodak NexPress SX3300 Digital Production Color Press has also enhanced Kern’s production facilities for mailing production and other tasks. The new long-sheet option was added to the system in July 2011. The fifth imaging unit of the digital press is used for dimensional printing and, in conjunction with the Kodak NexPress Glossing Unit, for brilliant gloss coating of the color prints.

André Kern believes the NexPress SX Press has a big role to play in the company’s future, “The system has enabled us to round off our run capabilities in variable and static printing at the lower end of the scale.

Runs too short for hybrid production with the Prosper S10 Systems can be printed in their entirety in a single pass on the NexPress SX Press. We’re also able to produce quickly and economically short-run books or coffee-table books, dummies and small reprints.”

The long sheet option, which enables the press to print sheets with a format of up to 356 x 660 mm, offers Kern the greatest possible latitude, including for producing classic 6-page A4 products.

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