Wed February 21st
Will you pay for ai-gen...
With AI, ChatGPT and Language Models it becomes more and more difficult to differentiate human-made from AI - does AI content have value?
First, a disclaimer - I don't care whether the 520 is an S10P killer; it was mainly to get your attention. However, I will try answering the question at the end of this article, as I believe it may be valid to consider! The more critical question from the magnitude scale is whether the 520 is an Offset killer? That you may need to answer yourself after reading this article. But let's get started!
By Editor Morten B. Reitoft
A press that almost undoubtedly will get attention at Hunkeler Innovationdays is the new Kodak Prosper Ultra 520 Press. The machine uses the latest proprietary water-based continuous Inkjet ultrastream technology from Kodak, enabling speed on a wide range of materials without compromising speed and quality. Whereas other inkjet devices depend on drop-on-demand Inkjet, which essentially means that the ink is delivered when needed, the Kodak printheads are always wet and, therefore, 'always' ready to fire. This gives several advantages; for example, nozzles can't dry out, so checking for redundancy and nozzle failures is unnecessary. The downside is that the printer needs to be used a lot to keep the system optimal. The 520 is built to produce up to 60 million pages per month, and with that volume, this dramatically reduces the number of customers for which the 520 is the number one choice, however, and there is a however. The 520 is essentially a B2 press; whether you prefer to use the machine to print and finish ready-to-use applications, inline or nearline, or choose to place a cut-stacker and finish with your existing finishing sheet equipment, the 520 has capabilities, speed, and quality that can replace your offset machine. The Kodak Prosper Ultra 520 Press prints 150 meters per minute, which equals 12,950 B2 sheets per hour printed 4+4. Compared to the Landa S10P, the format is half, but the output per hour is twice. The Landa machine runs 3,250 B1 sheets an hour in perfection mode, which equals 6,500 B2 sheets, so the 520 is WAY faster, and though it has fewer colors, the 520 still claims to have a 95% larger gamut than SWOP.
Both machines use nano-ink (like any other inkjet device), but the pigment size is grained, whereas Landa uses a different technology. The result, however, is a very flat print with rich colors on all the types of paper I have seen. The Kodak Prosper 520 Ultra Press uses hardware screening technology, which I haven't seen on competitors. The stacks of computers and hard drives you often see on other high-speed inkjet printers are not needed on the 520 press. Another proven technology used by the 520 is the four Adphos NIR driers that dry the ink when printed. The NIR technology vaporizes the water from the ink fast without heating the paper. As the paper isn't dried out, the paper won't need re-moisturizing after print. Kodak and Adphos have worked together for years, and the NIR driers used on the 520 are developed exclusively for Kodak. Using NIR for drying the Kodak 520 press seems to have solved one of the most critical and essential parts of fast Inkjet: getting rid of the water as quickly as possible - and without warming up the paper. If you compare it to Landa, their solution is to ink on a heated belt that vaporizes the water before being transferred to the substrate. The idea resembles the process that made Indigo successful and seems logical and great. However, maybe this is one of the headaches that Landa is still working on, and not to forget; the heating can potentially influence the paper! By adding multiple dryers, Kodak has taken the same path as HP, which was also introduced on the new T-Series Advantage 2200, where you add up to three dryers depending on what types of applications you typically run.
In a recent interview with James Burbidge from Adphos on INKISH TV, he says that PSPs often retrofit existing machines with Adphos NIR solutions to optimize drying for the type of production they print the most.
Before I forget, I would like to mention a rather ingenious invention by Kodak. Most of you have probably seen a printhead and understand that the ink and the pigments need to be tiny to get out of what, most of all, looks like a computer chip. I saw what eventually became a printhead in a magnifying glass outside one of Kodaks's class 100 research labs. I learned that the printhead has a 'device' that creates a temperature difference forming the drop. With only a few degrees difference, the printhead can form the drop size in combination with temperature and frequency - impressive.
The footprint of the Kodak Prosper 520 Ultra Press is relatively compact, built on a compact metal frame developed to absorb kinetic energy. The machine is about 15 meters long and 7.3 meters wide. The paper transport seems robust. Still, as far as I understand, you can configure your 520 with winders/un-winders according to application, needs, and, as mentioned earlier, a decision on whether you want to finish online or offline.
I have mentioned media diversity a couple of times. The 520 can run coated, uncoated, offset, and synthetic/plastic substrates from 45 gsm to 270 gsm. Some substrates can be printed without pre-treatment, but to get the best result, you either buy pre-treated paper or add a coater to the setup enabling online pre-treating. This IS a differentiator from the Landa S10P, which doesn't require pre-treated paper. What I like about the 520 is, however, the flexibility you have. To fulfill your needs, you can add pre/post coaters, winders, un-winders, and inline binding equipment. Especially the coater I find essential, as the quality of the 520 easily delivers photobooks and other high ink-coverage printed products. If these should be post-coated, you can pick any coater that best serves your purpose. On the Landa, you can choose to have an inline coating unit. The coater Landa offers is a mercury-based UV coater, a technology that most are working their way away from - both because of the mercury lamps, the cost of replacing lamps, and because more and more customers are looking into LED-based UV curing due to high energy prices. However, the NIR dryers on the 520 probably consume a lot of energy as well :-(
So the Kodak Prosper 520 Ultra is a machine that looks great and has quite appealing media diversity, speed, and quality. When we visited Kodak yesterday, I asked both Randy Vandagriff and Jennifer Pennington whether it's now the time where digital Inkjet and take over the work from the offset - and the answer was both of them a large YES.
So, let's move on!
Pros and Cons vs. toner/offset/LandaNo equipment can easily replace any other technology. Most PSPs develop their business around the technology they can offer. No reason to provide variable print if you don't have digital capabilities, right?
If we start with offset, it's a mature technology that has been around for decades, and offset continues to develop at the points where digital has its advantages. Setup time on an offset press today is counted in seconds rather than minutes. With the quality of an offset press, the crossover between offset and digital seems still relatively low, which means that sometimes other measures need to be taken into consideration!
If you already own an efficient press and it fits your job mix, there might not be any reasons to change, but you have to consider where you believe the market will be in the future. Will customers demand even shorter print runs, and will they require print with variable data? Remember, variable data is not just about names, images, or anything like that, but also that a book, for example, has different pages, so 'variable' is also interesting when circulations get low.
This all depends on what kind of customers you have and what type of applications you produce. Where do you think the future will be for your company and customers? As offset presses develop, so do toner-based digital printers, and though we always talk about Inkjet and the lower operational cost, this still depends on volume. Hence, the time for toner-based printers is almost certainly not over any soon!
Your next press may, however, be an Inkjet device capable of printing the jobs you today print in offset. A machine like the 520 certainly has the quality, speed, and flexibility (with an asterisk) to be a viable alternative. Though I haven't seen either the acquisition- or operational cost, Kodak says the economics is attractive - but you will need to have the volume.
If you take your current job and replace them 1:1 with Inkjet, you will most likely not see a financial advantage. However, you will see increased productivity if you experience shorter and shorter print runs. You won't need to process plates; the setup is automated, and you won't need much if any, paper for setting up the machine and for repetitive jobs; all the settings from the previous jobs manage pretty much everything.
The real value in digital will require you to think differently. You will need to consider new business models, and you will have to think about what added value your new press offers! You will probably also need to re-organize your sales division, as the future of sales will change dramatically. You can't have order-pickers visiting customers for small orders. You will need to automate and integrate. Getting orders from APIs delivered by Ingram, Amazon, Cloudprinters, and others will change your business forever. You won't have any contact with your customer, and your business will need to be able to handle the production of one on a scale you have never earlier experienced. This IS a considerable change and has nothing to do with your potential investment! You will also have to consider how you can add value to print, as the composition of your profits will change.
If this sounds discouraging (to me, I find it intriguing), I understand, and it may be even more unfortunate for you; as I tell you, you will need to do this regardless of whether you invest in Inkjet. This is the future of printing—massive potential with a market even more significant than today but NOT like the current.
The market you know today will exist, but most likely on a much smaller scale. The companies successfully serving this segment can become extremely profitable if they do anything but the commodity!
For Inkjet, and maybe even the 520 in particular, vs. toner, yes, this is something to consider if you have the volume. The volume is essential, so if you have enough, a change will most likely give you significant savings - read profits - as Inkjet is cheaper than toner. In particular, for toner-based printers in B2 size, the time is to consider what's next.
Be aware the B2 market is becoming more crowded. All 52 cm/21-inch machines in the market are comparable to B2 printers, so the Canon Prostream, HP T-series, Ricoh 70000, and Z75, and if you look at the Indigo 100K and the upcoming Revoria B2 printer - there are many different machines to choose from - and all with various optimal performances and volume. 520 is probably at the top regarding productivity, and of course, a 2,500-sheets an-hour B2 toner-based machine won't replace a B2 offset press!
Then the elephant in the room. Is the Kodak Prosper 520 Ultra a Landa-killer? Before answering the question, let's look at the differences.
520 is web-based - which is easy for existing web-based printing companies. For cut-sheet printers, this is something that for sure will require further investments, but you will also get lower prices on paper.
Landa S10P is a cut-sheet printer, and though the paper is more expensive, it's easier changing papers often during the day, and you will have a paper path that resembles your offset machines.
The Landa S10P can be configured with 4-7 colors - and with seven colors, you can easily extend your color space up to 96% of all pantones. This is, in particular, great if you have many jobs with PMS colors, but also great if you have many jobs that essentially require an extended color gamut - it could be photobooks, posters, or anything that comes from RGB.
The Kodak Prosper 520 Ultra is a 4-color machine. According to Kodak, this still gives Prosper a beyond-SWOP color space and, again, according to Kodak. You even can add more colors in your configuration, adding up to 98% of the PMS color space, according to Kodak's Randy Vandagriff.
Paper format - as already mentioned, Landa prints B1 and Kodak B2. In packaging, a larger format is undeniably an advantage; I am not so sure about all other applications. If you print a magazine, you will get eight pages with every revelation, but to utilize the sheet, you will need great imposition and, afterward, time with the guillotines, and if you ask for odd pages, you rarely can fill up the sheet with jobs. Secondly, a larger page format requires more finishing steps, for example, extra foldings. When Canon released their i- and iX- series with a max format of B3, I was convinced it was too small, but I remember Canon's Hayco Van Gaal said that most printed pieces always end with a finished size of A3 or smaller - which I agree to. Therefore the speed and operational cost are probably still more important than the sheet size.
Then the technology. The Landa S10 and S10P are built on sturdy hardware platforms and use industry-standard Lambda printheads. The Lambda printheads use the DOD technology for its heads, as I described in the beginning, and jetting on a heated belt, can, according to various sources, lead to dried nozzles and, therefore, problems. We have speculated about this since some of the print samples we have seen are so-so in quality, with strange artifacts, misregistration, and other interesting issues. However, Landa does not give access to their machines - or even qualified communication about the rumors and issues with Nanography - so that independent specialists can check for themselves, and therefore, unfortunately, gives a lot of space to beliefs rather than facts. Landa's claim to fame is the ink and the heated belt. Built on several components acquired in the open market should, in my mind, have delivered a working platform that could deliver upon the promises Landa initially gave at drupa 2012/2016, which was speed (double what the machine provides currently). The technology was also supposed to disrupt the entire market, and quite a few competitors and PSPs were nervous about the market situation and potential when the technology was presented. Today, Landa continues to be a niche supplier with, according to Ralph Schlözer, about 30 machines in the market and an average print run of about 1 million prints a month +/-.
This number is staggeringly low compared to the performance expected of a Kodak Prosper 520 Ultra, which can run up to 60 million impressions per month. Kodak owns their printheads, built in-house on proprietary technology that has proved to deliver throughout the years in the Prosper machines. The drying technology after each print enables super registration, and as the paper isn't exposed to heat, the engine can run fast already now; Kodak has tested Ultrastream technology up to 120 cm width and can, therefore, quite easily build a B1 machine, if that is a market they find interesting. The DFE and the color-management system are owned by Kodak, whereas Landa utilizes Fiery technology.
The two technologies are not comparable besides the fact both use Inkjet. Still, the Kodak 520 was developed over a three-year life-cycle, uses NIR for drying, and is now ready to ship. In contrast, Landa is now an aging platform (11 years+) with conventional mercury-based UV (as an optional coating unit) and excessive use of heat to vaporize the water, with at least potential changes to the paper.
The Kodak Prosper 520 Ultra is an alternative to many printing technologies; the question is, of course, whether Kodak can bring the technology to market in scale with the right service level and what the responses are from competitors. The acquisition cost of the 520 can also be a limiting factor, and as I don't have any pricing details, it can be not easy to judge in a competitive matrix. However, the technology is great, the output excellent, and its ability to print on many types of substrates has water-based ink and can deliver an output that can be used for high-end applications such as magazines, books, photo books, and at lower operational cost than for example toner-based similar quality, it will have a market.
The Kodak Prosper 520 Ultra is ready for shipping NOW.
*The flexibility of a press is not only about the media diversity but also how easy changeovers are. There is, of course, no setup of jobs as this is automated, but when you enter web-based printing, changing paper takes a bit more time. You will want to minimize paper changing as much as you can! This is, of course, the same for all web-based printers!
With AI, ChatGPT and Language Models it becomes more and more difficult to differentiate human-made from AI - does AI content have value?
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