Printing is in transition from an analogue craft and labour based activity to a digital data based business, different parts of it are moving at different rates, but Kodak believes that the economics are irresistible, and it is only a matter of time before digital increases its influence and span in printing. Having come to this conclusion the company then spent US$3bn, an undeniably massive sum, and possibly more than any company has spent before, on building itself a graphic arts business.
The company began relatively quietly, buying the Encad digital inkjet printing solutions developer, then it built on its inkjet base with the acquisition of Scitex Digital Printing, now known as Kodak Versamark. Then a year ago it bought the 50 per cent of NexPress it didn’t own, from development partner Heidelberg. At the beginning of this year it bought the 50 per cent of Kodak Polychrome Graphics it didn’t own, then came the news a couple of weeks later that it had spent US$980m on Creo, a deal it had been negotiating for some months, and which may prove to be the masterstroke in Kodak’s graphic arts ambitions, for it at once delivered 25,000 customers worldwide, it provided 7000 CTP customers for the plates business, and it brought on board some of the world’s leading technology developers. It also provided Kodak with a host of products to add to its portfolio, with the result that the company says it has the widest range of solutions available.
Andre Boers, director digital business development Asia Pacific for Kodak Polychrome Graphics says, “Having the broadest range of products is a real benefit to our customers. This is because not only are we able to provide an excellent solution to the need they have, but customers are increasingly looking to have technology partners, someone who can effectively manage the whole area of technology for them, as they want to focus on their core activity.
“For instance when a printer is looking for a CTP solution, it will also be looking at plates, and at proofing, and at workflow. Kodak GCG will be able to provide everything, and importantly be able to operate as a systems integrator. When a company is trying to build its digital production system it is not always easy to marry different products from different suppliers together, and if issues arise it is not always easy to pin down where they are and importantly who is responsible. With Kodak will be easy, because there is one point of reference”.
Ross Gilberthorpe, business development and marketing manager for Kodak Polychrome Graphics says, “Single solution equipment vendors may not have much knowledge about the next component of equipment in the chain, whereas we have complete knowledge. It is also important to note that a company that is the size of Kodak has a massive R+D spend, with all divisions of the company able to leverage knowledge from each other. This means that the Kodak customer will benefit from developments made in other areas and cross-developed into graphic arts”.
Kodak is understandably bullish about its new position, which looks likely to be completed by July when the regulators in around 15 countries give the go ahead for the Creo buy, with the deal having been approved by Creo shareholders last month. What it means is that Kodak’s Graphic Communications Group will become one of the three main divisions of the Kodak company, along with consumer film/digital cameras, and health imaging.
The GCG will be headed by Jeff Langley, and will be split into two divisions. These will be Transactional and Industrial Solutions division, which will be headed by Homi Shamir and will include the Versamark business, and the far bigger Graphic Service Solutions division, headed by Jeff Jacobsen. GSS will itself have three divisions. These will be workflow and prepress, headed by ex-Creo president Judy Hess, and which will include all the former Creo business, as well as KPG’s extensive proofing business, which is the biggest in the industry, including halftone, inkjet, virtual and short-run colour proofing solutions. Then there will be the digital imaging division, headed by Venkat Purushotham, and which will include NexPress, Digimaster and Encad, and finally the Consumer division, to be led by Doug Edwards and primarily responsible for plates and to a lesser extent film sales.
In the new Graphic Communication Group the direction from the top is that all its people will be comfortable in all areas, a kind of business version of the total football concept, where everyone can play everywhere. Ross Giberthorpe says, “In this age of time pressures and information overload Kodak GCG will present one face to the customer, who will be its point of reference”.
The structure within Australia and New Zealand will reflect this global vision, but the actualities of who is where have yet to be worked out, although the company is committed to having a major presence in each state. Kodak’s GCG will also have a fourth arm, its Global Services Division, under which all its field engineers and service technicians will operate. It will be a separate entity, which the company believes will provide clarity both internally and externally, and with some 170 engineers in the Asia Pacific region the company says the new division will strengthen its capabilities, and will enable it to be more efficient.
Visitors to PacPrint will be among the first in the world to see the new Kodak branding. Gone is the Kodak yellow: instead white and red are the new colours, with the Kodak name in red, and the background in white.
PacPrint though will see a 500sqm Kodak stand, and Creo still on its own stand, as the deal has not yet officially gone through yet. Visitors will see the Kodak stand arranged as an operating workflow, Ross Gilberthorpe says, “The best way to show printers and graphic arts professionals how Kodak solutions operate is to show them operating. We will also be launching several important new products, including five new plates, three of which are thermal”.
These include the Electra Exel HRL, which is an upgrade to the present Exel and which requires no preheating. Also new is a Sword Ultra, again with no preheating required and very durable on press, especially with UV inks and solvents. Kodak will also launch its Thermal Direct, which Gilberthorpe says is a true processless plate. The company will also launch its first photopolymer plate. Finally there will be its first digital exposed flexo plate, the Flexocell CTFP, which is a totally new product and highlights Kodak’s commitment to the packaging market.
In inkjet proofing Kodak will show its Matchprint solution with upgraded rips and printer, using the new Canon range, and there will also be new media. There will be a thermal A2 CTP solution on show.
Plenty of attention will come from printers eager to see the newly released Matchprint Virtual soft proofing solution. Soft, or virtual proofing, is a highly contentious area in printing, as it effectively does away with the hard copy or contract proof, but Kodak with Matchprint Virtual says it has come up with a solution that through software development, screen calibration and data auditing enables a workable soft proofing solution.
The economic benefits of soft proofing are immense, the sheer time and money saved will be irresistible, but the industry has to be convinced, which is why Kodak is delighted that PacPrint has come at the time it has, Gilberthorpe says, “The reality is that Kodak Virtual is here and working now, printers will be able to see it in action, and they will be startled with the benefits, and for those that implement the solution it will give them a clear competitive edge, it will enable them to get closer to their customers and it will reduce their costs”.
There will be a new Kodak Encad 60” inkjet printer launched at the show, and this will also be seen on the Starleaton stand, as it is the Australian distributor. Kodak will also be highlighting its newspaper solutions, with a Creo Trendsetter and Kodak plates on display.
Kodak NexPress will show the NexPress in a five-unit version, its first time exhibited in Australia, and Digimaster. This show is a big one for NexPress, whose technology is now proven and operating in Australia. The company is aiming to show printers the benefits of its variable data printing capability and its rapid productivity. The company will also have a Versamark on show, the as yet unchallenged leader in industrial inkjet printing. Finally on the Kodak stand there will be space devoted to its Champions Programme, which is a quartet of business solutions drawn from Kodak’s years of experience in the market.
Creo will be one a separate stand from Kodak, and will be showing solutions in commercial printing, packaging and newspapers. It will launch a new PDF packaging workflow, Prinergy Powerpack and will also launch its Thermoflex Mid computer to flexo plate imaging solution
Gilberthorpe says, “We are really looking forward to PacPrint. It will give us the opportunity to show the sheer breadth of knowledge, experience and solutions that Kodak now possesses to the Australian market, and we know they will respond positively when they see how we are breaking new ground and how we are committed to helping them maximise the opportunities that are being created in the market”.