Feb 11, 2013
At Hunkeler Innovationdays this week (February 11th to 15th in Lucerne, Switzerland), Kodak announced a new version of its Prosper high-speed inkjet printing system. The Prosper 5000XLi includes a new extended paper path, an improved transport/drying system, new more durable inks, and software improvements that better leverage existing camera/sensor feedback systems. Key to the features of the 5000XLi are items that improve quality for many applications, but particularly for high-coverage output on coated papers. For those types of applications, the optional Image Optimization Station (IOS) provides an in-line treatment (an aqueous coating) that allows users to use commodity papers instead of more expensive inkjet-treated offerings. The 5000XLi will replace the Prosper 5000XL. Upgrades will be available for current Prosper 5000 systems. The 5000XLi will be available immediately after Hunkeler Innovationdays.
I had a chance to see the Prosper 5000XLi running live at a user site in Rochester, New York. The site, Mercury Print (www.mercuryprint.com), has had its Prosper 5000 since July of 2011 and served as the beta site for the new 5000XL. It has also added the monochrome Prosper 1000, which was installed at the end of December.
The new 5000XLi is comparable to the 5000XL in many ways. The Prosper 5000XLi Press prints four-color output at speeds up to 650 feet per minute (200 meters per minute) on a maximum web width of 25.5â€ (64.8 centimeters). It supports a print width of up to 24.5 inches (62.2 centimeters) through an array of 48 4.16-inch Kodak Stream jetting modules. It has a duty cycle of 90 million A4/US letter pages per month. Supported papers include uncoated free sheet and matte coated papers at weights ranging from 45 to 300 gsm (3 to 9 points, 30 to 200# book weights).
The productâ€™s improvements can be broken out into the following categories:
- New intelligent hardware and software (Kodak describes the 5000XLi as a press that has intelligence built in so that it â€œthinks and improvesâ€)
- A new aqueous pigmented process color ink set thatÂ uses nano-particulate pigments for wider color gamut and greater permanence. The inks are also highlighter safe. Kodak noted that this new durable ink set will be used across the Prosper product line .
- A text enhancement feature that can be toggled on or off to provide an impression of greater density
- Extended paper paths (see more on this below)
There are three possible paper paths in the Prosper 5000XLi:
- Baseline path
- Half path
- Extended path
The half and extended paths are new and are particularly important for glossy substrates since they give more time for the ink to dry before the printed surface comes in contact with the first turn roller. The half path option adds about thirteen feet (approximately four meters) to the baseline path and the extended path option adds an additional ten feet (approximately three meters). Mercury was using the baseline path because the stock they were running (Utopia Book) did not require the additional drying time afforded by either of the extended paths.
The paper transport system can also independently control the nip pressure, which is most important for heavier stocks (for example, 7 to 9 points). There are four different nip pressure adjustment points throughout the system. The drying system is also described as intelligent by Kodak, as it adjusts for ink load, web speed, and substrate type.
The upgrade to the 5000XLi includes a vacuum system after the yellow ink module, which provides better web controls. Other new hardware also facilitates the improvements, however, the camera systems that the software leverages were already in the 5000XL. The software is able to make real-time directional adjustments to adjust for skew, distortion, image growth, and color-to-color misregistration.
The optional Image Optimizer (IOS) in-line unit gives users the ability to print on a wider range of papers. This also translates into paper cost savings. Kodak estimates that users can save between 10%-60% in paper cost. Mercury did not specify its percent, but did say that it was saving about $10,000 per truck load of paper compared to inkjet-treated stocks. This is offset to some extent by the cost of the IOS hardware and the optimizer agent. The IOS unit costs around $300,000. Kodak did not specify the cost of the consumable but said it was minimal.
There are two IOS optimizer agent solutions. One is intended for direct mail and one for book work. The difference in chemistry is primarily related to the ability to print on glossier stocks. The use of the optimizer agent can also improve the maximum density achievable, which helps to extend the color gamut.
With the new device comes a new version of Kodakâ€™s 700 Print Manager, which drives the 5000XLi. Key advances in the 700 Print Manager include an improved internal architecture through which variable data elements are processed more efficiently without the use of extra servers, RIPs, or a pre-RIP workflow (these capabilities build on 700â€™s heritage of Creo and Scitex RIP capabilities). Another important improvement is hardware screening technology that moves the processing off of Intel chips and RIP software. This allows users to re-RIP and re-impose without having to go back to the original data.
Running inkjet systems at high coverage at very high speed is a technical challenge that all of the vendors face. Those using aqueous inks have an additional challenge: drying output that may have as much as a liter of water applied to it per minute. This challenge is multiplied when coated papers are involved, since their surface tends to resist absorption. Additionally, wetting a paper substrate can change its dimensional characteristics, which can lead to cockle, curl, and potential color-to-color and front-to-back registration issues. The more ink thatâ€™s applied, the more serious this issue can become. The lightweight papers preferred in direct mail and book environments are challenging too because of potential show-through of inks from one side of the sheet to the other. These stocks are also more susceptible to cockle and curl. Running the beta test at Mercury was important because Mercuryâ€™s customers like their color output on lightweight and lightly coated stocks.
High-speed inkjet systems have found their earliest success in lower coverage transaction, direct mail, and book applications on uncoated stocks. To get to the next level, systems need to be able to address higher coverage and coated papers. This will help not only in higher quality transaction, direct mail, and book applications, but also in areas such as catalogs, custom publications, magazines, photo, and promotional applications that have held inkjet back in general commercial print environments. Today, Kodakâ€™s Prosper systems are primarily in use in direct mail and book environments. The improvements will be very helpful there, but will also expand the productâ€™s reach into new areas.
For more on Kodakâ€™s activities in the high-speed inkjet market, particularly related to its Prosper Paper Rating System, please refer to InfoTrends white paper entitled â€œSubstrates and Inkjet: The Move toward Higher Quality Outputâ€ which is available as a free download.
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