Kodak’s drive to bolster its share of the packaging sector, as voiced in the summer of 2017, seemed unlikely to be followed by the sale of the division most specifically targeted at that sector, namely the Flexible Packaging Division (FPD).
However, the fact is, when it comes to packaging, the company has nailed its technology colours to the mast and the future is definitely digital.
Indeed, the sale of FPD is in no small way responsible for Kodak’s ability to invest heavily in this area. The $390m (£290m) in total the company expects to recoup from the sale of FPD has enabled a $40m spend on the development of its latest inkjet technology, UltraStream.
Very little packaging is printed digitally, mostly on HP Indigo presses, so Kodak sees a big opportunity for growth here – if it can align its technology with the market.
“Getting brands to design campaigns that really leverage the power of digital is where it’s going to begin,” said Paul Haggett, sales and marketing director, EISD, ANZ Region, at an event co-hosted by Kodak and Italian manufacturer Uteco last month.
The big stories for Kodak are the speed, quality and low running costs of its offering.
While Kodak has some clever kit, it’s a young sector and it needs some customers to front the drive to digital, so it has launched a Creative Freedom campaign, intended to educate the packaging sector and promote the use of digital printing and “giving the brand what it wants at a price it’s prepared to pay”.
And the technology is good. Kodak’s Stream technology found in the Prosper platform machines is producing high-quality packaging at high speeds. The Uteco Sapphire Evo, a hybrid digital packaging press developed by Uteco with Kodak Stream units, has a 622mm-wide web and runs at 150m/min. The press produces packaging that is virtually indistinguishable from flexo but can include infinitely variable content.
While variable content can be used for the sexy campaigns, many brands will find it more useful for the more mundane stuff, like versioning packs for different territories, without having to stop the press.
The key to Kodak’s strategy is to get a little help from its friends – to work with partners and put its systems at the heart of lines that incorporate other technologies, whether that’s high-speed drying, slitting, flexo units, coaters, die-cutters, etc. This led to the Uteco partnership.
In the US, Zumbiel Digital is running an 11-unit hybrid digital-flexo press that incorporates an auto-splicer/unwind unit, seven flexo units, a Prosper 6000S four-colour press and inline die-cutting to produce short runs of folding cartons at up to 200m/min. Zumbiel cites speed to market, cost and environmental considerations as benefits and is targeting short-run, high-impact packs to improve consumer engagement.
Zumbiel president Ed Zumbiel says that brands incereasingly come to him with a project and ask: ‘We want it now, what can you do?’
“When you need something, digital comes through and it comes through very fast,” he adds.
In Italy, convertor Nuova Erreplast is about to bring on site the Sapphire Evo it agreed to buy last spring, and has spent the past few months demonstrating its capabilities to customers at the Uteco facility.
But Kodak has some challenges to get past.
The big one is concerns among potential customers about the future of the business. Investing in an ‘eco-system’ of presses, coatings and inks from a single manufacturer that’s been through some well-documented tough times since the demise of the photographic film market might well be regarded as a bit of a gamble. And it was only two years ago that Kodak was looking to sell off its Prosper business altogether. However, the fact that it was unable to achieve the price it wanted seems to have entirely reshaped the company’s strategy.
And this means that the business is firmly focused on growth markets, and packaging’s shift to digital sits squarely in the crosshairs.
Convertors also have a long history with conventional technologies and, for the most part, haven’t been felt the same pressures to adopt digital. Whether or not demand for personalised or versioned packs increases as the applications emerge and gain popularity remains to be seen.
The big brands are also notoriously slow at changing and, as John Snow, partner at Canada based consultancy Ahead of the Curve Group, points out: “It’s no good having very short lead times if the brand’s decision-making and approval process is going to take months.”
Buy-in isn’t cheap either.
Kodak undoubtedly has a good story to tell technology-wise, but the jury’s out on whether digital will prove to be the answer to a question that the big brands are not yet asking.