Just when its product was starting to interest publishers, Kodak is selling its inkjet web business and Stream technologies, with the likelihood that it will go to a Japanese buyer.
The company has announced that "following in-depth management reviews" and talks with customers, partners and others, it is discussing offers to purchase its Prosper enterprise inkjet business.
A spokesman confirmed to GXpress that the key Stream inkjet technology is included. There is no specific timeline, and asked whether the transaction would be effective by DRUPA, we were told, "This sort of process usually takes months."
Kodak has already announced plans to show Prosper-based lines - as well as a "next generation" platform, Ultrastream - which it says will move production inkjet into the mainstream of commercial printing and packaging - at the Düsseldorf show which opens on May 31.
Kodak says Ultrastream, with its smaller drop size and broader range of printable applications, will co-exist alongside Stream technology. A modular printhead will address widths from 203mm to 2.46 metres, a clear challenge to the HP/KBA T1100S demonstrated at the end of last year. A narrow-web configuration for labelling and small format printing will be shown at DRUPA.
Kodak's pitch to packaging - the only print segment expected to grow in coming years - is no doubt a response to the relatively slow progress made by all inkjet players in the publishing market. Its 300 metres/minute Prosper 6000C press - generally teamed inline with manroland's FoldLine and FormerLine finishing systems - have made publication inkjet a practical possibility, but actual take-up has been slow. A system at Masar Printing & Publishing in Dubai, ordered at WAN-Ifra's World Publishing Expo in Amsterdam in 2014, has just come onstream, understood to be the second such press to do so in a newspaper application. Kodak has become a joint venture partner in a business which will see two 6000C presses installed in the Channel Islands to print the Jersey Evening Post and English daily titles later this year. The press is also central to French publisher Sogemedia's recent digital newspaper startup.
US newpaper giant Gannett is just starting a Prosper 5000xli to print its Pacific Daily News and other national and international titles in Guam in the western Pacific. Direct mail companies Japs Olsen and Wilen Direct - a beta site for the Prosper 5000xli - are also among buyers of the 6000C.
Kodak is also a leader in inkjet imprinting, with News Corp in the UK and German publisher Axel Springer among high-profile users. Australia's Fairfax Media is expected to announce an order covering its North Richmond and ballarat sites - and possible including inkjet web - later this year.
At DRUPA, Kodak will show the 6000C with both manroland's FoldLine and also a Vits sheeter. Stream will also be central to the XGV system to be shown printing on flexible films.
In its statement today, Kodak says it has engaged independent investment bank Sagent Advisors, and European corporate finance adviser DC Advisory - which share Japanese investment bank Daiwa Securities as a common shareholder - to manage the sale process.
Kodak chief executive Jeff Clarke says the Prosper business has significant potential for accelerated growth: "To achieve its full economic potential, Prosper will be best leveraged by a company with a larger sales and distribution footprint in digital printing markets."
"We have received strategic interest in the Prosper business from companies and their financial representatives," he says.
Kodak will continue to invest in Prosper - "an exceptional technology and product set, highly valued by the printing industry" - during the sale process.
UK-based president of Kodak's enterprise inkjet systems division Philip Cullimore (pictured) says the market opportunity will expand even further with the planned introduction of Ultrastream, which will "move production inkjet into the mainstream of commercial printing and packaging".
Kodak has also announced that it will exit development of silver metal mesh technology for functional 3D printing, including touch screen sensors, opting instead to focus on copper mesh technologies. "Based on feedback from industry participants, it's clear our fully additive copper metal mesh is the winning approach in terms of overall cost, setup cost and scalability to larger screens - where we see the most significant opportunities," Cullimore says.
Kodak will continue to make silver halide film available to touch screen sensor manufacturers.