Packaging software has generally been seen as a high-end application that is driven largely by the process used for printing: flexible letterpress, offset, gravure, and in the last twenty years, also by flexography. Before PostScript and before full digital workflows you had dedicated systems that would ready files for film ouput and in the case of gravure, communicate to another high end workstation that would drive an electromechanical engraver.
PostScript was initially ridiculed for high end and large files size applications. Ulitmately, faster microprocessors, cheaper memory and PostScript Level 2 and 3 led to the high resolution output of both text and image on one piece film and also to direct output on image carriers on CtPs for offset and flexo digital imagers, and also electromechanical engravers. As David Jeyaraj wrote in his column in the Packaging South Asia July-August 2007 issue, the revolution was in the software and not so much in the direct imaging hardware.
Adobe has continued to play a large role in both commercial and package printing. Specialized packaging functions such as trapping, nesting (imposition), and special spot colours, have increasingly become plug-ins for Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop, although high-end trapping and imposition engines are still more productive as server based modules. And with the advent and the increasing central role of the Internet in both management and production workflows, the issues are shifting to both supply chain management and web-enabled collaboration that includes the design and approval cycle.
Even four years ago an important theme was consolidation in prepress and till drupa08 this trend has continued in such a way that most major prepress software and equipment providers (Agfa, Fuji, Screen, and Kodak) have extended their hardware offerings and in the main have also become manufacturers of inkjet devices. Esko the specialist provider of packaging software, on the other hand has divested itself of most of its equipment assets in CtP for offset but still retains two important digitally driven output devices for the packaging segment — the CDI flexo imagers (manufactured and sold in collaboration with Dupont) and the Kongsberg samplemaker.
In the meanwhile, Kodak the erstwhile consumable and proofing company has acquired Creo’s assets which include considerable assets for the packaging industry including CtPs, flexo imagers, the Prinergy workflow, and taggants. Apart from this Kodak acquired the Scitex Digital high speed continuous inkjet research, development, and manufacturing facility that is better known for its the Versamark technology and full ownership of the Nexpress digital press.
Kodak’s CEO Antonio Perez is very clear that Kodak needs to focus on the packaging segment and this thrust has now extended itself to India as well. Kodak’s Prinergy Powerpack is the broad umbrella for its packaging software. Pandora is the imposition and nesting module. Other modules such as Maxtone, Hyperflex, Dotshop, and Digicap look after issues such as hybrid screening and the screening of small dots requiring support to solids requiring control of ink film thickness in flexography. There is a productivity tool called PDF compare and merge that allows replacement or updation of repeat jobs. The key to Prinergy is of course that it performs end-to-end native PDF processing throughout the workflow. Trapping tools include both batch trapping and an advanced trap editor. In addition Kodak has tied up with Engview for structural design of packaging.
Of course in a region obsessed with hardware it does not hurt that Prinergy Powerpack can drive all kinds of devices including Kodak’s own Trendsetter CtP solutions, its Exactus thermal gravure output, and its ThermoFlex digital flexo output devices that has started to sell in India. Thus hardware, software, and consumables (at least for film, offset plates, and flexography) can all be supplied from Kodak. Ostensibly this can play a positive role in support, training and standardization issues.
All this is no big deal for packaging experts except that it comes from Kodak which has a broad range of graphics and packaging technologies and that it could provide a very flexible, complete and yet extensible set of solutions. For South Asia the key to this is the company’s seriousness and commitment to this market and increasingly its South Asian operations out of Mumbai seem to be gathering and amassing forces and expertise to realize the potential of this wide and deep product portfolio. This was made clear to us by Kodak GCG’s head in the region (the India cluster) Bhalchandra Nikumb who recently visited our offices in Noida.
Nikumb outlined Kodak’s commitment to customers in several areas and spoke particularly of the appointment of Suhas Kulkarni as National Business Manager, Packaging Segment, India Cluster as of July 15, 2008. We of course know Kulkarni as one of the key proponents and hands-on practioners of flexography in the last decade throughout South Asia. He was a resource person in the 5-day flexography course that IppStar conducted at Noida in 2002, and is known throughout the industry as a problem solver and expert in the colour management of flexo presses, many of which he fingerprinted while working for DuPont. Suhas is a print engineer from Pune and previously worked for Courtaulds Packaging and Uvifort Metallizers.
Bhalchandra Nikumb, Country Head of Kodak Graphic Communications Group India says, “Suhas comes to Kodak with an impressive track record of innovative leadership and building enduring relationships with business partners. Looking at the packaging segment with huge business prospects in India, we are happy to have Suhas in our team. We look forward to a great association to work together to grow and expand business opportunities and develop the packaging business segment in India.”
EskoArtwork at drupa 08
In a press release in mid June, Carsten Knudsen, EskoArtwork’s President and CEO, expressed satisfaction with the company’s drupa results: “EskoArtwork’s drupa 2008 orders exceeded our target by more than 50 per cent and surpassed the combined results of Esko and Artwork Systems in 2004 by more than 75 percent. We are extremely pleased to see our customers and industry partners embracing the integration of our solutions.”
Two new partnerships further strengthening EskoArtwork’s position in the market were announced at the opening of the exhibition: Presstek will offer EskoArtwork’s Odystar workflow solution under its own Latitude brand, and the SmartColour group at Sun Chemical will cooperate with EskoArtwork to bring innovative solutions for brand colour management to the entire packaging supply chain. On the closing day, EskoArtwork also announced signing a Letter of Intent regarding the acquisition of Mikkelsen Graphic Engineering, Inc. (MGE), which manufactures vision controlled finishing solutions for cutting tables in the sign-making, screen-printing and digital printing marketplaces.
Switch was one of the exciting EskoArtwork workflow software products at the show. Switch (from recently acquired Gradual Software) is now integrated within the Enfocus portfolio for automating repetitive tasks and connecting with other key graphic arts applications. EskoArtwork and its flexo partner DuPont demonstrated the new Cyrel Digital Imager solutions for flexo sleeve imaging (CDI Advance Cantilever) and automated flexo platemaking (CDI Spark 4260 Auto). More than 70 new CDI orders were confirmed by the end of drupa.
The new high-performance Kongsberg XP dieless cutting tables, optimized for short-run digital converting for packaging and POP displays apparently received over 55 orders by the end of the show. There were also some major signings for its packaging suite and CDI imager by Indian customers.
New packaging software products include SignUp, a prepress layout tool that optimizes press time and substrate usage for sign and displays; Visualizer, which creates and shares ultra-realistic on-screen mock-ups and soft proofs of complex packaging and label designs; Studio, a new product line that integrates Computer-Aided Design and graphics design for boxes and flexible packaging building onto Adobe Illustrator; and Studio Toolkits, a new line of structural design tools that supplies the basic packaging shapes for Studio.