Theory About what Kodak Is Doing
Let's assume, for the moment, that the article cited in the OP is fact. Don't know that it is or not, but let's pretend that it is. I have a theory about what Kodak is up to and I'd like to hear what some of the rest of you might think. Let me lay out my thoughts, and this is specific to color films:
First, some observations on my part:
1) Kodak has put their recent R&D work (such as it is) into color negative products. Ektar, Portra, Vision 3 and maybe even consumer C-41 films derived from the above.
2) Films outside the CN arena have been reliably discontinued, probably as the master rolls have run out. Examples: Kodachrome, Ektachrome and so on.
3) Color negative use IS declining but will probably settle out at some relatively stable level. Maybe we haven't hit bottom yet or maybe we have. IDK. But I am assuming there is or will be a residual market worth serving.
4) We've all noticed over the last few years that the newest offerings (Portra, Vision 3, Ektar) have definite similarities. Kodak seems to present Vision3 as the root from which the others are derived.
5) It also seems that the latest offerings are very versatile. (Well, maybe not Ektar) Good results over a wide range of situations, push to higher speeds with good results, etc.
6) In the OP the speaker is cited as saying that new technology will allow Kodak to make any sort of film (I am assuming current offerings here) at no particular minimum quantity, as long as the roll is 54 inches wide, i.e. coated on the same line on the same machine.
So, then, this is what I think they are doing:
Kodak has, or is working on, a standardized color negative emulsion that they can use to make ANY AND ALL of the current products. There are slow speed, medium speed and fast speed silver components which can be selectively blended to yield an ISO of whatever you want: 100, 250, 400, 800 and so on. To make any particular film stock, you then tweak the particular dyes and sensitizers that are added to the emulsion. All this mixing is done under computer control just ahead of the coating line AT PRODUCTION TIME. A master roll is then coated with whatever product mix they desire in a specified sequence and then cut up accordingly.
So let's say, for example, we would need (in 35mm) 5000 rolls of Ektar, 10000 of Portra 160, 7500 of Portra 400 and 50,000 feet of 5207 in 35mm for a given week's production. (Realize I am just making up numbers for an example as I don't know the specifics involved.) A coating run might go like this, then, assuming a continuous supply of film base at the beginning of the line: 4000 feet are coated with 5207, then under computer control, the mix is changed and the next 950 fee are coated for Portra 160. Then the mix changes again and the next 700 feet are coated for Portra 400. Finally the mix is changed for Ektar and the final 500 feet of the run are coated with that.
The coating line doesn't stop. As the film comes off the line it is cut between the various products and made into smaller master rolls of each. These smaller masters then are slit and packaged in the traditional manner. Or maybe the the coated film is fed continuously through the slitting and packaging operation with that part of the process automatically changed on demand as well.
This production methodology could be scaled for production on a weekly basis, or maybe, daily or maybe even hourly. The idea being that they keep the line running by producing only the product mix needed over a relatively short period of time. What's being coated by the machine is a mix of very closely related variations based on the same basic components. It allows enourmous flexibility. If we don't need any Ektar this week, we don't coat any, but we have already shipped the stock we made and don't have master rolls (INVENTORY and therefore $$$$) languishing on the shelf aging and potentially going to waste. You make it and ship it in one operation exactly at the time it is needed. Nothing sits around in the warehouse consuming space and inventory dollars going bad.
If you needed a special film, as long as it is made from the same basic components, you run it through the same process by creating a special program for the computer control and coat exactly the amount you need. No leftover and no waste. Or at least minimal waste. You can coat 100 feet of it once a year and the impact is just about nil because we have moved from a batch process to a customizable, continuous process using standaized components.
Obviously this is a simplistic example but I think it fits the "facts" - in the sense of "facts" that are floating around here. If I were given their constraints these days, that's how I'd do it. And based on the direction the manufacturing consultants my employer has hired over the last few years have steered our workplace, if Kodak had anyone similar helping their reorganization, and I am sure they do, I'd be willing to bet this is the direction they are being driven.
Can B/W films fit directly into the process on the same line? IDK but B/W can likely be produced in the same manner.
Actually, that is close to how it is already done, and what has already been described here but the differences are probably larger than you envision and the changes are larger as well. For example, support changes as well as emulsion, and layer order and layer ingredients change far more than you seem to envision. Also the speed is far far higher than you think.
All of that would have to be "normalized" somehow.
And, B&W could not easily be added to that model.
Drive up to the workshop at GEH next week and I will explain it to you in more detail!
If I could, I would!
Oh, I'm certain I've oversimplfied it. I was trying to paint a simpler example to make my point. Hell, maybe I'm just stating the obvious. I might be wrong but it seems a lot of people in these forums don't really understand about modern lean production methods. I'd think the days of batch production at Kodak and making up big master rolls to sit on the shelf till they get slit are long gone. If they arent long gone then no wonder Kodak is in the predicament it's in because they'd have a sh%%load of money tied up in persihable and perishing inventory which eventually would have to be written off.
My guess, though, is that a good chunk of that $950 million they got is going towards R&D to work out the differences between the film variations and make them as close to the same as possible. And that would be a major reason why Ektachrome suddenly disappeared. Not a high runner any more, but more importantly, it doesn't fit into the production model. Fuji's got E-6 production all worked out to a flawless science so get out of that market and stick them with it: it's dying anyway.
Any work such as this would be highly secret. If you came us with a way to slash production costs and eliminate perishable inventory you wouldn't want that getting out to the competition.
Kodak may be largely mis-managed but they (the staff) are not stupid.
Last edited by kb3lms; 03-28-2012 at 01:03 PM. Click to view previous post history.
The competition is already doing small scale runs. They never went big like Kodak. Fuji has problems similar to EK. And, at EK the small machines have, for the most part, been dismantled. If I were to have made decisions, I would have mothballed small machines and kept them ready for this time. I would have kept pilot and R&D formulas ready for this time. Then I could have re-started J9 (the 11" machine) and improved quality to equal salable product. At that time, I could have slide coated all color neg and color paper up to 11" wide and with a crew of about 4 in the old research labs. I could have used the pilot emulsion lab in the same building to make small scale emulsions for this small scale production.
Yeah, I have it all figured out, but - no way to do it! Oh, and probably no people to do it either, and the equipment and formulas are probably gone. Chemistry is an issue as well.
I don't think the idea is to use the small machines, though. I'm thinking the idea is to produce any amount, of any emulsion, at any time, at full scale. Almost a make to order scenario. I'm not saying this is easy - but I'm thinking this is where they are at or going. Basically the whole gamut of products can be hammered down the same pipe. Anything that doesn't fit that process is history.
If it is true that FPEG is the one segment of the company making a profit, then they had to have something up their sleeve to get $950 million. Citigroup did not loan them that money to end up with a bunch of polluted property at the corner of Lake Ave and Ridge Road.
OK, I gotta get out of here or I'm gonna be perishable inventory!
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Ron, why not preserve the current throughput and just stockpile. Probably wouldn't cost that much to cold-store a couple years' supply.
It would be interesting to know what coating facilities are left at Kodak UK.
It's not inconcievable that Kodak could have some smaller runs of emulsions coated by a competitor like Ilford (for B&W) or Agfa (colour or B&W) in Europe. It's also known that these ideas have been discussed at the highest levels well before Kodak's current crisis, the Perez management would have liked to abandon film starting with B&W.
Remember that Ilford made some Fuji B&W film emulsions at one point and that some Japanese B&W papers have been made in the UK as well.
Well I was assuming that *some* coating machinery is still intact and operational. I am not proposing to bring anything out from mothballs....
One machine at Rochester for film. At least one mothballed, and several may be mothballed. IDK. One at Colorado for paper and one in England for paper. That is it AFAIK. The 52" machines are slide / curtain and have given minimum speeds. On one of those machines, and given the current market, one shift at 5 days per week is literally an oversupply of product for the entire world.
You cannot stockpile a perishable product!
As for narrow vs wide, an extrusion hopper at 11" running at "normal" speeds will supply demand quite well for sizes from 35mm to 11x14 for many products in danger of being discontinued. You see, the model that was proposed above is not entirely accurate. Some products only take a few minutes to coat to produce a years worth of production.
Encyclopedia Britannica ceased production in 2012, as they only sold 8,000 copies in 2011. How long a run on the presses did that take? How long was the prep time? Same thing for film. Prep time is loooong! Run time is very short. But, manpower in both phases is rather huge for film production. Read Bob Shanebrook's book.
That is just about the size of Ilford's pilot run machine. When I saw it, I immediately thought that it would be possible to run a profitable but very much scaled down business using just this machine should the need ever occur.
Originally Posted by Photo Engineer
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