Dry Film Process Gets Life As Kodak Purchases ASF
by Jerry Lansky
Applied Science Fiction has been working diligently for some time to find a customer for its unique dry film process system, called Digital PIC. Instead, they found a customer for the entire company, Eastman Kodak.
In a surprise announcement on May 12th, it was learned that Kodak was buying all of the assets of ASF and that the dry film process would be incorporated, as an option, in the newest version of the Kodak Picture Maker. Once the deal closes, the ASF operation in Austin will be renamed by Kodak as the Austin Development Center. The purchase price was not made known but, according to the Wall Street Journal, "it was less than $50 million."
Kent McNeley, Kodak's vice president, Output, Worldwide, said he sees the marrying of the Picture Maker with the ASF Digital PIC as "an automatic picture machine." He looks at the new combination to provide a quick self-service option and "allows us into new channels that are not yet ready for a full digital setup."
And it separates Kodak from the rest of the kiosk pack.
ASF was started in 1995, its first product being Digital ICE, currently licensed to four minilab manufacturers, and some scanner producers. GEM and ROC and plug-ins for home computer use, followed.
At PMA 2000 there were whispers that ASF had engineered a system that could develop negative film without the use of chemistry-a dry process. It was met with considerable reservation as the procedure destroyed the negative and returned to the consumer a CD with the images.
Dan Sullivan, ASF's CEO, persevered and finally brought to market a rather compact package named Digital PIC that really did what ASF said it would do. It was designed to be married to an output device so that it would develop the film and not only produce a CD but offer prints as well. The going got rough as there were no takers for a license to the technology and ASF finally decided to package it with its own kiosk and go to market with a finished product.
The kiosk was then put into the field; the most critical was the installation last summer at seven CVS stores in New England. CVS is a key player in the Kodak-Qualex OSP program and Kodak was able to peek in and monitor the results. They learned, among other things, that the loss of the film wasn't as significant to the consumer as the trade expected. Helping, was the universal acceptance of the CD-Rom.
According to Sullivan, the success at CVS pushed some Kodak buttons and he said serious talks about the possibility of a deal started at photokina. It probably came none too soon for ASF as there was no licensee for the Digital PIC on the horizon and the economic environment made operating funds more difficult to secure.
According to Kodak's McNeley, the Gen3 Picture Maker is structured to have the Digital PIC connected as a sidecar device resulting in a single unit that will develop film, accept any digital media, scan prints and output to CD and either 4x6 or 8x10 dye-sub prints. A real one-stop, self-service photo shop that can be equipped with a credit card device. In that configuration he sees a ready market in amusement parks, hotel lobbies, airports, etc.
The Digital PIC can process and print a 24-frame roll and burn a CD with an index print on the face in seven minutes.
The Gen3 Picture Maker, introduced at PMA was offered for about $21,000. At this time McNeley could not offer a price for the PM with the Digital PIC attached though he estimated it would be under $50,000 with all the bells and whistles. He expects deliveries to begin by Jan. 1, 2004.
As Austin Development Center, the firm will retain almost the entire ASF staff, presently 79 people, mostly technical. A few people involved in marketing functions, which will be taken over by Kodak, will be affected, and Dan Sullivan said that R&D will be expanded. Sullivan will remain though his title has not been decided.
A question for consideration: does the acquisition of the dry film process by Kodak, which will give them the only such kiosk in the industry, suggest that others may drive to play catch-up with a dry process of their own?