Commentary & Analysis
The Promise of Process Free Plates
The printing industry continues to look at how to improve processes and reduce the environmental impact of printing. Kodak has developed a new plate, Sonora, which is process free. Process free plates have been around for a long time but they have been more of a niche product. The Sonora plate may change that.
By John G. Braceland
Published: May 30, 2014
Process free plates have been around for a long time. On the surface this looks like a no- brainer: process reduction, less environmental headaches, and faster throughput. However, these plates have not caught on with the major market. The higher cost, slower processing speed, and soft costs payback have prevented them from taking over the 40” and larger market.
Kodak is a new player in the market with their Sonora plate. They clearly see their plate as different from the rest and feel they can compete in the mainstream market. The plate has imaging sensitivity of 150 mJ and will have similar throughput capabilities as conventional plates. The plates go directly from the CTP device to the press.
On press, the fountain solution loosens the coating. Next, the ink takes the coating off the plate and transfers the un-imaged coating to the blanket. From there the coating is transferred to the paper. The coating is very thin and leaves little if any residue in the ink or fountain solution. Kodak has run press tests in which they purposely ran plates with only 10% image area with multiple short runs for 92 days without changing any fountain solution. At the end of that time the fountain solution conductivity increased only 300 uS – well within the limits for fountain solution changes.
The plates do cost more than conventional plates. However, additional cost savings bring the Sonora plates in line with conventional plate costs:
- Elimination of Processing Chemistry costs
- Elimination of Processing Chemistry Disposal Costs/Cost of Compliance
- Elimination of Process Equipment Costs
- Elimination of Processor Maintenance Costs
- Elimination of Utility Costs Related to running the Processor
- Footprint Opportunity Costs
- Processing Variability Costs
Some of these items, such as footprint opportunity costs and processing variability costs, will depend on the individual operation.
The plate is capable of run lengths up to 200K impressions on heatset and commercial coldest web presses, up to 100K impressions on sheetfed presses, up to 50K impressions for non-UV offset packaging applications and up to 10K impressions for UV-ink applications.
To find out more about how the plates perform in a real world application I spoke with Jim Tomblinson, VP of Operations at Modern Litho in Jefferson City, MO. They are a sheetfed printer and were using the Kodak Trillian plate before they converted to Sonora. Modern has been running Sonora for a number of months. Most of their runs are shorter, 20,000 or under but they do have some longer runs. While they found the plate conversion to be pretty smooth, Heidelberg had to make changes to their auto plate loader to eliminate some scratching issues. They also had to keep the plates out of the light after exposure to prevent additional clean out time on press.
Jim feels that they have more than recovered the additional cost of the plates in material and labor savings. Not having to clean and maintain the plate processor is a major boost, as well as eliminating the environmental issues.
There was one added benefit that Modern Litho did not anticipate. They are printing sharper and smoother than before. The dots are sharp and clean. The ink flows better. And they have a better gray balance. They have been able to raise their line screen from 200 to 240. A number of customers have said they see a difference in the printing. You can check out a video on You Tube in which Jim talks about their experience with the Sonora plate at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PLLpZfHDUiM.
The printing industry continues to look at how to improve processes and reduce the environmental impact of printing. Kodak’s new plates hold the promise of fulfilling both goals.