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Commentary & Analysis

FREE: Processless Plates Add Up to Improved Productivity, Lower Costs for Printers

A substantial part of the benefit of increased adoption of JDF and computer integrated manufacturing (

By Cary Sherburne
Published: April 29, 2004

A substantial part of the benefit of increased adoption of JDF and computer integrated manufacturing (CIM) in the printing industry is the ability to improve productivity, reduce cycle times and lower manufacturing costs. Clearly, there will be a multitude of examples from almost every supplier at drupa relative to the softor softwareside of making this a reality, and we have covered many examples of this already on WhatTheyThink.

But there is also a hardware side of the picture that is important as well. That includes increased digital functionality and interoperability on the part of presses and improvements in CTP that can take stepsand timeout of the process. It also means taking advantage of advances in technology that can reduce the cost to manufacture equipment, bringing these advanced solutions within reach of more buyers. After all, some 80% of establishments in the printing industry have less than 20 employees.

drupa will see announcements along these lines from both expected and unexpected places. First, the unexpected 

A.B. Dick's Vector TX52

Long a mainstay for the small printer, and counting thousands of establishments among its customer base, 120-year-old A.B. Dick will be showing the Vector TX52, a thermal chemistry-free CTP device that uses the internal ThinDrum technology that has been so successful in the company's polyester plate producing DPM34but the Vector TX52 will use chemistry-free Freedom metal plates manufactured by Presstek. The Vector TX52 can produce up to 20 plates per hour with a 15-16 micron spot size, and hold a one percent dot at a 200 line screen. Maximum plate size is 19.25 x 25.6 (489x650 mm). Because it requires no chemistry, and the water wash required to remove small amounts of debris from imaged plates is contained within the unit, it has an amazingly small footprint54"W x 58.5"H x 31.25"D (1486mm x 1486mm x 794mm). And perhaps most exciting of all is the price point, expected to be less than $60,000, including A.B. Dick's Momentum workflow.

The laser imaging technology incorporated in the Vector TX52, which was a collaborative effort between A.B. Dick and Presstek, is based on Presstek's SureFire imaging which was announced this week. In developing this product, A.B. Dick has overcome some of the barriers that have prevented the utilization of conventional internal drum designs for thermal imaging of metal plates, including how close the lasers must be to the plate material being exposed. Internal drum imaging systems are, by their nature, much less expensive to manufacture; thus, A.B. Dick's ability to deliver a price point that is some 30% lower than any other metal plate CTP system on the market. A.B. Dick will manufacture the product in its Rochester NY manufacturing facility.

Also an important part of this announcement is the chemistry-free nature of the Vector TX52. This is A.B. Dick's second chemistry-free plate imaging product, joining the Vector 52 with Freedom plates announced at Graph Expo 2003. With processless being a mantra at drupa this year, A.B. Dick will have a head start with product already on the marketand at a price point that will bring affordable chemistry-free platemaking to a broader market.

Agfa :Azura

Having introduced :Thermolite at drupa 2000 as a processless plate for on-press imaging, Agfa is taking the next step at drupa 2004 with :Azura for CTP applications. This thermal non-ablative plate requires a conditioning, or gumming, step after imaging, but no chemistry. According to Agfa, the plate is manufactured using a true lithographic coating that is coated onto a grained and anodized aluminum substrate, with that substrate acting as the hydrophilic medium. Dave Furman, Agfa's Senior Marketing Manager for CTP Systems, said, We have been talking about processless for ten years, and we are just now beginning to scratch the surface. The trade-off with processless is slower plate throughput; without developer, you have to expose the plate longer and the process consumes more energy. It is for this reason that Furman predicts that smaller printers will be the first adopters of processless plates, since they are more likely to be concerned about consumption of space than raw plate throughput.

Agfa's :Azura will be commercially available in the second quarter of 2004; Furman was unable to comment on pricing at this time. He said, We have had outstanding results in beta with this product. If I had to summarize our positioning, it is that we are taking a proven technology that has been commercially available in the marketplace for three years in :Thermolite Plus, and adapting a similar technology for off-press CTP. :Azura images a 21 micron spot and can hold a 2% to 98% dot at a 200 line screen.

Screen will be imaging these Agfa plates on its PlateRite 4300 B2 in daylight conditions on its stand every day at drupa.

Fuji Features Technology Demonstration of Processless Technology

Fujifilm, having identified processless platemaking as a key R&D initiative, will have a processless technology demonstration at drupa. The company indicated it plans to offer processless plates in both 4-page and 8-page formats. They will be imaged via thermal laser and use a polymerizationnot ablativetechnology. Fuji expects these plates to be rated at 50,000 impressions. These plates will require no post-processing, and are targeted for use with existing thermal platesetters, although specific brands were not identified. Fuji has not indicated when the technology will be commercially available. According to Enovation's Jim Crawford, Group Manager for Output Media, Processless will become viable when printers can adopt it without giving up some of the things they are used to today, such as the ability to visually inspect an imaged plate before mounting it on press, or plate imaging throughput speed.

WhatTheyThink will share additional information after seeing the technology demonstration at drupa.

Kodak PolyChrome Graphics

KPG's entry to the processless field is its Thermal Direct plate, a non-ablative chemistry-free negative writing plate rated for up to 75,000 impressions manufactured by KPG. KPG indicates that the Thermal Direct plate is compatible with major 800-850 nm thermal platesetters currently on the market. Since it is a non-ablative process, it is debris-free and there is no need for a debris collection system in the platesetter. The plate can hold a 20 micron spot and supports FM screening. The plate is not intended for use on DI presses at this time, although there are indicates that may be a future possibility.

The pre-sensitized aluminum plate is minimally sensitive to light and may be handled in daylight environments for up to one hour, or yellow light environments for up to four hours. KPG indicates the plate is entering beta and will be commercially available shortly after beta completion, although no specific dates have been provided.

Screen will be demonstrating its PlateRite 4300 B2 device imaging these KPG plates in daylight conditions on its stand every day at drupa.

Presstek to Show Next Generation DI, CTP

Presstek is integrating its ProFire Excel imaging system into new DI and CTP solutions at drupa, bringing higher quality and reliability to both on-press and off-press chemistry-free imaging. ProFire Excel images a 16 micron spot and supports both AM and FM (stochastic) screening up to 300 lines per inch.

For CTP, the new capabilities offered by the Dimension Excel include higher throughputup to 20 plates per houras well as more flexible plate handling options. Units can be configured for standard semi-automatic plate loading or with a load ahead/rear exit option for high productivity with minimal operator intervention. Additionally, the new loading design can be upgraded to a fully automated configuration upon release of an optional cassette loader scheduled for later this year.

The new Ryobi 3404X-DI, a next generation DI press enabled by ProFire Excel and utilizing ProFire Digital Media, will also be seen at drupa. As has historically been the case, Presstek manufactures the laser imaging system and the plate media, and is involved in the design of the press. This combination of press, laser, and plate technology results in optimized output quality. Peter Bouchard , Presstek's General Manager for On-Press Imaging, said, With the ability to go from a file to printed output in as little as seven minutes, this fourth generation DI press sets a new standard in quality for digital offset presses while still taking advantage of the inherent productivity of DI presses.

As mentioned earlier, Presstek's new SureFire Imaging will be incorporated in the A.B. Dick Vector 52TX, also being unveiled at drupa.

Screen Weighs In with New DI, Support for Processless Plates

Screen will be showing its TruePress 344, an automated, four-color A3+ digital offset press featuring the latest in high-speed digital imaging technology combined with processless plates. Screen indicates that at 7,000 A3+ sheets per hour the four-color TruePress can produce a 500 sheet single-sided job from start to finish in less than 15 minutes, with an ultra-fast make-ready time of only 5 minutes.

Plates can be imaged at up to 2,400 dpi resolution using screen rulings of 150 or 175 lines per inch. In addition, Screen will include its SPEKTA screening method with the TruePress 344, enabling users to employ AM/FM hybrid screening. It also incorporates TrueFit Advance, an automated print quality control system for the TruePress 344 that provides real-time analysis and feedback as to the ink-water balance during printing for better quality control. Screen expects to begin shipping the TruePress 344 by the end of 2004.

Screen is committed to thermal CTP and its CTP devices will be present in more than ten stands throughout drupa. The company indicates that Screen thermal platemakers will be compatible with processless CTP from KPG and Agfa, as well as other processless plates expected to be on the market in the future. All existing PlateRite users are already compatible with these new systems, explains Phil Eaves, Screen Europe Marketing Manager. The additional benefits of investing in thermal technology are coming to the fore, especially in providing existing users compatibility with these new emerging technologies.

Processless Gaining Ground

Based on the prevalence of processlesswhether in product or technology demo format drupa 2004, we can expect to see increased availability of this environmentally responsible approach to platemaking for both on-press and off-press (CTP) applications from a variety of suppliers over time. For both on-press and off-press, quality and durability of processless plates are improving and this gives rise to the ability to produce a wider range of printed applications. Look for market demand to increase as printers begin to add up the real costs of chemistry. We echo the sentiments of Matthew Patsky, Portfolio Manager of the Winslow Green Growth Fund, a small cap growth fund focused on environmentally effective investing, when he said, in discussing processless plate technologies and his fund's investment in Presstek, This is a new paradigm for printing that dramatically reduces the use of toxins, the time for cleanup and worker exposure to toxins. This is a home run.

Cary Sherburne is a well-known author, journalist and marketing consultant whose practice is focused on marketing communications strategies for the printing and publishing industries.

Cary Sherburne is available for speaking engagements and consulting projects. To get more information contact us.

Please offer your feedback to Cary. She can be reached at cary@whattheythink.com.



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