By John O'Rourke, Presstek Which ever processless plates are used, it's not about the technology, it's about process simplification. July 6, 2004 -- It was exciting to see all of the activity around processless plates at drupa 2004! Sometimes we at Presstek have felt a bit like a "lone wolf" evangelizing first chemistry-free--and then process-free--platemaking over the years. It was also interesting that, as several post-drupa writers pointed out, this was the first "filmless drupa" since the fair's inception in 1951. As we have pointed out many times in this space, there are significant benefits to chemistry-free and process-free imaging for the print service provider over and above the efficiencies gained by migrating from film to CTP, including reduced time in prepress, faster pressroom make-readies, reduced chance of errors, reduction in chemistry use (and storage, disposal), and reduced labor (prepress, pressroom, processor maintenance). So it was encouraging to see that most of the major manufacturers in the platemaking industry are hopping on the bandwagon, either announcing process-free products that may be available this year, or at a minimum, showing technology demonstrations of processless plate technology they anticipate making available in the future. So far, all of the processless announcements have centered around thermal imaging technologies. There are many good reasons for that given the state of laser diode imaging technologies today. But as those technologies continue to evolve--with the availability of ever more powerful laser diodes--we may even see processless platemaking extend to violet CTP by drupa 2008. Choice of technologies is not a black-and-white proposition, but rather shades of gray. Presstek brought chemistry-free plates to market over a decade ago with the industry's first direct imaging presses. We introduced the industry's first commercially successful chemistry-free plate, Anthem, at Drupa 2000, and it is now being used in customer sites around the world. Our Applause process-free plates are now gaining marketplace traction as well. With others adding their offerings to the mix, we are thrilled to no longer be the "lone wolf" proclaiming the benefits of chemistry-elimination and we welcome KPG, Agfa, Creo and Fuji to the fold. Also, with our pending acquisition of Precision Lithograining, we are demonstrating our commitment to broadening our own chemistry-free plate offering and expanding our manufacturing capacity to meet increasing market demand. Process Simplification Which ever processless plates are used, it's not about the technology --thermal lasers versus violet lasers; conventional plates versus digital plates; inkjet versus laser, and so on --it's about process simplification. It's about savings in real dollars, labor and time; it's about quality improvements; and most importantly, it's about improved pressroom productivity. Finally, it's about choice. It is overly simplistic to think that technology is an all or nothing proposition. Our industry has always had competing technologies, which is ultimately good for the industry. In the case of CTP, we can recall the internal versus external drum debates post drupa 1995. This was followed closely by the visible versus thermal debate, which of course morphed into the current violet versus thermal debate. Now, nearly 10 years after drupa 1995 (billed at the time as "the CTP drupa"), there are both internal drum and external drum CTP systems using both violet and thermal lasers. And drupa 2004 sales indicated a roughly 50/50 split between thermal and violet systems sold. This is clear proof that customers will buy the solution that best fits their needs based on their own individual buying criteria. While the thermal versus violet debate continues post-drupa, some industry pundits advocate waiting until the technology wars are over and a clear winner has been decided before investing in CTP. This can be a risky proposition. Every day a printer delays in implementing CTP is costing him real dollars and negatively impacting his competitiveness. For those that have not yet made the move, the transition to CTP is easier than ever before--financially as well as from a workflow perspective--especially now that there is a choice of options for processless plates. The reality of our world today is that choice of technologies is not a black-and-white proposition, but rather shades of gray. And technologies churn every two to three years--and even more frequently in some segments. Waiting until next drupa to see who wins the debate is akin to waiting for workstation prices to bottom out before buying needed computing technology. They aren't going to bottom out anytime soon; advances in technology are making sure of that! Meanwhile, those who wait to make the move to CTP--and preferably, chemistry-free or process-free CTP--are foregoing the productivity gains and improved service levels that could mean the difference between success and demise in an industry that has been under tremendous market pressure--a situation that is not likely to change anytime soon. Ask yourself: "Does it make sense to delay this investment?" At Presstek, we don't think so, whether you choose to go with us or one of our colleagues. And with the groundswell of acceptance of--and activity around--processless CTP among our colleagues in the industry, our perception is that they don't think so, either. Two, three, or even four years of benefit from a more productive production process has surely got to outweigh the costs of switching horses downstream in the event that should become necessary. We hope you agree.