by Patrick Henry October 2 , 2003 -- Graph Expo '03 positively abounded in pressroom solutions for small to medium-sized commercial printers and in-plants. Speed, flexibility, and ease of use are the common denominators of dozens of new products aimed at sheetfed plants with equipment up to 29"—the bedrock of the industry, and, for pressroom product vendors, its most challenging market segment. As these shops face mounting pressure to produce greater numbers of smaller runs in ever-shrinking time frames, the vendors find themselves equally pressured to deliver solutions capable of meeting the demand. But pressure often is the most effective driver of ingenuity, and at Graph Expo, there's been no shortage of the gee-whiz factor in the product demonstrations that have been holding visitors in thrall since the show opened on Sunday. Practicality of design has been another keynote, as seen in the vendors' obvious pains to craft solutions that fit existing production scenarios and workflows. The following short digest of announcements from the show floor should give some indication of how seriously the manufacturers are taking the needs of the small to medium sized printer—typically, a customer-focused business with a commitment to efficiency and quality that is as intensive as any big plant's. But the benefits of using these products isn't necessarily reserved for small shops only. As one vendor CEO pointed out, even the biggest plants started out small, and many of the big players would like to continue to work profitably in the small-format applications that helped to make them what they are today. So solutions like these potentially are for everyone. Creo is reaching out to shops with 30 or fewer employees with “Creo Complete” packages of hardware and software for CTP and proofing. Every “Creo Complete” solution consists of a Creo Lotem or Trendsetter platesetter; a Prinergy, Brisque, or PS/M family workflow; and thermal plates and proofing media. An introductory package includes a basic setup for four-up thermal platemaking; more fully featured packages are available for four-up and eight-up CTP. Creo has further streamlined its CTP platemaking by offering ContinuousLoad automatic plateloading as an option for Trendsetter models 400 II and 800 II. Esko-Graphics offered an advance look at a CTP product that it expects to release just before drupa next May: the DPX-4, a four-up polyester platesetter featuring a built-in processor. The unit also has internal cutting and punching capability for delivering plates in press-ready sizes. Esko says that the DPX-4 will be able to 38 GTO-sized plates per hour at 2,450 dpi, making the new unit twice as productive as its two-up DPX devices. The commercial launch of the Applause process-free thermal plate by Presstek should be of particular interest to smaller shops, according to Presstek representatives at the show. The company notes that working with image-and-print Applause plates can save space in small shops by eliminating the need for processors, baking units, and other hardware associated with other kinds of CTP media. Presstek believes that small shops will find no-process plates an even more attractive proposition than larger shops, which have invested in plate-processing infrastructures and are financially committed to using them. Kodak Polychrome Graphics aims to enhance the efficiency of its new DirectPress 5034 DI system by offering EFI's Velocity OneFlow prepress software as the color front end. By automating preflighting, trapping, RIPing, and other printing and proofing functions, says KPG, Velocity OneFlow will enable small to medium sized printers and service bureaus to produce short-run, quick-turnaround color jobs with confidence. The 5034 DI, built for runs of 500 and up, offers 10-minute makereadies and an output resolution of 2,450 dpi. Flint Ink's “Optimiser” Ink Dispenser is designed to behave like the second syllable of its name. It is an electronically controlled ink dispensing system that, according to Flint, can reduce overall ink waste in a run by up to 90 percent. Optimiser monitors the ink fountain and automatically replenishes low spots in the duct. Its recyclable airtight packaging, fitted with a plunger for dispensing, prevents ink skinning during both printing and shelf storage. Flint is making the Optimiser system available for five-pound canisters and 55-gallon drums. A.B. Dick has teamed with OEM partner Presstek to offer small and medium shops a two-up platesetting solution that A.B. Dick bills as metal CTP for a close-to-polyester price. The components are the A.B. Dick Vector 52 chemistry-free thermal platesetter and Freedom plates. The Vector 52 exposes plate sizes up to 20" x 21" at 2,540 dpi and features semi-automatic plate loading. The Freedom plate, a non-ablative thermal plate requiring only a water wash after exposure, is good for up to 25,000 impressions—more than adequate for most small-format work, according to the supplier. A.B. Dick is offering the Vector 52 with its PrintersRIP and Momentum workflow for $84,000. The company says that the Freedom plates are priced at $1.38 per square foot, about 13 percent more than polyester plate material. GBC , a maker of laminating and binding products, hopes to coax printers away from their venerable paper drills with the Quantum P70iX digital production punch. The device can store job setups, change punching dies easily, and handle paper weights from 16 to 140 lb. in sizes from 5 1 / 2 " to 12" on the punch edge. Capable of punching up to 72,000 sheets per hour, the Quantum P70iX is self-monitoring and designed for unattended operation. Grafitec America is the U.S. distribution arm of Graphitec, a press manufacturer based in the Czech Republic but wholly owned by an American investment group. Grafitec came to Graph Expo to showcase two sheetfed offset presses aimed at small to medium sized printers: the Polly Performer 66, a 19" x 26" convertible perfector; and the straight printing Polly Prestige 74, a highly automated, ergonomically designed 20" x 29" press with an optional dampener-coater for the fifth printing unit. Both presses are available in two, four, and five colors. The Polly Prestige 74 features what Grafitec describes as “true” touchscreen control, enabling the setting of all press parameters from the CIP3/CIP4 compliant touchscreen interface. Both presses can be built with as many or as few automation features as the customer's volume dictates, says Grafitec America. For plants so small that “CTP workflow” means unplugging one device from the computer and connecting another, Xanté offers PlateMaker 4: a chemical-free system that can image polyester plates up to 2,400 dpi and paper plates up to 1,200 dpi for short runs (15,000 impressions with poly; 5,000 with paper). Xanté says that the PlateMaker 4 has made a non-issue of toning—the accumulation of toner particles in non-image areas where unwanted ink could be picked up. A press that KBA North America hopes will be admired as a work of “genius" is the aptly named Genius 52, a 20.5" x 13" press specifically designed for quick printers, in-plants, and commercial printers of all sizes. The Genius 52 is a keyless, waterless press featuring four or five printing units arranged in a V-shape around a central impression cylinder. Each sheet is printed in one gripper bite with no sheet transfer so that registration is foolproof, according to KBA. The press, which is designed for one-person operation, offers the option of adding a fifth printing unit or an inline aqueous coater plus dryer and delivery extension.