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MAY 2014

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Computer to Plate . . . .
There's an opportunity here for dealers

Green is in and presents an opportunity for graphic arts dealers in sales of Computer to Plate (CtP) equipment and plates.

Like many technologies that are unique in their introductions, over time they mature and with age get better. This is the case of CtP products. In the beginning the plate costs were many times higher than those produced in a vacuum frame. There was a great deal written in the 1990's trying to prove that CtP saved money even though the cost per plate was higher as was energy costs from thermal plates.

Better registration, improved image quality through cleaner halftone dots, faster makereadies and fewer remakes were the arguments presented to convince printers to shift away for film exposed plates. But through the 1990's this was a hard sell. Many printers already invested into full sized filmsetters and were generating imposed one piece films along with investing into high quality digital contract proofing machines. But, as the industry moved into this century the cost of CtP plates along with processing time was reduced along with proof that CtP reduced plate remakes were negligible, makereadies were faster, dot gain was minimized and in general print quality was better.

A good deal of the remake reductions and faster makereadies was not due so much to the CtP technology but to the improvements in workflow brought on to make the technology work efficiently. In the past, proofing was done after the films were made, so corrections meant remaking of the films or doing fancy editing on the light table which was fraught with adding more problems. With CtP the proof and corrections are done to the file before it is imaged on a plate. All the dealers know what happened by the early to mid-2000's - film sales dropped like a rock.

While the offset CtP market is mature new technology trends offer opportunities in new and replacement sales. Newer platesetters offer environmental benefits along with faster plate imaging to press times and lower per plate costs.

Keep the Environment Green
The trends in the CtP technology are towards processor-less platesetters and plates. The initial platesetters were a combination of imaging devices and chemical processors using laser and thermal technologies. Expensive to run, especially if the plate needed to be pre or post process cured. The cost of the energy used was substantial. This led way to the introductions of infra-red and violet light sources that reduced energy and equipment costs. The trend today is to produce chemical free processing or processor-less plates where the plate comes right out of the platesetter ready for press.

There is a compelling argument that chemical free or processor-less plates reduces platemaking cost: chemically developed CTP plates generally have higher chemical consumption of 20 to 30% in addition to the labor costs to manage/change chemistry plus the additional space needed to process and dry the plates. But there are other equally compelling reasons for getting rid of the chemistry in the platemaking: quicker to press and most important less environmental impacts. In the day and age the manufacturers of printing equipment talk about lower carbon footprints and other operating elements that reduce their impact on the environment.

Your Printing Customers Are Going Green. Shouldn't You?
Printers are becoming very sensitive to having a positive effect on the environment through use of recycled paper, alcohol free fountain solutions, and lowering their dependency on chemicals. Some of this awareness is due to new laws or the enforcement of existing laws where it deals with environmental issues such as the disposal of used chemicals. Don't overlook government pressure on making companies go green. In California early in the 1990's companies using cameras with film doing their own developing found constant visits from the state Environmental Protect Authority (EPA) people inspecting chemistry use and disposal. It did not take long from major corporations and agencies to convert to digital cameras (that were quite expensive at the time and not as good as today's) to avoid this scrutiny followed by fines.

As indicated, the movement towards chemical free plates represents an opportunity for graphic arts dealers to offer replacement solutions to their customers. Considering that most of the installed base of CtP devices has been in place for 6 to 10 years it is time for printers to consider replacement of their older CtP technologies with environmentally kind or green certified equipment and plates.

The processor-less plates of the thermally imaged ablation type was initially developed by Presstek and was the foundation of Heidelberg DI press along with other direct imaging presses where the plates are made on the press. The need for processor-less plates here is obvious. As faster plate loading systems were added to the presses along with blankets or washers, quick setup tools and the use of JDF commands in the workflow from computer to plate to press has impacted the need for integrated plates systems on presses. One outcome is that Presstek now offers their processor-less technology in an off-press platemaking system.

Another type of processor-less plates use inkjet technologies. One company offering inkjet platesetters is Glunz & Jensen (www.glunz-Jensen.com) through their iCtP product line. This company has been offering inkjet based CtP products for a number of years. Their products are sold worldwide with over 1,000 installations. Sold through dealers G&J have a range of equipment that can generate aluminum plates ranging in size from 15.7 x 20.1to 23.7 x 29.3 inches (Platewriter™ 2500/3000) to the larger 8 page format sizes in the Platewriter™ 8000 model. Platemaking speeds range from 4.20 to 10.45 minutes per page depending on plate size with front and side pin bar registration. Run lengths are up to 50,000 impressions. The plates can be made in daylight and require no prepress handling.

There are also plates and platesetters from all the major manufacturers: Kodak (Creo); ECRM; Agfa, Fuji and others. Also look for opportunities selling CtP equipment and plates from Europe and Asia, especially China.

CtP for Flexo
While the majority of the independent dealers do business with offset and digital printers there is a relatively new market for CtP that should be of interest to dealers. The label and narrow web presses print from flexographic presses as do other corrugated printers and envelope converters. Like with offset CtP by eliminating potential variants on film like dust and scratches, Flexo CtP reduces time to proof and makeready times.

In 1995, Esko (www.esko.com ) invented digital flexo with the introduction of its first Cyrel Digital Imager (CDI). Its most recent development is Full HD Flexo that combines a fully digitally controlled platemaking workflow with a high resolution inline UV main exposure unit that is integrated with the plate processor. Kodak (www.kodak.com) also has a Flexo platemaking workflow called the Flexcel NX System. One of their features is Kodak's DigiCap NX Patterning that creates a micro surface texturing to improve ink transfer efficiency. One other Flexo CtP product, the ThermoflexX imager systems come from Xeikon Prepress. The Xeikon (www.xeikon.com ) offering has a range of resolutions up to 5000dpi.

Go For The Bread & Butter To Win Sales In 2014 - Be The One That Educates Your Customers
The market for CtP equipment and plates has been a bread and butter product line for graphic arts dealers once the technology was accepted by the market. The film and plate setter manufacturers, who started by selling directly to the end user, realized that they did not have all of the ingredients for effective workflows and they could not provide the needed level of education and support. It is now up to dealers to educate their customers on the value of upgrading their CtP systems by providing the information to show how investments into the latest chemical free equipment and plates not only have a positive ROI but they benefit the environment. (Sustainablity). Also, dealers should be seeking additional markets like flexo packaging looking for new opportunities for CtP Sales. Today, the successful dealers are those that make their own opportunities. Remember This: Business Is Not About Excuses .. It's About Opportunities!

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