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Focus On


The computer-to-plate sector has come a very long way from its roots. Andy Scott charts the technologies recent evolution and reviews the latest equipment available

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Changes are afoot

Currently the computer-to-plate (CtP) sector seems to be going through a bit of a hiatus with regards to new develop-ments in software, mainly due to current economic and climate conditions within and outside of the printing world.

So, what has developed within the sector, how has this improved things, and what are the current feelings and opinions on the state of the CtP market at present?

Some key trends that seem to be emerging are that the kit and equip-ment in this sector is being sold and marketed in a variety of new ways. Loan deals are also something many manufacturers are looking at as investment in research and devel-opment (R and D) is reduced. This is because new equipment becomes harder to sell as more companies look at hanging on to their current equipment and investing only as and when it can be afforded.

State of play

Andy Cook, managing director, FFEI, giving his viewpoint on the CtP sector and where FFEI stands

FFEI is known as a market leader for its digital imaging solutions and, in CtP, possibly best known for its market leading Alinte violet CtP range—this continues to remain a strong player in emerging markets such as India and China.  Speaking to FFEI’s managing director, Andy Cook, he explains the companies direction since its form-ation: “The CtP business for us really started to become main stream at DRUPA 2000, where we launched the Luxel 9600 based on a YAG laser and then we moved to Violet at IPEX 2002 and broadened the product range. We have shipped around 4,000 machines since 2000.”

With the emerging markets still developing, and FFEI looking to expand into these areas, Cook reveals that FFEI CtP has had notable success in China and India over the past five years, which has helped them to expand their business.

Changes for the better

With CtP having shortened pre-press times and eliminating plate chemistry, Cook believes there are some key areas where time and cost savings can be made:

We believe the big savings are now in workflow and how customers manage the flow of jobs from order to fulfillment. The cost savings from the CtP engine have largely been made over the past ten years

According to Cook running costs have continued to drop for violet imaging as the lasers have become more and more reliable and their life gets extended. “We give five years warranty on Violet lasers and very rarely see returns, compared to thermal or UV, where laser changes are a much more regular and expensive requirement,” he states.

Evolving markets

Looking at FFEI’s presence in the Indian and Chinese markets, Cook points to some common denominators that have contributed to its success. He claims it is down to the technology and manufacturing excellence in FFEI’s equipment. In particular he draws attention to its moulded drum technology, which gives the company a huge advantage in their machine costs and image quality. This, coupled with the reliability of their violet lasers and the low cost of production, makes for what he refers to as, ‘a tremendous combination’.

“Without these technologies and our history of technology development in screening and colour we would never have been able to develop a machine so perfectly suited to these price sensitive and quality aware markets,” he adds.

FFEI’s Alinte News VN20—part of their CTP equipment which is enjoying success in the emerging markets of India and China

This is an important point, and what printers are looking for today when it comes to CtP has changed significantly since the technology’s renaissance at Drupa in 1995.
Cook believes that this trend is now at its height, stating: “Today’s printer is looking for a product that ‘works out of the box’ and keeps running like a work horse with minimum trouble or running costs. Ten years ago people could put up with occasional running issues and maintenance costs, but that is totally unacceptable these days.”

It is often said that printers and suppliers alike are looking for the ultimate goal in their equipment department. There are many views on this subject, but Cook feels that although inkjet plates and conventional plate imaging all offer the potential of reducing costs, he claims that the reality is always about the comp-romises they bring, whether in the productivity or run length durability of the imaging speed. He concludes: “Ultimately the printer needs to decide what levels of speed, quality and cost they need to make money.”

A changing landscape

As the ever evolving print landscape continues to change and develop, so do the companies that provide services to the sector. One of those is Marlowe Graphics, the largest independent provider of pre-press services in the UK.

The companies managing director, Darren Eliot, reveals some salient points when it comes to emerging trends in the sector:

In the last few years we have seen a decline in the sale of new CtP devices, as the market landscape for print changes dramatically

"Many printers have become much broader in the services they offer as they embrace digital print alongside their traditional press output.”
According to Eliot this provides them with alternative revenue streams to combat heavily squeezed margins and new products to market. “One impact on CtP has been pressure on the main manufacturers to maintain a favourable pricing structure as volumes decline,” he adds.

For Marlowe, this change in the market, plus the general economic environment, has had two major impacts.  Eliot continues, “Firstly, we have seen a dramatic surge in new CtP service contracts as printers decide to extend the life of an existing installation rather than buy new. Regular proactive maintenance, which we can offer at an all-inclusive fixed price, not only achieves this objective but provides known expenditure for budgeting purposes into the future. Our service contracts are also very flexible, allowing customisation to circum-stances, and very often considerably less expenditure than offered by the original equipment manufacturer for the same support.”

Going for growth

Marlowe’s support team headed by Andy Hardy, service manager, showing the CTP refurbishment area at Marlowe

The second impact of these emerging trends has been a growth in the sale of second-user CtP equipment. Provided that it is covered by warranty or a service contract, such systems can be a much more attractive solution than a new installation in terms of capital expenditure, especially where this capital might be better spent on extending a printer’s capability by investment in digital press technology.

“This year our installations have included two complete B1 Thermal CtP lines with Autoloaders, an Autoloader for an existing B1 CtP line, second user B1 Thermal CtPs as back-ups to existing plate lines and a number of B2 and B3 CtP systems,” states Eliot, who adds: “We also continue to sell High Water Violet Pythons and Cobras, which represent excellent value for money.”

Being the exclusive supplier of the StudioRIP in the UK also enables them to put together some very compet-itively priced system packages both for new and existing installations with a range of options that include hybrid Screening, imposition, trapping, proof-ing, and remote clients.

Darren Eliot, managing director, Marlowe, who has seen a dramatic surge in new CTP service contracts as printers decide to extend the life of an existing installation rather than buy new

Eliot continues: “The overall market change has had one further impact on Marlowe, which is the overall positioning of our business. Whereas our roots were always in traditional print workflows, we have now extended that capability to include support for any print workflow including digital, such as Indigo presses, and inkjet including ultra-wide formats. This change reflects the new market landscape which we predict will continue to morph in the future but still with a strong foundation in CtP for at least the next five.”

The rise of digital

Mark Baker-Homes, director of business development with Intec Printing Solutions points out that Glunz and Jensen has had an incredible success in the CtP market, just when most other manufacturers have waned, fallen by the wayside, gone in to various ‘chapters’ in the US, or been acquired by venture capitalists. He states:

We have shared that success, by increasing sales of Glunz and Jensen systems in the UK year-on-year

Baker-Holmes continues: “Much has been said about the rise of digital, but equally we have seen many modern print shops relying totally on  digital fail. One reason behind this may be that the offset press sat in the print room has been bought and paid for, but most new digital equipment is on some lease owned by Cannon or Xerox, and after three years an enthusiastic sales person will roll the user into another lease.

“So, you often don’t really own the equipment, and instead you are constantly paying out for updates, and upgrades. Conversely, traditional offset shops are disappearing too, unable to complete with today’s market place demands.”

Environmental cost savings

According to Baker-Homes, the successful printer seems to be where a synergy of traditional offset and digital-on-demand can be found. The ICtP system from Glunz and Jensen enables users to clear out many old pieces of traditional platemaking equipment, and replace them for one single integrated piece.
The company claims it is now recognised as probably the most environmentally-friendly way of making offset plates, and can use up to 90 percent less power than conventional platemaking, saving some users over £2,000 per year on their utility power bill alone.

In addition, the system does not require a water supply, and does not require that the plates are washed out, meaning it is even more environ-mentally-friendly. The 100 percent chemical free approach also means there are no harmful chemicals to dispose of.

Glunz and Jensen’s PlateWriter 3000, the staple solution for chemistry-free plate making

“The bottom-line is that the Glunz and Jensen system offers printers a way to entice new customers through offering an environmentally-friendly print service where maybe they couldn’t have done before,” states Baler-Homes.
“It can even help organisations in Government institutions, or hospitals towards achieving their environmental goals by imple-menting a new CtP solution,” he reveals.

The new solutions

In recognition of their success, Glunz and Jensen installed their 1,000th  machine in October last year, and now have a line-up of five different formats of CtP solution to cover most customers’ needs.

The entry level system is the Plate Writer 2000, which is the back bone of their range, seeing Intec selling well over 100 in the UK in the last two or so years. The newer addition to the range is the Plate Writer 2500.

This was unveiled at Drupa 2012, and made available in the UK later in the same year. It offers landscape two-up plate production in around five minutes per plate, and also the ability to image plates up to 650 x 550mm (four-up).  According to Intec it is also upgradable to the bigger and faster Plate Writer 3000 model.

This, according to Intec, is its staple solution for  four-up plate-making that avoids chemicals. It also uses extremely accurate conductive pin registration, together with an optical verification. Lastly, the Plate Writer 8000, which is new to the UK this year, is capable of some two-up formats, all four-up formats, and most eight-up formats.

Baker-Homes concludes: “We have been quite successful this year so far on Glunz and Jensen CtP systems; it seems the attractive price point and lure of not only chemical-free, but such lower power draw has created a demand.” He claims Intec is totally booked for installations in May, and are starting to push installs out to June.

So, it would appear that despite a somewhat difficult time for the industry, and companies reluctant to spend vast sums on updating their equipment, service contracts are booming and new installations for some, as in Intec’s case, are on the up. This can only be good news for print, and in particular the CtP sector. yhe

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