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Focus On

CtP Under the Microscope

Where there is litho there is the need to originate an image onto a printing plate. Russ Hicks welcomes process-less plate production, discovering it is now realistic and achievable Shorter print runs mean that more jobs will be run per day, requiring more plates

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Agfa’s House of Asanti Showroom in its Belgium_based headquarters pays hommage to the pivotal part that CtP technology has played in the company’s growth

Long live the King

With the focus on the plate-less print production of digital, the printer might be forgiven for forgetting the dominance of litho in our world. Maybe we should think of it in terms of offset still being a king to the digital prince. Not a Prince Louis, in terms of succession, but certainly no Charles either. In terms of volume produced digital is probably more of a Prince George—a prince who will be king one day.

Where there is litho there is the need to originate an image onto a printing plate. This whole process has moved on in leaps and bounds over the last forty years. From highly skilled and highly paid dark room guru’s using negative films, sticky tape, print down frames, and a fair amount of precision, then on to output from computerised typesetting machines, before the advent of Post Script, swiftly moving us forward to the imagesetter. From there the move to the platesetter was almost inevitable, and computer-to-plate (CtP) devices have certainly been crowned the platform king in terms of plate creation for some time now.

Kodak’s new high-speed Trendsetter will be able to produce up to 67 eight-page plates per hour

Kodak’s Nathanael Eijbersen, worldwide product manager, output devices, sums up the situation. He comments: “The outlook for CtP devices is very positive. Printers that are investing in new presses are likely to purchase one or more new CtP devices at the same time, some driven by format changes, and other printers will be upgrading to faster, or more automated CtP devices to be more competitive and adapt to market needs.

We expect to see increased demand for larger format CtP devices, eight-page and larger, as printers upgrade their presses and focus on ganging jobs to increase press utilisation

“We expect to see increased demand for larger format CtP devices, eight-page and larger, as printers upgrade their presses and focus on ganging jobs to increase press utilisation. Also, as presses become more efficient with automated plate loading, shorter make-readies, and shorter runs, printers are looking to get plates to the pressroom faster. High-speed, highly-automated, and reliable CtP devices will be critical for maximizing ROI on press, especially for short runs that need to be cost-competitive with digital print.”

Andrew Hall, CtP and consumables manager for Heidelberg UK, adds: “Printing plates are fundamental to the litho process and printers need computer-to-plate devices that they know are reliable and will provide good quality printed results in volumes that marry up with their presses.”

Advances of UV

The recent advances in the world of litho have moved UV into sharp focus. Today’s platesetter range is not complete without a system tailored for the needs of UV printing.

“The traditional litho offset press has changed and adapted to meet the meets of today’s print production. This is especially apparent with the growth of hybrid-UV presses offering instant drying, finishing, and delivery to meet quick turnaround schedules. There are also increasing environmental demands on printers, along with the need to comply with changing regulations and ensure all production processes are managed with the minimum impact and cost. Printers need to address all these demands whilst also remaining profitable,” says Sean Lane, product group manager, offset solutions, at Fujifilm.

One company that has recently installed a new CtP unit is the St Austell Printing Company in Cornwall. It has added a Heidelberg Suprasetter 106 that will run alongside an existing Suprasetter A75.

Kevin Brokenshire, prepess and production manager at St Austell, says: “We already had a Suprasetter and have been really happy with its production and reliability so wanted another one.”

Managing director Peter Moody adds: “We did look at other manufacturers but the Suprasetter was always our first choice. As we already have one in the company we know how well it works. Our relationship with Heidelberg spans a long period and we find them approachable and knowledgeable. They understand the economics of our industry which means we can have a sensible and informed conversation.”

St Austell Printing Company in Cornwall recently invested in a Heidelberg Suprasetter 106

The Suprasetter range features laser systems developed by Heidelberg and the modular design means lasers can be added as well as different automated loading devices.

Heidelberg not only provides the CtP device but also a broad range of plate options, including conventional, chem-free, process-less plates, and plates suited to UV, LED-UV, and LE-UV production. Its own Saphira Eco environmentally responsible range is very popular. Each type of plate sold by Heidelberg has been extensively tested to ensure it works effectively on Heidelberg press technology.

One other company very much at the vanguard of the UV revolution is Apex Digital Graphics. The above mentioned LED-UV press at the St Austell Printing Company is one of many installed in the UK over the last three years. Apex is also the UK distributor for the Chinese made Cron CtP machines—a new range of which has just been announced. Cron machines will often be found sitting alongside RMGT Ryobi press installations.

Plenty of options

Apex managing director, Bob Usher, provides the latest news regarding the latest suite of Cron CtP devices. He says: “There are now two ranges of Cron devices. The H model is an entry-level compact range of machines available with thermal or UV lasers. The H range is available in sizes from 26” for presses up to SRA2 the 36” for presses up to SRA1 and 46” range for the B1 market.

“The second range is the G+ series, which is basically designed for the higher volume commercial printer and is available with optional plate autoloaders from a three-cassette device, with 50 plates per cassette, for different plate sizes online, or a single-size 200-plate autoloader. These machines feature punching within the platesetter—this therefore does away with the bridge, thus decreasing the overall length over the previous G model by 1.3m. The G+ range is also available in thermal or UV lasers and in sizes including 26/36/46 and 72” for the VLF market.”

As for Heidelberg’s kit line up, the Suprasetter A52 (B3 format) basic machine runs at 20 plates an hour and the A75 (B2) at 17 plates an hour. The 725rpm drum speed of the A series and the use of an optional double swivel table for parallel loading and unloading can increase the A52 speed to 27 plates an hour and the A 75 to 22 plates an hour. The Suprasetter A106 runs at 18 plates an hour and the Suprasetter 106 has five speeds from 21 to 55 plates an hour.

“Printers need computer-to-plate devices that they know are reliable and will provide good quality printed results in volumes that marry up with their presses,” says Andrew Hall of Heidelberg

Printers with an ecological agenda should note, according to Heidelberg, the Suprasetter A52 and A75 feature the lowest energy usage in their class that can also provide a running cost benefit. Today the Saphira Chem-Free is the most popular plate in Heidelberg’s consumables range, eliminating chemistry from the plate-making process.

From Kodak there is a new high-speed Trendsetter platesetter that will be able to produce up to 67 eight-page plates per hour to accommodate the need for faster plate production. Nathanael Eijbersen says: “We recently introduced a new multi-cassette unit (MCU) for our Trendsetter and Achieve platesetters, which enables continuous, automated loading of up to 480 plates while taking up significantly less space than comparable units, enabling post-CtP automation within the same space including inline bending and sorting of plates.”

Eijbersen adds: “There are many CtP devices out in the field that are over ten years old, and even though these older devices may still work, our customers are realising that new CtP devices will help them be more competitive. Even the basic models are much faster than previous generations, and the cost for speed has come down. Printers want to be able to make more plates with fewer CtP lines and fewer people, and for that they need faster, more automated devices. Also, much of the market is moving to process-free plates, such as Kodak Sonara plates, and removing the plate processor gives them a lot more room. Printers that previously had space restrictions are now able to add another CTP device and do more in less space.”

Superior quality

At Agfa the Avalon N8-90 thermal platesetter offers proven technology and what the company considers to be superior quality, achieving ultra-high productivity levels of up to 70 B1 plates per hour. When combined with the Expert Loader, the Avalon N8-90 offers up to 1,200 plates of continuous production, boosting a printer’s process efficiency while reducing the risk of plate damage.

Screen is something of a different platesetter manufacturer in that it builds devices under both its own name and for other suppliers. Whilst its own Screen Plate Rite products are well represented in the market, similar equipment is available from Agfa under the Avalon brand name, and from Fujifilm as the Luxel and Ultima machines, all manufactured by Screen.

Shorter print runs mean that more jobs will be run per day, requiring more plates

Screen’s Martijn van den Broek gives his thoughts on the market: “Shorter print runs mean that more jobs will be run per day, requiring more plates. Generally, our CtP’s have a very long technical lifetime. Many of our users have been running their Screen CtP for ten to 15 years without any issue, and still there would be no technical reason to replace them, but productivity. We have released last year a faster four-page CtP and also our eight-page CtP’s can now produce up to 70 B1-plates per hour, compared to ten to 20 about 15 years ago.

“R and D is not standing still and Screen are continuously innovating the existing range. Recently we launched for example the Plate Rite HD 8900N series with increased output quality, reduced energy consumptions, and reduced maintenance requirements.”

Whilst CtP might be our focus here, plate development still helps to steer the course of equipment production. With the focus in recent years on the reduction and then total eliminations of the processing element of plate production readers will appreciate this necessary deviation.

O Factoid: Adamas from Agfa is a robust pre-heat-free, chem-free printing plate for demanding newspaper market and commercial printing applications—based on patented Thermo Link technology O

Agfa has just released its Adamas plate, described as the “most durable chem-free plate available on the market”, using no water and creating up to 75 percent less waste than similar products that are currently available.

Agfa Graphics’ Adamas COU85 and COU125 are compact clean-out units that finish Adamas plates, with the company saying it takes “ecology to the next level”

The company’s patented Thermo Link technology is at the heart of Adamas, with Agfa saying that this feature will allow users to print up to 350,000 copies from the plate. Fujifilm, meanwhile, has announced its latest plate developments. The European launch of Superia LH-S2 provides for a new low-chemistry plate that only requires a gum clean out, rather than traditional processing chemistry. The plate takes advantage of the same fundamental technologies found in Fujifilm’s leading plates to deliver outstanding performance.

Cost savings

Fujifilm has used its existing advanced multi-layer technologies to develop a new plate that provides a step to process-less. Superia LH-S2 has been designed so that it requires just a simple one-stage clean out with a gum solution.

Sean Lane, offset product group manager at Fujifilm, says: “Printers who are considering a move to process-less plates, but are not in a position to make such a change immediately, will find Superia LH-S2 the ideal next step down that road. Offering significant environmental and cost savings, and compatible with most platesetters, it offers an ideal route towards Fujifilm’s industry-leading range of process-less plates, including Superia ZD and Superia ZP.”

Kodak’s Sonora process-free volumes were highlighted in the company’s recent Q1 results, increasing by some 21 percent. The latest variant, the Sonora X, is said by the company to cater for the needs of nearly every offset printer.

Process-free is marching forward. Improvements in plate technology are occurring frequently. The CtP device is adapting to environmental expectations, larger-format requirements, and an increasing demand for plates, through both shorter runs and ganging multiple jobs for simultaneous printing, leading to faster devices. An older platesetter may still be producing, but is it imaging plates quickly enough for today’s needs?  A new CtP unit will producefaster, be more environmentally friendly, and quite probably take less valuable floor space.


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