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DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY DOMINATES

Jul 1, 2000 12:00 AM


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Drupa highlights include computer-to-plate and direct imaging presses.

Drupa had it all: cheerleaders, violinists, circus performers, stilt walkers, opera singers, soccer stars, scooters and a theme song played twice daily at a soaring decibel level seldom achieved outside the deck of an aircraft carrier. While these distractions will soon be distant memories, the digital technology that dominated the Dusseldorf show won't-we'll be discussing it for years to come.

This month we present some workflow, digital press and computer-to-plate (CTP) trends seen at Drupa. Coming issues will concentrate on inkjet presses, sheetfed and web technology, as well as bindery and finishing innovations. While it is difficult to sum up the sprawling event, "solutions" was the unofficial theme. Heidelberg solutions included prepress, digital print, quick print, commercial print, commercial web and finishing. PrintCity hosted complete production workflows with 60 partners, including Agfa, Adobe, Apple, MAN Roland, Polaroid Graphics Imaging, Oce, Ferag, Baumann and Wohlenberg. Xerox offered both digital and offset solutions.

Many of the new products had been announced earlier this year, but some surprises remained. Presstek had announced its ProFire thermal imaging system and most of the new direct imaging (DI) presses that will adapt the technology. At Drupa, it announced the Ryobi 3404DI, a two-page, four-color offset press, as well its alliance with Didde Web Press to create a DI UV web press for the direct-mail printing market. "Our dream is to turn printing presses into output devices for computers," said Bob Hallman, president and CEO. He said DI press options are reaching the critical mass that will fuel growth.

ProFire is Presstek's enabling technology-it integrates lasers, laser drivers, digital electronics and motion control into a single package that can be adapted to CTP devices or DI presses.

A total of 13 DI presses were announced or shown. Presstek could claim bragging rights for the Adast 557, a four-up Akiyama, the Didde UV web press, Heidelberg's QuickMaster, the PAX-DI, Ryobi 3404 DI, Sakurai four-up Oliver-474EPII DI and to-be-determined Shinohara. CreoScitex imaging technology can be found on the Heidelberg 74 DI, MAN Roland's DICOweb and Komori's Project D, a 40-inch press currently under development. Screen's TruPress 744 is a direct-imaging, B2 size, four-color press using conventional inks and consumables. Sakurai teamed with Screen to design and build the 744's paper supply and delivery unit.

MAN Roland said its DICO technology will go beyond its original incarnation as a web press digital printing system with erasable cylinders-it will be incorporated on short-run sheetfed and packaging presses as well.

"If you image offline, you must get the plates to the press," said David McMaster, managing director, Adast America, explaining that direct imaging coupled with the high degree of automation on the Adast 557 DI eases the logistical hurdle. The five-color B3 press incorporates Presstek's automated plate cylinder that holds a roll of 37 plates and delivers all five plates simultaneously for imaging in less than 20 seconds. Imaging is said to take two minutes and 40 seconds at 1270 dpi. Turnaround is eight minutes for a full-coverage, five-color job. Automatic plate cleaning and blanket washers facilitate fast job changeover.

INK RAMIFICATIONS The PAX DI is similar to the 557, but features Xerox's DigiPath production control tool. According to a statement issued by Xerox, "[the importance of] bringing DigiPath compatibility to Presstek's digital offset products in providing a complete digital control panel to the digital printer cannot be overstated. It includes job submission via the Web, network or portable media, digital prepress and makeready including hardcopy scanning, electronic imposition, document management and other features." At press time, Presstek and Xerox are ironing out how sales will be handled.

A strategic alliance Xerox and Imation announced at the show could result in further DigiPath developments. The two companies plan to offer a digital front-end to provide network connectivity to the DocuColor 12 for prints and proofs that simulate Imation's Matchprint proofing system. Xerox's goal is to deliver "short-run prints and concept proofs targeted to the Matchprint proofing system at a cost comparable to alternative, less accurate devices."

Single-fluid ink announcements could have significant ramifications for digital and conventional presses. Flint Ink announced a prototype four-color process single-fluid ink (SFI) for sheetfed applications and book-black SFI for heatset applications. Neither fountain solution nor special plates are required. Senior chemist Kevin Kingman is leading Flint's SFI research. He reports that eliminating the need for water or dampening systems results in an accurate dot with minimal dot gain. "Dots remain visible into the 95 percent screen range, compared to the 80 percent to 85 percent range for conventional printing."

Kingman said the technology will transform the focus of the industry. Since the SFI doesn't require fountain solution, a printer could remove the dampener from a press, making it possible to add equipment for DI or on-demand printing.

Sun Chemical showed Instant Dry W2, digital, waterless and water-washable sheetfed offset inks. The InstantDry W2 has been specially formulated to work on the QMDI; for other sheetfed presses, Sun has created a line of single-fluid inks commercially available in the four-process colors. Both lines are water-washable. Waterless printing plates are required as well as an on-press temperature control to maintain optimum ink viscosity.

Flint also introduced GlobaLink, a four-dimensional color system said to permit long-distance color replication and approval in minutes. Utilizing X-Rite's ColorMail, Ink-Master and On-Screen Color matching technologies, the process permits secure color measurement data from remote locations to an ink dispensing center where the match color is formulated. The replicated color is then proofed, measured and the data is transmitted to the originator for confirmation or visual approval of color representations on a calibrated monitor.

COMPUTER-TO-PLATE All varieties of computer-to-plate devices were shown: thermal and visible light, violet, UV and even inkjet. (See page 60 for product descriptions.) With CreoScitex and Heidelberg going their separate ways, Heidelberg announced it has acquired the intellectual property from Screen for Heidelberg's Topsetter 74 and 102 external-drum platesetters. Both will be produced as licensed products in Kiel, Germany. Heidelberg had previously announced its four- and eight-up internal drum imagesetter, the Primesetter. Because the Primesetter can image the new 12-mil Silver DigiPlate from Mitsubishi, large and medium format users can take advantage of polyester savings. The Quicksetter 350 two-page imagesetter provides another polyester solution. Xante also announced a 340 mm plate option for its PlateMaker3, meaning it can produce laser plates for the QM 46. "We have all bases covered except for VLF," reported Axel Zoeller, marketing director, prepress, NAFTA. He adds that automation is on the rise. "Until now, the U.S. market was dominated by semi-automatic machines, but as the CTP adoption rate grows, more customers are investing in automation. A seamless upgrade to automation is a key technology feature clients want."

On the web side, Heidelberg showed the Mainstream 80, the first gapless newspaper press, the Sunday 2000 and 4000 as well as Ecocool, a dryer with integrated afterburning pollution control, cooling section and chill rolls.

Gretag Imaging (Cymbolic Science) intends to leverage its T-Wave technology to lower the cost of thermal CTP with its B1 format PlateJet Emerald-the internal drum system is priced at $129,000. Affordability is also the calling card of the violet-laser devices from Barco, Krause, Agfa, Escher-Grad and Purup Eskofot as well as new UV-light platesetters capable of imaging conventional plates from BasysPrint and Purup Eskofot.

KBA showed a prototype of its 11-ft.-high Cortina, a waterless, mini tower offset press shown with the Presstek Dimension 400 laser platesetter. Described as a "high-volume copier for four-color newspapers," it significantly reduces waste. The press is expected to be available in 2002-KBA is currently resolving some plate issues. "Interest at the show was overwhelming," said Klaus Schmidt, director of marketing. "We could have sold three machines a day." Schmidt added that while KBA has a strong presence in the 40-inch press market, it intends to beef up its small-format presence. Its new B2 Rapida 74 supports a CIP3 workflow and a high level of automation.