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ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: Vendor plate portfolios

Jul 13, 2001 12:00 AM

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What plate vendors could be introducing tomorrow is fascinating, but what are they doing today? Here’s a snapshot of the plate manufacturers and their products:

Lest concerns continue regarding Agfa’s plate supply, David Furman, senior marketing manager, CTP systems, notes that Agfa has made "significant" improvements in the past 12 months to expand its CTP plate manufacturing capacity (of the violet Lithostar, and Thermostar and N91 products) in Europe. Agfa’s New Jersey facility, which currently makes analog plates for the North American market, is undergoing capacity expansion as well, and Furman says it will be manufacturing the Thermostar and N91 plates by Q4.

Citiplate principally manufactures silverless photopolymer offset plates for UV, thermal and violet CTP applications. Its UV plates reportedly require lower doses of UV energy than other manufacturers' offset plates. Technical director Robert Dainton explains that Citiplate UV plates are currently featured in a variety of new UV CTP platesetters, both on the market and soon to be released.

While Citiplate's AQUA LHP plate system is already exposure-compatible with both UV (365 nm) and violet (410 nm) platesetters of suitable energy output, Citiplate is continuing to expand its plate portfolio, with 410-nm violet and 830-nm thermal CTP plates. Both lines are scheduled to be introduced later this year. The company's newest silverless violet plates are engineered for use in violet platesetters having 30 mw or more energy output. Citiplate's photopolymer thermal plate line will include a positive- and a negative-working plate, with and without pre-baking.

In addition to its analog plates, Fuji offers its line of Brillia thermal and photopolymer CTP plates. The LP-NS is a visible-light plate for blue argon-ion or green FD-YAG lasers. Its LH-NI plate, for one million impressions or more, requires pre- and postbaking; its LH-PI thermal plate, for less than 300,000 impressions, requires no pre- or postbake.

"Printers want to get rid of ovens for a number of reasons; that’s why we’ve had such success with the LH-PI," relates Jim Crawford, group manager of product development, output media. "Ovens take up floor space; generate heat, which requires more air conditioning; and use a lot of electricity--which is not desired in California these days. It also adds another step in the platemaking process that you have to control."

This equipment vendor began offering consumables last fall, including a thermal plate for the Speedmaster DI, the Cristala polyester plate and soon, a violet plate.

Why offer consumables? According to Rick Boggess, director of consumables, Heidelberg’s Board of Directors decided four years ago to expand Heidelberg’s solution offerings in two places: digital technology and consumables. Boggess says Heidelberg’s joint venture with Eastman Kodak on the NexPress was part of this effort in the digital technology area. (Incidentally, all NexPress consumables will primarily be developed between Heidelberg and Kodak, and Boggess says those consumables will only be available from Heidelberg.)

On the consumables side, unlike in Canada--where Heidelberg primarily sells other manufacturers’ brands of consumables through a dealer network--the vendor began development to deliver its own branded consumables to the U.S. Boggess says these products, developed with leading consumables manufacturers, optimize the performance of Heidelberg’s prepress, press and postpress equipment.

"We didn’t want to become a general reseller with minimal value-add," Boggess explains. "So we’re putting a lot of emphasis on co-development with a manufacturer and having Heidelberg solutions sold only by us."

Bruce Davidson, worldwide marketing director, plates, stresses that Kodak Polychrome offers a range of products for printers. On the analog side, it offers both positive- and negative-exposing plates, though Davidson says the North American market primarily demands negative plates. Davidson says Kodak Polychrome has been promoting its Crafstman Elite and ProNeg series of plates.

The vendor offers the Thermal Printing Plate 830, which can be exposed in an analog workflow as a negative-working plate, or digitally. It can be postbaked for extended runs up to one million impressions. The ProTherm P3000 no-preheat plate uses technology similar to its Electra plate being sold in Europe, and is suitable for sheetfed applications.

Kodak Polychrome unveiled a waterless thermal CTP plate at Drupa. It is currently in beta testing.

As for other technologies, such as violet, "we don’t leave any stone unturned," says Davidson. "We’re watching it very carefully, although at the moment, we believe our offerings in thermal provide the best solution for the customer. It’s certainly fun and interesting to talk about various technologies, but at the end of the day, customers want a plate that works on press and has a minimum number of problems day in and day out."

Lastra is the fourth-largest plate manufacturer in the world and well known in Europe. It is brand new to the U.S. market. According to technical director Jay Faulkner, the Italian manufacturer--which is building a distribution system with dealers throughout the U.S.--intends to eventually build its business stateside to the point where it can justify an investment in U.S. production facilities . All production is currently being handled in facilities in Italy.

Faulkner says Lastra’s primary product for the U.S. market is its analog Nitio Dev negative-working substractive plate and is in the early stages of a launch of its Extrema thermal 830-nm CTP plate.

Faulkner says there will be no visible-light product announcements in the near future, but notes that Lastra has a full R&D program in progress, researching violet and other visible-light, as well as processless plate technologies.

Mitsubishi Imaging’s Silver DigiPlate digital polyester and paper-based plates are suitable for thermography, forms, financial and commercial printers doing up to four-color work, according to director of marketing Jeff Troll. He says the products are traditionally suited for the two-up market. They can be used for run lengths of about 25,000 impressions.

Troll says Mitsubishi Imaging promotes its plates alongside various platesetting systems. It distributes Purup-Eskofot’s DPX systems, for example, and will introduce the DPX 5080 internal-drum platesetter for two- or four-color printers. It is also selling a Mitsubishi-branded, high-speed polyester platesetter that processes 16-inch-wide plate material.

Presstek introduced its first thermal plate in 1991, used exclusively for short-run printing on the GTO-DI press. Its PEARLdry product is also used for short-run printing. John O’Rourke, product manager for consumables, notes that PEARLdry is one of the most widely used digital plates in the world today, with more than 1,00 sites.

Presstek also offers the Anthem plate for run lengths of 100,000 impressions and fewer.

PDI is commercializing its Eclipse Thermal CTP plate, suitable for runs up to a half-million impressions.

"Rather than jumping out there and selling the product right away, we’re working very closely with key printers in the U.S.," relates Dwight Zilinskas, director of corporate and international sales. "We’re reviewing the product with them and updating our plate based upon their recommendations."

And while Zilinskas says PDI is looking into processless technology, just as others in the industry are, he predicts that printers that have a lot of capital tied up in big presses will continue to use proven products on press. "The key to them is to get the press up and running as fast as possible--and once running, keeping it running," Zilinskas says. "They will be the last ones to adopt thermal processless technology."

SPECTRATECH INTERNATIONAL Spectratech International recently introduced its Spectra 830-nm thermal plates, suitable for about 250,000 impressions unbaked.

Toray’s waterless plates have a silicone coating. During imaging, the laser beam breaks the binding between the silicone and heat-sensitive layers, and the silicone layer is physically taken out from the imaged layer. The plates require no preheating or postbaking.

While director of marketing Kenji Iwaya notes that waterless printing requires a fairly large initial investment--the press requires a cooling system, and special inks and blankets are used in waterless printing--he says the advantages of not having to use water and the structure of the plate allow for stable printing and less dot gain than with traditional printing.

Iwaya observes that processless plates are a big technology for the future but can’t comment on whether Toray is working on one. As for violet plates, "Toray won’t look into it," he says. "Our direction is with heat-sensitive plates, and among platesetters in the market, heat-sensitive is the most popular."

Western Lithotech offers the DiamondPlate family of digital plates. It offers plates for visible-light, including YAG and argon, to 830-nm thermal and 488-nm violet