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Panpa Bulletin : July 2006
42 | PANPA BULLETIN July 2006 PRESSING MATTERS uWe JunGlaS CTP is the established stand- ard in all regions of the world. In Western Europe, the market is saturated and it is accurate to claim a 95 percent CTP utilisation at newspapers. In Germany, for ex- ample, only three or four of about 170 newspaper printing plants still work with film. Of these, only one is a large printing operation. But the change to CTP is in full swing also in other regions of the world. The US and Asia are following suit. Take the example of Japan, where more systems were installed be- tween October 2004 and October 2005 than in all the years before.The reason for this is that there are now two Japanese manufacturers offer- ing systems capable of exposing the special Japanese plate format. In Japan, two pages are exposed one below the other on to a plate. With Panasonic (Matsushita) and NEC (the exposure technique originates from Creo Trendsetter), two Japa- nese-manufactured systems are offered. Several large Japanese newspa- per operations took the decision last year to convert to CTP, after which everything will go quickly and efficiently: all printing plants will then switch to CTP within very short time. A close look at the exposure tech- nologies shows the emergence of a duel between two opponents: violet photopolymer plates with imagers using single-laser systems and vis- ible violet lasers, and thermal plates with imagers using infrared laser ar- rays. Out - Computer to conventional plates The first CtcP (computer to con- ventional plate) systems came on to the market some four to five years ago. Basysprint offered such a sys- tem that used a powerful UV lamp and a mirror to expose arrays on to conventional plates. These systems are no longer of- fered for newspapers, despite the fact that the sales figures in normal sheet-fed offset are very positive. There are both technical and strategic reasons for this. The sys- tems have simply not achieved the throughput required for larger or medium-sized newspapers, there- fore making additional imaging systems necessary. This made them unattractive for smaller newspa- pers. The second CtcP manufactur- er is AlphaQuest, whose UV laser- based system, as regards marketing activities, is now somewhat over- shadowed by the same company's violet system. The UV laser system was seemingly too expensive and too unreliable. In the end, however, it was the increasingly closing price gap be- tween CTP plates and conventional plates, especially in the US that led to this development. Just recently there was price in- crease in Europe that hit films and conventional plates more than CTP plates. Out/In --What ishappeningwith violet silver? Besides photopolymer technolo- gy, there is the possibility also to use violet lasers to image silver plates. This process continues to be in widespread use, e.g. in Europe. In- deed, in some applications it is still suitable to use silver. Silver plate is less sensitive to heat and humidity than photopolymer plates.That can be an advantage in some regions of the world. But even in India it is now possible to guarantee a safe, air- conditioned plate transport. Several plants are in the process of chang- ing from silver to violet, or shall do so in the near future. The main reason is the expensive developer and that AGFA is the sole supplier, whereas with polymer plates there is now the choice of three suppliers, namely, AGFA, Fuji and Kodak. In addition, AGFA has discontinuedits research and devel- opment activities for silver plates. Now let us take a look at the two strongest competitors: violet pho- topolymer and thermal technology. With thermal technology, it is important to make a distinction be- tween the different market regions. Whereasin the USa number of sup- pliers who are engaged in a fierce price war and whose repeated price reductions are bringing the price close to that of conventional plates, in Europe there is in fact only one plate, i.e. the Kodak Thermal News. The other thermal plates are too costly for newspapers. For this reason, thermal was the clear favourite in the US in the last years. But the violet industry is com- peting strongly on the U.S. market with increasingly low-cost imagers, some of which can be bought for less than EUR 70,000. The price for violet plates has also dropped dra- matically. Personally, I see quality as the main advantage of thermal. The plate/imager combination supplies more stable results, something that many experts and users unfortu- nately overlook. The repeatability and exposure precision should not be ignored. The cost of quality con- trol is certainly less than with violet systems.FM screens orfiner screens are less of a problem with thermal than with violet. The process is sim- ply more stable. Furthermore, chemical con- sumption is relatively small and cleaning the processor not very work-intensive. What are the advantages of vio- let photopolymer technology? The main advantage is the violet laser itself. With commercial DVD technology running in parallel, the laser performance is destined to in- crease further in the future. Today's systems mostly work with 60 mW and thus reach plate throughputs of more than 250 per hour. 100 and 200 mW lasers will become avail- able in the near future. The laser is therefore slightly lower priced and simpler than the relatively expen- sive thermal laser. In fact, much more speed than the aforementioned 250 plates per hour is not required, but the poten- tialforchemistry-freeplatesdoesex- ist.To date, this energy potential has been available only with thermal plates. Fuji has already announced chemistry-free violet plates, though initially only for the commercial market, and AGFA demonstrated the possibility of chemistry-free imaging on a newspaper imager at IPEX 06 and hopes to introduce these plates on to the market by the beginning of 2008. It remains to be seen whether these plates will offer the same stability at the same price as today's "chemical" plates. uwe Junglas Ifra Consulting Director Violet photopolymer or thermal? With technology updating constantly, Uwe Junglas examines which CtP imaging technology is best for what operating conditions For this reason, thermal was the clear favourite in the US in the last years. But the violet industry is competing strongly on the U.S. market with increasingly low-cost imagers, some of which can be bought for less than EUR 70,000. The price for violet plates has also dropped dramatically.