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DIGITAL PLATES -- Shortcutting the Process

October 2003
BY MARK SMITH

Technology Editor

The goal is basically the same regardless of what name is given to the technology—no-process, process-free or non-process plates. Since computer-to-plate production is all about taking steps, variables and labor out of the workflow, it naturally follows that people would look to eliminate the chemistry-based plate processor.

The leading plate manufacturers have very similar takes on the future of this development, even if they differ on what to call it. This shared vision begins with a focus on non-ablative switchable polymer and/or on-press development systems as promising technologies.

That is, with the exception of Presstek Inc. in Hudson, NH. The company has pioneered the market with its current generation of chemistry-free plates and use of thermal-ablation imaging. "This (choice) is not based upon an affinity for the technology itself, but rather because we believe this approach offers the best opportunity for chemistry-free and process-free plate products," notes John O'Rourke, marketing director, Digital Media.

Other manufacturers contend that thermal-ablation plates fall short of the grand vision for two reasons. One, a debris removal system generally is required on the platesetter. Two, plates must be put through some level of a water wash step after imaging.

Presstek has been working to minimize the process requirements in both areas, O'Rourke says. Its latest "process-free" offering, Applause, actually represents the fourth generation of the technology, he points out.

"Most CTP plate products have a coating weight of approximately 1 micron thickness," O'Rourke notes. "Our Anthem plate utilizes an ablative layer that is 0.25 microns thick. Applause reduces this by an order of magnitude to .025 microns in thickness."

This improved coating system eliminates the need for any post-exposure treatment (i.e., water wash or wiping), according to the marketing director. It also reduces the impact on the platesetter, he says.

"What we have learned so far is that each imaging platform is unique," O'Rourke explains. "While Applause may require use of a vacuum collection system, we can see an opportunity to simplify the air management system on our own Dimension platesetters, and we expect filter life will be extremely long—perhaps even achieving lifetime filters.

"Beta testing on other imaging platforms is under way, but it's too soon to determine exactly what will be needed in terms of air collection. It's possible that a very simple system will suffice," he adds.

Applause's commercial release date has yet to be announced, and the same goes for its pricing. "By eliminating all of the various cost centers around chemical plate developing, we know we can deliver a lower 'Plate on Press' cost with Applause," O'Rourke says. He expects the plate to be rated for 100,000 impressions.
 

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