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DRUPA 2004 -- Gearing Up for the Big Show

April 2004
BY MARK SMITH

Technology Editor

The media road tour leading up to Drupa 04 recently made stops in Brussels, Belgium, and Athens, Greece. Judging by the vendor previews offered so far, people making the trek to Düsseldorf for the international trade fair should expect to see incremental advances, not revolutionary changes, in the products shown.

The outlook for the global economy—and printing industry—leading up to this year's event is vastly different from the heady days that preceded Drupa 2000, says Albert Follens, general manager, Graphic Systems, at Agfa-Gevaert N.V. The keys to success are increasing manufacturing efficiency and streamlining how business is transacted between print buyers and printers, Follens asserts.

In a change of direction from the company's past efforts, Agfa currently sees the real opportunity for digital printing as being in the industrial, or packaging, sector, adds Jan Van Daele, vice president of Imaging Solutions. In order to capitalize on the opportunities, Agfa recently acquired dotrix, a maker of industrial ink-jet printing systems, and formed a partnership with Theime, a maker of conventional screen printing equipment.

The computer-to-plate (CTP) business is experiencing some market shifts, as well, points out Theo De Keersmaecker, director of CTP. Demand for high-volume eight-up and VLF platesetters has flattened as the segment transitions into a replacement market, he says. Lower volume eight-, four- and two-up systems will account for growth in new installs, and processless technology is being targeted to this market, De Keersmaecker observes.

On that technology front, Agfa has been beta testing a chemistry-free thermal digital plate that it intends to make commercially available at Drupa, the product director says. Azura is an aluminum plate that employs a physical, rather than chemical, process to provide non-ablative imaging. It is based on the same technology used in Agfa's Thermolite Plus plates and supports run lengths of up to 100,000 impressions.

Running Hot and Cold

The company continues to expand its offerings in both CTP hardware product segments. Despite the market saturation, it is introducing higher speed XXT versions of its Xcalibur 45 and VLF thermal platesetters with Grating Light Valve (GLV) laser systems. In addition, Acento is a new four-up thermal machine targeted to medium-sized printers. It is available in several configurations of imaging units and plate loaders.

In the violet imaging space, this month (April) Agfa was due to start transitioning its Galileo and Palladio platesetter lines over to 30mW laser diodes. It is also set to launch an entry-level version of the Palladio with manual loading.

Since they are both members of the Punch Group, Strobbe Graphics and Xeikon International conducted a joint pre-Drupa briefing.

The event started out at Monti Business Communication Solutions, a Belgium-based printer of documents, forms and labels that served as a beta site for Strobbe's new PSA-33MV platesetter. What sets this eight-up (850x1,050mm), violet (30mW) or green (FD-YAG) laser machine apart is its flatbed design and an automatic plate loading system that can be configured with up to 10 cassettes, each capable of holding two plates sizes for a total of 20 different sizes online.

This platesetter, along with the semi-automatic PS36 companion version, are the foundation for an effort by Strobbe to establish itself as a direct seller of CTP solutions.

The company has a solid reputation as an OEM supplier, which includes having produced some 600 systems sold under the Polaris name by Agfa into the newspaper market. Strobbe reportedly makes all parts of its machines in-house.

Guido Dumarey, CEO of Punch International, led off the Xeikon portion of the briefing. In commenting on the Xeikon acquisition, he observes that, while the company's installed base has declined by 3 percent to 4 percent each year since 2000, toner use has increased on a per-machine basis.

Looking to Build Stability

The main event of the day was the unveiling of an all-new digital web press, the Xeikon 5000. According to Frank Deschuytere, vice president of R&D-engines, the company started from scratch in designing the press. Refinements that help to boost image quality, productivity and reliability, he says, include adding an in-line densitometer to check print quality, separating the stock feed and conditioning units from the print engine for better web feeding, and eliminating rigid connections between the machine's skin and its internal workings to provide a more stable platform.

The press features a 600 dpi resolution and handles a 20˝ maximum media width in weights from 27-lb. text to 122-lb. cover. Printing speed ranges from a high of 130 pages per minute down to 70 ppm, depending on stock weight, and toner can be added while the system is printing for uninterrupted operation. Printing units are configured in color pairs to enable One-Pass-Duplex printing. A fifth color unit is offered as an option.

Driving the press is the new Swift digital front end (DFE), which combines features of the PrintStreamer and IntelliStream systems that it replaces. The DFE reportedly provides 10 times the processing power of the existing systems, implements open standards and has a modular, scalable architecture.

Providing a bit of déjà vu, Creo Inc. also held its briefing at a customer site, Thijsen Rotatiedruk in the Netherlands, which served as a beta site for a new CTP system. The family owned business is more than 100 years old and among its claim to fame is serving as a purveyor to the Royal Household of the Netherlands. From an industry standpoint, the company currently is notable for being the first to have a Creo Magnus VLF thermal CTP system, which just happens to be feeding plates to the first long-grain, 32-page Sunday web offset press from Heidelberg in operation.

The Magnus has a 63x83" drum for imaging large plates, but also supports portrait and dual plate loading of smaller sizes for greater throughput. It employs higher power imaging heads, new electronics and a flexible loading architecture to enhance productivity.

Configurations include manual, continuous load (enables the next plate to be queued while the current one is being imaged) and fully automatic (with four cassettes). The machine has a smaller footprint than the Trendsetter VLF, which Creo will continue to offer.

On the workflow side of the business, Synapse Director is intended to provide full connectivity between Brisque 5.0 systems and the Networked Graphic Production (NGP) environment. It brings the production management features of the Prinergy workflow—automation, database tracking, load balancing, etc.—to Brisque users.

Offering many of those same capabilities in a more affordable package is Prinergy Evo. The native PDF workflow runs on a Windows platform, but also supports Mac clients. Its tool set includes OPI, normalize, optimize, color management, trapping and imposition functions, with JDF integration. The latest upgrade to the full Prinergy system, version 2.3 features better PDF preflighting, connectivity with digital presses and greater JDF functionality, including imposition integration.

Creo is introducing a variety of improvements in other NGP components, as well. Synapse Upfront version 3.0 extends its JDF support, adds new cutting styles, expands the page limit per section plan and improves the integration with Preps. Preps 5.0 brings Mac OSX support and a new SmartMarks feature to speed template creation. Synapse Prepare 2.0 offers improved integration with InSite and enables product branding by users. Support for 18 additional MIS systems has been added to Synapse Link.

The company is also rolling out Spotless 4 and X software that is said to reduce the need to use special inks to print spot colors. The technology reportedly can work with a printer's current CMYK ink set, plus one or two additional colors with the "X" version, and takes press conditions into account for improved color accuracy and consistency.

Picking Up a Six Pack

Tackling the same issue is M.Y. PrinTech B.V. with its FMsix technology. Noting that it was developed by a printer for printers, the company bills the system as "the best kept secret in six-color printing" of packaging.

According to Jan Goovaerts, sales and marketing manager, M.Y. Cartons B.V. (which spun off PrinTech to market the system) did not set out to increase the gamut of CYMK printing, but rather was seeking a user-friendly solution for reproducing spot colors with greater consistency. PrinTech claims its technology can reproduce 85 percent or more of all specialty colors within tolerances smaller than the color variation normally seen with use of a special ink.

FMsix uses standard CMYK inks for images, but combines FM screening with two (of three) special colors to print spot colors. Proprietary FMsix Orange ink is combined with either FMsix Blue (90 percent of the time) or FMsix Green.

Initial development work on the technology was done in cooperation with Creo, Sun Chemical and Artwork Systems. MAN Roland and DuPont have since contributed to the effort, which in DuPont's case includes enabling Digital Cromalin to proof the process.

Presstek Inc. is betting on its new ProFire Excel thermal imaging technology to bring improved productivity, higher quality and reduced cost in CTP and DI (Direct Imaging) applications. The imaging system uses a single Image Data board in place of the nine separate boards required in its current imaging unit.

According to the company, this compact design and resulting smaller footprint open up new options for both applications, but specifics of its roll out were embargoed until after the publication date of this issue.

DI presses using the ProFire Excel will have the potential to produce up to a 300 line screen at no incremental cost, Presstek claims. In CTP systems, it will offer faster imaging, smaller spot size and increased reliability. In addition, the new data board features Image Plus technology that implements a new writing mode to increase image quality, while reducing the possibility of moiré patterns in standard screen sets.

Esko-Graphics is focusing as much on the packaging market (which accounts for 56 percent of its business) as commercial printing (41 percent) in its run up to this Drupa. One of its key initiatives is the Scope workflow environment, which encompasses modular and extensible software tools that address applications in both industry segments. The company says it is seeking to integrate the end-to-end printing supply chain, in part through use of centralized digital asset management and Web-based project management.

Scope tools will range from desktop software extensions to specialized workstations, depending on application and user need. Components are to be based on industry standards, with PDF used as the core graphics data format. JDF capabilities are being incorporated to interconnect processes and enable centralized job management.

Lowering Barriers to Entry

On the hardware side, Esko-Graphics is extending its platesetter product line by introducing the PlateDriver Compact (four-up) and PlateDriver 6, both featuring the FreeBeam 40mW violet laser. Compact has a fixed optical resolution of 2,540 dpi, supports a 615x745mm maximum plate size and requires manual loading similar to that with a conventional contact frame. PlateDriver 6 is offered in Semi and Auto (plate loading) versions, exposes plate sizes up to 680x930mm and offers a range of resolutions up to 3,200 dpi.

As an alternative solution for the four-up market, the new DPX 4 images polyester plates in sizes up to 680x750mm. The internal-drum device features a small footprint, offers a resolution range from 1,200 to 3,000 dpi and provides fully automatic platemaking.

Scitex Vision presented a review of its current product offerings for industrial ink-jet printing applications, which will also be the theme of its stand at Drupa. The company is highlighting two drop-on-demand, piezo-electric ink-jet systems, in particular.

TURBOjet prints roll-to-sheet (64x144˝ maximum size) at resolutions up to 488 dpi and a maximum speed of 4,304 square feet per hour. The machine is designed for P.O.P., exhibition and billboard applications, says Itai Halevy, vice president and chief marketing officer. Most of its installs have been at screen printing operations, he adds.

CORjet is designed to print on corrugated substrates in media sizes up to 63x126˝ and 100mm thickness. It features a 600 dpi resolution and prints at speeds up to 1,614 square feet per hour. The system uses fast-drying, water-based pigmented inks and has an integrated dryer. Halevy points out that the machine is intended to produce materials for indoor use, such as dimensional store displays.

With its acquisition by Eastman Kodak Co. completed, the officially renamed Kodak Versamark (formerly Scitex Digital Printing) is focusing on what it is calling the "next generation of Business Color technology" for its V-series of continuous ink-jet presses.

The VX5000 system, set to be introduced at Drupa, boosts 300x1,200 dpi color printing at speeds of up to 325 fpm. Driving the system will be the new CS600 controller jointly developed with EFI. It enables full variable printing at the engine's rated speed, implements industry standards and supports ICC profiles.

The company also will be showing a new model in its 4300 line of drop-on-demand, narrow-width, ink-jet printing systems. The 4350 UV utilizes UV-based inks with integrated curing to enable printing on a wider range of substrates at 300 dpi with a 2.58˝ head width.

Details of a new product launch Enfocus Software has in the works for Drupa 04 were also embargoed. Other news the company was willing to share openly is its intention to incorporate comprehensive Job Ticket and JDF support across its product line.

RealTimeImage's Graphic Arts division is expected to officially be part of Kodak Polychrome Graphics (KPG) well in advance of Drupa. Therefore, the plan is for RealTimeProof 5.0 to make its debut in the KPG booth.

"Multiple-view" and "Compare" functions represent the key advances in the upgrade. With this version, users will be able to view up to four high-resolution images concurrently on-screen. The comparison feature enables two versions of the same image to be viewed side by side, with a third panel showing either just the areas that are different or the entire image with the areas of difference highlighted by flashing between the two versions. Other new features include secure approval authentication and a "Lockout" function.

Human Eyes Technologies Ltd. claims to have made a breakthrough in three-dimensional (3D) imaging that promises to make the capability mainstream. The patented technology is said to work with standard digital cameras, large-format printers and litho presses to automatically generate stereoscopic 3D pictures using lenticular solutions. It is slated to be demonstrated at various locations throughout Drupa, including the KBA stand.

A number of exhibitors have hinted at surprises still under wraps awaiting grand unveilings at Drupa 04. How much awe they will inspire will soon become clear.
 

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