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September 2005

Technology Editor

Printers in growing numbers are having second thoughts about their computer-to-plate (CTP) systems. First-time buyers are still the dominant force in the market today, but the aging installed base is rapidly driving up the percentage of shops looking to invest in a second, or even third, generation of technology.

By the end of 2004, the installed base of CTP devices in North America had reached nearly 12,000 units, including metal and non-metal systems, according to a new plate market study recently published by PRIMIR (the Print Industries Market Information and Research Organization).

Completed by State Street Consultants in Boston, the "Life Cycle of Analog and Digital Lithographic Printing Plates" study predicts that sales of replacement metal CTP systems will exceed new installations in 2007. This projection is based on a seven- to 10-year life cycle.

Some vendors suggest a slightly more bearish expectation for the productive lifespan of a metal platesetter, but most are in that ballpark.

"The vast majority of the CTP systems we have sold are still in operation, so seven to 10 years (of operation) seems easy to achieve," says Neil McLean, product manager, workflow and prepress equipment, Kodak Graphic Communications Group. In most cases, CTP engines have been retired for productivity reasons rather than due to operability issues, he adds.

"Older CTP technology using a visible laser has much higher operating costs than today's thermal or violet systems," McLean asserts.

"We are starting to see a wave of CTP users interested in updating and replacing their original, earlier generation systems," similarly reports Mark Tonkovich, product manager, CTP and proofing, at Heidelberg. "These CTP processors were purchased in the last four to six years and have suited buyers well, but technology has moved on significantly."

Modern devices offer greater efficiencies, Tonkovich says. Printers buying replacement units are gaining efficiencies such as internal punching and robust automation, he asserts.

Building on that point, Peter Vanderlaan, group manager, EI output products at Enovation Graphic Systems, a Fujifilm Co., suggests owners of aging CTP systems consider two factors when gauging the useful lifespan of their equipment. "Does the platesetter meet my current production requirements (image quality, plates per hour, etc.)?" and "Does the service cost justify running an old-style platesetter?"

Time for an Upgrade

Older technology can become effectively orphaned due to changes in technology and vendors exiting the market, Vanderlaan adds. He points out that current generation products typically offer "field upgradeable" options that can help keep them competitive.


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