The Great (Digital) Plate Debate
Agfa and the Holy Grail
In the quest to eliminate processing steps, the "processless" plate is the digital plate manufacturers' Holy Grail, says Jonathan Ashton, Agfa's senior marketing manager for CTP plates. The hottest trend in the CTP consumables market today is the elimination of off-press processing steps, which includes no more baking, he contends, noting that, given an oven's high electricity costs, the trend is to eliminate the pre-bake step and provide fast, cost-efficient solutions that are environmentally sound.
"Yesterday, the trend was aqueous and recycling. Today it's processless. Today, printers want to eliminate activities that are not core to their businesses," Ashton explains. "To make a plate, you have to image it, pre-bake it, process it, bake it, then post-treat it for more impressions—it's a manufacturing process. And, a printer's manufacturing should be printing on the press, not manufacturing plates. We're tying to eliminate the amount of manufacturing printers have to do. As a supplier, it's our responsibility to minimize the manufacturing effort required for the end-printed product."
Printers are in business to print. And no one cares what happens to a plate before it hits the pressroom, Ashton insists, as long as it's a quality plate. So, the more variables that can be eliminated the more value is added.
More value, plate after plate, impression after impression, up to a half-million impressions, Ashton says, noting that second-generation thermal technologies have eliminated the pre-bake step and increased imaging speed to provide plates with extremely long runs.
Advancements in the longevity of digital plates should interest newspaper printers, Ashton explains, noting that CTP is a driver for those operations wanting to expand into commercial printing. The capacity of the digital plate market will rapidly grow, he predicts, should newspapers cash in on the market.
"We are seeing a lot of activity in the CTP arena, both in the commercial, mid-range market and the bigger newspapers," he concludes. "I believe that the industry as a whole is looking more toward CTP as being a 'remain in business' vs. a 'bleeding edge.' Now we're moving beyond that; CTP is mainstream."