Processless plates savings

medium_Laurel_2012.jpegThe weekly Verdigris blog by Laurel Brunner

Prepress used to be an expensive and time consuming business. But over the years, process automation has steadily ground down prices. Software now takes care of much of what high ticket professionals used to handle. This means that today the most expensive bit of prepress is in making the plates. This is the part of prepress where most savings can be gained, especially if printers shift to processless plates. This saves money and it’s also extremely good for the environment.

Cutting out the chemical processing of plate imaging cuts out lots of hazardous waste and its disposal costs. Cutting the number of variables that can influence plate quality also saves time and money in fixing errors. Add all round swifter plate production and the savings associated with manpower, equipment, water, chemistry and energy and the picture’s getting even rosier.

There are only three real contenders in this space: Agfa, Fujifilm and Kodak and all three offer convincing cases for going processless. The technology is now sufficiently well-developed that it can be considered a drop-in replacement for conventional plates for various printing methods. Sheetfed, heatset and coldset web, packaging and short run UV printers can all take advantage of processless plate products to suit their production requirements. And the savings are considerable.

According to Kodak the industry could save around 300 million litres of water per year, using processless technology. That’s just the water. Millions of litres of plate developer could be done away with, along with hundreds of millions of kilowatt hours. There are financial savings too. A printer imaging 20,000 m2 of plates a year can save over €1000 per month in developer, finisher and replenisher costs and €250 per month in chemistry disposal costs. The same printer will save the cost of buying and maintaining a processor which can be another €1000 per month. Kodak tots all this up with other savings to come up with an astonishing figure: almost €76,000 saved per year through going processless.

And that doesn’t include the savings in avoiding the associated emissions. Whichever way you look at it, arguments for processless plates are compelling. The industry is now at a tipping point where investment into processless platesetting will become the norm, not the exception. Cost premiums associated with this technology have reduced in recent months and new advances are expected over the coming months. Agfa for instance is rumoured to be readying its next generation Azura plate and new versions of Kodak’s Sonora will be available early next year. Manufacturers are working both on the core technology and different product configurations in order to meet diverse format and cost requirements. What’s not to like?

– Laurel Brunner

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