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E&P Technical: CTP's New names.

Two big printing industry suppliers with little presence at U.S. newspapers have entered that market with different computer-to-plate solutions. On the violet-exposure side, Fujifilm bundles hardware, software, consumables, and service through its Enovation Graphic Systems subsidiary, in collaboration with ECRM Imaging Systems. Screen (USA) offers thermal exposure and hybrid screening solutions.

Though among the largest plate suppliers, Fuji sells very few of its laser-imaged plates and virtually none of its conventional plates to U.S. newspapers. It nevertheless has a $100-million South Carolina plate-manufacturing plant in which it recently invested another $100 million to make digital-plates. It also formed Enovation, a large graphic arts products and services supplier based at the Valhalla, N.Y., headquarters of its Japanese parent firm. Fuji spends $3.5 million per day on research and development alone, according to Enovation National Business Manager Al Eddy. Until this year, Fuji limited its Nexpo presence to film and chemicals.

Screen (USA), Rolling Meadows, Ill., a subsidiary of Kyoto-based Dainippon Screen Manufacturing Co., once offered newspapers imagesetters and, briefly, tabletop drum scanners. It still sells scanners and film imagers, but concentrates on the commercial market, where it moved into violet and thermal platesetting and digital printing.

Having sold CTP systems to overseas newspapers (and some U.S. commercial newspaper printers) for five years, Screen started targeting U.S. papers because the market is "in a growth spurt for CTP," says Sales Vice President Michael E. Fox. It needed only a device for newspapers' lower resolutions, according to Fox. At Nexpo, it unveiled the PlateRite News, with cassette autoloader option.

Though Screen sells a range of violet platesetters, Fox gives three reasons for entering the newspaper market with a thermal device.

Commercially, Screen is optimistic that sales volume to newspapers and commercial shops helps pricing. Thermal affords more choices among plate manufacturers -- not all of which, unlike makers of violet plates, also sell platesetters. (Western Lithotech/Lastra, however, offered violet-sensitive plates but only an FD-YAG platesetter.) So Screen can partner with plate suppliers that are not also its competitors. In fact, Screen has done business with competitors, making visible-light imagers such as an Agfa Polaris model.

A larger number of thermal plate suppliers, combined with the "sheer square footage of plates being sold," Fox predicts, will "ultimately drive the cost of the plate down."

Operationally, thermal plates are "more forgiving," he says, referring to their often-cited exposure latitude. For practical purposes, they either image or they do not. The plates experience a polymer change ("exposure") at a threshold energy level that precludes underexposure. Resistance to further change minimizes effects of overexposure. That, says Fox, translates into "more reliability," which he calls critical for newspapers.

Finally, thermal still seems the best bet for finding "the Holy Grail" -- processless platemaking. "We're not that far away," Fox says.

The PlateRite News handles plates up to 45.6-by-37 inches at any of four resolutions, from 1000 to 1270 dpi. At 1200 dpi, it images 35 panorama (35-by-23.6-inch) plates per hour, with a plate prepared for loading while another is imaged. The machine automatically adjusts drum balance to a new plate size.

Though the plates are large, it still represents a comparatively low page-production rate. So while aimed at the market's low end, the device "is only the start," says Screen (USA) President A.J. Kakiushi. "We will continually improve and expand our product portfolio to meed the needs of the market."

Unlike most newspaper CTP devices, the PlateRite News is an external drum imager -- typically a slower, higher-resolution design. Perhaps unlike all others for newspapers, Screen's machine employs a 512-channel imaging head that relies on Silicon Light Machines' Grating Light Valve (GLV). Contrary to a Nexpo report published elsewhere, the PlateRite's two laser bars together contain 78 diodes, not 512. The GLV creates the 512 channels.

Though each bar diode array is replaceable, "you can lose multiple diodes on that bar and it'll still image at 100%," Crawford says. Before the GLV was adopted, in 2002, he says, one of the bars would have to be shut down, allowing imaging at only half-speed.

TV technology for newspapers

The GLV is a tunable diffraction grating consisting of aluminum microribbons on a layered silicon chip. Ribbons individually respond to applied voltages by deflecting down as little as 0.2 micron into a tiny open space, changing the amount of light diffracted and reflected. The GLV can modulate a high-power laser's light to simultaneously write hundreds of spots on a plate, according to Silicon Light Machines.

Originally designed for HDTV's 1,080 channels, the 28mm-long GLV comprises 6,520 ribbons, each 200-300nm thick, 100-1,000µm long and 1-10µm wide. An addressable pixel consists of three pairs of active (deflected) and inactive ribbons. For Screen's CTP, two such GLV pixels are combined to form a 51µm-wide writing pixel, which 5:1 optics focuses to a 10µm spot.

Deflecting every other ribbon creates the diffraction grating that returns incident light at an angle determined by the ribbons' fabricated spatial frequency. Essentially a large array of light switches, the GLV "uses the interference effect to steer the light," says Robert Monteverde, Silicon Light Machines product marketing manager. The same effect is created by the diffraction-grating surfaces of DVDs, CDs, even old vinyl records -- except that in those cases the effect appears across a disc's surface as component colors refracted from ordinary white light, whereas a laser used with the GLV emits light from only the slimmest slice of the spectrum.

In both cases, gratings redirect incident light, but with white light, component wavelengths are redirected at slightly different angles, revealing their separate colors. The GLV, however, is designed to steer a given wavelength at a certain angle -- functioning in a manner that the manufacturer says is mechanically and operationally superior to a purely reflective micromirror array.

Productivity from otherwise slow external-drum imaging derives from the GLV's hundreds of simultaneous beams, the very fast switching enabled by its ribbons' extremely small (quarter-wavelength) deflection, and use of two laser arrays to nearly double writing beam intensity, according to Silicon Light Machines. To assure image quality, Screen's data-driven control of applied voltages precisely controls each beam's power.

Software, screening, sales

Screen has PDF workflow software, but is "new to the front-end systems for newspapers," Fox says, adding that "we have a Spekta screening specifically for the newspaper market" which mixes AM and FM (stochastic) dots. Spekta puts FM dots in highlight and shadow areas and produces AM mostly in midtones. Other suppliers also use mixed or "hybrid" screening. Fox says Spekta offers higher apparent resolution, 20% ink savings and can overcome register problems associated with cylinder-to-cylinder dot laydown.

On Creo's argument that stochastic screening can overcome the visibility of slight color misregister, Fox says that "the color shift will not be visible, because you're not using a rosette pattern" as with conventional dots and angles. (Creo says its Squarespot implementation of FM screening images about 50 U.S. papers and is favored by insert buyers.)

Screen entered the market shortly after formalizing a partnership with competitor Kodak Polychrome Graphics (which already was selling Screen commercial platesetters), making KPG North America's largest distributor of Screen hardware and software.

KPG North American Marketing Vice President Richard Mazur says the partners are unsure about collaborating in newspaper CTP. Because not all papers need high speed, he suggests KPG could offer the PlateRite as an alternative to its own Newsetter. In any event, each seems to be doing well on its own.

KPG's Anitec division sold 12 Newsetters during Nexpo. Six weeks later, Screen Output Products Manager Mark Crawford told E&P, "we just actually closed a multi- machine deal." Units will ship soon for production of the unidentified buyer's own publication, with others likely to follow when the same customer builds and equips a plant that also will print The New York Times.

But with big thermal CTP market share and now Trendsetters in lower-speed and semi-automatic versions, Creo isn't ceding smaller papers to anyone. Newspaper Market Segment Director Paul Willis recalls that while it took three years to sell Creo's first 50 platesetters to papers, 100 were sold in the 12 months before Nexpo, representing "more than half of all CTP devices sold" to North American newspaper printers in that period.

Vying for violet

Pushing hard against gains made by thermal, blue-violet platesetting seeks to restore visible-light exposure as a viable option. After other suppliers relied on less-satisfactory visible wavelengths, Mitsubishi Kasei's Western Lithotech (acquired by Lastra, which Agfa was to acquire Aug. 31.) established FD-YAG green-laser machines at the high end of the U.S. market.

But platesetters and plates, including thermal, remained expensive. Ultraviolet, relying on far less costly high-sensitivity conventional plates for speed, was still new. A major seller of green and thermal systems, Agfa turned to violet for affordable newspaper imagers that, as diode power increased, could switch from exposing silver-based plates to photopolymer plates.

A prepress powerhouse, Agfa also could supply plates, chemistry, ancillary equipment and support for CTP operations. Putting thermal exposure against Agfa is one thing; competing with it on its own terms and turf is another. With the notable exception of alfaQuest Technologies, which has offered software and a choice of exposure (green, violet, UV and, formerly, thermal), many of the rest on the CTP scene left the newspaper market or succumbed to consolidation, leaving large vendors that can supply plates (and often more) along with platesetters.

With imaging systems expertise, ECRM is a longtime newspaper supplier. With printing-industry breadth and depth similar to Agfa's, Fujifilm has the consumables and understanding of CTP, but very little business among U.S. newspapers.

As Screen does with thermal, ECRM aims its violet solution at the low end of the market. And as others do, ECRM sells more than a machine. Its partnership with Fuji's Enovation also bundles consumables and service.

The turnkey arrangement brings together Enovation distribution and service, Fujifilm plates, Fuji Hunt chemistry and ECRM hardware and software. Exposure units are the semi-automatic (manual feed) ECRM News CTP and the Newsmatic (autopositioning from a light-tight cassette). Laser power and resolution were both increased, with 60-milliwatt laser diodes imaging up to 25-by-36.5 inches at any of eight resolutions. A 32-by-45-inch version also is available. Enovation supplies Glunz & Jensen's 68 processor. Both the News and Newsmatic models deliver 80 single- or 40 double-page (broadsheet size) plates per hour at 1,200 dpi.

Based on Fuji's violet commercial plate and able to image 2% to 98% dots, the {continued on page 77} {continued from page 76}

200,000-impression polymer FDT-330allows newspapers to move up to commercial work, Enovation's Al Eddy says. The FDT-330 will be made at Fuji's expanded Greenwood, S.C., factory, which also produces PS conventional and LP-NN2 green-sensitive digital plates. According to Enovation Newspaper Director Ted O. McGrew, the latter accounts for Fuji's under-5% U.S. CTP market share. Customers include The Dallas Morning News, Investor's Business Daily print sites and the Republican-American in Waterbury, Conn. Fuji is not selling conventional plates to U.S. papers and has no plans to offer here the UV plate it sells in Europe in conjunction with basysPrint's non-laser digital platesetters.

"We think we fit particularly into the low- to midrange newspaper market," says Eddy. Harlequin workflow software is available, he continues, and "most of these newspapers need just the basics, really." He says that while other suppliers sell more than many papers need, by taking "a narrow workflow approach," Enovation aims to supply workflow solutions from a menu of choices.

Plates, platesetters, prices

Where initial outlay has been a barrier to CTP at smaller shops, ECRM Marketing Vice President Peter Wilkens says the partnership provides a platesetter "for less money than ... a replacement film imagesetter." Exposure units alone were quoted at $64,000 for the semi-automatic model and $88,000 to $94,000 for the automatic model.

By offering "two for the price of one," says ECRM Newspaper Electronics Director Ron Musgrave, buyers get speed and back-up.

Trade-offs, however, are lower-cost violet platesetters exposing higher-cost plates, and higher-cost thermal platesetters exposing lower-cost plates. But while thermal platesetter pricing has fallen ("to the floor," one user says), when Willis cited Creo's 2003-04 sales spurt, he acknowledged that "obviously, the price of plates had a lot to do with that."

Competitors' growing willingness and capacity to meet growing demand helped drive down thermal plate prices in the past year. While they aren't likely to sink to the profit-squeezing lows of analog plates, the prices have closed in on those for the higher-sensitivity "projection-speed" litho plates used in UV platesetters (which have their own trade-offs in speed, quality and cost, based on light source, manner of exposure and plate).

The Post-Standard in Syracuse, N.Y., has experience at both ends of the spectrum. If the paper was going to convert to platesetting at all, says Production Director Mike Stern, "we figured we'd go thermal." Since buying two KPG-built machines from alfaQuest two years ago, he's seen the price of thermal plates drop from $1.79 to $1.40. "It makes it competitive with visible-light [CTP]," he says. "We're quite satisfied."

Syracuse also temporarily ran a basysPrint UV-Setter "that our owners wanted tested," says Stern. Today, UV-Setters make plates for several other Advance Publications dailies. While thermal and ultraviolet plates delivered comparable quality, Stern reports, thermal imaging was faster and required no linearization. And like ordinary UV plates bought for a given run length, thermal plates hold up on press, he says: In collect mode, "we've run ... up to 400,000 impressions with the KPG -- we don't post-bake -- and we saw no wear."

But of his pair of KPG Newsetter 180s, Stern says, "we've had a lot of [laser] failures." Coping with that means switching to single-mode imaging at 100 plates per hour. KPG offered never to charge for laser service if Syracuse bought all its plates from KPG.

"We don't do it with every customer," says KPG Anitec Sales Division Vice President and General Manager Michael Popper. "It depends on the volume of plate [purchases]." Negotiated according to sites' individual circumstances, the arrangement, says Popper, "can take laser-replacement off the table," making it easier to arrive at a satisfactory return on investment.

The Post-Standard already was using Anitec negative-working plates anyway. It tried Southern Lithoplate's subtractives but found they needed "a longer dwell time in the pre-bake, and this machine is not set up for that," says Assistant Production Director Patricia McAluney. The plates developed fine, she says, but once on press, "the images wore off almost immediately." The Newsetter can be adjusted to extend preheating, but at the cost of slower throughput. As for positive-working alternatives, "we can't run the Anocoil plates on the Newsetter," says McAluney.

Besides work in UV and violet, by year's end Anocoil Corp. looks "to develop a negative-working thermal technology" -- possibly the first requiring no pre/post-baking, as do current negative-working thermal plates, Anocoil Sales Director Jay Faulkner says.

For its part, Creo says its Trendsetters image both negative- and positive-working plates. (CTP may dispense with negative and positive film, but it does "harden" negative-working resin's image-area monomers into polymers and weaken positive-working resin's non-image-area polymers.)

Stern says CTP decisions involve more than the price of plates and/or platesetters. The "true cost of a plate," he maintains, must take into account light-source and chemistry costs. Related issues may include fountain solutions, handling (automation, daylight sensitivity) and need for slipsheets.

Of course, visible-light proponents can say much the same thing. ECRM emphasizes that violet imagers use "far less energy" than comparable UV or thermal devices. The latter's infrared lasers (as well as FD-YAG's fundamental IR frequency) must remain energized to avoid repeated warm-ups and to maintain consistency, according to Agfa. Less-expensive violet, in contrast, may be turned on and off as needed and lasts longer even when left on, it says.

No process like no-process

As for process-free plates, Southern Litho is working on a no-process thermal plate. Screen's Fox points to Precision Litho's water-wash, chemistry-free commercial plate, and Stern points to process-free exposure on his pressmaker's new on-press plate imaging.

Creo's no-process, no-wash plate uses a polymer that IR energy changes from hydrophillic to hydrophobic. "We know it works," Willis says, but not how it reacts to newsprint. "We had several volunteers [at Nexpo] to test the plate." With a less-obvious image, the plate's correct on-press placement may be an issue. While Creo can't say for whom it may be suited, commercial-side experience suggests a run-length of approximately 50,000 impressions, according to Willis.

Eliminating processing reduces time, variability, hardware and consumables costs and maintenance labor. Especially if without heating, it also would further simplify thermal output, which already benefits from negligible exposure variability. Discussion of the latter provokes comparison with violet plates' much greater sensitivity, which speeds imaging but requires more attention to exposure.

Raising thermal energy 20% changes a dot by only 1%, according to Willis, who contrasts that with a violet plate's sensitivity and variable chemistry: A 2° F change in a processor, he says, can cause a 6% change to a midtone dot, and its consequent color effect.

Unlike visible-light platesetters. "ours you never calibrate," to preserve quality, says Fox. ECRM asserts that users discern no difference between pages printed from violet and thermal plates. Fox responds that while there may be no visible difference between given sheets, thermal's quality is consistent -- copy to copy, run to run, month to month.
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Title Annotation:Editor & Publisher; Computer-To-Plate (print publishing)
Author:Rosenberg, Jim
Publication:Editor & Publisher
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2004
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