15 June 2020 Analogue Printing Technologies

Agfa announces closure of plate production in Leeds

Agfa is shutting its plate production operation in the UK, already much reduced from its glory days, as demand for Thermofuse plates falls.

Agfa has announced the closure of the Leeds platemaking factory, a plant that was opened by HM Queen when owned by Howson-Algraphy.The decision ends litho plate production in this country.

At that time it was arguably the leading printing plate production facility in the world, helping make Leeds the plate capital of the UK along with Horsell Graphics across the city. It was sold by Vickers to Dupont in 1989 and a decade later to Agfa. At that time the site employed 900. In recent years the Leeds factory has prepared the anodised aluminium base and shipped reels to the plant at Pont-à-Marq in France for coating and sheeting the Azura plates using Thermofuse technology. Kodak closed the Horsell factory in 2014.

Announcing the closure Agfa blames a drop in demand combined with price erosion for the decision. “Market demand for this product declines even more substantially than for most other Agfa printing plates,” the company says. “Unfortunately the market forecasts do not suggest any improvements in the years to come.” Instead Agfa will focus European plate production on its Wiesbaden site.

The decision will affect 76 employees who remain on the Leeds site and 175 at the French factory. Meetings will be held this week with employee representatives with the final closure anticipated for no later than October.

The vast Leeds factory will attract the interest of developers. A potion of the site was sold off earlier and in 2017, Redrow Homes received planning permission for 71 homes on the land, now selling as the Hawthorns development.

In the first six months of the financial year, Agfa-Gevaert group sales fell 4.4% due to issues in the offset printing industry. In the offset solutions division, revenue dropped to €187 million (€199 million), a drop of 5.8%. Sales from its alliance with Chinese plate company Lucky HuaGuang were not able to compensate, especially as the first effects of the global lockdown were being felt.

The company had already responded to the lockdown by suspending production at the UK and French factories, demand being satisfied by production in Germany. Now production is not going to restart.

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At one time the Seacroft factory in Leeds was the leading plate factory in the world, helping put Howson Algraphy among the top three plate suppliers in the world. It was sold by owner Vickers in 1989 to DuPont which later sold the operation to Agfa, which stripped out most of the production and leaving a skeleton staff of 76 running the vast plant.

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