A Chinese company will begin trials of a new style of printing plate later this year, based on an invention by a British engineer.
The plate uses a high speed laser to change the hydrophilic characteristics of an aluminium plate. There is no need for a coating of any kind, no need for processing and the plate can be returned to its original state to be reused multiple times.
The secret is a high powered laser which changes the behaviour of the aluminium surface making the image area hydrophobic and leaving the non image area hydrophilic.
Inventor Peter Bennett first announced the technology in 2011 when there was interest but the highly specialist nature of the laser ruled the technology impractical, let alone the challenge it laid down to the business model of existing plate suppliers.
After funding in the UK dried up Bennett took his ideas to China, teaming up with Hubei Technology University to work on the ultra fast laser and optics needed. The Wuhan Jundun Laser Technology Co was formed to commercialise the technology. Now the concept is re-emerging and it will be a disruptive technology according to Bennett.
In a press release from China he says: “With this technology, the printing process will consume less electricity, produce less wastewater and exhaust gas and recycle printing plates more efficiently compared with the current technology.”
The history of plate development has attracted more than its share of breakthroughs. In the early days of CTP, Howson Algraphy thought it had discovered a winner when a conventional presensitised plate was processed with a blank image and a laser user to ablate the unwanted areas to leave the grained aluminium beneath. Later Creo demonstrated a phase change coating for a plate, offering the prospect of a reusable printing plate, but acquisition by Kodak ended that line of development.
Bennett has strong credentials. He has a PhD in chemistry from Oxford and joined Horsell Graphics in 1987 becoming UK R&D director of Kodak's plate operation in 1998. Having secured EU funding to pursue the use of ultrafast lasers in plate imaging, he left for China when funding expired in 2010.
By Gareth Ward