21 February 2017 Analogue Printing Technologies

Gemini goes process-free throughout with Kodak Sonora XP plate

Gemini has become an all process-free plate house, cementing its position as a printer that works to minimise its environmental impact while also working to deliver high, consistent quality.

The Gemini Group is using Kodak's Sonora XP plate across the six litho presses at its production sites in Shoreham-by-Sea and Bristol. But the gains extend beyond an ecological gain and elimination of processing chemistry and associated waste.

Group managing director Steve Cropper says: “Going process-free is definitely part of a larger environmental plan within Gemini. It has improved our green credentials and footprint, and improved the quality of our print.”

This is a consequence of eliminating the variable of chemical processing. As the developer becomes less concentrated, as its potency declines over time and processing alters according to temperature, slight variables are introduced that can be apparent on press. Sonora XP has put and end to this.

It was not, however, a quick switch over. Cropper had to be convinced that the plate could work across the range of jobs, papers, run lengths and under the production conditions that prevail in the modern print operation. The company’s experience with Kodak has helped.

The Gemini Group was formed through the merger of two Brighton businesses, Gemini Press and Blackburn Print, in the early 1990s. Both had invested in Scitex prepress over the years. Scitex became part of Creo and in turn Creo was acquired by Kodak, Gemini staying loyal to the supplier over that time.

As well as platesetters and plates from the company, the group has four Nexpress colour digital presses, two of the 2500 model and one each of the SX and NX configurations. It also has the mono Digimaster 9100, runs Prinergy workflows including the Inside portal software. Today there are three Magnus platesetters, all exposing the href="http://bit.ly/2q4NzX2" target=“_new">Sonora plate.

The href="http://bit.ly/2q4NzX2" target=“_new">Sonora XP is a develop on press plate that needs no further work once exposed. The coating has been created to provide a readable latent image. The first few revolutions of the plate cylinder in contact withe fount solution remove the non image area, leaving the plate ready to be inked up and begin printing.

These are huge advantages on paper, but Cropper wanted to be sure that the plate lived up to this promise. It began trialling the Sonora plate in January last year alongside the Kodak Electra XD thermal plates that had it full confidence in.

“We involved many of our operators in the process,” Cropper says. “We didn’t change plates overnight but once we had run a variety of work over several months, the advantages were clear. The tests were easy to set up in that we used the same CTP device with a modified exposure and simply took the plate directly from the platesetter to the press, bypassing any processing.”

The loyalty to Kodak was not blind. Gemini has kept up to date with plate developments across the industry, though the long standing partnership meant that when Gemini Group began talking about a move to a process-free plate, Kodak was in prime position.

“Our Kodak account manager had been discussing moving to this plate with us for some time but as all printers know, this isn’t a decision you normally take lightly,” he says. “Sonora plates were the first process-free plates that we tested with a view to replacing our Kodak Electra XD thermal plates. It was quite obvious from the start that this plate would transform our platemaking department.”

As well as the elimination of chemistry and its disposal, less space is needed for platemaking, there is a reduction in energy, no processor to pay for and maintain.

The Sonora was first introduced in 2012 and it has become a mainstay of Kodak's plate portfolio. The company has invested in converting production lines to make the plate as volumes increased by 50%.

The technology has been expanded and Sonora is no longer a plate for short run applications only as the first develop on press plates were. The plate is suited to sheetfed, webfed and newspaper applications. There is no loss of imaging speed, run length or operating latitude with the plate. These characteristics helped in Gemini's decision.

Cropper explains: “It was really quite a simple changeover: a technician set up a new exposure queue in our Prinergy workflow system and we carried on as normal. Initially we were monitoring the control bars on the plate and sheet but these were incredibly stable. The only real issue to appear in the trials was plate scratching, which was overcome with more careful handling.”

After six months of confidence building testing, Gemini began using Sonora XP across the group in July last year.

“Any reservations that we did originally have are now gone and we can’t see that trend reversing,” he says. “The savings on processing chemistry are obvious, but there are plenty of more subtle benefits in cost, time and space reduction. Making the change to process-free plates is not just one thing, there are numerous gains you can make as a company. While there are financial gains there are also some huge environmental and employee benefits.

“Cost savings include water, electricity, space, chemical collections and reduced labour time for cleaning processors, plus no processor maintenance costs. Environmental benefits are that it eliminates chemistry, improves carbon footprint and green credentials, which appeals to many customers’ requirements.

“It also improves the operator environment, there are fewer HGVs delivering and collecting chemistry, less lifting and storage requirements. It really is a long list that is undersold.”

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Steve Cropper and Richard Kidd

Steve Cropper and Richard Kidd

“Our Kodak account manager Richard Kidd had been discussing moving to this plate with us for some time but as all printers know, this isn’t a decision you normally take lightly,” says Gemini MD Steve Cropper.

Sonora XP plates were the first process free plates that we tested with a view to replacing our Electra Max thermal plates. It was quite obvious from the start that this plate would transform our platemaking department.”

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Kodak Sonora plate

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Kodak's Sonora XP thermal platescan give the productivity, print quality and print performance comparable to mainstream processed plates. Process-free is possible for printers that need a plate for longer run lengths, web or sheetfed, UV and H-UV, VLF applications.

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