14 May 2017 Prepress

Printers are turning to sustainable plate products

Whether driven by a need for sustainability or a desire to shed the need to handle processing chemistry, printers are switching to chemistry free plates say suppliers.

Printers are increasingly turning towards process free plates to judge by the latest round of financial results.

While Kodak's key print systems division reported an overall decline in revenues of 6% to €213 million in the first three months of the year, and a decline of 1% in plate volumes, sales of Sonora rose 24% on a year by year basis.

Sonora is Kodak's develop on press plate that is earmarked as one of the core growth drivers for the business. Sonora now accounts for 17% of all plate volumes and this will increase in 2017 as new versions of the technology are released. A version suitable for UV printing is the latest to reach the market and will be the first expressly suitable for the harsher conditions of UV printing.

At Agfa the company says in its Q1 statement that the trend for plates has started to improve, notably for sustainable chemistry-free plates. This is mainly focused on the Azura plate, but includes also the newspaper plate which News International will use as part of the new deal with the company. Among other notable plate consuming deals signed in the last quarter, Agfa picks out the Newbury Weekly News and DC Thomson from the UK.

Overall Agfa’s Graphic Systems business declined 2.3% in the quarter to €300 million (€307 million). Inkjet inks provided solid growth and machinery sales held up helped by growing interest and investment from industrial printing companies.

Fujifilm made no specific reference to printing plates in its most recently quarterly results, covering the final three months of 2016. However, it said sales in the printing division had been hit by the increasing value of the Yen. Like Agfa, its future lies in inkjet, with a new company started on 1 January this year to focus on the inkjet printhead divisions.

It has also yet to commercialise its ProT4 plate to offer greater resilience and longer runs that the ProT3 plate which is the company’s develop on press plate.

Inkjet is back in Kodak's fold following the corporate decision to rescind the for sale sign over the Prosper inkjet division where the great hope is built on the the properties of the Ultrastream continuous inkjet head.

Kodak will spend €17 million developing this in 2017, aiming to have most of the development under its belt ahead of implementations be be announced by the 19 potential OEMs who will received developer kits this year. Kodak has learned from its Prosper experience where the hope had been to develop products across the spectrum before realising that as a print platform, the Prosper press is too expensive for the mainstream.

“It became clear that Prosper needed to be focused on high volume applications,” says Kodak CEO Jeff Clarke. Now it is being focused on OEM deals with only a limited number of presses to be built strictly to order for high volume users like newspapers.

Gareth Ward

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Kodak Sonora

Kodak Sonora

Kodak says that demand for its Sonora plate is increasing and Agfa that upward trends for plates are driven by sustainability. And these increases are coming when overall demand is at best static.

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