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Agfa opens major Asia Pacific plate plant in China

Friday, 31 October 2003
By Print 21 Online Article

The AUD $83 million plant is part of Agfa’s response to its worldwide capacity problems brought about by the rapid move to CTP. It claims the shift is marked by the more than 20 per cent annual increase in demand for digital plates. The Wuxi plant, which has the capacity to produce 25 million square metres per year, will initially concentrate on analogue plates, mainly the P51 for the China market, as well as the N555, a negative plate for the Australian and New Zealand newspaper industry. This latter will trial in Australia and New Zealand before Christmas. If successful, full-scale production will follow by the second quarter next year.

Cutting the ribbon; Stefaan Vanhooren managing director Asia Pacific, (left) and Dr Ludo Verhoeven, ceo Agfa Gevaert, join local dignitaries cutting the ribbon at a colourful lion dance ceremony in Wuxi.

Thermal plate production is scheduled to begin at Wuxi in the middle of next year with most of the product marked for export due to the very low uptake of CTP in China. Australia and New Zealand are regarded as major markets for the Chinese-made thermal plates

Wuxi is a world class manufacturing site, built to European specifications, and designed to make the full portfolio of Agfa’s digital and analogue plates. Its location in China is the result of the company’s strategy to build a larger presence in what is a fast growing market. It is convinced the plant’s ability to shorten plate delivery time to customers in the Asia Pacific region, which constitutes 17.6 per cent of Agfa’s graphics turnover, will justify the investment. It also reinforces the Agfa presence in the Chinese market.

Industry analysts estimate the Chinese printing plate market at 50 million square metres per annum. There are around 30 local plate manufacturers currently in the field with more than sufficient capacity to supply the requirements, plus a large presence by KPG and a small product stabilising plant from FujiFilm.

A number of Australian and New Zealand industry identities made the journey to Wuxi to see for themselves the world-class Agfa manufacturing facility, (left to right) Terry Clark, APN Ellerslie Printers, NZ; John Shore, sales and marketing Agfa Australia; Bernard Cassells, managing director of CPI; Dan Blackburn, INL Fairfax, NZ; Gary Osbourne, APN Sunshine Coast; Koni Neuhofer, product manager Agfa; and Liam Roche, Western Australia News.

Agfa’s management at the Wuxi opening claimed there were 80,000 printing establishments in China, although analysts discount this figure by at least 50 per cent. Many of the registered printing enterprises are little more than scratch copy shops. Thus despite China’s strong growth rate of seven to nine per cent, the viability of the Wuxi plant is heavily tied up with export success.

Builidng on established relationships

Agfa has had medical equipment and consumables manufacturing facility at Wuxi for almost a decade. According to Dr. Ludo Verhoeven, ceo, this was a major factor in deciding to locate at Wuxi, which is near Shanghai. “We feel at home in Wuxi. Our strategy is to confirm our leading position in printing plates, to make equipment a profitable business, to expand further in software and to focus on the fastest growing segments of the printing industry,” he said at the opening ceremony yesterday. “Building a factory of printing plates in China, the fastest growth area in the world is certainly consistent with this strategy.”

Albert Follens, general manager graphic systems Agfa, said that the company intends to deliver more than plates to China. “We will offer our customers not only plates, but the full range of our solutions, comprising prepress equipment and software.”

According to John Shore, general manager sales and marketing, Agfa Australia, the company will introduce the new plates from Wuxi with its customary care for the customer relationship. “All our products are delivered to the market only after we’ve run extensive tests and we’re fully satisfied they are suitable for local conditions. We have already done some testing of the N888 with customers on plates that came from Europe and the results are very good. The Wuxi product will have the same quality and is being produced to the same worldwide Agfa quality standards,” he said.

Traditional dances were performed as part of the opening ceremony

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