Posts Tagged ‘printing plates’

  • ZAC brings new intelligence to plate processing

     In its new partnership with Heidelberg to supply plates, Fujifilm is promoting the benefits of ZAC technology, its award-winning advanced plate processing solution.

    The ZAC automated controller technology provides optimised processing quality using intelligent developer replenishment for the widely-used plate processors manufactured by Glunz & Jensen and Heights UK. The result is a significant reduction in the volume of chemistry and water used, which also reduces the environmental impact. According to Steve Peck, Fujifilm Graphics marketing manager, maintenance requirements are reduced which leaves staff free to complete other tasks. The ZAC processor can achieve up to an 80 per cent reduction in chemistry by identifying only the areas on the plate that actually need processing and by constantly measuring the bath conductivity.

    “The intelligence of the ZAC system means there is hardly any need for operator intervention, in fact the whole system once installed “looks after itself. This is what some of our customers are saying. Plates are produced consistently, without effort and quality is maintained,” said Peck.

    The low-chemistry ZAC processing solution will typically use 294 litres of chemistry to process 10,000 B1 plates during a 1-3 month period compared to what might be 534 litres for a typical chemistry-free processor and 1,908 litres for the same amount in a typical thermal CTP processor.

    A ZAC system also has another major advantage. “Bath life is significantly extended resulting in maintenance reducing to less than half the time of many other processors. This means maintenance might be carried out only four times a year which is a massive saving in labour and wasted time for businesses, which these days are trying to achieve more with less staff,” said Peck

    Fujifilm has, of course, just signed a major plate distribution agreement with Heidelberg, which will become the sole distributor for printing plate products in Australia and New Zealand for the sheet offset market from 1st July 2014.

    “We want to alert printers," Steve Peck.

    “We want to alert printers, who may not have been using Fujifilm plates, to our consistent and high quality plate production when combined with a Fujifilm ZAC intelligent processing solution. They will achieve savings in both time and money,” said Peck.

    The Fujifilm ZAC processor – or a ZAC field upgrade to an existing compatible processor – can complement many different thermal CtP systems, not just the Fujifilm Luxel series and the Heidelberg Suprasetter range, and can be used with the full range of Fujifilm Brillia thermal plates.

    “At the end of the day printers want to know that their plates will give them the quality the market demands, the consistency they demand, and preferably in the easiest and least expensive way possible. Fujifilm plates combined with a ZAC processor can provide this,” said Peck.

    To learn more about ZAC technology contact Fujifilm

    Or phone 1300 342 279

     

  • Printing plates in play – Print21 magazine article

    The Australian and New Zealand offset plate sector has been in turmoil ever since Kodak and Heidelberg ended their distribution deal at the beginning of the year. For the second time in four years Heidelberg customers are being asked to change their plates, this time from Kodak to Fujifilm. Rivals are circling; Kodak is looking to win back market share, Chinese suppliers see an opening, and Fujifilm and Agfa are determined to hold their positions. Patrick Howard looks at the winners and losers in the battle of the plates.

    In the end it was Steve Venn who made the call to terminate the printing plate distribution agreement between Kodak and Heidelberg. In January this year the managing director of the resurgent imaging company announced that, as of 1 July, Heidelberg would no longer be supplying Kodak printing plates in Australia and New Zealand. Richard Timson, his opposite number at Heidelberg, says it was only a matter of time as to who made the call. “We were both posturing. If they had not ended it we would. We were not happy with Kodak,” he said.

    The move has set in motion a fierce competition for market share. It opens up a window of opportunity for printers to negotiate and renegotiate their printing plate agreements with the suppliers. Kodak with Heidelberg accounted for around one third of the estimated 7.5 million square metres of printing plates used in Australia/NZ every year. Under the agreement, Heidelberg had exclusive rights to supply Kodak plates to all commercial sheetfed printing companies. Kodak retained its web printing clients and newspapers customers.

    Now Heidelberg is going to supply its customers with Fujifilm plates, its second shift of supply in four years after the press manufacturer left Agfa for Kodak in 2010. The battle is now on between the two companies as each tries to keep customers, Kodak with its plates, Heidelberg with its reputation for service and solid logistics. Fujifilm and Agfa, the other major suppliers, are almost on the sidelines of this stoush. It is about reputation and brand, customer loyalty and competing technology claims.

    And then there’s price, of course.

    Evenly split market

    Before the current unrest, the offset plate market in Australia and New Zealand was roughly split evenly between the three major players with Agfa, Kodak (including Heidelberg) and Fujifilm accounting for one-third each. Minor players from China, notably Xingraphics from Ferag and manroland, and HG plates from Ferrostaal, are also in the market with relatively small shares. In the past few years the Chinese suppliers have found it difficult to make headway against the entrenched market power of the Big Three, four if you count Heidelberg. However, in light of the current imbroglio that may be about to change.

    The clear winner of the market disruption is Fujifilm, which will gain market share no matter what happens. It will get whatever remains of the Heidelberg business after Kodak has tried to win as many customers as possible. The state of play will become clearer during July when, no matter who has won the deal, who has gained the business, deliveries will have to resume to ensure continuity of supply. One thing is certain, this will make Fujifilm, under the direction of former Heidelberger, Lindsay Barnes, the largest supplier of printing plates, albeit with some of its product being delivered under the Heidelberg Saphira brand. Meanwhile Agfa’s Mark Brindley is keeping his head down, concentrating on keeping his newspaper and commercial customers happy while the others battle it out.

    Although all players are keen to emphasise the value they bring with their plate supply, over and beyond competitive pricing, there is no doubt that price is key in the market shake-out. Printers are being courted even more assiduously than normal, especially the Heidelberg/Kodak customers. First blood in this contest went to Kodak when Steve Venn signed up Blue Star and Whirlwind, two of the largest commercial printers in the country.

    Why would you do it?

    "This is a very tough business," Steve Venn, Kodak.

    Any way you look at it, Kodak has embarked on a high stakes game that will certainly see it lose market share. Even achieving the best result in winning customers from Heidelberg, it will be lucky to retain half the square meterage it once supplied. While Steve Venn has the backing of the corporate suits for his strategy, he is well aware of the risk. He feels though that he had no choice.

    “It’s about opportunity for us. We went into this with our eyes wide open. We want to be a complete solutions provider and we could not have that conversation with our customers while Heidelberg was in between,” he said.

    He identifies a number of reasons behind the decision to go direct to market.

    First is the restrictive pricing that inevitably follows from having an additional layer of distribution between the manufacturer and the customer. Heidelberg as distributor had to have a margin and in a competitive market that could only happen at the cost of gaining lower prices from Kodak.

    “This is a very tough business, everyone is fighting hard in the market and we found that to win contracts we had to give away more and more margin. It was unsustainable,” said Venn.

    More importantly, he believes the difficulty in having a constructive dialogue about Kodak’s other products with mainstream commercial printing companies was seriously compromising the company’s future.

    “We could not talk directly about our other offerings, about all the products and value we can bring to a customer’s businesses. It’s not just plates; it was never just about plates.

    “We are a full solutions provider. I don’t want the industry to see us as just a supplier of plates, but rather as a consistent quality partner here for the long-term to help maximise our customers’ opportunities.”

    Then there is the printing industry’s transition to digital in printing and in workflow. Venn believes Kodak is well-placed to be a major supplier for the new-age printing industry. It has first class digital presses, such as the NexPress and the Stream-powered high-speed inkjet web. Prinergy is as close as anyone has come to having an industry default workflow software and Kodak colour technology is as good as it gets.

    “We want to work with customers on their transition to digital. The industry is heading in that direction and we have some marvellous solutions to deliver.

    “It’s not that Heidelberg did a bad job with our plates, they didn’t. But in the four to five years the agreement was in place, things have changed substantially. It’s time we moved on,” said Venn.

    A mature technology

    Plate prices have halved in recent years and most industry sources maintain they still have some way to fall. Despite the steady introduction of new plates the technology is relatively mature with little opportunity to add value. Support comes from plate technicians when there is a problem on the press. This is the big selling point for Heidelberg, which claims its press expertise makes all the difference. According to Richard Timson, managing director, Heidelberg customers get more than a reliable source of plates, they get the benefit of the press manufacturer’s industry leading technical support. Of the company’s total complement of 140 in the region, 92 are service technicians, the largest cohort of any supplier. Even so, he is realistic about recognising that price is going to play a major role in the result.

    "A lot of clients will come out of this with better prices," Richard Timson, CEO.

    “No doubt there will be a bit of a squeeze. There is a price war as we try to retain our customers and Kodak does the same. A lot of clients will come out of this with better prices,” he said.

    “Everyone has virtually the same plate, what’s important is the consistency and reliability. We’ve had some issues with Kodak over the years, with two full recalls of product. That makes it difficult when you’re talking with customers.

    “Heidelberg brings a lot to the table in terms of CTP as well as Prinect workflow and colour capabilities. Last year we sold 13 Heidelberg CTPs to two Kodak [Kodak obviously sold many more on their own: ed.]. We have a wealth of experience that can fix issues on the press.

    “As for customers, there’s been a mixed response. We obviously lost Blue Star and Whirlwind who decided to stay with Kodak. These are large accounts, but we’ll have to see how it plays out in the wash-up. In the long run people will realise that we provide a very high level of support. That is real value.”

    Made in China

    There is a surprising Euro-centric preference in the market with a lingering mistrust of Chinese-manufactured plates. Despite all the majors having manufacturing plants in China and sourcing a deal of their products there, all are keen to play down the connection. Kodak and Fujifilm are both promoting the fact that they source plates from Europe rather than China. Timson recalls that when Heidelberg supplied a cheap Chinese plate at the customer’s request he refused to provide any run guarantees. The customer tried one delivery but then returned to more conventional product.

    Steve Venn acknowledges that there have been some issues with the company’s Trillion SP and Sonora XP plates out of China. He has assured customers that these plates, which are the two best sellers, will be sourced from Germany in the future. In addition he points to the two-year old Kodak worldwide quality improvement program focused on “maintaining plate quality, escalation process changes and the rapid implementation of solutions prior to developing in-market concerns”. While acknowledging that this pursuit of “perfect products” is an aspirational goal, he maintains it drives a culture encapsulated in the slogan “good enough is never good enough”.

    How much of the criticism of Chinese plates in the market is simply scare tactics from the major brands, afraid of letting the new suppliers gain a foothold, and how much is based on actual product technology difficulties is hard to say. According to Ian Martin, general manager Ferag, one of two suppliers of Xingraphics plates, there is no quality difference between Chinese and European plates. “We have had no difficulties in our five years in the market. Our customers are loyal and are able to gain a competitive edge with prices,” he said.

    Xingraphics is currently bringing a new thermal plate to the market, Primus Plus Hybrid, that Martin maintains will allow printers to reduce ink and water usage by up to 20 per cent. He stresses the reliability and quality of the plates. “They are the equal if not better than most in the market,” he said.

    Much of the plate supply industry is simply a question of logistics, of keeping a steady supply of reliable plates up to the customer without the printer having to retain too much stock. While newspapers are obviously huge users of plates, they demand a very responsive just-in-time supply chain. In recent times Kodak lost the major Fairfax account to Fujifilm, but such movements are rare so long as the supplier meets basic requirements.

    Apart from Heidelberg there are number of smaller plate suppliers with Currie Group being the largest with a long history of supplying Agfa plates. Tony Foley’s Seaga (see next page) retains a substantial Kodak customer base as well as a relationship with the manufacturer, and LithoTechnics in Perth, previously a Kodak distributor, has decided to stay with Heidelberg and is now supplying Fujfilm plates.

    Most of the heat and fury of the plate battles will have died down by the time you read this in July but the war is ongoing. Plate usage has held up remarkably well is the face of the digital onslaught with estimates of a five per cent drop over the past five years. It still represents a multi-million dollar business and keeps more than one technology supplier afloat. We have not yet heard the last of this contest.