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Production: Do ‘Processless Plates’ Fit Into Your Pressroom Operation?
Apr 13, 2018

Production: Do ‘Processless Plates’ Fit into Your Pressroom Operation?

In order to be successful in our industry, we need to be innovative, seek new and improved ways to streamline production, and explore options that save money and improve the bottom line. I believe processless plates may be an important part of meeting that goal.

I started out curious what a plate that needs no processing is referred to as. I posed this question to a few well-regarded plate manufacturers and was told that while there is no industry definition for processless plates, there is at least a common thread between manufacturers referring to their products as true (or truly) processless.

Some key players of the processless plate movement in the newspaper industry are Fujifilm with the Superia Ecomaxx-TN, Southern Lithoplate’s Liberty NXP, Kodak with the Sonora plate, and Anocoil with their Verti plate. I have either used or tested all four on press and have found all to perform well under similar conditions.

If you’re evaluating how processless plates fit into your shop, your main questions should be “Why switch? What are the advantages of processless plates verses conventional/wipe-on plates, and why should you consider changing from conventional plates to processless plates?”

The Economic Advantages

There are several advantages in this area.

Labor Savings: For those of you who have ever cleaned a processor, you know what I’m talking about. Removing rollers, cleaning rollers and scrubbing trays all takes time. Add to that the time spent mixing chemicals, filling jugs, etc. With processless plates, this time and effort is a thing of the past, allowing prepress or press employees to direct their efforts to other areas of the operation.

From a manager’s perspective, there is also the opportunity to reduce payroll hours. Depending on how many processors you have and how much time is spent on each, the savings can be significant.

Processor Parts & Maintenance: More labor savings can be found here. The time spent maintaining processor gears, refurbishing rollers, repairing hoses and general routine service can be costly. In addition, the hard costs of replacing rollers, gears, electronics and miscellaneous processor parts can add up. Not to mention the time spent performing these repairs and lost production as the result of breakdowns.

Obviously the fact that processless plates bypass the processor allowing plates to go directly to press after imaging eliminates these expenses.

Utilities: If you’ve ever tracked wash water usage through a processor you can appreciate the savings here. Many processors are set-up with a constant flow of wash water in the rinse tray. The cost for this water and the environmental effect is huge.

Electric is another significant expense. Processors constantly use electricity; eliminating this consumable is savings that falls directly to the bottom line. Also, depending on the type of processor you have most blow quite a bit of heat into the room which can result in additional air conditioning needs or ventilation of the area.

Raw Materials: If you’re still using conventional plates, take a look at your monthly chemical expense. Enough said?

Environmental/Compliance Issues: In the big picture, we owe it to our communities and our planet to minimize water pollution by controlling/eliminating the disposal of effluent from our wastewater. In addition to the savings previously mentioned, unless you enjoy the occasional OSHA visit to review your chemical inventory and disposal procedures, this is one area that presents a clear advantage for the use of processless plates.

Of course there are two sides to every story. Processless plates are subject to ablation, a term used to describe the partial removal of surface coating by a laser resulting in the release of particulate into the air. Most CTP units will either be vented outside or internally filtered to keep this particulate from being released into the room air. If your machine has a filter, it is important to keep up on maintenance; most vendors include filter maintenance as part of their service agreement.

Process Quality: If you’re still using an analog/film based workflow then you’re well aware of the challenges.

Variations caused by chemical or mechanical anomalies within processors can adversely affect quality throughout the process. The digital advantage of direct exposure and CTP technology direct to press eliminates many of the potential quality challenges that exist in analog/film to plate processes.

Processless plates are capable of 2400 dpi, with tone reproduction that is more than acceptable for both the newspaper and commercial printing markets.