Firing On All Cylinders
Why put imaging systems on every press unit, when a complete set of plates can be made in a single offline CTP system? We asked the experts.
by MARK SMITH
TAKING STEPS out of a process can increase productivity, reduce variability and lower production costs. That all sounds great, but these gains naturally must be weighed against the investment required to achieve them.
Doing such a cost-benefit analysis for the on-press imaging concept might at first seem to be a rather straightforward calculation. The potential variables in the equation quickly prove otherwise, however. Issues such as integration with existing plant capabilities, markets served and type of press being considered can tip the balance in favor of or against the technology and workflow. What makes sense for one operation may be a non-starter in a different shop.
Technological factors are only part of the reason why the first implementations of on-press imaging were on smaller-format machines. The value proposition of the concept has always centered around quick turnaround of shorter runs, which fits well with the capabilities of smaller presses. These entry-level presses also were well suited for prepress operations and quick printers adding their first real four-color presses, which became the primary target market.
Since computer-to-plate adoption, for the most part, started with eight-up machines geared toward longer runs, this meant the first direct-to-press solutions were primarily being compared to film-based workflows. The associated labor savings and process efficiencies, combined with the lack of an existing printing infrastructure at most early adopters, made it easier to make a case for the technology. With on-press imaging solutions now moving up in format and CTP systems expanding down, the two workflows are becoming more directly competitive.
As a result, perhaps the biggest question potential buyers now face is, why spend the money to put imaging systems on every press unit, when a complete set of plates can be made in a single offline CTP system that has a much lower capital cost? Most of the same benefits claimed by direct-to-press systems also can be achieved by adopting offline CTP production, especially if the comparison is made to an automated platesetter and state-of-the-art press.