Offset Solutions focuses on value

Jo Francis
Wednesday, December 21, 2022

The Offset Solutions Value Conference in November discussed innovations in plate development and related software and set out how the company will operate when it separates from Agfa.

As Agfa’s Offset Solutions (OS) division preps for an independent future, it’s becoming increasingly clear the company is about much more than ‘just’ printing plates.

That said, the timing of the deal is looking increasingly auspicious for new owner Aurelius. We already know that the financial performance of Offset Solutions is vastly improved this year. And in November, rival Fujifilm announced that it would stop making plates in Europe by the end of next year. Inevitably this will open up potential new opportunities for OS and also for Kodak – both firms have European plate manufacturing plants in Germany. 

OS lays claim to a market- leading position in printing plates in Europe and in Latin America. It sells around 95m square metres of plates worldwide annually. 

The change of ownership is expected to complete in Q1 2023. The new era will also involve a new name, although if necessary OS can keep using the Agfa name for 12 months. 

As a standalone, OS will begin life as a substantial worldwide business with sales approaching €750m (£647m). 

At the firm’s recent Value Conference in Belgium focused on the offset packaging market, head of applications and marketing Guy Desmet gave a thought-provoking presentation about the pros and cons of different types of printing plates. 

Taking into account a big picture encompassing factors such as image quality, latitude on press, run lengths, robustness, plate remakes and first saleable sheet, Desmet noted that process-free plate technology “had some negative aspects”, whereas chem-free plates “offered the best of both worlds”.

“One size does not fit all,” he stated. 

The event also underlined the importance of software in the OS product range. The rapid increases in the price of raw materials such as paper and inks, as well as the energy price crisis, has sharpened interest in the potential cost-saving benefits of the firm’s software tools.

Quality assurance engineer Els Van Cauwenberghe explained how the firm’s new Spir@l screening technology was, unlike stochastic screening, “as easy as printing an AM screen”.

“Spir@l is very smooth from the highlight to the shadow – it’s magic!” she stated. 

“Customers say they can print faster. And they need less energy for drying because it’s a thinner layer of ink.”

The software range comes under the umbrella of the firm’s ECO3 value proposition. 

The complete suite is made up of: PressTune a quality management system that also allows groups of printers to collaborate; InkTune for ink settings and grey component replacement; Spir@l screening; and SolidTune which optimises solids and text – again reducing ink consumption. 

Agfa offers the products as a SaaS subscription with shared benefit model. The results can be astonishing, especially for printers using large amounts of ink, and it’s little wonder that the suite has been adopted by a number of large web offset printers. 

“The solutions offer our customers a wide range of benefits, starting from a reduction of waste sheets, increased print stability to an improved print buyer relationship. One benefit that stands out is ‘ink reduction’, which can go up to 30% and depends on the exact type of ECO³ tools deployed and of course the printed matter,” Desmet explained. 

“The ink saving advantage is shared between Agfa and the customer, typically in a 50/50 split model.”

At the conference Filip Peeters, senior specialist digital prepress at customer Solidus Solutions, said that after the success of an initial project in Belgium the firm would be rolling out the use of Spir@l and SolidTune at its other sites, including the UK. 

Employees at Offset Solutions are upbeat about the company’s evolution and independent future. And with customers keener than ever to deploy systems that will help save them money, that €92m price tag might turn out to be a real bargain for Aurelius.  


SPEAKER SOUNDBITES

“Human connection is the bit we should be working on. It’s the key to business success. All of the great teams are inspired,” Kevin Jackson, founder, The Experience is the Marketing

“A robot is an investment, not a cost,” Iris Bogunovic, product manager plate and CTP systems, OS

“You can’t evaluate colour [by eye] if you think you are evaluating colour,"Eddy Hagen, founder, Insights4Print

“Too many printers in the past have relied on people looking at things. Measuring and standardisation is the way forward," Andy Grant, OS head of software

“Vendor performance and brand control drives efficiency and continuous improvement. Location should not limit control,” Sue Tait, global head of governance and sustainability, Tag

“The EU Green Deal… specifies that all packaging should be reusable or recyclable in an economically feasible manner by 2030,” Laetitia Reynaud, policy advisor, Intergraf

“Quality and cost in balance – that’s my goal. Reduce costs and maintain quality,” Els Van Cauwenberghe, engineer, OS 

“We are at the beginning of a new era in offset printing. We’re not too far away from the point where the machine will tell the operator what to do,” Sascha Fischer, head of product management, Koenig & Bauer

“Offset will remain the dominant process in the next five-to-ten years,” Frederik Dehing, VP sales and service, OS

“Packaging is dominated by analogue printing, and will remain so in the near future,” Sean Smyth, analyst and consultant, Smithers

“Customers tell us we are improving quality with these tools,” Alexander Puggioni, head of presales software, OS

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