Mark Graham knew years ago that he had a problem. The pre-production manager at print and packaging giant Multi Packaging Solutions’ (MPS) Newcastle Upon Tyne site was using baked plates and the process was costing him a fortune to keep up.
As a result, he longed for the day that the quality and run lengths achievable on unbaked plates could match that of the ones he shoved through the oven each day. A few years back he tried using Kodak Trillian SP thermal plates, but they didn’t deliver the performance he was looking for
“The key issue for us was: could we find an unbaked plate that lasted long enough and could achieve the number of impressions we needed,” says Graham.
That day eventually arrived in July 2015 when MPS started using Kodak’s Electra Max new unbaked plate range. Up to that point the company had been using Kodak’s DITP Gold thermal plate and Graham was delighted with the quality and run length he was achieving with that product, but he’d always had one eye on getting rid of the cost and additional labour associated with the baking process.
“The initial reason we started looking into using unbaked plates was purely down to energy costs,” explains Graham. A few years ago he estimated that it was costing the company around £25,000 a year to keep the oven running 24/7, so when the Electra Max came along he leapt at the chance of test-driving it.
“We had already gone through the process of looking at a few different products at a number of sites that were using non-baked plates and we trialled some of our jobs and inks on them, but because we use quite aggressive inks and our run lengths are quite high we never saw anything that performed to the levels that we needed until we trialled the Electra Max plate,” says Graham.
He adds that although he carried out some research into the different unbaked plate options on the market this never developed into anything serious as he always intended giving Kodak’s plates a trial run first, as he was happy with the products and level of service the company had provided in the past.
“I spoke to people at other sites that were using different unbaked plates and when I looked at the run lengths that they were getting they were nowhere near what we required,” says Graham. “So I never actually spoke to another manufacturer because at the end of the day they would have probably given me the textbook waffle that ‘it performs to X, Y and Z’.
“I thought it made more sense to ask people who were actually using the plates how they performed as I knew they would give me a more honest assessment. As with anything the proof of the pudding is in the eating – people say ‘you’re going to get this kind of run length’ but I needed to see it for myself, and when we trialled the Kodak plates for three months we got the results we wanted in terms of run length and durability compared to the old baked plate.”
Press hall revamp
But the MPS investment didn’t just end with a new plate supply agreement. The company also wanted a new plate line to match so it splashed out on the Magnus VLF platersetter at the same time. The new line-up gave MPS the opportunity to rethink the setup on the factory floor.
“Although we were getting more space back because we no longer needed an oven, we didn’t want the new plate line where we had the old one – we wanted it in the middle of the room. As a result, we had to construct a custom-built, air-conditioned room next to the presses, so as well as moving onto new plates we had the whole upheaval of implementing the new line.”
The location of the new plate line would save MPS valuable downtime, but it had already clawed back significant time savings because plates no longer needed to travel through the oven section and cool down before they could be used. The automation features built into the new platesetter also brought additional savings.
“On our previous plate line you had to hand feed in 20 to 30 plates at a time. The plate would then be processed and go into the oven,” recalls Graham. “Then you took the plate off the end of the line and punched it ready for the press. The new plate line is pallet-fed so you just line up a pallet of 500 plates and you’re off. It’s also got an internal punching system so effectively it does the whole process.”
The Magnus also significantly reduces downtime on the press if a plate needs to be remade, says Graham.
“Previously if the guys on press needed a plate remaking they would come to the studio, send the plate, go down to the plate line, watch it come off, punch it and then take it to the press. But with the new process the printers can do it themselves. So if they need to remake a plate they’re hooked up to the system and they can just release that plate and it shoots out of the new plate line in five minutes onto the back of the stacker, punched and ready for the guy from the press to pick it up and run with it.”
Since installation, which went smoothly, the new setup has worked a treat, although Graham says that the company does occasionally encounter issues over the number of impressions it achieves on press.
“We said from the outset that if we get anything over 70,000 we would be happy because that’s where our run lengths sit,” he explains. “When we trialled it we were getting consistently over 70,000, but we have had a few instances where it has fallen below that level. We’re still looking into this, but I wouldn’t presume it’s a problem with the plate because there are aspects on press that could be causing that. The number of impressions you get is dependent on the board and ink type used and the board we use is very abrasive and the inks we use are very aggressive.”
In its marketing collateral for the plates Kodak quotes up to 500,000 impressions for web presses, 350,000 sheetfed and up to 150,000 for UV applications.
“The UV application spec of up to 150,000 depends upon image resolution, press, ink and paper conditions, as we state in our collateral,” explains Luis Penadés, European strategic accounts director and business development manager in Kodak’s Print Systems Division. “The primary reason MPS is getting fewer than the full 150,000 impressions is because they are printing on board rather than paper, increasing the abrasive wear on the plate.”
Minor gripes aside Graham has been delighted with the support offered by Kodak throughout the transition to the new setup. “Processors and plate lines can go down because this machinery is running 24/7, but when we’ve had any issues they’ve always offered great support.”
Indeed, MPS’ main point of contact at Kodak went above and beyond the call of duty after Graham realised he’d made a basic mistake.
“Rather foolishly I had forgotten to order my plates and we were running really low, to the extent the presses were going to stop. So I rang my contact at Kodak, but he was on holiday in the Dominican Republic, or somewhere like that at the time. However, he still answered his phone, put through my order and I got the plates on time so you can’t knock that type of service.”
You also can’t knock the transformative impact that the Electra Max plates and the new Magnus VLF platesetter have had on the business. That’s why Graham wouldn’t hesitate to recommend going unbaked to anyone considering taking the plunge.
“The main piece of advice I would give is make sure that you trial it first to ensure it suits your requirements for run lengths and how you want it to work,” he says. “For us this investment has been a total success and we haven’t looked back.”
Plate type No preheat, positive-working thermal plate with wide operating latitude; optional post-bake
Application Sheetfed, web offset and UV
Spectral sensitivity 800–850nm
AM resolution 1%–99% at 450lpi (dependent on capability of imaging device)
FM resolution 10-micron stochastic
Run length Up to 500,000 impressions unbaked for web; up to 350,000 impressions unbaked for sheetfed; up to 150,000 impressions unbaked for UV and H-UV
Contact Kodak 0845 602 5991 www.kodak.com
Multi Packaging Solutions (MPS) is one of the biggest print and packaging groups in the world. In 2015, it only had a handful of facilities in the US, but thanks to 14 different transactions it now has 59 manufacturing sites in North America, Europe and Asia. MPS merged with Chesapeake in 2014 and acquired the North American and Asian print businesses of AGI-Shorewood Group. Today the company employs almost 9,000 people globally and in its 2016 annual report reported record sales of $1.7bn (£1.4bn). MPS itself is now being acquired by Westrock.
Why it was bought…
Using baked plates was costing the company more than £25,000 a year to run the oven 24/7. MPS wanted to eliminate this cost, but it was only prepared to move to unbaked plates if it could find a range that performed almost as well as baked plates.
How it has performed…
Much better than expected. Graham says the company is consistently getting 70,000 impressions from the unbaked Electra Max plates and on occasion it has achieved more than 100,000 impressions.