Me & my: Agfa Advantage N-DL

Richard Stuart-Turner
Monday, June 19, 2017

Many print companies that run a fleet of machinery from the same manufacturer are likely to cite benefits including consistent quality across the business, proven reliability, the ability to easily transfer jobs from one machine to another, and strong relationships with the supplier among reasons for returning time and time again.

So when Newsquest wanted to invest in new platesetters for its Oxford operation around three years ago, the newspaper group found that it made perfect sense to turn to Agfa, which had already supplied platesetters for all of its other print sites.

The Oxford site, which prints titles including The Oxford Times, Oxford Mail and Wiltshire Star on its Manroland Geoman 75, had previously been using thermal platesetters which had served the business well but were coming up to being 10 years old.

So the decision was made to switch to Agfa’s Advantage N-DL (direct load) machines and adopt violet-laser imaging technology.

The firm opted to buy two of the N-DL devices to provide the capacity it required and to ensure continuity and backup if one of the machines was to break down. The extra capacity also enables the Oxford operation to easily manage any last minute jobs or changes.

“The main reason we bought these machines is because of the reliability of the Agfa images across the group – we already had them in every print site apart from Oxford,” explains Jerry Secker, print manager at Newsquest’s Oxford print centre.

“They’re just more modern, with a smaller footprint, faster output and lower maintenance. It was a bit of a no-brainer because we knew what we were getting.”

Decision made

Mind firmly made up, the company decided not to look at alternative systems from other suppliers.

“It was the only way to go – Agfa were a proven supplier with no issues who had always looked after Newsquest as best they could. We’d never had any problems with service or anything like that,” says Secker.

“It’s easier if every print centre is using the same plate, for things like group plate deals, and we just wanted to unify all of the print centres so they were all the same.”

The two machines were installed in a yellow-light room at the site’s pre-press department over the course of a weekend and Secker says everything went smoothly and to schedule.

Training took around a week and four people are currently trained to use the machines, including three operators and one manager.

“The machine is easy to operate and user-friendly so the training was pretty straightforward,” says Secker.

He adds one operator can oversee both devices at the same time and they can also get on with other jobs while the machines are running as light indicators alert them to any issues that arise.

From installation, both platesetters were specified with the optional productivity upgrade of +120 to enable Newsquest to produce up to 220 plates per hour on each device – or a total of 440 per hour across both machines.

Secker says that while the company doesn’t always run them up to this speed, on a Wednesday – when many titles are on press – it often needs to make full use of the capacity available.

“To plate a whole press is 384 plates for a job that’s 192 pages. On a Wednesday afternoon we run many fairly big jobs that are constantly 160 pages.”

The plates produced on the Agfa machines are used for up to 120,000 impressions, says Secker, who adds that the company needs to produce plates more quickly these days due to the trend towards smaller run lengths.

“If you’ve only got 5,000 copies of a 72-page job and you’ve then got another 72-page job, you need a machine that’s capable of getting those plates out quicker. Gone are the days of having jobs on press for four hours at a time where you could take your time getting the plates out – it’s now job on, job off, so all the plates have got to be processed as quickly as possible.”

The two platesetters run seven days a week, though for different lengths of time each day depending on the volume of jobs that need to be on press each day. On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday the machines are on 24/7, Secker says, but on the other four days they are more likely to be running mainly at night.

Automated plate loading is a key feature of the N-DL: “Once you’ve filled the machines with plates you’re pretty much sorted and you know that they’ll run until the plates run out and you’ve got to fill them up again,” says Secker.

“We tend to put around 700 plates on the plate loader every time so we know then that, with the two lines that we’ve got, we’ve got quite a bit of work that we can get out before it needs replacing.”

He adds: “There’s not a lot you have to do on these machines – you fill the plates and away it goes. On the other end of the device we’ve got a Creo plate sorter, which sorts the plates out into 25 buckets for where they’ve got to go on the press.

“So the people working on the machine are more focused on the output side of it – they can concentrate on pages coming in and looking for any problems with the pages they’re dealing with instead of having to go and take out interleaves. And they know they can just rely on the images to work as it’s very rarely that they fail.”

Indeed, Secker cites the machine’s slip sheet removal system, which removes the interleaved paper and drops it into a paper bin, as one of the features he finds particularly useful.

“It stops the plates sticking together – it lifts the plate up, takes away the slip sheet, puts it into a bin underneath and away you go. The bin will get full after a while but you then just have to pull the bin out and empty very light sheets of paper.”

Secker also likes the machine’s ability to detect damaged plates and packing debris and discard them into an integrated bin. This avoids damage to the CTP engine.

“You get cardboard on the plates to protect them when they come so if the operator forgets to take the cardboard off, for instance, the machine will tell you. And if the plate is too short, or not square, it lines it all up and will tell you because it won’t reach certain points.”

Newsquest uses 363x607mm chemistry-free N95-VCF plates with the N-DL machines. Agfa delivers the plates and chemistry on a regular basis.

“We go through 12,000 plates a week, so have a delivery of plates every fortnight, and the fluid required is delivered as and when we need it, with the plates,” says Secker.

Clean plate club

These plates use a pH-neutral clean-out solution, which gives a substantial water saving and eliminates the usage of developer and replenisher.

“The process is a lot smaller – there’s only one bath so to speak, so we’re not dropping as many chemicals out into recycling as we used to do when there used to be two or three baths,” says Secker.

This is important to the Oxford site, which is ISO 14001 accredited. Other environmental benefits include an electricity saving due to the kit’s ability to process only one plate at a time if required. Secker says previous machines always had to image two plates at once – using double power – to keep up with the speeds required by the business.

Overall, Secker is very happy with the N-DLs, which he says tick all the boxes and have achieved everything that they were bought to do. He expects them to last for many years yet judging by the robustness and dependability seen so far, with no notable technical issues to report to date.

“It’s very reliable – the uptime of the equipment is fantastic and we hardly ever have to call an engineer in. It brings continuity to the business because we know they run and we know that if one did fail, we could still produce enough plates just using one line instead of both,” says Secker.

“Agfa’s support is fantastic anyway so if we needed them they would come the same day if they could or first thing the next morning. They can’t do enough for us, they’re really good,” he concludes. 


Throughput Up to 300 plates/hr (depending on resolution and plate size)

Resolution 900-2,540dpi

Max plate size 914x710mm (Standard) or 1,250x710mm (Extended)

Min plate size 275x451mm

Plate thickness 0.20-0.40mm

Safelight for plate loading Yellow

Operating safelight Daylight

Footprint Standard: 1.25x3.5m; Extended: 1.2x4m

Features Automatic plate loading, automatic slip sheet removal, online plate capacity up to 1,500, support for up to 100 plate formats

Optional features/upgrades Display on pivoting arm, mirrored registration, infrared camera, productivity upgrades of +50/+120/+200 plates/hr (+200 takes the N-DL up to the max 300 plates/hr)

Price From £60,000 to £150,000 depending on specification

Contact Agfa UK 020 8231 4983

Company profile 

Headquartered in London, with 5,000  staff working across sites in Oxford, Glasgow, Weymouth and Southampton, Newsquest produces more than 200 regular titles, including over 165 newspapers. The group, which was established in 1995, is headed up by chief executive Henry Faure Walker while Leighton Jones is group production director. The Oxford centre prints titles including The Oxford Times, Oxford Mail and Wiltshire Star on its Manroland Geoman 75, which has two folders and six towers. Schur gripper lines and stackers and a Ferag inserting line are also operated at the site.

Why it was bought…

Newsquest Oxford invested in two Agfa Advantage N-DL platesetters around three years ago to unify its processes. All of the organisation’s other print sites were already using Agfa equipment to produce plates and it wanted continuity across the board. Compared to the previous platesetters it had been using at the site, the company liked the smaller footprint and faster output of the Agfa machines as well as the fact that they were more modern and required less maintenance.

How it has performed…

The machines have achieved everything the company bought them for according to Jerry Secker, print manager at Newsquest’s Oxford print centre, who says the investment decision was “a no-brainer”. The kit has proved robust and reliable and has boosted productivity in the pre-press department.


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