Toyobo Tests Flexo Plates at Two U.S. Papers

By: Meg Campbell The North American newspaper flexo market will have a second plate supplier beginning in 2008, when Japanese plate manufacturer Toyobo Co. begins commercial distribution of plates it is currently testing at the Chattanooga Times Free Press and the Boston Herald.

Toyobo has been testing the plates for the past 12 months at the U.S. dailies and at Harmsworth Quays Printing in London for The Daily Mail and Sunday Mail. HQP is about to begin using the Japanese plates in production.

Toyobo's polymer flexo plates require brush cleaning rather than the power wash that flexo now used by papers to clean plates from MacDermid, currently the only newspaper flexo plate supplier in the U.S. market. "The plate cannot be washed out by the water spray of a NAPP processor," explains Toyobo's Masaou Matsuda. "So we are thinking that the brush unit should be attached to it so that the plate is washed out properly."

Chattanooga also has been testing a water-wash plate, however, and Frank Anthony, the paper's operations vice president, is still hopeful that Toyobo will eventually make water-wash plates as well. In the meantime, it is likely the paper will install an in-line brush unit made by Anderson Vreeland which will add about three feet to the plate line.

U.S. flexo papers have been waiting a long time for a second plate supplier, but other manufacturers, such as DuPont's Cyrel Digital and Flint Group (formerly BASF) have been reluctant to enter a market that offers little growth potential and limited profit margins.

"The newspaper flexo market offers poor profit margin, but we think that the flexo newspaper market is getting bigger now because it has a lot of advantages compared with offset on printing quality and printing cost," Toyobo's Matsuda states. He adds that the company will also benefit from the synergies of producing plates for several markets.

Frank Anthony does not expect a second supplier to bring down the price of the plates, which are about four times as expensive as offset plates. "I don't think they'll be less than what we're currently paying, but I'm comfortable with the fact that price is market fair," he says. "I do think the competition will keep the pressure on price, and will put pressure on quality."

A second supplier will also weaken a longstanding industry argument against flexo for newspapers, says Anthony, a flexo advocate.

"A lot of the U.S. papers used this as excuse not to consider flexo, but now there are two plate manufacturers. There are multiple plants, and there is CTP capability," he says. "Whenever there seems to be an argument to not use flexo, in a short time the argument goes away."


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