A good year for FFEI in India

In the past year, the Indian market has been profitable for FFEI with a rise in demand for CTP solutions for both commercial and newspaper applications. Through its resellers Fujifilm and TechNova, plus its range of Alinte CTP systems, FFEI continues to achieve growth in a market. This is in spite of the challenges in the CTP segment in the recent years. conducts an eMail interview with Andy Cook, FFEI managing director, discussing the current trends and issues within the CTP market.

12 Feb 2014 | By Sriraam Selvam

Sriraam Selvam (SS): How long has FFEI been in CTP and what has its approach been?
Andy Cook (AC): Interesting question because Crosfield introduced the Datrax Platesetter for the newspaper market in the late 80's. This was a laser ablation system using a laser mask film to transfer the image on to a printing plate - it was quite successful with over 50 installations worldwide. In the mid 90's we introduced the 650CTP which was a flatbed CTP machine also for the newspaper market. Our first CTP machine for the commercial print market came at Drupa 1995 in the form of the Celix 8200CTP which was an 8 page format machine. This had limited success due to running costs and maintenance requirements.

SS: When did the CTP business take off?
AC: The CTP business started to become mainstream at Drupa 2000 where we launched the Luxel 9600 based on a YAG laser and then we moved to violet at Ipex 2002 and broadened the product range. We have shipped around 4000 machines since 2000.

SS: Describe your approach?
AC: Our approach in recent years has been to concentrate on high image quality and productivity at a low cost. FFEI holds the number one position in the violet CTP market worldwide. This is due to a unique combination of outstanding image quality from a machine that is cheaper to buy and maintain than a thermal offering. A lot of this comes from our molded drum which won the Queens Award for Innovation in 2011. That technology is incredibly stable thermally, so ideal for high precision imaging, while being very low cost and environmentally friendly.

SS: Have FFEI's CTP devices been aimed at particular markets?
AC: Our primary target was commercial printers and newspapers and this has made up the majority for the 4m000 installations. In recent years we have seen label printers and packaging printers purchase machines, but this has never been our main focus.

SS: Are there markets you intend to tap?
AC: FFEI CTP has been successful in the emerging growth markets with notable success in China and India over the past five years. It's true to say that neither of these markets can be considered emerging any more, but having established such large installation bases in the early years has helped us continue to grow.

SS: Can you describe the relationship between CTP technologies and changing plate technologies? What sort of relationships to you have with plate manufacturers?
AC: This is a fundamental issue for any CTP equipment manufacturer because without detailed knowledge of the plate technology you are at an immediate disadvantage. As you may know we were owned by Fujifilm during the violet CTP development projects and so we got to understand the core technologies behind the plates. Since the MBO in 2006 we have worked closely with all of the large plate manufacturers around the world to ensure compatibility. In 2002 we predicted that there would be chemistry-free violet plate technology within a few years. This prediction came true by 2005. The chem-free violet plate has become mainstream because of its economic advantages and improved sharp imaging quality.

SS: How have changes in plates led to changes in FFEI's CTP systems?
AC: The plate technology tends to go hand in hand with the engines so we adapt the laser power and optics requirements as new plates become available, however the changes have tended to be incremental rather than foundational.

SS: CTP was seen as dramatically shortening prepress times and eliminating plate chemistry; where are the next time/cost savings to be made?
AC: We believe the big savings are now in workflow and how customers manage the flow of jobs from order to fulfillment. The cost savings from the CTP engine have been made over the past 10 years. Obviously running costs continue to drop for violet imaging as the lasers get more and more reliable and their life gets extended. We give five years warranty on violet lasers and very rarely see returns. Compared to thermal or UV where laser changes are a much more regular and expensive requirement.

SS: 15 years ago, trade press was full of CTP stories and there were dozens of suppliers. Is CTP now mainstream and the market settled down?
AC: Yes definitely. Our customers are very knowledgeable and experienced in CTP, so it's very much mainstream. We very often see customers buy second and third machines these days rather than new customers entering the CTP world.

SS: FFEI has had extremely good success with CTP in emerging markets, like India and the Far East. What do you see as the reasons for that? To what extent are they related to FFEI's technology?
AC: They are much-related to our technology and manufacturing excellence. Our molded drum technology gives us a huge advantage in our machine costs and image quality and as mentioned our violet lasers are so reliable and low cost it makes for a tremendous combination. Without these technologies and our history of technology development in screening and colour we would never have been able to develop a machine which is suited to a price sensitive and quality aware market.

SS: What are today's printers looking for in CTP? How has this changed in the last 5, 10 years?
AC: Today's printer is looking for a product that 'works out of the box' and keeps running like a work horse with minimum trouble or running costs. 10 years ago people could put up with occasional running issues and maintenance cost, but that is totally unacceptable these days.

SS: Is there a "Holy Grail" in CTP? Something that printers and suppliers have been trying to achieve over the years? If so, what steps has FFEI already taken towards it?
AC: There are many views on this subject. Inkjet plates, conventional plate imaging etc. all offer the potential of reducing costs, but the reality is always about the compromises they bring whether in the productivity or run length durability of the imaging speed. Ultimately the printer needs to decide what levels of speed, quality and cost they need to make money.
SS: FFEI has a strong reputation for innovation - not only in CTP and the graphic arts, but also in life science. What synergies (or company ethos), if any, exist that contribute to the company's success?
AC: FFEI strives for innovative excellence in its products. Innovation doesn't always mean complex and expensive. In our world innovation means smart ways to achieve excellence in product reliability and product cost. We try to look at customer problems differently and find a clever way to address them. We never find a solution then look for the problem. Our life science business emerged out of our experience of colour scanners and we were able to apply this to the problems pathologies had using microscopes and glass slides. Actually this has become one of our fastest ever growth businesses and won us our third Queens Award for innovation this month.

FFEI's figures that matter
FFEI's CTP size range: 8-page, 4-page and newspaper market.

FFEI's CTP speeds: The newspaper machines run to 120 large format plates/hr
while the high speed commercial quality machine runs up to 70 plates/hr.

FFEI's CTP plate technologies: Violet technology because of its low costs,
high speed and low running cost characteristics. FFEI does not offer thermal