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Plate Mounters



In search of the perfectly mounted printing plate, converters can choose from a variety of methods, all of which aim for accuracy and time saving.



Published October 18, 2005
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As every press operator knows, mounting plates prior to running the printing press is a critical aspect of printing. If the plate is mounted incorrectly, the finished product will not look right. Plate mounters were developed to make mounting easier. Different types of plate mounters are available, ranging from the simple to the complex, but all have the same purpose: to get the plate square onto the cylinder.

According to David Cloud, president of Print Products, Fernandina Beach, FL, USA, three levels of plate mounters exist. The most basic plate mounters are entirely mechanical and cost $1,000 or less, he says. The middle level plate mounters are still mechanical and rely heavily on the eye, but are a bit more sophisticated. Cloud says these usually cost about $5,000. The highest end plate mounters are video plate mounters, which Cloud says take the human touch out of the process and are significantly more expensive. The operator of the video plate mounter looks at a video screen to line the plate up with the cylinder. Cloud says, “It’s exact every time.”

Several common mistakes can be made while mounting plates. The plates can be mounted out of register with each other or they might not be square with the cylinder. They can be mounted upside down, backwards, askew, or with air bubbles underneath. Plate mounters can help eliminate these problems, whether they are the basic tabletop models or the more sophisticated mounters with video cameras.

Lederle Machine Co., Pacific, MO, USA, sells a very basic plate mounter: the LMC Plate Mounter PM-10 (for 10" width) and PM-16 (16" width). According to Jim Breig, national sales manager, Lederle’s plate mounter is one of the most basic available. He says the mounter was designed 20 to 25 years ago and has not had any significant modifications since. Breig explains, “It’s a fixture with a spindle to mount the plate roll.” Breig describes the process of mounting plates as mechanical and hands-on. He says one can get speed and accuracy with a simple plate mounter. “If you get a more sophisticated plate mounter, it just gets you a better view,” he says.

Breig says, “When mounting plates, you wrap the cylinder with double-sided sticky tape. The trick is getting the plate mounted in the right position.” He explains that a plate-mounting tool allows the operator to use both hands to position the plate, therefore simplifying the task.

The decision to purchase a more complex mounter often has to do with the resources available, according to Breig. Lederle’s plate mounter costs between $650 and $1,100 and is affordable for smaller operations. Breig says the bigger companies with more funds available can spend more on sophisticated equipment like video plate mounters. He believes that larger shops with a greater volume of high-end work probably use video plate mounters most often.


Quali-Mount Plate Mounter
available through Conversource
Although video plate mounters have a more complex design, the same basic principle applies. Print Products offers the Camis Irismall and the E.L. Harley MVP-500 for the narrow web market. Both use cameras to aid in the mounting process. The plate is put on the table and the operator uses the cameras to focus on crosshairs or microdots to ensure registration.

The Irismall has a 12" split screen monitor so the operator can see both sides of the plate simultaneously. Cloud says zooming in with cameras allows for more exact registration. “You’re not down there with a ruler. You’re not relying on the eye. You use cameras to make sure it is exact,” he says. Plate mounters also help remove air bubbles by securing the plate and pushing the air bubbles out with uniform pressure. Cloud says air bubbles will cause smudges in print and have to be removed. Press operators have been known to use razor blades to cut out air bubbles, which can be damaging.


MVP-500 from E.L. Harley
Brian Powell, sales technician at E.L. Harley Inc., Riviera Beach, FL, USA, says the MVP-500 uses the Magnified Video Plate Mounting System to ensure proper registration. Two high-resolution video cameras are positioned on a linear rail for accuracy. Powell explains, “The camera rail has a built-in gear rack for fine adjustment positioning of the cameras. Each camera has a fine adjustment knob for position. The cameras are held in position by a magnetic camera lock. There is no need for a lock handle that would change the position of the camera, and the cameras cannot be moved out of position by vibration. They will stay in position during the use of the machine.” The cameras are adjustable for in and out positioning, which ensures that the plate is mounted squarely on the press cylinder.

Mark Andy, Chesterfield, MO, USA, offers two styles of plate mounters ranging in price from $12,000 to $15,000: the PM Plate Mounter and the VPM VideoMount Plate Mounter. The PM comes in 16" and 20" versions and has two magnifying glasses on it. The VPM has cameras with a monitor in place of the magnifying glasses. Greg Wells, print services supervisor, explains, “The plate is held in the fixture and the cameras look at the plate through the fixture. Then you skew the fixture to get it straight to the calibrated line. The line is calibrated to the plate roll.” According to Wells, this system is fast and accurate.

Being exact while mounting plates is important, of course, because accuracy determines the appearance of the finished product. Imprecise mounting creates waste: If the plate is mounted incorrectly, it has to be removed and remounted, which wastes both time and materials.

Proofers

Another option available on some plate mounters is a proofer. A proofer prints out the image in color, after the plate has been mounted, by rolling the plate against a proofing cylinder. The printed proof shows exactly how the finished product will look. To put it in simpler terms, it “proves” that everything is in register and that the plate is mounted correctly before the job is completed.


Table Top Cobra ELS from JM Heaford
According to Cloud, proofers on plate mounters are unusual in the narrow web market and much more common with wide web. The MVP-500 does contain a proofer, however. Powell says it is simple to make a proof of the printing plate. “Ink is applied by hand roller to the printing plate and the plate cylinder is brought down to the proofing bed where the press cylinder gear comes in mesh with the proofing bed gear rack. Impression is controlled to the thousandths of an inch by a built-in impression gauge,” he says.
Wells says Mark Andy does not offer proofers on its plate mounters because they are unnecessary with its model. He explains that as long as the line is calibrated properly, the plate will be mounted correctly every time.

Anderson & Vreeland Inc. offers mounters from several manufacturers, including AV Flexologic, Automated Plate Mounting Systems, Cortron, and E.L. Harley. The AV Flexologic model and the E.L. Harley MVP-500 both come both with and without proofers. According to Randy Lee, southeast regional manager at Anderson & Vreeland, the mounters with proofers cost between $25,000 and $28,000, while the mounters without proofers cost $12,000 to $15,000.

Focus Label Machinery Ltd., Bingham, England, offers the Platemate for the narrow web market. According to Anthony Cotton, sales manager, it takes between 30 seconds and one minute to mount a plate on a cylinder using the Platemate. He says the system is “virtually foolproof”. The standard Platemate costs £5,800 (±US$10,600), and larger sizes cost more. Cotton says, “It’s a very well priced, accurate system.”

Conversource, St. Louis, MO, USA, offers four different plate mounters with varying degrees of complexity: the Quali-Mount Plate Mounter, the Mezzadri Plate Mounter, the AccuMount Video Plate Mounter, and the Mark Andy PM VideoMount System. The Quali-Mount comes in standard sizes from 7" to 20" and is a very basic, tabletop plate mounter that holds the printing cylinder in position and offers the operator reference marks. The Mezzadri clamps the plate next to the bearer bar and automatically aligns the plate, using a mechanical rather than a visual system. The AccuMount offers a video image of the register marks, and the user watches the screen until the plate is in place. The Mark Andy PM VideoMount System is the most complex video plate mounter Conversource offers. According to Jeff Chosid, vice president of Conversource, the plate mounters range in price from “under $1,000 to the upper teens.”

Chosid says, “Everybody uses a plate mounter today.” He explains, however, that the price of the press typically correlates to the price of the plate mounter. For example, a label printer with a very expensive press is more likely to buy a sophisticated, and more expensive, plate mounter. Lee says, “We estimate that by some form or another, mechanical or video, plate mounters are used by 75 percent of the industry.”


The Camis Irismall is available through Print Products.
Cotton estimates that 70 to 75 percent of label printers in Focus Label Machinery’s European marketplace use video plate mounters. Pullen agrees, putting the number at 70 percent. Lee estimates 40 to 50 percent of the narrow web label printers use plate mounters with video. Cloud guesses that the number is 30 percent. Cloud believes the number is not higher because of the cost involved. The Irismall costs between $14,000 and $15,000. Since printers spend $200,000 to $300,000 for a press, they may not be as willing to spend thousands more for a plate mounter. Cloud says the video plate mounters become more desirable, however, as the need for accuracy and speed increases. Wells says an increasing number of printers are purchasing video plate mounters and agrees that they are quicker and more accurate.

According to Powell, the MVP-500 costs $13,875, with an optional heavy-duty mobile work cart available for an additional $650. Powell believes the machine is a good investment though. “Some of our customers have estimated that the cost of downtime on their press is around $500 to $600 per hour. If the press goes down a few times every shift because the plates were mounted incorrectly, this machine would pay for itself very quickly, perhaps in a period of one or two months. The price of the MVP-500 is roughly the cost of the downtime on one six-color press for 24 hours,” he says.

JM Heaford, Cheshire, England, offers three plate mounters with video that range in price from $10,000 to $25,000: the Table Top Cobra ELS Range, the Table Top Cobra XLS Range and the Table Top Viper Machine, which has proofing capabilities. The mounters are for web widths from 400mm (about 16") to 800mm (about 31.5"). According to Shaun Pullen, export sales manager, the payback time depends on many factors, such as press downtime and substrate waste, but it could be as little as two weeks.

Video plate mounters are much easier to learn to operate than the more basic models. Cloud says that after about a half hour of training on a video plate mounter, a novice can mount plates correctly. Video plate mounters also offer time savings. Cloud told a story about one printer who purchased the Irismall. Before, it had taken 15 to 20 minutes to mount a plate. With the Irismall, it took three to four minutes, and the company stopped proofing because it found that the mounting was extremely accurate.

Pullen says it takes approximately 30 seconds to mount a plate onto a cylinder “within microns of accuracy” using JM Heaford’s mounters. He says, “There is a very large onus on engineering the equipment to ensure that it holds the cylinder in position.”

Sleeves versus cylinders

Some plate mounters can mount plates on sleeves as well as cylinders. According to Lee, “If mounting on sleeves, a dummy cylinder, or mandrel, is used to provide stability for the sleeve. Once the sleeve is fixed upon the mandrel, cushion tape is applied, and the normal procedure for plate mounting begins. Once the plate is mounted, the sleeve is removed from the mandrel, the next sleeve is affixed and the procedure starts over again.” Cloud says, “It uses the same technology, tape and methods of cleaning. You have to have a plate mounter to allow you to mount sleeves. Most will have that capacity.”

Cloud explains that printers use sleeves because they save money. A plate mounted on a solid cylinder must be removed and stored after printing, and remounted when returned to service. When plates are mounted on sleeves, however, the sleeves can be put on or taken off a press any number of times without disturbing the plate. Lee says, “Sleeves are useful for jobs that repeat often, or for long runs where not the entire order is printed during a single press run.”

According to Chosid, however, “Sleeves have hardly caught on in narrow web.”


The Mark Andy VPM VideoMount Plate Mounter
Although all plate mounters have the same purpose and similar designs, there are differences among them. According to Cloud, the Irismall is the only mounter that attaches the tape to the plate only after the plate is square. Cloud says this is beneficial because materials will not be wasted in the event that the plate is not mounted completely in register at first. Powell, of E.L. Harley, says the main difference between the MVP-500 and other plate mounters is its “ability to make a full color composite proof of the printing plates in register.” Chosid says the Mezzadri uses a mechanical clamping mechanism, which works quickly and is not a visual system. According to Anthony Cotton, competitors of the Platemate use foot switches and are more complicated. He believes that the narrow web market needs only simple plate mounters, so some of the added features are unnecessary.

The person operating the plate mounter can differ among print shops. At small companies, the press operator is more likely to mount plates than at larger ones. At larger operations, a prepress person is more likely to do the job, especially if the company has a video plate mounter which requires much less skill than a mechanical one. Some print shops might have an individual whose only job is to mount plates. Wells says that more print shops are moving away from having the press operator mount plates because if the press operator is mounting, then the press is not running.

There is still some resistance to using plate mounters because some print shops have always relied on their operators’ skill to place plates onto cylinders. The popularity of plate mounters, however, seems to be growing. Pullen says, “They’re increasingly more common.” As Wells points out, there are many options of plate mounters from the relatively inexpensive to the higher priced models. He says, “It doesn’t make sense not to use one.”



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