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WHEN CTP IMAGING burst into the spotlight at Drupa '95, Optronics was one of the market leaders. According to our estimates, it had installed more large-format metal platesetters (31) than any other vendor. (Creo and Gerber each had installed 25.) It had an OEM deal with Komori that appeared to solidify its market position over the long haul. And it had well-established businesses in the supply of scanners and film imagesetters to diversify its offerings.
But the next couple of years brought some other issues that distracted somewhat the company's effort to maintain its position in the competitive CTP marketplace. The main distraction was that Optronics's owner, Intergraph, had lost its commitment to this market and was looking for a buyer for the division. One of the results was that Creo, Gerber, Cymbolic Sciences and a few other companies grabbed the spotlight and gained market momentum, leaving Optronics out in the periphery.
The company's fortunes took a turn upward, though, when, early in 1997, Intergraph found a buyer: Fong Brothers, of Brisbane, CA, a graphic arts distributor that had been selling Optronics equipment and other products in the Pacific region. Fong, which acquired 80% of the Optronics operation, also had a $30 million commercial printing business in San Francisco, plus some real-estate, distribution and other investment interests.
One of management's first acts was to trim 45 people from the Optronics payroll, leaving about 100 in the Chelmsford, MA, office. Another was to get the first CTP system up and running in China-a market where Fong already had a significant presence and where Optronics International, as the new company was called, was well positioned to play a dominant role. A third move was to put the company under the leadership of Ed Chrusciel, a long-time Optronics employee whose experience goes back to Hell GmbH at the time it was a leading developer of imaging technology.
In the ensuing year, we didn't hear much from Optronics. The main news was the introduction of the Aurora 4/6 CTP device (initially called the Electra), which is a lower-priced version of the eight-up Aurora. (It uses a smaller drum than the full-size Aurora, limiting it to four-up or six-up plates. It is, however, field upgradable to a full-size drum.)
That situation is changing, though, with the development of several new products based on innovative technology that could restore for Optronics some of the prominence in high-resolution imaging that it had before its waning days with Intergraph.
Among the new items that will be the focus of Optronics's exhibit at Ipex are these four:
* IntelliDot SpeedScreen technology, which enables conventional halftone screening methods to be employed at lower resolutions than normal, making it possible to reduce the time required to image a plate or film. For example, it makes it possible to image a 175-line screen at 1,000 dpi. (Optronics isn't the first company to try such an approach. Purup-Eskofot's FinesseScreens, Scitex's Turbo Screening and Crosfield's MagnaDot have employed similar tactics. We expect this area to be the focus of increased attention in the near future, partly because both Optronics and Scitex will feature it at Ipex.)
* Common Resolution Workflow, which makes it possible to match the resolution of proofing devices with the resolution of final output devices, thus providing more accurate proofs. Among the interesting applications of this technology is the ability to drive the 1,800-dpi Kodak Approval proofer and the Optronics platesetter at the same resolution, and with the same screening technology, providing a better match of halftone dots with final output dots than most systems get when driving an Approval. The optronics screening algorithms are downloaded into the Approval as a series of threshold arrays, providing the same gray values and same halftone screens as the platesetter uses.
* A thermal version of the company's 830nm Aurora CTP system.
* A two-sided, large-format proof printer that uses two HP ink-jet heads, bolted together, and prints at 300 300-dpi resolution across 36"-wide media. Optical sensors control the paper feed to improve the registration from front to back. Unlike the two items above, which we saw on a visit to Optronics's facility in July, we haven't had a chance to see this imposition proofer yet, so we'll save our comments about it for our review of Ipex.
The first full year under the Fong Brothers (Optronics is into the first quarter of its second year) was one of transition for Optronics. The company canceled several programs, cleaned up legacy applications and reduced its product line, having previously offered several …