An Australian invention will help revolutionise an industry that goes back more than 600 years - printing.
The new CSIRO Offset Printing Thickness Instrument (OPTI) helps printers reduce ink and paper wastage, and printing costs.
Offset printing is the main technology used in newspaper, commercial, directory and package printing.
"One of the main ways of achieving consistent print quality is to control the thickness of the dampening solution on the printing plates," says Andrew Greatbatch, Business Development Manager at CSIRO Telecommunications and Industrial Physics.
Too much ink and the print may be too dark and may blur. Too much dampening solution and the print may appear too faded. Getting the right balance of ink and dampening solution is critical to correct colour control.
Printers currently rely on the look of the finished product to adjust the ink/water balance. The CSIRO OPTI will help them to adjust it objectively.
"There are sensors that measure the colour density on the printing plate, and now the OPTI solves the other half of the equation - water thickness measurement and control."
"A printer can waste a lot of paper and ink if they have a high speed press that produces documents at over 20 per second."
Not only that but printers can lose advertising revenue if a company's corporate colours are not correct, or if the text is hard to read, Mr. Greatbatch says.
The OPTI is a non-contact sensor that measures the thickness of dampening solution on offset printing plates at high speed.
It can be integrated into the press automation system to control the dampening solution in real time. Once the optimal water thickness is known, the OPTI can be used to maintain it. The device can also identify problems in the performance of a printing press itself.
The device, which is small enough to fit in the palm of a hand, is currently at the advanced prototype stage.
The OPTI also promises to lead to new export opportunities for Australia.
When shown at the recent Hannover Fair in Germany the device drew an enthusiastic response from leading German press manufacturers.
CSIRO was subsequently invited to exhibit the OPTI technology at DRUPA, with Swedish based firm Baldwin Jimek, the world leader in spray dampening systems.
DRUPA is the world's largest print media exhibition and is held once every 5 years. This year it will be held in Dόsseldorf, Germany from 18 to 31 May.
Baldwin Jimek is part of the Baldwin Technology Companies that produce and market the widest range of auxiliary equipment on the market for newspaper web offset presses.
CSIRO and Baldwin Jimek are jointly assessing the market for the OPTI at DRUPA to provide information necessary for the next development phase.
Following DRUPA, Baldwin and CSIRO may establish a relationship to jointly develop and market the OPTI in certain applications.
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