Offset printers will likely be served a price rise on their printing plates next year as the price of aluminium continues to soar following its stellar rise of more than 30% over the past year.
Manufacturers are considering their options with some, such as Kodak, already announcing price hikes, while others hold their fire. On the London Metal Exchange (LME), the price of aluminium has risen from US$1,619.50 per tonne in September last year to US$2,127.50 per tonne this September, an increase of approximately 31.4%.
According to analysts there is little chance of it coming down. In China, which supplies 60% of the world’s aluminium, around a tenth of the total 3-4 million tonnes of capacity is to close this year as the Government cracks down on old and dirty production plants.
According to a Reuters report, 'Beijing has also ordered steel and aluminum producers in 28 cities to slash output during the winter heating season that starts in November to curb pollution.'
Kodak offset plate prices will increase by up to 9%, which Brad Kruchten, president of the print systems division, said is because the company can no longer absorb rising material costs. “The printing plates market is both technology-intensive and cost-competitive. As a result, there is no room for us to continue to absorb these escalating raw materials costs without raising our own prices,” he commented.
The price rises will be most severe for older-style plates with the company attempting to quarantine its latest products from the largest price rises.
“Our approach to implementation will affect our newest and most technically-advanced products the least, while our more mature offerings, which are less efficient and less advanced, will see higher price increases. This, in turn, will help drive long-term viability, profitability and sustainability for our printers and our industry partners,” said Kruchten.
Thanks to a recycling scheme with its customers, Agfa can provide more affordable plates despite high aluminium prices, said managing director Mark Brindley: “We’re in a fortunate position where eight years ago we took the tack of talking to our customers about the price of aluminium due to a sharp increase at that time."
"We sell them plates and reclaim scrap aluminium from them, and from that we’re able to provide them with a reduced square meter price.”
For some other customers, Agfa introduces a surcharge when a particular price point on the LME is reached during the previous quarter; this surcharge is monitored on a quarterly basis and removed when the price falls.
“We will always continue to assess the marketplace with regard to our prices. Based on aluminium, at this stage we’re OK due to our contracts that are in place, and the surcharge that we are at present discussing with our customers,” he said.
Despite the rise of digital and a long-term trend of lower print volumes the square meterage of printing plates remains relatively stable. Shorter and more frequent print runs tend to ameliorate the downward trend even as digital printing continues to ‘nibble’ away at offset volumes. In the A3 cutsheet sector especially it has almost completely taken over.