Although they have not been prominent at trade shows in the US or in US sales channels, Chinese plate manufacturers are currently selling about 20% of the world’s offset plates. Not only that, they have production capacity sufficient to provide almost 50% of the world requirement for plates, and their capacity continues to expand. Will they ever become a force in the US market?
I think they will. Although the Big Three plate vendors (Agfa, Fuji, and Kodak) have been mounting a battle against the Chinese vendors in Europe, the Chinese are making inroads. About a dozen Chinese plate vendors took space at Drupa to hawk their wares, which include every plate type, from garden-variety UV-sensitive conventional plates to what are apparently the only commercially-viable thermal switchable-polymer plates available anywhere. And the prices are, in many cases, breathtakingly low.
Michael Mittelhaus, who is Europe’s leading CTP analyst, has written a report on the Chinese plate vendors, based on discussions with each of the Asian (not just Chinese) vendors at Drupa, plus some that weren’t at Drupa. He also spoke with European dealers who have been testing (and, in a few cases, selling) Chinese plates, with CTP vendors who have tested the plates, and with the Big Three themselves about the role the Chinese may play in the plate market. His 54-page report is a real eye-opener. I would consider it “must reading” for anyone who is responsible for purchasing plates or who is involved in selling them. It is worth far more than its sub-$400 price tag. You will find more information about it, including the report’s table of contents, here. (Full disclosure: I did the translation of the report from the German and I stand to get a commission on any English-language sales.)
Although the report is specific to the European market, all of its main points apply in North America as well. Chinese plates are already being used without problems in some environments. For specific Chinese vendors, there can still be issues in several areas, such as quality variations, lack of local warehousing, or lack of local technical support. But the plate prices are so low that distributors will have plenty of margin to deal with these issues and still make a good return. To quote the words that end the report, “If, at Drupa 2012 or 2016, the biggest vendors of plates (and other consumables) have names that are not so familiar to us today, no one who has read this report will be able to say: We couldn’t have seen this coming.”