Getting from computer screen to printing screen proved to be harder than it first looked.
The Next Generation
Cheer up; there’s more to the story. The ScreenJet itself may have fizzled, but if you look at CTS systems today, they’re not fundamentally very different than they were in 1993. Inkjet models still jet droplets of ink (or wax, an innovation that came later) onto an emulsion-coated screen. Laser-based systems, which developed in parallel with inkjet models, still expose screens directly, eliminating the intermediate positive image altogether. The idea itself was always a bright one; it just needed, perhaps more than anything, some time. It’s no secret that the technology has exploded in the past five years or so.
Dan Kimmerly, operations manager at retail graphics provider KDM P.O.P., says the timing wasn’t right to adopt CTS until recently. The company plans to implement the technology by summer 2018. Drivers included end-of-life liability with their camera and imagesetting equipment, plus the availability of faster, more affordable machines.
Greg Kitson, president of Mind’s Eye Graphics, waited until 2006 to adopt CTS technology. He compares its history to that of the steam engine during the Industrial Revolution: Steam engine technology flourished as early as the 1780s, but, because of a lack of support technology – namely, iron and steel – railroads and trains weren’t practical until some 75 years later.
“The ScreenJet was a great idea,” he explains, “but the computer technology didn’t exist to really take advantage of it.”
In the decade following the launch of the ScreenJet, computers evolved rapidly – and the public began understanding them better. New providers began to take an interest in CTS, including Kiwo, which hired McCue to manage the development of the technology. (He worked at Kiwo until his retirement in 2016.) He’d bump into Kitson throughout the early 2000s and say, “Are you ready yet? Are you ready yet? Are you ready yet?”
Kitson jokes that he was stubborn; he was stuck on the numbers in his ROI spreadsheet. “I had tunnel vision,” he says, “in that I was trying to make the justification simply based on the film that I wouldn’t be using.” But what he found when he bought a Kiwo I-Jet, at long last, was a complete transformation of his workflow. “I was thinking I’d be saving $2 per screen in film; the reality is, I was saving 15 minutes per screen.” At 90 to 120 screens a day, that’s a lot of time – and as we all know, time is money. Would he have bought the ScreenJet if he had known? No, he says, but he adds he would’ve jumped into CTS three years sooner.
Could’ve, should’ve – what would McCue have done if he could go back and do it all again? “I probably would’ve sat on the patent for a while and waited till the market was more ready.” But the question is worth asking: Doesn’t someone have to simply be the first? Would the innovations of today have been made if not for those early failures? McCue went on to file a number of other patents, including the first direct-exposure CTS system and, most recently, a simultaneous screen registration system. This is a business where invention never quits.
Read more from Screen Printing's December 2017/January 2018 Innovation Issue.
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