Integration to die cut for
Integration to die cut for
From standard secondary box packaging to complex, bespoke and limited-edition designs, die cutting has always been critical for converters. As brands attempt to differentiate themselves in the marketplace, and design is leveraged for impact, how converters incorporate die cutting into their processes has to be more integrated to meet growing demand.
With demand for die-cut products comes an expansion of digital printing and a digital workflow. Machine suppliers are moving to support the entire digital print workflow, with die cutting being just one process that can be managed centrally. Machine vendors report a steady increase in demand for finishing systems that are flexible enough for long-run die-cutting jobs, yet can be paused and reset quickly when shorter bespoke jobs are needed.
At drupa 2016, the BOBST MASTERCUT 106 PER die cutter made its world premiere. It features a wide range of improved systems that allow it to set new standards in die-cutting productivity and ease of operation. Philippe Milliet, head of BOBST’s business unit sheet-fed, says: "The MASTERCUT 106 PER builds on the success of our market-leading EXPERTCUT models, which have become the benchmark in the carton industry for die cutting. The new press, with its new range of innovative and efficient systems, means it can run at 11,000 sheets an hour. That’s 20% faster than the EXPERTCUT."
The press features the highest degree of automatic operation available, a new HMI (human machine interface) and even further improved ergonomics, which means that it is easier to set up and run resulting in increased productivity.
This latest version has a 65% larger correction range at the front edge of the sheet, virtually eliminating all feed-related stops. POWER REGISTER 3 also allows print reading from underneath, which is essential when die cutting litho-laminated sheets. Based on these technologies, the operator does not have to check sheet arrival repeatedly and does not need to adjust the pile position in the feeder or change its timing manually.
Advanced gripper-bar system
Maintaining quality at 11,000 sheets an hour requires precise control of gripper-bar motion. To achieve this, BOBST has an exclusive double-cam gripper-bar advance system that ensures the gentle acceleration and deceleration of the sheets as they come to a halt in the die-cutting, stripping and blanking stations. This system allows for the use of small nicks, which mean excellent finished box quality despite the high machine output.
The machine also has an intuitive HMI, which acts as the central control unit of the machine. Larger than its predecessor, all the settings for the machine are accessed from a single page on its 22in full-color, high-definition touchscreen. The HMI easily guides the operator through the complete set up of the machine, stores up to 5,000 jobs, quickly makes repeat runs ready and speeds up any changes during production.
The entire machine can be set and operated from the main podium, including settings for the opposite operator side or inside the machine, saving considerable time. The MASTERCUT 106 PER has an integrated, patented tool-alignment feature, guaranteeing perfect alignment between the registered sheet and the stripping and blanking tools. Being video guided through the HMI, the operator remains on the podium without needing to move, which speeds up production.
With fewer sheets used when starting the machine up, more consistent die-cutting quality is ensured, there is reduced overproduction from upstream and less waste.
Boon for converters
For converters competing in a demanding marketplace restrained by economy but which requires innovation, strength and flexibility, die cutting is evolving with new technology to maximise its output and minimise its cost.
Differentiation is a core driver for all converters. Using different technology with die cutting is enabling diverse packaging options for brand-owners. "As a converter, you want to make sure that you can differentiate and please your customers with a flexible and low-cost alternative," says Jon Haag, director at Division Packaging Solutions. "Hence, plates and knives still have been the main technologies for high-volume productions since the tooling cost is fairly reasonable and lasts a long time for repeat orders. Of course, you are a bit dependent on type of operation and material; namely, if you produce from reel or sheets and the thickness of the material that you want to cut through."
Despite being a consistent service, die cutting doesn’t receive the recognition it deserves. It is a process that offers brands a unique finishing concept or a completely innovative pack design. With digital die cutting becoming the norm, novel and unique form factors will become more affordable as costs reduce.
Converters are also looking to streamline their workflows and offer high volume and bespoke short runs to their clients. These seemingly irreconcilable demands are being met by next-generation machines such as the Highcon Euclid III, which offers speed to reduce costs, and can offer cartons on demand by using polymer cutting tools.
According to Highcon, the Euclid III replaces a complex, expensive and slow die-making set-up process with an in-house controlled digital system. This delivers improved responsiveness, design flexibility and efficiency. The Highcon Euclid III not only improves in-house operational needs by providing fast and accurate cutting and finishing, but it also makes high-value applications possible, such as packaging and commercial print applications, Web-to-Pack and 3D modelling.
Reg Cunningham, process improvement manger at Specialty Finishing, offers advice on what to consider when acquiring die-cutting technology: "It all depends on the substrate and what that cutter is designed for. The cost of these different dies ranges from hundreds of dollars to many thousands of dollars depending on what type of die cutter you have. Some dies will last for thousands of impressions and others will last for millions.
"Here’s what I can see from the standpoint of the folding carton packaging part of the industry. On the flat-bed die cutters, you see more companies going to steel 1mm plates with a wooden steel rule die. In the past, you needed a steel die to use a steel counter plate. Today, the wood is made differently and doesn’t expand or contract so the scores or creases don’t move. This makes for a better crease: it never changes. With smaller nicks holding the sheets or web together, there is no counter to go over or catch, and no marks on the carton from the counter.
"With the steel counter plate, you get a better score as the cutting rule gets flatter after many impressions. With the fibreglass counter material, as you get more impressions on the counter, the square edge on the fibreglass wears and goes round, thus making the score not fold as well. For the rotary side of die cutting, you can buy a magnetic die make cheaper than the full, hard rotary die; this makes it easier for label converters to change out dies and patterns faster."
Cunningham is excited about the future of the industry. He says: "The next stage will be die cutting with no dies. It’s out there already in the early stages, using lasers to cut. In the label industry, they have no creases or scores now. There will be no die change: just send a new program to the laser with the new label; no die to go flat; faster changeover; and no die to store or buy. This will reduce cost and be increase competition in the marketplace."
While the future is full of change and innovation, Cunningham does not believe that it will all come at once or even that it will replace many techniques and technology in the industry. "For the converting industry, it will take a little longer because of the crease, but it’s being worked on right now. For flat-bed die cutting, the platen has to go up and down and a gripper must go through. With a laser there is no up and down and the creases will be made before the laser cuts the packaging. They are using it in the greeting card business because they can make cuts that can’t be done with a cutting die. It’s coming. It will change the way we doing in die cutting just like it changed the way we make cutting dies."