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Market Trends

Die Cutting Economy

Die-cutting may be the mainstay of packaging finishing, but more commercial operations are seeing the benefits of in-house post-press operations. Russ Hicks looks at the options

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Highcon laser equipment can seriously reduce turnaround times

Live and Let Die-Cut

The need for die-cutting comes in many forms. Perhaps one of the most common, in numerical terms at least, is cutting the finished shape for a folding carton, including scoring for folding flaps, and, where used, cuts for a window within the overall carton. Others, however, are numerous and varied: a round-cornered label; a windscreen hanger; a shelf wobbler; an envelope; a cut-out design within a mailer . . . simply too many to list.

Die-cutters themselves come in a wide variety of styles

Die-cutters themselves come in a wide variety of styles, sizes and prices as well, from the very traditional platen-style of machine, through rotary devices, to the common flat-bed design so dominant in the packaging world, and onto the very latest laser-based cutter. All have their place in the wide and wonderful world of print finishing.

Certainly, the long-time favourite device for die-cutting in the commercial sector has been the faithful old Heidelberg Platen. These are still widely used for sure, but numbers are declining through age. The modern equivalent to this workhorse comes from Kluge. Brandtjen & Kluge is estimated to have around 30 equipment users in the UK, and although the manufacturer of print finishing equipment for foil stamping, die-cutting, embossing, folding and gluing and UV coating kit was the subject of a take-over by Mark Andy in June 2018, however, it is anticipated that Kluge will remain an independent company.

“Kluge platen presses come as either foil stamping, embossing, and die-cutting presses, or as die-cutting only models,” says Karen Andersen, operations officer for AeTee Ltd, the UK distributor for Kluge. “We have plenty of UK customers running die-cutting jobs on their Kluge foil stamping, embossing and die-cutting platen presses.”
Kluge machines can handle a wide range of materials, with the 14x22 EHF model capable of working from onion-skin right through to heavyweight boards, at speeds of up to 3,300 impressions per hour. The larger models, providing a platen size of 559 x 762mm, will produce up to 1,700 impressions per hour.

Round and round

Rotary die-cutting is fast becoming a very popular method of production. One very recent introduction from Morgana, the Morgana RDC, will receive its major UK exhibition debut at this month’s Print Show at the NEC. Commenting on the introduction of this new machine, Ray Hillhouse, vice-president offline business at Morgana, says: “The RDC has been designed to meet the needs of today’s digital printers. These companies are keen to handle as many finishing tasks in-house as they can. This unit provides the capability to die-cut, kiss-cut, score, and perforate, all in one pass if necessary, at speeds of up to 4,500 sheets per hour.

Morgana’s Rotary Die Cutter is being shown at The Print Show

“By increasing the services on offer a printer has a greater control of delivery times, rather than having to rely on third-party suppliers. Die-cutting is one of those capabilities that is being demanded more and more as customers seek ways to make their print stand out from the crowd, and, is an excellent facility for a printer to use to go and win new business.

“Our research into this area suggests that there is no other die-cutter on the market with such an impressive specification at such a competitive price as the RDC.”

The cutting system is composed of an upper magnetic cylinder, holding the cutting matrix, and a lower counter cylinder. A pin register system on the magnetic cylinder helps the operator to install the cutting matrix accurately. Side alignment of sheets is managed by adjustable straps allowing the machine to maintain accurate sheet position. An easy to use tool allows for the separation of waste material from the sheet as copies pass through the machine.

For an even beefier approach to rotary die-cutting, Koenig & Bauer has created such a solution based on units from its B1 Rapida offset press. OK, this is big league, really targeted at packaging and label printers, and other producers where die-cutting is a major part of a company’s production.

A lot of interest with the Koenig & Bauer kit

The company claim the Rapida 106RDC can be used to die-cut, kiss-cut, hole punch, crease, emboss, and strip waste material. The system fits into Rapida units similar to those in a press architecture, but the end result is a finishing system that runs at offset press speeds, with throughput of up to 15,000 sheets per hour being claimed.

Koenig & Bauer has created a solution based on units from its B1 Rapida offset press

Leading finishing equipment supplier Friedheim International offers two ranges when it comes to die-cutting. Friedheim provides Bograma rotary die-cutters and (see below) Kama flatbed products. The Bograma Servo 550 is claimed to be one of the fastest die-cutters on the market. It also offers great potential for added value with in-line production interfacing with folder/gluers and digital presses for the production of packaging material, capacity folders (where a claimed 12,000 pieces an hour can be achieved), promotional materials, gift card carriers, business cards, and a host of other products. The Bograma also offers digital registration in order to minimise errors.

Bograma’s BSR550 – another rotary die-cutter

At Drupa 2016 H+H and Bograma teamed up to show their Stamina packaging line, featuring inline-production for folding cartons with leaflets. This has now been field tested as an industry proven solution.

High capacity flat-bed

The first name on many lips when die-cutting for packaging is mentioned is that of Swiss company Bobst. In the eight weeks to May this year, Bobst has installed eight die-cutters across the UK in companies producing pharmaceutical and healthcare packaging, branded food and beverages, cosmetics and general carton packaging, demonstrating an encouraging industry buoyancy.

In the eight weeks to May this year, Bobst has installed eight die-cutters across the UK

Craig Moran, business director for Bobst UK & Ireland and Scandinavia, comments: “The market is becoming more complex and is expecting faster, shorter runs with products requiring additional functionality, which all challenge operational efficiency. This trend drives the requirement for advanced equipment designed for greater flexibility and yields, for which Bobst’s pioneering solutions are ideal.”

Bobst: big in packaging

Leading press supplier Heidelberg handles its die-cutting provision via a partnership with Asian equipment manufacturer MK Masterwork. Its latest release from the Promatrix line is the 106CSB (cutting, stripping, and blanking). The machine can process an impressive range of substrates from 90gsm paper through 2,000gsm solid cardboard and up to 4mm corrugated cardboard. The top production speed is 7,500 sheets per hour. In the spring of this year the Powermatrix 106CSB was launched to complete the portfolio in the performance class. The Powermatrix 106CSB features the MasterSet optical register system and a running speed of up to 8,000sph.

Heidelberg works with MK Masterwork equipment

Standard features are a quick-lock chase, fine adjustment of the cutting plate and pneumatic clamping of the tools.

Heidelberg has also had great success with its Easymatrix 106CS, an entry level machine for carton printers but more directly addressing the needs of the commercial printer looking to increase productivity and promote high value-added products to their customers. More than 120 machines have been sold and shipped to customers.

“As the leader in print media integration the next natural step for Heidelberg is the full integration of MK products into Heidelberg’s Prinect workflow. This is the ‘glue’ that will provide full end-to-end integrated production,” says Paul Thompson, product specialist for post press packaging at Heidelberg.

O Factoid: Friedheim provides Bograma rotary die-cutters and Kama flatbed products O

Friedheim’s second line in die-cutting is Kama’s versatile line of finishing machines, which are designed for efficient post-press production of short-run and digital print runs. “All our solutions provide a wide range of applications bringing maximum flexibility and added value to our customers”, says Kama CEO Marcus Tralau. “The many applications combined with time-saving tools and minimised set-up times make the workflow highly flexible – for small runs but also for the increasingly faster developments and trends regarding print products. This flexibility will become even more important in the future.”

Kama CEO Marcus Tralau

Versatility is the name of the game with Kama’s ProCut 76 Foil, equipped with AutoRegister (760x600 mm). The machine provides for die-cutting, creasing, perforating, and embossing, including Braille production, along with high-quality hot foil stamping. Foil effects include flat and area stamping, nano structure, and combined foil stamping with embossing, such as used for cartons in the beauty and cosmetic industry. The AutoRegister aligns each sheet to a print mark and achieves an accuracy of a tenth of a millimetre.

The digital alternative

All of the above devices need, in some shape or style, a die and cutting forme to be created. By and large this requires the services of a third-party supplier. This specialist task needs to be factored into any delivery schedule as the production of the forme may take several days to turnaround including transport.

As an answer to this issue, the digital world looked for a more immediate solution. Advances in laser cutting led to the creation and introduction of the Highcon machine from Israel. The development of this product has had a tremendous impact on the die-cutting world, though in fairness it is only going to be of interest to those with a £500,000-plus budget to play with.

(Above & below) Output from Glossop’s Highcon

Commenting on her company’s investment in the product, Jacky Sidebottom-Every, sales director at Glossop Cartons, says: “In 2013, we became the first company in the world to commission the Highcon Euclid state-of-the-art digital cutting and creasing machine.

In 2013, we became the first company in the world to commission the Highcon Euclid

“The Highcon Euclid combines patent-pending DART technology to create digital crease lines, with a unique high speed and high-quality laser cutting solution. This innovative technology allowed us greater versatility and flexibility to deliver our customer needs, meet tighter deadlines and deliver short and medium run lengths, completely revolutionising the packaging industry.”

Digital files are created to map the creasing and cutting requirements for the job. The Highcon uses a polymer to create the ‘rules’ as dictated by the digital file for these creases. Sheets are impressed onto this cylinder to create the creases in the sheet before it is passed through to the laser cutting station, where each item is precisely cut as instructed by the supplied digital file.

Can a finishing investment pay its way? Sidebottom-Every says it can and comments: “Since the arrival of the Euclid, our turnover has increased and we’ve attracted new customers due to our strengthened production and unlimited design opportunities.”

The time and cost savings provided by Highcon against the traditional process are significant. The costly, very slow, and very specialised process of creating a cutting forme and die are replaced by a process taking just a matter of minutes, and one that can be managed by an operator with significantly less skill and knowledge. There is also no storage issue for packaging specialists, who currently have to devote a huge amount of warehouse space to store previously commissioned cutting forms. These are expensive to create, nobody wants to throw them out, they might be needed for a reprint, or could provide a ‘standard’ cutting shape that can be used for several jobs.

Sidebottom-Every continues: “A great example of the Euclid at its best was our work with Smith & Sinclair, a high-end confectionary company selling edible cocktail pastilles. They needed their packaging to stand out against competitors which was a great opportunity for us to showcase Euclid’s talents. We designed a carton range that held the pastilles with an attention-grabbing over sleeve, each one different to reflect each pastille flavour. Using the Euclid, we were able to precisely cut the shape of a mouth to create a unique, quality packaging, impossible to create using a conventional cutting platen.

“Based on our success with the Highcon Euclid, we added to our digital line-up and became the first in the UK to commission the Highcon Euclid Beam. The Beam is the next generation model of Highcon’s digital cutting and creasing solution and has been specifically designed to offer enhanced production capabilities, faster speeds, improved software and incredible finishing capabilities for mainstream carton and commercial markets.”

And for the short run

Esko’s Kongsberg operation has been a leading manufacturer of computer-driven tables for digital die-cutters for more than 25 years. They can handle precision cutting, creasing and in some cases heavy-duty routing, with innovative features for precise registration and the highest productivity. They’re suited to short production runs and one-offs and especially complement digital print systems on all types of media. A recent focus has been on automatic and roboticised loading and unloading systems.

Its current range is divided into three main model series: Kongsberg XE, a smaller platform intended primarily for sample making; Kongsberg X, for applications in larger format packaging and signage, ranging from sample making through to limited-run production; and Kongsberg C for high productivity on practically any material, taking in cartons, signage and display work on anything from thin flexibles through to rigid solid boards.

Productivity through efficiency is Esko’s key message. “A lean approach to optimal production is essential for any business,” says Russell Weller, product manager, digital finishing. “Automation is extremely important, enabling production to run 24/7.  Our larger models support tandem production of two sheets on the bed of the cutting table. Esko’s extensive tooling choice always allows the cutting device to run at maximum speed with any material. Couple this with our sophisticated software that connects the entire process from design to shipping and you have digital finishing which is closer to digital print in terms of performance.”

Esko’s recent innovations include the Corruspeed die-cut tool specifically designed for the corrugated sector; Automation Engine QuickStart for sign management software for file processing and management; WebCenter QuickStart for corrugated software for design process management; and i-cut suite software for design and layout.  Weller concludes, “Versatility and throughput at speed are key.  Esko doesn’t stop at innovation on the cutting device itself - that’s why we talk about ‘shop floor efficiencies’ and the clear benefits of optimizing and connecting the entire process.”

ScanMould has operated a Rapida RDC rotary die-cutter for the processing of in-mould labels at its production centre in Jyllinge, Denmark, since the middle of 2017.

When asked about the benefits he has gained with the Rapida 106RDC, ScanMould managing director Martin Fundal gives an amazingly simple answer: “It is by far the most effective die-cutter on the market.”

The Rapida RDC106 was installed in a configuration with a single die-cutting unit and accessories for the processing of labels and in-mould films.

ScanMould estimates that the Rapida RDC106 is nine times more effective in production compared to a classic flat-bed die-cutter. This can be attributed both to the higher processing speed of up to 12,500 sheets per hour and to the faster make-ready, approximately three to four times faster than on a conventional die-cutter.

A complete job changeover (die and forme change) takes five to ten minutes. The machine is thus suitable for both high-volume production and short runs. The high die-cutting speed is effective for long runs, and the fast job changeovers ensure that shorter runs are also economical.

APS Group has invested heavily in finishing in the last five years and recently supplemented its line up with an Easymatrix 106CS die-cutter and Polar 115N Plus from Heidelberg.

The Easymatrix replaces a ten-year-old Yawa. Ian Duddle, operations manager says: “This switch means we have an entirely Heidelberg finishing operation. We chose the Easymatrix because of its ease of make-ready, faster production and reliability. It means our customers will have an even faster response, given the faster make-readies and extra running speed for some contracts.”

This is a great model for commercial printers wanting a die-cutting workhorse. It operates at 7,700sph and can handle a wide range of stock from 90gsm to 2,000gsm and even corrugated boards up to 4mm thick. The APS Group’s Easymatrix will operate on a double day shift.

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