By Cassandra Balentine
As the direction of print continues to move towards shorter runs, traditional print providers adapt to remain competitive. This often means bringing work that was once outsourced in house, as well as offering stand-out products.
Depending on the application type, volume, and level of customization needed, a variety of cutting options are available through rotary die cutters and laser systems. While laser systems offer seamless cutting of variable, unique shapes, the initial cost may be prohibitive. Rotary die cutters provide a more cost-effective initial investment, but require some skill to operate as well as the need to purchase and maintain a library of dies. These systems are ideal for a range of volume requirements.
Finishing functions like trimming, cutting, scoring, and binding are commonplace in nearly every print operation. However, rotary die cutting makes its way into new environments as equipment serves mid- to high-end production runs.
Die cutting equipment offers the ability to cut irregular shapes as opposed to only straight lines. “Die cutting fits into almost all digital print fields and produces all types of applications including cards, bookmarks, photos, labels, product tags, and small size packaging,” comments Kevin Chen, product manager, Duplo USA Corp.
Many print providers offer die cutting services, but the question is whether or not the technology is needed in house. “In many cases it is not a question of whether or not to add die cutting, but how to improve on existing die cutting options,” affirms Bob Flinn, director of business development, Standard Finishing Systems. “Many printers have offered some degree of die cutting service for many years, and although the print technology has changed considerably, die cutting is still being performed on legacy equipment like windmill and vertical letter presses or converted flatbeds. Although much of this equipment is still functional, it is slow, lacks in safety features, and can be difficult to find replacement parts, never mind a skilled craftsman to run it.”
Flinn says that the decision to invest in new equipment and bring die cutting or laser cutting technology in house is primarily a business decision, based on whether or not you can justify the investment with increased profit and control over current volumes, the ability to increase volumes, and to create new revenue opportunities.
“The question is how much of this finishing they have to currently outsource, or alternatively, how much of their customers’ spend goes elsewhere rather than to them,” agrees Ron Kukla, sales director, Americas, Highcon. He suggests any PSP having to cope with a growing number of short-run jobs is an ideal candidate for a die cutting solution.
Kevin Corwin, product manager, Rollem International, suggests run length is a critical factor because rotary die cutters feature a “tremendous production benefit if the desired output of the equipment is higher volumes.” He adds that if the work is very short run, highly customized products, a laser cutter lends itself better than a machine that requires a physical die be made. Ease of operation also plays into the purchasing decision based on the skill level of its employees.
Driving and Hindering Demand
Continued adoption of digital print technology and the need for a variety of shape options drives the demand for advanced cutting equipment, as well as the need for short-run printing and finishing.
“No longer ‘just’ printers, many shops are positioning themselves as a full-service solution provider for their customers. Modern die cutting solutions are extremely quick to set up, easy to learn, require minimal makeready and floor space, and are equally efficient on runs of all lengths,” points out Flinn. “Combining these efficiencies with the advances in high-speed inkjet and digital print technologies has opened up a whole new market in short run and specialty printing, packaging, and labeling,” he adds.
“Digital printing plants look to expand the range of marketable products they can produce, increase the value of the products they are producing, and to differentiate themselves from their competition. Adding die cutting capabilities is an excellent way to achieve these goals,” says Christ Van Pelt, president, THERM-O-TYPE Corporation.
Ryan Manieri, marketing manager, MBO America, says the “demand” part of short run, on demand conveys the urgency that brand owners feel, and pass on, to print providers. “Brand owners gathering data on supply, price, and other market variables have the opportunity to take advantage of market changes. Faster turnaround times are required to keep pace with time sensitive and targeted marketing strategies. One way to improve turnaround times is to keep all production in house.”
Like any disruptive technology, digital cutting and creasing requires a clear vision of what can be achieved and a readiness to understand that printing has transitioned from a manufacturing paradigm to a service one. “Giving the customer what he wants, when he needs it,” explains Kukla. Printers afraid of change or competing on price rather than on value—in other words looking at it with legacy metrics—will never understand the new value it brings. Adding value means you can charge premium pricing and improve margins.
Mike Bacon, VP, sales and marketing, Spartanics, says both laser and rotary die cutters serve quick turnaround label manufacturers. Semi-rotary die cutting systems use a single cylinder, giving users a variety of part step ups that are cut in register. “This decreases changeover times as a magnetic die can be placed on the magnetic cylinder to cover a two- to 19-inch part step up, for example. It eliminates the need for changing a 250 lb. cylinder with a different circumference for different job step up.”
For laser die cutters, systems serve quick turnaround manufacturers by instantaneous changeover, elimination of tooling, and the ability to cut virtually any shape, adds Bacon.
However, the cost of equipment as well as mechanical limitations present challenges to this practice.
Van Pelt says the need for dies causes objections since customers purchase them from an outside vendor for each design. “Customers using dies must also store and maintain their die inventory,” he explains. Also noteworthy, the skill set required for die cutter operators differs from that of digital printing.
Flinn adds that the learning curve may deter some print providers from investing in the technology, as it takes time to learn what the equipment can actually do. This includes understanding its capabilities and limitations, as well as getting a handle on who will make the dies.
Steve Leibin, EVP, business development, Matik, Inc., says lack of familiarity with laser technology and its benefits hindered laser acceptance in the past. As printers learn more about the capabilities of laser finishing and more printers adopt the technology, laser finishing is growing rapidly. “As more print providers learn how laser finishing can improve their profitability and differentiate them in the market, the adoption rate has increased greatly.”
Advantages of Die Cutters
Rotary die cutters present an opportunity for print providers to offer a unique service in house, and gain control over a previously outsourced process.
“The major advantages to rotary die cutting are relatively low acquisition cost, ease of operation, quick set up and changeover, and high productivity,” points out Flinn.
Manieri says rotary die cutters are particularly advantageous for printers because they have extremely fast makeready times—making them ideal for short-run jobs and speeds of up to 10,000 sheets per hour.
Flinn points out that while the disadvantage to rotary die cutters is the requirement of an outside service to produce the dies, several advantages include a relatively low acquisition cost, ease of operation, quick set up and changeover, and high productivity. He points out that the cost of the dies can be passed along to the end user. “Any shop with a die cutting solution will quickly build a library of dies to expand their offerings,” he suggests.
In addition to die cutting equipment, laser cutters are an option. However, the devices tend to be more expensive than rotary die cutters. They are well suited to larger volume digital shops or offset print providers.
Manieri says the drive for laser solutions is driven by luxury packaging markets as well as hyper personalized, ultra-short run commercial products such as intricate wedding invitations.
Flinn notes several hurdles of laser cutting, including the initial investment and the upkeep of the equipment. “Of course, digging deeper, there are places these costs can be offset by for lower material and waste costs, as well as premium pricing for high-end products.” He says the primary advantage of laser over die is its ability to produce a nearly unlimited number of patterns without the need for a die.
Investments for laser die cutting systems are typically higher than conventional, semi-rotary die cutting solutions. Basic die cutting systems are about $250,000 where a semi-rotary die cutting machine is about $120,000. “With laser die cutting systems, pricing is directly tied into speed requirements, thus the higher wattage laser, the faster the system will run, and the more expensive the system will be,” says Bacon, adding that semi-rotary die cutting system pricing is pretty consistent.
Laser die cutting eliminates tooling costs. “A mid-level label producer will spend $60,000 to $100,000 on tooling per year. This includes design time for the die, shipping of the die, inventory costs for the dies, and the die costs themselves. Short-run label producers need quick turnaround to serve their customers and laser die cutting uses the same print file that the digital printer uses to generate a cut file. Turnaround time is instant and there is no tooling cost. It also cuts a wider variety of intricate shapes than traditional magnetic dies, so label design offerings are expanded to pretty much anything imagined,” says Bacon.
“Semi-rotary die cutting systems are widely accepted as a finishing solution in the label market. Laser die cutting is a new technology that started out with a bad reputation for being slow and lacking quality cuts needed to serve the label and packaging markets. This all changed five to six years ago when new developments in laser control software started to enter the market,” says Bacon. The initial cost of a laser die cutting system appears to be a limiting factor. “When a customer spends $300,000 to $800,000 on a digital press and the laser finishing equipment is $350,000, it might make more sense to start out with a $150,000 semi-rotary die cutting solution. There are some companies that have recognized this and offer semi-rotary die cutting with the ability to upgrade to a laser die cutting system in the future. This way, a company can get into short-run label production knowing that it can add laser technology in the future.”
Advanced Cutting Solutions
Here we include a selection of die and laser options for digital environments.
Duplo offers the UD-300 rotary die cutter. According to Chen, it operates at an average production volume of 250,000 sheets per month. It processes between 200 and 400 gsm paper sheets. This device targets mid- to low-volume production environments, and is strictly a die cutting machine.
Highcon Euclid III and Highcon Beam devices offer cutting, perforation, etching, and creasing using a digitally driven mechanical crease produced by Highcon’s patented Digital Adhesive Rule Technology—or DART.
“The Highcon machines offer digital cutting and creasing—not just cutting— for a production environment, not only sample making,” offers Kukla. Highcon says its machines are faster than laser cutters and ideal for the folding carton market in terms of format—handling both B1 and B2—and range of substrates it can handle, from 8 all the way to 47 pt.
MBO’s BSR product line of rotary die cutters—the BSR 550 Servo—can be integrated with a range of other finishing processes, as well as the BSR Basic, which is a standalone die cutting system.
Die cutters offered by MBO include inline waste removal, which eliminates manual production stamps typically associated with flatbed die cutters.
MBO rotary die cutters are ideal for the 20-inch digital market and are capable of speeds up to 10,000 sheets per hour. These machines are well suited for large and short runs and have the capability to produce a variety of products including greeting cards, folding cartons, tag and label products, presentation folders, and business cards.
MBO rotary die cutters all have integrated waste removal and are capable of a range of functions within the realm of postpress. These include cutting, scoring, perforating, micro perforating, embossing, and kiss cuts. Most non-flexo labels can be produced on MBO’s rotary die cutters.
Rollem provides its Insignia die cutter, which runs at about 4,500 sheets per hour on stocks ranging up to 24 pt. in thickness. The device comes with a receding stacker for high-volume work or a waste stripping unit for waste removal. It is customizable with a non-barred system for stickers or other kiss cutting work.
“The ideal print environment for the Insignia machines produce a variety of products in quantities as low as a few hundred pieces and as high as a few hundred thousand pieces. It does not fit into a purely digital shop that produces nothing but one-off products or a high-volume commercial packaging house that is looking to output 20 million cartons per month. Insigna7 supports a half-size press sheet of 30×24 inches,” says Corwin.
SEI Laser offers its Labelmaster, Paperone 5000, Paperone 3500, and PACKMASTER Products.
The Labelmaster is a laser die cutting solution for pressure-sensitive labels on up to a 13-inch wide web, featuring speeds up to 330 feet per minute. It is a completely modular machine that includes flexo coating, hot foil stamping, and lamination units for additional finishing capabilities.
The Paperone 5000 is a laser die cutter with automatic feeding of paper, paperboard, and poly sheets up to 30×21 inches. The PRO CREASE module is available to deliver excellent inline creasing capabilities for folding carton applications. It is ideal for commercial printing and folding carton applications and is designed to complement B2 digital printing systems.
The Paperone 3500 is a laser die cutting machine with automatic feeding of paper, and poly sheets up to 15×41 inches, single or dual digital creasing available. It is ideal for commercial printing and greeting card applications.
Finally, the PACKMASTER is a laser cutting and perforating solution for web film applications.
SEI Laser offers laser die cutting solution for all current digital printing environments, says Leibin. This includes B2 and B3 sheet sizes, as well as roll to roll and plotter applications up to 78×118 inches. SEI Laser dies and marks a variety of substrates including paper, paperboard, pressure-sensitive labels, many plastics, acrylics, foam core, and film.
Spartanics offers both semi-rotary and die cutting equipment. Systems range from 12 to 22 feet, depending on the number of additional finishing features. “We sell a lot of systems that have both laser and semi-rotary die cutting systems,” says Bacon. “We develop our own laser die cutting software so we are able to integrate in with many different workflows or custom develop software to integrate with a customer application. We are also the only laser company to offer soft marking, which allows us to control the laser cutting depth.”
The company targets label and packaging runs between zero and 20,000 and applications include labels and packaging including pharmaceutical, stickers, and carton packaging for laser systems.
Standard Finishing Systems offers the RD-4055 Rotary Die Cutter, which processes paper sizes up to 15.75×21.65 inches at up to 6,000 sheets per hour and at a maximum product thickness of .0196 inches. The unit is designed to run in multiple shift environments.
“Because the unit is very quick to set up, run lengths in the hundreds can be profitable. Its build quality/durability and speed makes the unit suited for long runs as well,” says Flinn.
The Standard RD-4055 rotary die cutter is utilized for a variety of applications, such as greeting cards, door hangers, and business cards. “Its accuracy also makes it ideal for perforating applications and kiss cutting of labels,” continues Flinn.
With the introduction of the RD-4055 Dual Magnetic Cylinder system, creasing and scoring of a range of applications—including packaging—is possible.
Therm-O-Type offers both a sheet-fed rotary die cutter using flexible die cutting dies and three different platen press die cutters using high steel rule dies.
Therm-O-Type rotary and platen press die cutting equipment is used for short-, medium-, and long-run work.
The Therm-O-Type rotary die cutter uses flexible dies and is used to die cut flat products, kiss cut labels, and to die cut and score folded products using a patented multi score system.
The Therm-O-Type platen presses use steel rule dies to die cut and score flat or folded products with standard scoring rule and matrix. A range of die cutting, scoring, and perforating rules are available.
Print providers seek new ways to offer stand-out products. Die and laser cutting solutions enable unique shapes ideal for a range of applications. Depending on the need and desired level of investment, options from rotary die cutters to laser cutting systems are on the market for digital print service providers.
Mar2017, DPS Magazine