Industry Q&A: Newer die cutters feature laser-fast speed and accuracy
Flexible Packaging sat down with Spartanics to discuss advances in laser die cutting and their benefits to flexible packaging converters.
Mike Bacon, vice president sales and marketing, Spartanics
Q: What improvements are being made in laser die cutting?
A: Speed improvements are in the works that will make tool-free (laser) cutters competitive with rotary die cutters or platen presses. There’s a market lag because many companies looked at earlier generations of laser cutters that didn’t have the sophisticated software of Spartanics’ systems. People who aren’t up-to-date on finecut technology just don’t have a current picture of what can be accomplished. If you looked at laser cutters even as recently as last year, look again!
Tool quality and life span, tool precision, tool materials and characteristics have all improved. Tool cost and production time has been reduced with digital design and processing. Range of material and shapes that can be die cut has increased-along with production speeds and cut-to-print accuracy.
In recent months, we introduced high-speed laser cutting systems (operating at 90 meters per minute), a continuous sheet-fed laser cutter, (the first of this type) and a laser cutter specifically for narrow web applications. Behind all of these systems is the improved software of the Spartanics finecut technology.
Q: What are the biggest challenges in cutting and how do you respond to them?
A: These are the main challenges and our solutions.
• Prepress: Spartanics provides production and prepress assistance to make the prepress process from digital or samples, to on-press running relatively streamlined and trouble-free.
• Make-ready: The time consuming make-ready that’s typical of flat-bed or clamshell is almost eliminated on Spartanics systems.
• Material loading: We offer three sheet-loading devices, including an auto shear, which features special sheet separating to load a range of material scratch-free.
• Material registration/less waste: Three types of automatic feeding and optical registration devices position material in the tool such that cut-to-print accuracy is within 0.003 and 0.010 inches, depending on the feed and tool.
• Waste separation: Four basic apparatus plus a range of special tools automate otherwise labor intensive removal of internal waste.
• Parts extraction and collection: In-line parts extractors handle sheet and roll material, batching and parts shingling.
Q: What are your custoemrs asking for in die-cutting systems?
A: Our customers aren’t asking for one specific feature, but a combination of qualities.
Our customers require quick turnaround time. Laser cutters allow this because there are no delays or costs of toolmaking. With laser systems, you can also make intricate cuts and handle materials that would otherwise be troublesome for tool-based cutting systems, such as those thin materials used in flexible packaging where holding accurate cut-to-print registration is an issue for any mechanical die.
They’re looking for versatility. Market opportunities change and retooling can be expensive. Our systems use a modular design that allows converters to add input/output modules for flexibility in handling ever-changing job requirements.
They need improved reliability so they can have confidence in their ability to deliver. Spartanics provides highly reliable equipment and prompt service to maintain our customers’ competitive edge.
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A: Changeover is greatly reduced since there is no tooling to remove. Abrasive or materials with thick adhesives run better on tool-free cutters because the laser is able to cut through these materials better without destroying or “gumming” up the tooling. They provide all of the same cutting features: perforations, score, kiss-cut and punch through. They both also run roll or sheeted material. However, the scoring is different: With a laser, you are removing material for the score and if they have printing, you are removing the ink.
Another thing that may come into play is material handling, slugs and part extraction. Material waste is less for lasers since parts can be “nested” better or closer together.
We are running 90 meters or 300 feet per minute using our laser. Other types of tool-based equipment, like rotary or flat bed die cutting presses, can reach these speeds but lack the cut-to-print accuracy that certain applications require. Tool-free and tool-based cutting systems center around Spartanics’ ability to hold tight registration tolerances in cut-to-print applications.
Q: It seems as if laser cutting is being heavily promoted and replacing many tool-based applications. If that's the case, will tool-based die cutting be obsolesced completely? If it does remain a viable cutting option, why would it be used?
A: There will always be a market for both types of cutting. With regard to speed requirements or material type, different applications require different methods of cutting. Laser cutting has more promotion because it is a new equipment line for us. Material handling, material thickness, edge quality, embossing with die cutting, discoloring the printed material and sometime multiple layers are a few things that would keep die cutting around.