The Laser Revolution in Finishing
The business of diecutting, kiss-cutting, perforating, and creasing has always been accomplished via mechanical tooling, or rotary cutting or routing tools. Dies and blanks, various rollers and wheels, are all employed in the service of creating finished products for the printing and packaging industries.
Longer run diecutting for consumer packaging is an especially complex process, with many steps (and time) required to create the diecutting plate. Package prototypes must first be made. Once approved, creating the actual die may take up to a week, with the die incorporating various metal and rubber elements which are (typically) placed by hand.
Over the past five years, the "digital" approach has started to make headway against the traditional machines. Laser diecutting is getting both better, and faster, and is being combined with other systems to improve its productivity. LasX Industries, a Minnesota company has produced laser diecutting, creasing, and scoring machines for a number of years. The complex patterns that can be turned out by a laser would be hard to match with traditional dies. More recently, Highcon of Israel introduced the Highcon Euclid for packaging at drupa. The Euclid uses a hybrid approach, employing their DART (Digital Adhesive Rule Technology) for the creasing part. A flexible plate (and counter plate) is mounted on the machine cylinders, and the creasing pattern is "written" to the plates with special tooling driven by a CAD file. Cutting is accomplished by lasers in a following machine section. Highcon states that the machine can begin turning out work in as little as 15 minutes after the file is loaded.
And at Innovation Days in Lucerne, Switzerland, Hunkeler previewed its web perforating and engraving system which uses laser technology. As more transactional, direct mail, and booklet work moves to roll-driven systems, the laser system can cross-perforate or engrave web documents at speeds of up 450 feet-per-minute. The fact that this can be done without tooling is a huge step forward. Hunkeler envisions the technology to be very much in demand for security applications. At the end of the day, laser technology, which would have been the last thing we would expect to see in finishing 10 years ago, is becoming mainstream.