Short Runs Create Diecutting Dilemma

I had a conversation with a contact at a packaging converting firm last week. The conversation rolled around to diecutting, and I learned something from it.

Here’s the dilemma. Diecutting and package converting (like everything else in printing) has been radically changed by digital print. Run lengths have fallen, and therein lies the challenge.

Diecutting machinery uses either fixed or magnetic dies mounted on a rotating cylinder. Depending on the die type, the substrate is either cut, kiss-cut or creased on every cylinder rotation. The dilemma is in the cost of the die. Very-short product runs may not generate enough revenue to cover the cost of the die, which may run into the hundreds of dollars (or more).

Now there are diecutting systems that are “die-less.” Laser diecutters are a technical wonder. Working from a simple Illustrator file, they will diecut the most intricate patterns you can imagine, like the material was a piece of cake. The problem is their cost, which starts at around $250,000. You’ve got to have a lot of short-run work to justify that expense.

Then there are plotter-type diecutters, which use a variety of cutting and routing tools affixed to a moveable bridge that can rapidly traverse the substrate on the X and Y axes. These machines are not as expensive as their laser counterparts, but also not as fast. Certainly not as fast as conventional rotary diecutting systems, which can turn out more than 7,000 pieces/hour.

So here’s the opportunity. We need a machine that doesn’t need a high-cost die, is fast enough for real production, and whose cost will not break the bank. Now that’s a real design challenge.

Who’s going to meet it?

Don has worked in technical support, sales, engineering, and management during a career in both the commercial offset and digital finishing sectors. He is the North American representative for IBIS Bindery Systems, Ltd. of The United Kingdom.
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  • Paul Gardner

    You’ve nailed a critical need in digital finishing!

    Highcon has started down a great path with their Eculid machine.

    Plotter / cutters are now available in an bewildering array of sizes, speeds and capabilities. And they’re being incorporated, inline, into a variety of print devices.

    And the cost of laser cutters has plummeted. You can now get a slow but capable machine for under $5000.

    Now to figure out foil stamping and embossing for digital print.