Laser Die Cutting: “Shorter Runs and Shorter Times”, Specialist Printing Worldwide

An initiative in the digital printing market began to take place a few years ago when customers were beginning to question how their digital print cells could be more efficient. How could digital printers provide more lean production practices? Equipment manufactures responded with digital printing machines that also included finishing lines. Xeikon, Durst and HP provided their print engines with rotary die cutting solutions inline. While these system integrations remain reliable a new initiative has begun whereby digital printing and laser finishing are integrated to provide a true plate-less printing and converting option.

LEAN PRODUCTION PRACTICES
Several years ago suppliers in the label market began to adopt lean production practices to clean up waste and attempt to compete in the ever shrinking profit margin world. Wikipedia defines lean manufacturing as “a variation on the theme of efficiency based on optimizing flow; it is a present-day instance of the recurring theme in human history toward increasing efficiency, decreasing waste, and using empirical methods to decide what matters, rather than uncritically accepting pre-existing ideas”.

So what does this mean for your printing and converting departments? It can be as empirically simple as measuring and reducing waste of materials, time setting up jobs, time and expense allocated to designing and producing new printing and cutting plates. It can be measured logically by reducing and minimizing movement of operators and materials in and around your production equipment. Efficiency is measured by performance of the whole not by the parts. The more parts the less efficient. If you have ever tried to adopt lean practices internally you know that it is difficult to execute. Equipment manufacturers know this and have made strides in providing digitally efficient equipment that eliminate time, waste and money.

In the world of shorter runs and longer lead times digital printing can be a viable solution. In the world of converting, laser finishing can further assist with shorter runs and shorter lead times. Putting these technologies together to provide a “single button” approach to labels is where equipment manufacturers are headed. Can you imagine being able to set up both your printing and cutting units in the pre-press area and send multiple jobs to a single piece of equipment without ever having to change printing or die cutting plates?

WORKING ON A SOLUTION
Well manufacturers imagined this in 2010 and began working on a solution. Integration of software was the major hurdle as manufacturers attempted to take a single print file, including vector files for laser cutting, and produce a Print/Cut file that could be sent directly to a machine that would print and then finish. This is currently happening and bringing a lean manufacturing approach to the label market.

A specific system that is powered by INXJet UV inkjet printing technology uses a seven station, UV inkjet digital printing platform with a pre-conditioning station that pre-treats raw stock therefore saving on material costs. The next five print stations in this system include white and CMYK stations followed by another UV coating station for durability. Finally the printed material goes through a fully integrated laser cutting station that kiss cuts labels and rewinds them into a finished roll.

Lasers are designed to cut using different energy levels (pen settings) for different cut parameters and all of this information can be provided in a single .XML file in the pre-press area. Other cases are designed to run a single roll of material with three separate jobs across a web and a variable print image. The only way to perform this type of finishing is via laser cutting.

You will hear more about these integrated technologies in the coming months as companies work together to provide true lean manufacturing equipment.

Mike Bacon is vice president of sales and marketing for Spartanics, which manufactures laser die cutting systems, in-line laser cutting with digital printing systems, steel rule die cutting systems, screen printing lines, automated counters and other equipment. Spartanics is available for technology demonstrations and contract manufacturing services.

 

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