Digital Finishing Equipment

By Catherine Diamond, Associate Editor | November 21, 2013

Machinery manufacturers have successfully kept pace with the latest digital printing technology.

In the early days of digital printing, there were few options in terms of digital finishing equipment. Tasked with keeping pace with manufacturers of digital presses, digital finishing equipment providers have expanded in number and risen in quality. What follows is a description of available digital finishing equipment and the recent developments made by key suppliers in the industry.

AB Graphic International
Bridlington,UK-based AB Graphic International Ltd. launched new label converting lines and an array of options at Labelexpo, which are designed to increase productivity and simplify operation on both its new and existing product range.

The new Omega SRI label inspection rewinder was the centerpiece of the company’s exhibits. The rewinder uses the latest servo drive technology in combination with PC/SPS based controls, resulting in what the company describes as “a new level of sophistication and productivity” and enabling rewind speeds up to 350m/min. A new ergonomic design permits operation either sitting or standing and all in one choice of finishing in either the horizontal or vertical position. The system includes FleyeVision print face inspection through the same touch screen as the machine. Removal of waste is carried out under full control and during the process the camera is still inspecting.

For flexible packaging converting, the company has worked closely with press manufacturer Edale to develop a 30” finishing line for digitally pre-printed label and flexible packaging substrates. The system is designed for short runs and can be supplied to complement any 30” wide digital press installation to enable finishing through a wide range of converting options for PSA labels as well as laminating and decorating for flexible packaging.

The new Digilase laser label cutting system also debuted complete with the company’s digital die shop software enabling users to import, create or edit die patterns through the familiar Adobe Illustrator plug-in platform. The system permits each job to be tested in a virtual machine environment, including estimated maximum run speeds before going live. Latest developments allow a totally automated creation of the laser cut file that is normally created manually for every new shape. Key benefits versus conventional diecutting include no-tooling and associated storage requirements and no waiting for delivery times.

In combination with its new product range was the launch of JDF/JMF software that is available on a variety of the company’s products, including the Digicon and Omega brand converting lines as well as on the Digilase system. The software connects the equipment with
the pre-press MIS system and increases productivity through enabling automatic set-up of job parameters and offers real time feedback from the finishing line. The JMF software assists with production management and enables information to be sent back from the finishing line to the MIS system including details of material waste, machine status, label count, web speed and set-up times.

An array of new options include auto-slitting through HMI interface to reduce knives set-up times on the Digicon and Iscore system for automated back scoring. The new Vectra combo turret rewinder also is equipped with new contact matrix stripping, automatic core loader and new glue bath system.

For more than 40 years, Rotoflex has provided offline finishing products to support many printing processes. And while Rotoflex experienced success in finishing digitally printed materials - most notably with the Vericut product produced until 2010 - the R&D and engineering teams have taken the proliferation of digital printing products and the increasing demand for equipment to finish these materials as an opportunity to reevaluate their offering to truly support converters’ changing needs.

According to the company, shortfalls are evident in the offline finishing products currently available to the market. Suppliers are not able to keep up with current demand and converters need these finishing technologies to support superior inspection with faster setups and changeovers, at productive speeds, optimizing their turnaround and profitability.

“Rotoflex is actively designing a new rewind platform to be available globally in early 2014, which will address the ever-changing inspection rewind requirements to maximize digital workflows and shorter run capabilities,” says Rotoflex Business Director Kevin Gourlay. “Both full- and semi-rotary capable, and able to incorporate a variety of finishing processes including lamination, hot and cold foil, screen and coating (both full and register spot), this servo-driven machine will include the exclusive Rotoflex eDrive web transport system to produce finished rolls of superior quality.”

Mark Andy
According to Jeff Feltz, director of business development at Mark Andy, when digital printing first came into the label and package printing space, attempts were made to combine digital with traditional full rotary converting designs. After some failed attempts by press manufacturers, the market maintained that offline converting was better suited for the type of digital workflows of the time.

“There were many aspects that caused in-line rotary converting to fail,” Feltz says. “Some of the early (and still existing) digital solutions did not print a consistent output between repeats or frames, making full rotary converting nearly impossible, even with advanced servo registration systems. The short run lengths produced on digital devices could not economically support the workflow of a traditional rotary die. And traditional die station technology was very cumbersome to set up, reducing the effectiveness for shorter runs.”

Recent developments are changing this perspective. First, the speeds of recently launched inkjet systems, like the Mark Andy Digital Series, are upwards of 250 fpm. At these faster production speeds, and with modern in-line rotary converting, a fully integrated platform is now attainable. Repeat-to-repeat consistency is very good, the company says, allowing rotary dies to easily maintain registration to the digital print at production speeds. Secondly, the popularity of magnetic cylinders and flexible dies has significantly reduced costs. Finally, advanced-design die stations like the Mark Andy Quick Change Die Cut (QCDC) with single minute changeovers, now match up well with combination digital/flexo printing platforms. As digital moves to a more production-level process, in-line converting makes absolute sense and is being enabled by new advances in converting technology, according to Feltz.

Spartanics has been manufacturing registration cutting equipment since 1963. The company’s focus in the label and packaging markets is laser converting equipment that offers a complete workflow software program and proprietary Optimization Software designed to operate similar to digital printing prepress workflow. Spartanics designs its own software for controlling and operating its laser converting equipment, which allows the company to offer custom features per customer requirements, including combination sheet and roll systems and roll to sheet configurations.

“We started in this industry as a laser supplier, which is a benefit given our history with the product and we have grown into a material handling and converting company,” says Spartanics VP of Sales and Marketing Mike Bacon. “Over the next several years, we will be working towards providing laser components and software to other OEM companies and we have partnered with Durst and INX to provide inline modules for their digital printing systems.”  

In general, the L350 is a staple product for the label and packaging markets. Utilizing a single source 400W laser, the L350 is capable of achieving throughput speeds up to 100-plus meters per minute. The L350 also offers a 350mm wide cutting area along with many different converting options, including: lamination, slitting, varnish, hot foil stamping and many others.  Spartanics’ L500 sheet and web machines provide a dual head solution that can reach cutting widths of 700mm wide. 

Primera technology
Headquartered in Plymouth, MN, USA, Primera is a specialty printer manufacturer whose products are sold worldwide through Primera-authorized resellers and distributors in more than 179 countries.

For the digital finishing market, the company offers the FX1200. It is an off-line label production machine designed and manufactured by Primera.  The FX1200 accepts up to 12" (305mm) O.D. (Outside Diameter) rolls of printed output from digital label presses such as Primera’s CX1200 Digital Color Label Press. It finishes the printed output with several different operations including:
 Lamination – with clear polypropylene (PP) or polyester (PET) films for increased durability and UV resistance
 Digital diecutting – in any size or shape
 Waste matrix removal – making finished rolls ready for use
 Slitting – for making multiple narrow rolls from the wider input roll
 Rewinding – onto multiple 3" (76mm) O.D. cores
Utilizing Primera’s patent-pending QuadraCut technology, virtually any size and shape of label can be produced including complicated contour cuts, without the need to purchase expensive rotary or flat dies. Up to four cutting blades can be installed at one time to quadruple the speed compared to competitive machines that use only a single blade.

“After introducing our groundbreaking CX1200 Digital Color Label Press, we discovered that the few existing finishing systems available were not fast enough, not reliable enough and not easy enough to use. So, we built our own,” says Mark Strobel, Primera’s vice president of sales and marketing. “The result is the FX1200. There’s nothing else that compares to it for even four or five times the price.”

LASX and AzTech Converting Systems
Since 1998, LasX has offered laser processing systems and services to the print, label, packaging, medical, and electronic/automotive industries. These sheet or roll-fed LaserSharp laser systems eliminate tooling and offer a non-contact production product for converters seeking to increase turnaround and processing flexibility while eliminating downtime and machine setup. Ideal for papers, plastics, adhesives, and thin metals, digital finishing allows for multiple processes in a single pass: including laser cutting, scoring, perforating, kiss-cutting, and etching. The company says its experienced process development experts help customers benefit from digital manufacturing using LasX’s patented laser processes, specific to each customer’s material and application needs.

Tempe, AZ, USA-based AzTech Converting Systems has been a provider of slitter/rewinders, diecutters, roll handling equipment and more since 1984. The company’s modular servo-controlled DieMaster Series Off-Line Digital Finishing System features up to three rotary diecutting stations, flexographic coating with either aqueous or UV coating, top and/or bottom side lamination, hot and/or cold foil embossing, undercutting, and finished roll slitting for both roll-to-roll and roll-to-sheet.

In partnership with Colordyne Technologies, LasX and AzTech have recently released the CDT-1600 PC Laser Pro, which unites digital printing with precision laser diecutting to deliver what the companies call the ultimate in efficient, cost-effective label and tag production. The CDT-1600 PC Laser Pro uses LaserSharp digital finishing technology for roll-to-roll label production by combining the print resolution and speed of Colordyne’s CDT-1600 PC print engine with LasX’s high-speed laser cutting module.

“This system is the industry’s fastest and most affordable integrated printing and finishing system on the market, processing materials at up to 160 fpm and 1600 x 1200 dpi print resolution,” the companies say.

By adding the laser cutting capability to the printing of roll-fed materials, customers can reduce costs and increase productivity while maintaining a small footprint on the manufacturing floor. This system is ideal for short run or customized labels and eliminates cost penalties or time delays associated with diecutting. The CDT-1600 PC Laser Pro features unlimited shape and design options and no click charges.
www.lasx.com, www.aztechconvertingsystems.com

Delta Industrial
For over 30 years Minneapolis, MN, USA-based Delta Industrial has designed, engineered and manufactured web converting and packaging machinery. Delta offers manufacturing products for a variety of complex medical, pharmaceutical, label, security, RFID, packaging and cosmetic products.

The company’s Delta Spectrum II Finishing System is designed to offer the flexibility to diecut and coat a digitally printed web in-line with a digital printer or off-line as a standalone finishing system, and to help label and tag manufacturers easily run a variety of digitally pre-printed parts with minimal waste and quick changeover. The system features a variety of processes including multiple rotary and/or semi-rotary diecuts, tight registration and lamination capabilities. The process set-up recall is one of the benefits of the system. This feature gives the operator the ability to recall prior process settings (recipes) making changeover from part-to-part quick and easy.

Custom Delta converting and finishing systems may include additional capabilities such as laser cutting, flexo, silkscreen and inkjet printing, hot or cold foil stamping and embossing. The Delta Mod-Tech system is custom designed and engineered to meet specific application requirements, improve profitability and reduce risk.

Allen Datagraph
Within the past year, Allen Datagraph Systems, Inc. (ADSI) has introduced two new digital finishing systems: the iTech Centra HS Digital Label Finisher and the iTech Axxis HS Digital Label Finisher. Both can either be purchased separately or as part of a complete digital label printing and finishing system. Their versatility enables them to convert substrates from any digital or analog print platform.

Both are roll-to-roll digital finishing systems that laminate, cut any custom shape without dies (direct from Adobe Illustrator), strip waste matrix, slit and rewind to finished rolls of labels. Both systems can cut multiple depths within the same cut file allowing for perforations or multi-layer applications.

The SMARTMark Optical Registration System provides print to cut registration, scanning multiple registration marks to automatically adjust the cut file, compensating for skew or scaling caused by the printing process or substrate.

The iTech Centra HS Digital Label Finisher converts substrates in roll diameters to 14" and substrate widths from 5" to 14" at speeds up to 30 fpm. The iTech Axxis HS Digital Label Finisher converts substrates in roll diameters to 8" and substrate widths from 4" to 8.5" wide at speeds up to 12 fpm.

“Our iTech Series Digital Label Finishers are proven in daily use worldwide,” says Mark Vanover, ADSI VP, sales and marketing. “They enable converters to provide customers with value-added capabilities by delivering high quality, short run, custom labels.”
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