Flexible Dies

By Steve Katz | January 18, 2012

With flexible dies becoming increasingly more prominent, manufacturers are sharpening their focus to develop products that meet the label industry’s needs.

Lightweight, easy to store, inexpensive and quick to ship – you’re sold on the technology and finally ready to invest in flexible dies. Or, you’ve been on board for some time, and have the satisfaction of knowing you made a sound technology acquisition. Regardless, flexible dies are becoming an industry standard, and R&D and new product launches are showing how diecutting with flexible dies is increasingly more efficient and cost-effective.

For some time, label industry experts have spoken of diecutting as one of the differences between the European market and North America. But the proliferation of flexible dies has led to a longer lasting, more effective cutting tool, and North American converters are now on the bus, so to speak. Offered by specialized companies with trained sales and service staff devoted to flexible dies, the following is a review of the latest products and services from some of the world’s leading flexible die manufactures.


One of the bigger M&A stories of 2011 was RotoMetric’s acquisition of Gerhardt. And the merging of these two companies has brought new products to the market. At Labelexpo in Brussels, RotoMetric’s new AccuStar flexible die was officially launched. This flexible die is also offered for thermal transfer applications, with optimized blade angles and the company’s FlexPremier chrome deposition surface treatment to achieve what the company says is an unprecedented flexible die life – up to a million or more revolutions. AccuStar flexible dies offer what RotoMetrics says is the longest life, highest accuracy and most exacting tolerances available. These dies are precision-finished and laser hardened, designed to master the most difficult applications including extensible/filmic substrates and abrasive thermal transfer material.

The AccuStar complements the company’s extensive range of flexible dies, offering products that meet specific application requirements. For the converting of materials on thin film liners and other challenging materials, RotoMetrics offers the AccuFlex line of flexible dies. These dies feature more acute blade angles, razor sharp/high precision cutting edges, extreme precision and control of total plate height tolerance.

RotoMetrics’ new laser-hardened
AcccuStar flexible die

The 7* Onyx flexible dies use a special onyx coating that has no detrimental effect on the angle or sharpness of the cutting edge, providing optimal die life. Ideal for extended runs and converting difficult substrates, the 7* is suitable for all non-stick applications and is impervious to pressroom chemicals.

RotoMetrics’ line of FlexPlus flexible dies are designed to provide longer life and greater durability than standard flexible dies, FlexPlus Dies feature a proprietary life-enhancing surface treatment, which can help reduce downtime due to fewer changeovers.

5* Flexible Dies are Laser hardened and surface treated for increased durability.  These dies offer enhanced die life for a wide range of applications, including abrasive materials.

When cost is a chief concern, RotoMetrics’ most economical flexible dies are its Standard and 3* flexible dies, which are machined sharpened to ensure consistent diecutting, and are surface treated to make them ideal for converting standard materials when paired with the company’s high tolerance magnetic cylinders. These dies are available with same or next day delivery.


Kocher + Beck

In January 2008 Kocher + Beck USA, Lenexa, KS, acquired Georgia-based American Die Technology. The acquisition made Kocher + Beck USA the second largest tooling manufacturer in North America, with two production facilities. The company has been machine sharpening every single one of its dies for the last 20 years, are specialists in that area, and offer a diverse range of flexible dies.

Kocher + Beck’s Nanotec (L) and Gluex Plus flexible dies

To meet the most stringent demands, K+B’s Al Universal flexible dies render them suitable for all types of self-adhesive and single-material products: paper, PP, PE, PVT, PET, Tyvek, thin films on PET liner material and other materials that are difficult to cut. Al dies are ideal for all jobs involving kiss cutting and cutting down to the anvil. They are CNC-sharpened and feature smooth polished cutting edges obtained using an ultra-fine edge polishing technique. Profile heights range from 0.30 to 1.5 mm and cutting angles vary, depending on the material, from 30º to 110º.

Kocher + Beck’s 3L Laser Long Life flexible dies can be used for the same applications as Universal quality dies. The company was the first manufacturer in the world to achieve hardness levels of 65 to 68 HRC thanks to the laser hardening technology that it developed.
“You benefit from the extended service life of the die, which is between two and three times longer than the life of a conventional die. Compared to the process used by other manufacturers, who apply chrome or other galvanized coatings, Kocher+Beck´s laser procedure is completely environmentally friendly and helps to conserve resources,” says David Morris, senior executive VP.

K+B’s Gluex Plus flexible die features a special adhesive-repellent surface coating. This die is ideal for emerging adhesive bleed or blocked label rolls. A special coating prevents the migration of adhesive and ink. Gluex Plus runs under standard quality at Kocher+Beck and can be delivered within 48 hours.

Kocher + Beck’s Nanotec flexible dies have an extremely thin micro coating with a hardness of over 80 HRC. Reduced friction and perfect resistance to wear enables a maximum running performance with a consistently sharp cutting edge. A further advantage is the reduced adhering of adhesive and ink to the cutting blades. Nanotec is ready for use with all abrasive plastic and paper materials.

Chrome 24 is the company’s solution for abrasive thermal and thermal transfer SK papers, and is ideal for longer runs. “A 0.01 mm thick layer of chromium with a hardness of 70 HRC enables extremely high running performances with outstanding wear properties,” Morris says.


Bunting Magnetics Co.

Newton, KS, USA-based Bunting Magnetics’ Flexible Die Division features a facility and equipment that allows Bunting to produce all types of flexible dies, from simple designs to intricate die patterns. This includes the ability to produce stamp dies that are machine sharpened and chemically hardened. All of Bunting’s equipment has been designed to manufacture dies in widths up to 30 inches.

Bunting prides itself on being focused on the production of 100 percent chemically hardened flexible dies, and the company also points to a new coating that can provide additional advantages to the label converter. The recently developed Repel coating is an economical coating that provides a clear, non-stick finish that repels the most aggressive adhesives.

Electro Optic’s Die Repair Tool

“The Repel coating gives Bunting a diverse range of coating options to offer our customers,” says Mike Wilks, product manger for printing products and flexible dies. “Bunting also has available our new Diamond and Black Diamond coatings which increase the hardness of our flexible dies to a level not measured by the world-renown Rockwell Scale for Hardness. Our customers have four choices to chose from because our standard process is to 100 percent chemically nickel-harden our dies.”

As for the flexible dies themselves, Bunting features its X-treme product range, designed to complement the company’s existing X-treme magnetic cylinder products. “Our flexible cutting dies wrap smoothly and evenly around magnetic cylinders in a fraction of the time required for hard-tooled setups. Top-of-the-line X-treme series dies produce outstandingly crisp, clean die cuts. Specially designed to accommodate close-tolerance diecutting applications, X-treme dies handle challenges like 1-mil on 1-mil clear-look labels and synthetics with ease,” Wilks says.

Teamed with Bunting’s magnetic cylinders, the dies are designed to eliminate waste and average two to three times longer life than standard dies on standard cylinders. Lead times on all dies can be as short as two days.

Bunting’s laser-engraved male and female Impression Series 3D Dies deliver highly accurate impressions. These flexible dies are designed to provide exceptional dimensional depth and fine detail. They are made from a specially formulated rubber material that is vulcanized to a flexible steel backing for easy on-press magnetic mounting. Direct laser ablation engraves away excess rubber and leaves die surfaces precision-cut, clean, and ready to run. These environmentally friendly dies clean with water and deliver excellent stability.

For standard two-dimensional embossing, Bunting offers die sets that consist of flexible male steel dies that run against rubber female plates. These economical die sets produce excellent results on all weights of embossable papers.


Electro Optic US

Electro Optic US, Alpharetta, GA, was established in 2003 as a sister company to Electro Optic GmbH, who entered the flexible die industry 22 years ago. “We share their same determination to supply the narrow web flexographic printing industry with a flexible die system that offers unsurpassed precision and longevity for all common film materials and paper materials,” says Markus Marfurt, president. “The flexible die concept represents a fraction of the engraved tooling cost, and consistent and reliable flexible dies from Electro Optic decreases set up time and waste.”

Electro Optic US is solely focused on the flexible die system. The company offers a variety of grades of flexible dies in order to address the various diecutting requirements of its customers, including digital label converters with high demands of low caliper film liner.

When keeping costs down is the top priority, Electro Optic features its Economy die. The company’s DURA dies are specially designed for the converting of abrasive materials such as thermal transfer facestock.  “Whether it is a long run job or a highly abrasive material, the DURA type dies are the lowest cost per 1,000 feet in tooling cost,” Marfurt says.

Electro Optic’s Gold die is the company’s solution for minimal die strike on film liner as well as an excellent choice for thin gauge film liner material applications.

“Electro Optic US assures its customers an effortless transaction from engraved to flexible and continues to provide each customer with highly consistent quality dies and support for a maximum return on the tool cost,” Marfurt says.

Electro Optic also offers its customers the capability to repair their flexible dies with The Die Repair Tool which allows the repairing of low spots and minor nicks on flexible dies.

“New materials and processes constantly challenge narrow web label manufacturers.  Electro Optic maintains an ongoing commitment to keeping in-step with the latest trends and understanding how these changes affect your business and products. To achieve this, we continuously invest in high-precision equipment to maintain uncompromising quality control,” Marfurt says.

“Diecutting is now a science and not an art,” Marfurt says. “In order for you to achieve the best possible results from your dies, Electro Optic offers on-site training for your staff, which includes a demonstration of the unique gap feeler gauge and the Die Repair Tool.”


Wilson Manufacturing

“For a variety of applications, more and more converting operations are discovering the very real benefits and added value of flexible dies,” states Wade Fouts, VP of sales for Wilson Manufacturing, St. Louis, MO, USA.

Fouts observes the surge in popularity for both long and short runs. He says, “Flexible dies are increasingly becoming the go-to component for getting the job done with greater cost efficiency. The reason behind the trend can be attributed to the fact that, for a broad range of converting tasks, flexible dies can provide an excellent cost-effective alternative without compromising quality.”

Wilson Manufacturing’s flexible dies are manufactured with hardened spring steel for durability, and utilize chemical etching and computer-to-plate technology to ensure premium quality. For improved and longer-lasting cutting performance as well as cost savings, their flexible dies are also machine-sharpened. “The result is high-quality part performance combined with lower costs,” Fouts says.

Ideal for nearly all labeling materials and applications, Wilson’s flexible dies can be manufactured to cut pressure-sensitive, metal-to-metal, two-level, crease, perf or slit-over-perf applications. “The dies are lightweight, inexpensive to ship, and easy to store,” Fouts says, adding that there’s no need to back-grind flexible dies from Wilson, thanks to the company’s advanced technology and accurate manufacturing equipment.

Wilson offers standard flexible dies, or extended-life flexible dies for increased durability when converting substrates such as thermal transfer or Compucal.

“Another benefit to specifying flexible dies from Wilson is rapid turnaround,” Fouts says. The company typically has a 72-hour lead time on most orders, and offers a 24/7 online service for ordering and tracking.


Atlas Die

Atlas Die flexible dies are custom-designed for rotary diecutting converters of pressure sensitive materials, tags, envelopes, business forms and specialty items. Easy to mount and register, Atlas’ flexible dies are for all cylinder types and die heights, either magnetic or non-magnetic. All Atlas Die Flexible Dies are precision back ground on the back side of the die to a parallel of +/-.0001" to eliminate uneven cutting, decrease makeready time and increase die life.
The company, based in Elkhart, IN, USA, offers two fexible die options to its label converting customers, the Summit Die and the Apex Die. For these dies,  Atlas has its 801-B Surface Treatment, which is optional on the Summit and standard on the Apex. The treatment improves lubricity (acts as a release agent), without leaving residue on the stock being converted and reduces adhesive buildup on die knives, inhibits corrosion and improves die life by increased abrasion resistance. 801-B Surface Treatment exhibits excellent adhesion qualities and will not crack, peel, lift, blister or soften.

The Summit Die is a hand finished, etched die of high quality blade height control on, across and around the knife. This die is ideal for paperstocks, short runs and standard configurations. The Summit Die is lower in cost and has a quicker turnaround time than the Apex Die. 801-B Surface Treatment is optional.

Atlas’Apex Die is a 100 percent machined knife edge die, back ground to a thickness of +/-.0001" with cut-to-cut tolerances of +/-.0001". This die is ideal for paper, laser labels, vinyls, Tyveks, mylars, films, facestocks, polyester and thin foils. Atlas invites converters to send their most “hard-to-cut” materials as the company welcomes the opportunity to display the die’s effectiveness. 801-B Surface Treatment ia standard.