Parallel to the proliferation of digital presses is an increase in the number of finishing equipment options converters can choose from. As with press purchases, machinery choices vary in size, speed, capabilities and price. While it can be said that the presses themselves get a lot of the attention, the machinery chosen to finish the job must not be overlooked.
David Grenwis, marketing manager for Delta ModTech, says that while many customers put a lot of focus on selecting the right digital press or printer to meet their needs, equal efforts should be spent to ensure the finishing process selected will deliver optimal results. “Capability, repeatability and future growth are some of the key aspects that must be considered,” Grenwis says. “How important are repeatable, precise diecuts to your customers? What embellishments do you currently require? What will set your labels apart? What matters most to your current customers? What will you need in the future? Selecting the right finishing partner can ensure you can meet the demands of the fast paced, ever-changing digital print industry.”
“The finishing process is critical to complete the cycle of production for a sellable label. If not done correctly to spec, the resources expended during the printing process can be totally lost,” comments Jason Schmitt, Eastern regional sales manager for Rotocontrol.
Tony Bell, sales director for AB Graphic International, says, “Digital presses produce labels of fantastic, consistent quality at the press of a button. This is great news for printers on the one hand, but it does limit their ability to stand out from the crowd by producing better labels than anyone else. This makes the range of creative embellishments that can be produced by analog finishing processes all the more important. Finishing equipment enables printers to differentiate their offer and create real, added value for label customers.”
Mike Bacon, North American sales director for Grafotronic, points out that the finishing process can be the overlooked item when customers are setting up a digital printing cell in their production facility. He says, “There are equally as many finishing options in the marketplace as there are digital printing machines. We encourage customers to be as diligent when selecting a converting/finishing unit as they are when deciding on digital printing equipment. Converting equipment manufacturers have come a long way in offering true ‘digital’ converting solutions.”
Todd Kotila, director of business development for CEI, says that when it comes to finishing – what he calls the “inescapable last step” of the workflow – the real question is not how the labels were printed, but how much more do the labels require than slitting and rewinding to prepare them for shipment. “If they require nothing, you’re at the threshold of shipping billable goods,” he says. “But if the labels require any embellishments – from the simplest lamination or diecut to higher-end processes like hot foiling to embossing – then how you finish them becomes critical.
“Ultimately,” Kotila adds, “It comes down to time, and how many passes do you have to make in order finish the job. Many converters don’t see their finishing department as a profit center, but it is. One pass to finish, as opposed to two, three or even four to finish not only increases efficiencies, more importantly it increases capacity. When your finishing department can move more material, it increases the overall volume a business can book.”
Frank Hasselberg, president of Prati USA, sums up the necessary nature of the finishing process when it comes to digital. He says, “Every digitally-printed label needs some form of finishing. While these labels at least need diecutting and stripping, they will often also require lamination, an additional spot color, foil, etc. So, in essence, there is no digitally printed label without finishing.”
The Modular Mantra
In speaking with digital finishing equipment OEMs, the term “modular” emerges as a key requirement of their label converting customers.
The needs of converters and their brand owner customers continue to evolve. Many converting equipment suppliers offer a wide range of equipment – machines with the most basic converting capabilities to those with more complex and value-adding processes such as hot stamping and spot varnish. That said, the need to keep up with a variety of finishing demands has led machinery suppliers to build systems with true modularity. “This allows converters and brand owners to start with a basic system to meet their current needs while having the flexibility to add converting options in the future, as their business grows and diversifies,” explains Mike Bacon of Grafotronic. “Brand owners typically have a more streamlined idea of what they need for their specific product, however, as packaging and labeling trends evolve, modularity provides future-safe designs that are limitless.”
Derek Bradshaw, president of AzTech Converting, says modularity is of paramount importance when it comes to a digital finishing investment, in particular for people new to digital. “As digital printing continues to grow, so too will digital finishing,” Bradshaw says. “We are value-oriented, so our equipment is a great fit for companies that are just getting into the game. Plus, all of our machines are modular – they’re building blocks – label companies can add modules at any time, as new technology becomes available, or as the converting needs of their customers change.”
AB Graphic’s Bell notices that in greater numbers label manufacturers are specifying more complex finishing equipment in order to deliver a wider range of embellishments. He says, “It is not uncommon now, for example, for us to produce a system with not just one but two screen or foil embossing modules. This is easy to accommodate because our Digicon Series 3 equipment is modular, which enables us to produce finishing systems to meet individual requirements. Which processes are popular and necessary depends upon the market sector and application. A finishing system for beverage labels will need greater functionality to deliver a wider range of embellishments than say, a system for standard food packaging labels.”
CEI’s Kotila also sees a move toward more embellishment, and emphasizes how other industry trends play into the digital printing and finishing sweet spots. “Adding varnish or a simple lamination no longer cuts it in this business environment. With our digital finishers, a label manufacturer enjoys the flexibility to compete at an entirely different level. The market pressure is toward shorter runs, more frequent copy changes, quicker turnaround, personalization, reduced waste – all strengths of digital printing and finishing,” he says.
Rotocontrol’s Schmitt cites the famous JFK quote “Change is the Law of Life!” He explains, “If you don’t change with market conditions and needs, you will lose business that you already worked so hard to establish. With that being said, a digital finisher must be very modular in construction to allow for growth of your initial finishing platform. You cannot go out and buy another finisher each time new opportunities evolve requiring additional finishing capabilities. Adding a module simply, quickly and inexpensively is the key.”
Laser diecutting is a process that’s trending upward in the digital finishing space. Delta ModTech is one equipment manufacturer that is noticing continued interest and growth in laser finishing. “Some of our customers are just getting into laser cutting while others have several laser systems installed and are adding more. Integration of on-the-fly cut changes with the use of a bar code reader is becoming popular since it allows for short and long runs, eliminating changeover. With these integrated laser systems, seamless printing and finishing can be achieved. This allows for a complete digital solution,” says Grenwis.
Steve Leibin, president at Matik, Inc., the North American distributor of Italian laser finishing company SEI Laser, points out that with many label printers operating at least one digital press – and sometimes as many as two or three – they are spending $30-50,000 on cutting dies per year. “More important,” Leibin says, “They can spend up to 10 minutes to set up a die for a new job that may last only 10 minutes. They are processing fewer jobs than they could if they could finish immediately with a laser finisher. This is why the use of laser finishing is growing and attracting more interest. A laser finisher might cost more money up front, but it can make up the difference very quickly on reduced time and reduced die costs while providing immediate finishing and value added embellishments.”
Tom O’Hara, president of laser finishing specialist Spartanics, notes that in the laser arena, there is increased interest in web-to-part extraction. He says, “Single labels are often produced in quantities of as little as one part. Short runs are a market that takes great advantage of the digital finishing process, making it simplified. It eliminates the challenges of waiting on expensive tooling dies to be produced and the shimming and make-ready associated with them. Digital produces usable parts with less material waste.”
Much like the digital presses they complement, digital finishing equipment OEMs are continuously innovating and announcing new products with enhanced speeds and capabilities. In the past, digital printing and finishing tended to be set up and operated as two separate processes. However, in recent years there has been a move toward in-line finishing. Converters today can choose inline, near-line or off-line finishing, depending on what best suits their needs. What follows are descriptions of some the latest digital finishing technologies available to label converters, as well as supplier information.
“For over 15 years, our Digicon digital finishing equipment has been a market leader, with over 1,000 machines installed worldwide,” states Tony Bell. “It is a modular system, which can be adapted to meet individual needs and changed in the future should the need arise.”
The Digicon Series 3 from ABG is designed for accuracy, flexibility, ease-of-use, speed and time savings. “The Digicon Series 3 is built with precision to ensure consistent results and with modules and options to give you a competitive edge,” Bell says. “It has intuitive controls and low-cost maintenance with a wide range of automated functions. The Digicon Series 3 is fast and versatile – it is able to keep pace, inline, with the latest digital print engines and is suitable for roll-to-roll or roll-to-sheet, for any digital printing application.”
ABG’s Fast Track Die Cutting unit is touted as one of the world’s fastest semi-rotary diecutting systems, capable of running at 150 m/m, over a wide range of repeats, and can work inline with the world’s fastest digital print engines. Gap sensing and knife setting units saves time on setup and changeovers. AB Graphic also offers the Big Foot, a 50-ton capacity hot foil and embossing module. According to Bell, Big Foot features multiple foil feeding across and along the web to create new effects and finishes that will give printers a competitive advantage. New from ABG is a high-speed flatbed screen printing module that adds value with relief varnishes or vibrant screen inks. A crossover module has also been developed to create multi-layered, novelty or promotional labels, digitally. A lamination in register module enables a pre-printed web to be laminated to the main web in perfect register. Finally, a rail mounting system allows a flexible configuration that meets individual needs.
The Sigma Series High-Speed Precision Semi-Rotary Digital Label Finishing System from AzTech Converting is a full-featured modular system designed specifically to meet and exceed the need for high yield, fast turnaround production for today’s digital label printing market. Sigma Series features include semi-rotary and full rotary operation, a rotary sheeting station for sheeted products, quick-change servo-controlled flexographic printing/coating stations, cold foil stamping, dual-side lamination and modular design for future expansion.
“With the ability to make fast changeovers, hold extremely tight registration and operate at speeds up to 175 fpm, the Sigma Series will prove to be an invaluable tool to support your company’s future digital print growth,” Derek Bradshaw says.
Bradshaw emphasizes that the Sigma Series is an ideal fit for smaller label companies looking to maximize their investment. “They can keep the machine running all the time. In addition to its digital finishing capabilities, it can be used for converting blank labels, as well as high speed flexo jobs in one to three colors. This type of work can be easily cranked out on these machines.”
Family-owned and in business for 30 years, Bradshaw says that one of AzTech’s claims to fame is in its repeat business. “Our customers typically have multiple machines of ours – I’d say around 90% of our business is from repeat customers. We take care of our customers – that’s what we do. Being a fairly small company, we don’t nickel-and-dime anyone, and we earn business one customer at a time, providing value and being responsive. We pride ourselves on being reliable, service-oriented and price-competitive.”
CEI offers a wide range of slitter-rewinders, diecutters, custom-made equipment, digital Boss finishers and its flagship digital hybrid press – the BossJet. According to Kotila, “There’s a saying around the CEI office: ‘Simon [owner and CEO, Simon Gross] likes things that go fast.’ In the last few years, however, we’ve experienced a significant paradigm shift with the creation of the BossJet – a true digital hybrid press. By partnering with digital inkjet press manufacturer Domino, CEI has combined flexo press features and converting embellishments with digital printing quality and flexibility. We’ve delivered more N610i-integrated hybrid presses than any other company out there, and we’ve already booked sales that will take us almost to the end of 2019. Digital hybrid presses are the future right now,” Kotila says.
Kotila emphasizes taking advantage of digital’s inherent flexibility. “The real challenge is to book business that leverages its strengths, such us multiple-flavors of consumables (beverage, nutraceuticals, cosmetics, etc.). It’s amazing to see a raw roll going into a BossJet at one end and have changes occur without the machine slowing or stopping; it simply changes from grape to cherry to lemon, or brown to tan to pink eyeshadow, coming out the other end as finished goods. One unique capability of our BossJet, in combination with Domino’s N610i inkjet press, is our ability to digitally print and handle shrink materials. Most companies buying our hybrid press want the system configured so they can add this specific feature to the suite of capabilities already on the system. In the overall picture, it’s an affordable upgrade,” he says, adding, “CEI’s BossJet addresses the most common problems with a single-pass system, as it dramatically reduces downtime, waste, finishing bottlenecks, color management issues and even operator frustrations through automation.”
CEI is a small, privately-owned family company that is growing quickly. “We’re investing heavily, not just in innovations but also in people and processes in order to shore up our internal controls. CEI’s goal is to be ridiculously responsive and deliver the best quality service and machinery in the industry,” says CEO Simon Gross.
The Spectrum Finishing System is Delta ModTech’s digital finishing line. It is an entirely modular system based off Delta’s successful Crusader Converter platform. A basic 13" wide Spectrum finisher comes standard with Delta’s intuitive HMI control screen. It is capable of both high-speed semi-rotary and full rotary diecutting, flood coat/flexo deck with UV dryer, lamination module, slitting module, and servo controlled unwinds and rewinds.
“Other features can easily be added, moved or replaced on the truly modular ModTech platform. Some of these features include additional unwinds/rewinds, die stations, auto-slitting, sheeting, laser diecutting or pouching,” Grenwis says. “The Spectrum also has the ability to run right-to-left or left-to-right, and has hybrid/inline/or nearline capability.”
Delta ModTech has made advancements to its Intelli-Mod control system to make the controls simple for the operator and automate steps when possible. Onscreen instructions walk operators through the setup of the Spectrum finisher, and machine settings can be stored as individual product recipes to be easily recalled later. Grenwis adds, “We also offer training onsite, at install, as well as customized training to keep your team up to speed. If you’re having process or machine issues, our support staff is experienced and available to make sure you’re up and running. In the fight against downtime, we’re your biggest ally.”
Grafotronic’s signature machine is the fully modular DCL2 digital converting line. We offer every finishing option required for the label and packaging markets, including hot stamping, screen printing, auto slitting and more. Options can be part of the initial purchase or added at any point in the future with only a single day of interruption in production, says Bacon, adding, “We call this our ‘Future Safe’ design. Key features include a fully-integrated buffer for continuous production with semi-automatic turret, semi-rotary diecutting speeds up to 90 m/m, competitive pricing and short delivery time.
Another key feature of the DCL2 is Automation 4.0 software that allows Grafotronic to monitor the system remotely in order to anticipate service intervention requirements before they occur. “Automation 4.0 also integrates setup features into most prepress and label or job tracking software. The DCL2 provides a stable platform to integrate inline and hybrid solutions with our digital printing partners,” Bacon says.
Grafotronic offers digital converting equipment from entry level to mid-level to its fully modular signature machines. “We use the same components for each price level so the quality of the equipment and the product being finished are not jeopardized,” Bacon says. “We offer slitter/rewinder and inspection machines at a reasonable price, with many of our new technologies designed into each system.
“The rotary converting lines we sell are for efficient production of everything from blank labels to advanced industrial converting, including laminating of different materials, multiple diecutting stations and more. These converting lines are also fully modular and designed for high-speed production.
“Write-off time for a digital printer from a technical point of view is around four years due to the fast development of the technology,” Bacon continues. “A Grafotronic digital finishing unit can be written off in double the amount of time, or eight years. This is where our 100% modular concept with eight hours onsite installation of any new module comes into play. It makes our equipment a future-safe investment by offering full flexibility for future growth while outlasting two generations of digital printers.”
Matik / SEI Laser
As the North American distributor for Italian finishing equipment manufacturer SEI Laser, Matik markets the SEI Laser Labelmaster digital finishing machine. Labelmaster delivers on-the-fly cutting of a variety of printed jobs – including through-cutting, kiss-cutting, perforating, micro-perforating and single-pass engraving.
“With the Labelmaster true digital finishing system, SEI Laser can cut jobs of one to one million labels without die tooling,” explains Matik’s Steve Leibin. “This can all be done on roll to roll, roll to sheet, and roll to part cutting, producing intricate designs, cutting and engraving on a variety of substrates, including paper, PP, PET and BOPP – at speeds up to 350 fpm with excellent quality.”
The SEI Laser Labelmaster is a completely modular machine with many finishing options, such as semi-rotary flexo varnish (spot or flood), semi-rotary hot foil stamping, lamination, slitting, cut-to-part, semi-turret rewinding and a servo sheeter. Laser options of 150w, 300w or 500w are available in single, double or quad laser configurations with speeds up to 330 fpm.
“We call laser finishing true digital finishing,” says Leibin. “The traditional systems are not. True digital finishing lets label printers proceed from a PDF file to ready-to-ship, finished and counted rolls. SEI Laser eliminates steps such as creating separate die files and reducing die delivery and die station setups, which can take more time than the actual physical production of the labels. Changes in jobs, production quantities and material parameters can be communicated during prepress using SEI Laser’s software, which can be integrated into most workflow systems. Thus, finishing can be completed automatically using a true digital workflow. SEI Laser’s semi-automatic turret on the Labelmaster also enables production of exact quantities of labels on each roll.
“By using the SEI Laser Labelmaster, a label printer can offer brand owners the ‘wow’ factor; better and cleaner cuts that are consistent from the first to the millionth label, even on curves,” Leibin says.
The digital finishing solution from Prati is the Digifast One. According to Frank Hasselberg of Prati USA, efficiency, accuracy and versatility are the main elements converters are all looking for in competitive finishing solutions.
“The Prati Digifast One is the perfect fit for these requirements,” he says. “It is a very modular machine with many different options. In the standard version, a flexo unit and die station can be used in semi rotary and full rotary mode. For example, it is very easy to change out the magnetic die cylinder, used in semi rotary mode, to a solid die and work the machine in full rotary mode with run speeds of up to 500 fpm. Every unit and change tool on the Digifast One is easily accessible. Options including flatbed hot stamping and embossing, lamination, up to four flexo heads, digital print bars for variable data, lamination, and cold foil, to name a few.”
Hasselberg touts the Digifast One as being the most efficient digital finisher in the label market today, with production speeds of up to 300 fpm in semi rotary mode, and 500 fpm in full rotary mode. “Digifast One also features easy setup, a short web path and minimal setup waste and setup time. It is ergonomically designed and comes with a wide variety of options.
“One Digifast easily handles the output of two digital machines,” Hasselberg says. “There is also the option of bringing a Digifast inline with a digital machine. Plus, the Digifast One connects to a company’s MIS system and is Industry 4.0 compliant.”
Pointing out the buzz surrounding hybrid technology, Hasselberg says, “Those machines have more added non-digital features and morph into big presses now – they are not really suitable for short runs anymore. We see that when these two processes are separate, it really saves setup time and setup waste compared to hybrid machines. And as already mentioned, one Prati Digifast easily handles the work of two digital machines.”
Prati has been manufacturing finishing, converting, slitting and rewinding, and inspection equipment for over 40 years. Based in Italy, Prati used to work with an agent in North America, but in September 2018 the company launched Prati USA to start its own sales and service organization focusing on the US and Canadian markets.
Rotocontrol America offers the DT Digital Transport/ Finishing Production Platform in addition to a more customized version: the Rotocontrol Custom Finishing Line (RCF). The RCF is a solution for a label company interested in a hybrid digital press, inline finishing and digital transport, booklet label production and more.
“All of our digital finishing solutions provide advantages such as simple modular construction, individual module electronics allowing for easy add-on/ future machine growth endeavors, and well-designed cabinetry for easy maintenance and add-ons,” says Jason Schmitt. “Only well recognized electronics and processors/ boards are used. Using no short cuts with no-name hardware is highly important in today’s marketplace to reduce in-house maintenance.”
Module advantages the company offers include the ability to run semi rotary or full rotary diecutting in the same module. This reduces overall system length and cost structure.
Rotocontrol also offers a simple turret that can be integrated at the final production stage, allowing for easy processing/handling of ganged production runs and multiple jobs produced on one roll – a factor not uncommon in the world of digital.
Schmitt says, “Our patented auto slitting station provides ease of set-up and safe operational production for the operators. The standard manual slitting station is constructed shaftless, utilizing a cartridge for minimal time to changeover from job to job and for utmost operator safety. No physical blade contact is required. All Rotocontrol equipment is 100% servo driven, thus allowing for the best possible machine tension overall.”
Rotoflex recently launched the Rotoflex DF3, a configurable offline digital finishing and converting machine. Servo-driven from unwind to rewind with print and diecut units in between, the DF3 system delivers efficient operation and a full spectrum of offline decoration and finishing in the fast-growing digital and hybrid world. “The DF3 is ideal for a business that currently operates roll-to-roll digital label presses and is ready to optimize finishing processes,” explains Kevin Gourlay, senior VP for Rotoflex.
The DF3 complements digital, non-hybrid label presses without inline converting functionality and eliminates the need for single-application embellishment units. Manohar Dhugga, Rotoflex VP of operations, says, “The DF3 comes with a rail option that opens a lot of doors when you add it to your configuration. The rail enables lamination, foil decoration, rotary screen (both conventional or UV digital alternatives), advanced waste removal features and turnbars. We’ve gotten a lot of praise for the lamination capabilities the rail brings to the table. It’s something that conventional digital or other similar systems can’t do inline, and the DF3 supports it cost-effectively at top speeds for short-run work.”
The DF3 delivers capabilities of both full and semi-rotary diecutting, which accommodates a wide range of repeat sizes and existing investments in tooling. Die changeovers are also achieved in 30 seconds or less. In contrast to other devices in this space, Dhugga says the DF3 was built with speed in mind, converting and finishing at speeds up to 1,000 fpm.
Spartanics offers the CS-2000 Laser Modular Converting Machine, which can be configured to a customer’s exact needs. The company also offers its Laser-Lite Converting System, which runs a full 13.5" web width but occupies a small 6 x 6 foot floor space and is cost effective. The CS-2000 is the most popular with larger customers because it offers the greatest flexibility. The Laser Lite is new to the market and gaining traction because of its lower investment cost and small footprint.
Spartanics has over 60 years of experience in the label and printed parts finishing world. Says O’Hara, “Many of the traditional ‘diecutting’ methods translate into the digital world such as lamination, coating stations, parts extraction, material rewinds, etc. Newer Spartanics innovations include offering our Work Flow Software, which is a purpose built real-time software engine that integrates seamlessly with off-the-shelf ripping solutions and OEM software applications. Since we design the software that controls our laser cutting systems, we are able to design standard and/or custom machines with our vendor partners.”
Telstar is a supplier that specializes in retrofit technology solutions. According to president Tom Kirtz, Telstar responded to several customers coming to the company expressing a concern over the cost of going digital. Telstar then set about to develop an affordable retrofit option.
Kirtz says, “The cost of the digital printer plus another several hundred thousand dollars for finishing equipment makes for an extreme financial challenge – especially when there are no guaranteed digital printing purchase orders in hand.
“Many digital finishing jobs require nothing more than an overprint varnish or lamination along with diecutting and stripping the matrix,” Kirtz says. With this in mind, Telstar can provide a cost effective solution by converting a rotary die station of a “veteran” press to servo drive with re-register capability. He explains, “The veteran press becomes the digital finishing machine for a relatively inexpensive investment.We’ve performed this conversion on Mark Andy, Aquaflex and Webtron presses.”
Adding Telstar’s Servo Conversion System to the print or die station of a mechanically driven press provides re-register capability to the converted station. This allows for pre-printed webs to be decorated, diecut or sheeted on a “veteran” press.