One of the biggest trends in die-cutting in recent years has been the increase in the quality of corrugated boxes that can be produced on rotary die-cutters. This makes buying decisions slightly less clear-cut for manufacturers of boxes, who would historically have opted for flatbed die-cutting for more intricate carton formats requiring a high degree of accuracy, and rotary die-cutting for higher speed, more standard ‘brown box’ jobs.
By using rotary die-cutting for some of the territory that was previously the preserve of flatbed machines, box producers stand to make significant efficiency gains – rotary die-cutters typically run at double the speed of flatbed die-cutters.
Rigid Containers for example, is one firm that is investing in rotary die-cutting to gain a competitive edge. In 2011, the company spent £3m on a Göpfert 16/24 Evolution six-colour flexo rotary die-cutter for its Selby facility, enabling the firm to break into the high quality graphics market.
“In the past we were a single- and two-colour brown box producer,” says Rigid managing director Richard Coward. “The addition of Göpfert kit has allowed us to enter the decorative print and shelf ready packaging markets, as it is capable of producing some of the best quality post-print graphics on 32 corrugated.” This is Rigid’s second Göpfert purchase – the first was a four-colour Evolution that was installed at the company’s Selby site four years ago.
“This meant we already had a good relationship with Göpfert and that it wasn’t a baptism of fire for our operators,” explains Coward. He was also impressed by the German build quality of the Göpfert, and by some of the features, such as the in-line driers, which allow the machine to run at very high speeds by drying the ink very quickly, and the fact it was servo-driven.
“Some machines are chain or gear driven so the registration tends to be out,” says Coward.
On the folder gluing side, most recently, Rigid has invested in a Latitude PP10/25 four-colour flexo folder gluer to enhance production of shelf-ready packaging at its Desborough factory. The machine has been up and running since May 2012.
“We’ve already got an identical machine at our Selby site. Both are fully automated in that they incorporate automatic pre-feeders to handle board going into the machine and automated handling for cases or board going out of the machine,” says Coward.
Among carton converters, however, flatbed die-cutters are still the only option, with the main dilemma being whether to stick with established names like Bobst or Heidelberg, or to try and bag a bargain from the Far East.
One folding carton producer that has taken a chance on a lower-cost die-cutter is Lancashire based Leyprint. The company bought a Korean built Sanwa machine because it was “cheaper than a Bobst” but admits there is definitely a trade off.
“The Sanwa is not as quick to make ready and it doesn’t run as fast, but it was what we could afford at the time,” says managing director Edward Mould.
Leyprint has bought Bobst kit in the past and Mould says that its next purchase, most likely in 12 to 18 months’ time, will definitely be another Bobst.
“We need machines that can we can rely on for makeready speeds, consistent quality and optimum running speeds,” says Mould.
Not all carton converters would entertain buying a machine from a lesser known Far Eastern manufacturer though. Jacky Sidebottom, director of Glossop Cartons, says: “There are many cheap die-cutting and gluing machines on the market emerging from the Far East. [Print exhibition] Drupa was full of them. Although the cost is very tempting, the build quality is basic and the reliability and back up service is in question.”
When Glossop Cartons buys new die cutting equipment, it too always goes for Bobst. “Bobst is the Rolls Royce of the die-cutting world; other machines are good and come close but for reliability and build quality it is the Bobst that wins – you get what you pay for,” says Sidebottom.
In particular, she says the quality of cutting and creasing on Bobst die-cutters shines through at high speed performance; they consistently output high quality packaging.
The company’s latest Bobst purchase was a Visioncut 106 LE last November for its Derbyshire plant. “We investigated what machines were on the market at the time and looked carefully at cost, performance and second-hand return value and the Bobst scored highly on all counts, along with the customer service and back-up that comes with the Bobst package,” explains Sidebottom.
The die-cutter is used for cutting cartons and cards for clients in a variety of sectors, from the cosmetics market to the car accessories and giftware markets. On the folder gluing side, Bobst or Jagenberg are Glossop Cartons’ preferred suppliers, with the most recent purchase being a Bobst Expertfold 110 with a HandyPack GT in 2010. Sidebottom says they chose this machine because ‘it was very good value for the cost’.
Generally speaking, converters tend to stick with one or two suppliers for die-cutting and folder gluing equipment, as it keeps training, servicing and spares sourcing simple. However, as Benson Group firm Benson Box’s recent decision to buy a Heidelberg Diana X115 gluer demonstrates, converters will break the mould and try a new supplier if they believe the potential benefits outweigh the risks and inconvenience.
Admittedly, Benson Box is already a user of Heidelberg Speedmaster press technology, and the company’s general manager, Mike Owens, says: “We work well together and we rate Heidelberg very highly in terms of service and responsiveness.”
Complex gluing work
Benson Box has a number of folder gluers but this one, which is destined for its Bardon plant to produce mainly food packaging, is the first it has bought from Heidelberg. The new machine should help it to cope with increasing demand for packs such as four-corner, six-corner and crash lock cartons. Benson Box says the retail industry and their designers are spear-heading this move to more complex packaging products, putting companies with the most modern equipment in pole position.
“We have seen an increase in the complexity of gluing work in the last six months,” says Owens. “This meant we had quite specific requirements and undertook extensive trials across the supplier base, analysing the results carefully. Our finishing department had a significant part to play in this selection process.
“We took a range of jobs to Heidelberg’s Hall 11 in Wiesloch, Germany, to check the Diana X115 could achieve the required speed at the right quality level. It could and we also liked the Autoset and memory features which will significantly reduce set up times.”
The Diana indirectly replaces an ageing Jagenberg and Benson Box expects to see a three-fold increase in output across the carton styles for which the machine was targeted. Whether it’s Heidelberg or Bobst or even kit makers from the Far East, box manufacturers are still investing in the very latest equipment to drive their businesses forward.