By Melissa Donovan
Digital print devices advance to output onto a wider range of substrates, such as corrugated board. It is only logical that the automated finishing components found in a wide format shop can also handle the media. Being a heavier material, lighter weight knives and less than industrial hardware configurations are no match. Specific tools and table features should be considered when it comes to finishing corrugated board.
The market for traditional corrugated packaging and point of purchase (POP) fixtures is vast. A report from market research firm Freedonia states that the corrugated box market is a $32.3 billion business in the U.S. as of 2011. Also, studies from Point of Purchase Advertising International point to in-store sales increasing as much as 65 percent when POP materials are used.
Digital print only enhances these markets’ potential. Internal research from MultiCam Inc. finds that the total worldwide install base of large format flatbed UV printers was around 10,000 units at the end 2012. With 25 percent of the units in North America, that number equates to about 2,500 units in 2012. MultiCam’s research expects that number to increase around 750 units per year, putting the current install base in North America at approximately 3,625 units at mid-year 2014.
“There are a variety of customers for large format printers. Packaging and display manufacturers are users of corrugated material and makeup a significant portion of the market. We do not have exact statistics, but if each represented ten percent of the market, then there would be 725 companies or more with current potential for using automated finishing devices for cutting various types of corrugated material,” states Priscilla Sanchez, marketing communications specialist, MultiCam.
According to statistics from Canon Solutions America (CSA), demand for corrugated and paperboard boxes in the U.S. is forecast to increase to $36.5 billion in 2015. “Of this, a small portion is POP display, however this sub-segment is well suited to digital since the run lengths are typically smaller in comparison to the actual packaged product it is intended to promote,” explains Randy Paar, senior marketing specialist, CSA.
Many routers and cutters found in today’s digital print shops offer interchangeable tool sets, which allow for cutting into corrugated board cleanly and efficiently. When finishing applications printed to corrugated board, the type of cutter and creasing tool used are important to avoid cuts that result in ragged edges and an uneven finish. Which tool should be used and why is the question.
The consensus is that an electronic or pneumatic oscillating tool is necessary to work through the stronger material. “Corrugated material does not rout well and requires a programmable knife cutter to produce a high-quality edge finish,” shares Sanchez.
Werner Waden, president, Colex Industries, suggests a Coroplast and/or v-cut knife for proper finishing.
“A good selection of freely combinable tools—drag and oscillating, plus several different blades and creases—are indispensable for productively processing corrugated cardboard in a variety of thicknesses. For very thick corrugated, which is too thick to crease with a wheel, a v-cut option and high-powered oscillating tool are needed,” explains Dan Cantrell, national sales/channel manager, Zünd America, Inc.
Aside from specific cutters and creasers, other components of a finishing device may need to be manufactured differently to satisfy the requirements of cutting corrugated board.
Paar cites two areas of consideration. One is the table’s vacuum; it should be strong enough to hold down the substrate. The other, the ability to cut and crease from the backside, as a similar process is carried out in traditional package manufacturing.
The vacuum should offer variable pressure to handle the heavy weight of the sheets. “Fully adjustable vacuum zones and an efficient, self-adjusting vacuum generator are a must for delivering the required material hold down and consistent cut quality. For good quality cuts and creases, pressure should be adjustable depending on the direction of the cut/crease—with or against the corrugation,” recommends Cantrell.
The table itself must be durable. “Corrugated is difficult to cut. It creates dirt and dust, and the environment and table get dirty. With corrugate you need a lot of down power, with kissing cuts. It has to be fairly robust. The drive system can collect dirt,” shares Steve Bennett, VP sales – North America central, Esko.
The Argument for New
Legacy routers and cutters may not be equipped to handle the demands of corrugated board. While the straightforward option is to buy new device, the hard decision is whether the amount of incoming corrugated work will justify the means. If there is no clear cut answer, an alternative is to contact the vendor and inquire whether your current router or cutters can be retrofitted with tools that handle corrugated board.
If using a modular system design, explains Parr, it may be as easy as purchasing the additional tool. However, a new router/cutter might be required to handle the larger board sizes that are more common in the types of applications corrugated board is used for.
“More often than not, legacy products are limited and the cost can be considerable to upgrade. In addition, legacy products are generally slower in speed and won’t be able to satisfy the current demand,” cautions Mauricio Paolini, marketing coordinator, Digital Graphic Systems Inc.
Bennett also points out that not only can these older tables not keep up with demand, but they do not have the movement capabilities to work with corrugated board—even if new tools were added. “Oscillating cuts tend to be slow or rough. Also, these tables do not have the firmware to calculate overcuts. With 90 degree corrugated cuts, the blade moves beyond the cut line, turns, and returns to the die line to make a clean cut. Most legacy tables do not have the intelligence to do so.”
Older tables’ movement capabilities may be limited due to the mechanics of the device and the software used to control the workflow.
With the correct hardware in place—tools and table in mind—corrugated board can be cut efficiently and cleanly to create packages and POP display holders. Taking advantage of the growing potential in this space requires the knowledge of what makes corrugated board different from traditional sign board, specifically its weight and thickness.
The print providers profiled in the accompanying sidebars are just two examples of businesses profiting from corrugated board applications. Both of these companies complement their digital printing workflows with automated finishing devices. In doing so, they push the boundaries of what is possible in digital print.
Today’s routers and cutters are equipped with the correct oscillating knives, variable vacuum pressure, and levels of durability to withstand the toughest job.
Sep2014, Digital Output