Teamwork and technology turn a holiday “rush” into a holiday “hit”
Businesses everywhere continually seek new, innovative ways to separate themselves from the rest of market, often focusing on advertising, promotions, and packaging. In response, advertisers and designers are embracing laser technology as a converting process that blows the doors off the design parameters associated with traditional steel-rule die cutting methods, allowing them to create far more intricate images and patterns for their customers. While some advertisers and design firms can justify the purchase of a laser machine, most will look to outsourcing. Fortunately, one converter understands the incredible value that lasers can provide and offers die-free laser converting services at a surprisingly competitive price.
FIGURE 1. Ken Arvey (left), Preco Inc., and Joel Lombard (right), Laseredge Die-Free Converting, show a large format sheet that showcases the intricacies possible with die-free laser converting.
Joel Lombard, owner of Laseredge Die-Free Converting, is proud of his company’s ability to meet their customers’ needs. Thanks to laser system technology, Lombard will often say, “If you can design it, we can make it, no matter how intricate the part.” Pioneering this market has not been easy, but in response to a rush order for the holidays, Laseredge (Roseville, MN) teamed up with Preco Inc. (Somerset, WI; www.precolaser.com) to turn the job into a holiday hit for everyone.
Lombard’s efforts in die-free converting were recently put to the test. He was asked by a large-format display company to bid on a holiday-themed project and he immediately knew the fancy holiday prints were too intricate for traditional steel-rule die. “A die cut would severely soften the design, and I knew that a laser could keep the design intricacies.” When he suggested that the design could be cut with a laser on a large-format, 40 in. x 30 in. sheet, the display company was excited but apprehensive of the potential cost and time requirements. Laseredge then proceeded to quote the project. “It was obvious that our quote was a pleasant surprise, and they even mentioned it created new design possibilities. So it really became a quest for us to make it happen,” he explained.
A winning strategy
Laser technology enabled Laseredge to win the project, but that is only the beginning of the story. The end customer was a major retailer, demanding excellence from product to delivery. Explains Lombard, “When we started, we believed the project would be due in October, but upon winning the project, we learned that there was a firm mid-September delivery date. We had only a month and a half to cut over 20,000 pieces.”
Missing the time-critical delivery date was not an option. “It was either do the job or lose the job,” says Lombard. Laseredge absolutely needed outsourcing help. But although Laseredge had proved that it could laser process the part in two sections, the approach was not feasible for some shops he contacted for outsourcing. So Lombard approached what turned out to be a perfect partner, Preco Inc., a laser system manufacturer and laser job shop that quickly took the Laseredge CAD files and set up its FlexPro system to run the project. “They found that by manipulating the laser bed and tiling, they could do the same sheet size as we could,” explains Lombard.
Large format challenges
This project is significant because of the challenges posed by large format converting. First, processing thin-film materials using a laser requires accurate and reliable control of the amount of energy delivered by the laser as well as the location to which it is delivered. Second, galvos have been used for many years to steer laser beams with high speed (60 to 500 in/s) and precision (+/-2 to 8 mil), but have been limited to the small area over which they can effectively operate. Although galvo systems typically are specified to operate at up to a 20 in. x 20 in. field of view, the quality of the cuts at the edge of the field is markedly inferior to those at the center, even with optical compensation.
In answer to these challenges, Preco’s system solves the need for accurate and reliable control with patented advanced techniques that deliver the right amount of energy for every speed, coordinating beam-steering motion, speed, and laser power. With these techniques, the system consistently produces excellent edge quality along any shaped path. Further, galvanometer advances have enabled the laser to cut larger format parts. Preco combined a high-speed galvo system with a high-speed X-Y table to address the problems of the thin-film converting market. An additional advantage of this system is that different processes such as cutting, kiss-cutting, and perforating can be carried out in a single operation with on-the-fly adjustments to laser and galvo operating parameters.
Throughput and quality
To complete this project, the companies relied upon tile-to-tile precision to cut large format patterns. With tiling, the large work surface is divided into smaller areas (tiles). The galvo system then laser processes the tile before moving on to the next adjacent tile. Software control automatically optimizes the tiling function and ensures perfect tile-to-tile registration on the galvo/X-Y system. This method also has the advantage in that it can be combined with an optional vision system to process preprinted materials, eliminating the registration problems that sometimes occur because prints are not always in the same location on each sheet.
When setting up a part that is larger than the galvo field size, the operator needs the flexibility to specify where a part may be divided, if necessary. With the current system, the operator has the full control needed to specify size, dimension, and number of tiles used to process the part. The system also allows total adjustability of tiling overlap and performs the necessary slicing and dicing of the part file required for tiling automatically.
A holiday “hit”
To meet the Laseredge deadline, “Our machines ran 24/7,” states Ken Arvey, Preco’s vice president of contract manufacturing services. Lombard agrees, “On this project, their laser system out-performed ours, both in speed and reliability.” The contrast in performance was clear. During the entire job, the laser system ran at least 10 percent faster than the laser system used by Laseredge, and had virtually no down time for maintenance. “I was totally impressed,” states Lombard. “And with their help, all 20,000 parts were completed and delivered as promised.” As a result of the performance on this project Laseredge has since sold its existing machine back to the manufacturer and purchased a FlexPro system.
FIGURE 2. Lasers add a new level of design detail, virtually blowing the doors off traditional steel rule die cutting.
Meeting the aggressive deadline was the goal, but the lessons learned and the relationship established between the companies is perhaps the greatest success. “Through the whole experience, we have developed a great relationship,” says Lombard. “We can help them with product development and awareness in our industry and they can help us with state-of-the-art laser solutions and overrun assistance.” Chris Chow, executive vice president of Preco Inc., emphatically agrees, stating, “Their software and industry knowledge is a great benefit and we can better support them with the best laser technologies.” The winning combination of technology, teamwork, and timing made this holiday rush a holiday hit for Laseredge and Preco.
Jean Maher, a freelance writer (email@example.com), wrote this article for Preco, Somerset, WI, www.precoinc.com.