Van den Bergh Docufinish
By Karen Charlesworth Thursday, 04 August 2005
That run lengths are getting shorter is a truth universally acknowledged in all sectors of the printing industry. Across labels, packaging, publishing and general commercial print, the kit is changing to reflect this. Smaller-format and digital presses are run alongside the big presses to mop up short runs, pre-press workflows check and output artwork with no need for time-consuming human intervention, and makereadies have been cut to a fraction by automation. To add to this, there's a growing movement away from web-fed machines towards sheetfed, allowing flexible, fast turnround times on shorter runs.
Web finishing specialist Van den Bergh (VDB) is the latest to follow this logic. The Belgian manufacturer has taken its popular web-fed 18S/die-cut line for producing one-piece labels and cards, and turned it into a sheetfed machine. Since its official launch at Drupa last year,
VDB has sold more than 10 Docufinish systems around the world: the latest is to IOS Systems in Exeter, whose managing director Phil Collins reflects market sentiment when he says: “We’re really excited by this machine. We’ve been wanting to get into integrated cards for a long time, but there hasn’t been a machine for our low run lengths.”
An integrated card or label is basically a letter or larger document containing a peel-off or press-out label or card. They’re produced by applying a laminate to the label or card area, then applying a carrier material to the reverse of the sheet, and then kiss-cutting or die-cutting the letter’s surface to allow the card to be peeled or pressed out.
The concept isn’t new: it’s been around for a decade or more, usually produced on narrow-web flexo or offset presses whose staple diet is labelling work. But narrow-web presses have some inherent shortcomings. First, it’s not usually worth webbing them up for less than 20,000 units, and second, the range of substrates that can be run through a web press is limited as to weight, and doesn’t therefore lend itself to a high-quality card on heavier stock.
Van den Bergh’s own 18S/die-cut line attempts to address the first shortcoming by being a standalone, offline machine; but being a web-fed machine, it can’t address the problem of substrate limitations. “Sheetfed is the only answer,” says Alistair Sawyer, managing director of VDB’s UK agent RM (Rotary) Services. “It allows all kinds of substrates to be run, and it’s economic to do runs of a few thousand, rather than tens of thousands. It’s also much better quality print than a narrow web.”
The Docufinish line begins with a shuttle feeder that takes sheets from the bottom of the stack (and therefore can be run continuously). The shuttle feeder has been purposely designed to tolerate uneven stacks, so that printers/converters can add multiple cards or processes to a sheet by doing multiple passes. After the shuttle feeder comes a double sheet detector, and after this the sheet is registered by a set of guide brushes acting with a front lay and a side lay. A swing gripper picks up the front edge of the sheet and passes it into another set of grippers in the patch application section. Simultaneously, the label or laminate material, running on a reel overhead, is passed through a score cutter that kiss-cuts the surface of the material to make the patch or label. A sensor detects the front edge of the kiss-cut patch, tallies this with the leading edge of the sheet, and the sheet is moved so that the composite patch is placed in position on the sheet to an accuracy of +/- 0.25mm. After the patch has been applied, the sheet is pulled via the grippers through to an overhead anvil, and a flexible magnetic rotary die cuts through the surface of the sheet into the laminate patch. The sheet is then delivered into a jogging table where the stack is collected.
Depending on the type of patch material supplied, the card or label is a peel-out or press-out item, and it can also be a self-adhesive label ready to stick down, or it can be a card without adhesive. The types of material that can be used as patches is wide, says Sawyer. Glue can be used to make self-adhesive labels, while foils and dual-layer flexible plastics can make cards. A standard use for the Docufinish is two-up production, where an A3 sheet is slit into two with a dual die-cut for a patch on each A4 sheet.
The Docufinish can also be modified to integrate RFID patches, ink-jet printing for personalisation (this is still under development), and holographic foils for security purposes. And being able to cut material up to 600 micron, it’s also enormously flexible for packaging purposes – VDB is currently exploring the options of using a Docufinish for integrating loyalty cards within product packaging. Another of the VDB’s current users is producing a telephone scratch-card – the front is laminated with a wallpaper holographic film, and the reverse has been ink-jetted to create a barcode and a pin number, while on top of this, a small scratch-off label has been applied. The possibilities are endless.
Setting up the Docufinish is straightforward, but involves adjusting a few different settings. The shuttle feeder’s side guides and the sidelay need adjusting to take the relevant width of sheet. The vacuum feeder uses one of three plates, each with a different degree of curvature, to accommodate lighter or heavier stocks; if the plate needs changing, it’s a matter of undoing two screws, replacing and tightening, which takes around five minutes. Also at the feed end, there’s an adjustable stop that must be set to the thickness of the sheet. Changing the laminate involves undoing a pair of cones at each end of the unwind axle, rethreading the laminate and adjusting the ultrasonic detector that regulates the laminate buffer loop, tweaking a pair of side guides for the laminate, and adjusting the laminate score cutter to make sure it’s kiss-cutting rather than cutting all the way through. The double sheet detector must be set by feeding a sheet through a knurled knob that narrows or widens the gap between sensor and sheet. The die-cutting cylinder can be adjusted for the gap between cylinder and anvil, via a left-right pressure setting. After that, it’s a case of dialling in settings on an LCD screen: the position of the patch application, the size of the patch, and the position of the flexible die relative to the patch as well as the speed, and the batch counter if necessary.
The magnetic die-cutting cylinder follows the standard principle of thin die technology (ie: no cylinder changes are necessary to accommodate different dies because cylinder repeat sizes are set on the LCD screen). The dies, which can of course be any shape from complicated stars and intricate curves to standard radius-edged credit card shapes, cost between £80 and £200 from the usual suspects including Kocher & Beck, based in Coalville, Leicestershire. The only slightly unusual feature of the die-cut cylinder on the Docufinish is that it has a 1mm undercut that allows heavier materials to be put through.
Short-run integrated cards and labels is, says Alistair Sawyer, a market waiting to explode. “There’s a million different applications. Clubs might use them as membership cards, or insurance companies for emergency numbers, or any kind of pass for an event like an exhibition or a concert. We expect this machine to be extremely popular with printers who want to offer their customers something a bit different, with big added-value.”
He expects users to come from three different arenas: those converters already producing integrated cards or labels on web-fed equipment, who want to produce higher-value or shorter-run products; and from digital printers and general commercial offset printers who want to offer an extra service.
Maximum mechanical speed 6,000 A3 sheets per hour
Maximum sheet size 450x320mm
Minimum sheet size 145x105mm
Maximum label size 300x310mm
Minimum label size 20x25mm
Maximum stock weight 600 micron
Minimum stock weight 70 micron
Laminate core size 70mm and 76mm
Laminate waste rewind diameter maximum 200mm
Price Docufinish running two-wide production with jogger from £88,000
Contact RM (Rotary) Services 023 9249 2360 / www.rmrotary.co.uk
Hunkeler POPP range
What Hunkeler can’t do with a reel of paper is nobody’s business – this is the ultimate in flexibility for inline or offline post-print paper processing. Note, though, that unlike the Docufinish, the POPP is a web-based system, and doesn’t work with sheets – which means it’s limited to lower stock weights (up to 180gsm) and longer run-lengths. But on the plus side, its set-up is entirely automated. A system might typically comprise an unwind, a rewind, any number of intermediate paper processing modules including gluing, siliconising, stacking and cross-cutting (for cutting the web into sheets). The POPP optional die-cutting module DM 520-W can register a die-cut, perforate and kiss-cut a web with applied patches.
Price Basic system comprising unwind, cutter, merge and stacker: from £70,000
Contact Friedheim International 01442 206100 www.friedheim.co.uk
Lasermax Roll Systems RS lines
American manufacturer Roll Systems merged with Stralfors Lasermax a year ago this month to sell one of the industry’s widest ranges of inline paper slitter/sheeting lines (they’re meant to go inline with Xeikon-engined digital presses). The range comprises the TwoUp, ThreeUp and MultiUp lines – there’s a clue in those names as to what differentiates them – which work at speeds up to 91m per minute. The TwoUp and ThreeUp can slit, merge, hole punch and strip cut, but there’s no facility for applying patches or die-cutting or kiss-cutting – that’s not what it’s aimed at. Again, the Lasermax RS lines are web-fed, and therefore limited as to stock thickness (60 to 158gsm) and they have a higher run-length that make it economic to run.
Price Unwind, cutter, merge module and stacker: from £75,000
Contact Böwe Systec 01344 462100 www.rollsystems.com
Tamarack Specialist 300
Another American manufacturer, Tamarack launched its Specialist 300 in 2000. It’s probably the closest rival that the VDB Docufinish has, although again it’s a web-fed machine, and runs at 91m per minute. It’s a dedicated short to medium-run integrated label/card converter, with a laminate reel that’s die-cut to size and applied to the reel as it passes through, die-cutting the patch to produce the label/card. Like the Docufinish, it uses magnetic thin die technology – also like the Docufinish, set-up is mainly manual, but there is a keypad for entering the patch size. Can be supplied with an electronic sheeter to output finished sheets.
Price not supplied
Contact Tamarack Products Inc 001 847 526 9333 www.tamarackproducts.com
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