Star product: Highcon Beam 2
Monday, March 1, 2021
Due to make a star appearance at Drupa 2020, the latest of Highcon’s laser-based B1 digital cutting and creasing machines features improved productivity and a more user-friendly interface.
What does it do?
Beam 2 is the latest and fastest version of Highcon’s series of ‘direct-to-pack’ digital cutting and creasing machines, first introduced with the Euclid model at Drupa in 2012. The nominal speed of 5,000 B1 sheets per hour is the same as the original 2016 Beam, but the new model has new features for productivity and user controls that improve setup times, also making it faster for some job types. There’s a version intended for corrugated work, Beam 2 C, with different materials handling and the ability to take boards up to 4mm thick, but a slower nominal speed of 4,000sph.
Highcon also offers the B2 format Euclid 5 and 5S (with speeds of 2,250 and 2750sph) and the corrugated 5 C for thicker substrates and speeds up to 2,250sph.
When was it introduced and what is the target market?
The Beam 2 was announced in January 2020 with a planned launch at the soon-to-be postponed Drupa in June last year. Highcon says it is aimed at established folding carton packaging converters as well as commercial printers looking to extend their services. The first UK user is Linney Group in Mansfield.
How does it work?
All Highcon models have combined multiple high-power CO2 lasers for cutting with a unique digitally controlled photopolymer extrusion system called Dart (Digital Adhesive Rule Technology) to create creasing rules.
The laser system is used in conjunction with scanners and high-powered optics to cut cartonboard or corrugated flutes, using digital designs contained in DXF and PDF files. Using several lasers allows them to trace complex designs across the full sheet width.
Creasing rule data from the input file is also extracted and sent to the DART canister, which extrudes UV-sensitive liquid polymer onto a carrying foil mounted on a cylinder. Depending on the rule length, the DART writing process takes on average four to nine minutes. After UV-curing of rules the cylinder is ready.
In production the sheets pass under the creasing cylinder first, nipped between it and a lower roller covered in a resilient blanket that acts as a counter. Unlike conventional die-cutters the counter is not cut out to the shape of the creasing rules.
On Euclid models the creasing dies can be removed and used for repeat jobs up to around 50,000 sheets. This facility will be available on the Beam 2 later this year.
After creasing the sheets are passed under the lasers. Highcon uses a transport belt that supports the sheets on a multitude of steel needles as they pass under the laser. Any laser light penetrating the sheets is harmlessly dissipated rather than damaging underlying structures or reflecting back up to the sheet. The lasers can also be used to perforate crease lines for proofing, when it’s not worth the cost and time of creating the DART rules.
Options including advanced registration and automatic waste stripping into a removable catch chamber. The corrugated model has options for an extractor and a nonstop feeder, stacker and waste removal.
Using lasers means that the cut lines can be driven by variable data (this is another option). However the creasing rule patterns are fixed for the length of the job. This does allow for some degree of personalisation with different window or other cutout shapes, or for jobs that are cut-only with no need for creasing. However the main benefit of the digital technology is that there is no need for metal dies, meaning that a new job can feasibly be produced same-day.
What’s new in Beam 2?
Although the original Beam had the same nominal 5,000 B1 sph speed, Highcon says that Beam 2 has hardware and software changes for improved overall productivity, increasing speeds for certain applications, plus faster setup times and user features. Some pre-press capabilities can be controlled on the touch screen, with no need to go back to the original pre-press. The slightly slower Beam 2 C corrugated model is available in two versions – a pallet feed standard configuration and a field upgradable nonstop feeding, stacking and waste removal configuration.
What’s the USP?
Although there are other laser cutters they cannot form true creases and have to use half cuts or perforations instead. Only Highcon models have the DART digital creasing rule system. Beam 2 is the largest and most productive Highcon model.
What training and service is offered?
Highcon offers post-installation operator training, but also helps business development with training of sales and marketing teams plus periodic reviews and consulting.
How many sold and what is the cost?
There are three Beam 2 machines for folding cartons installed worldwide including the one at Linney Group in the UK. There are also four Beam 2C machines for corrugated installed worldwide.
The price varies between €1.4m to €2.6m (about £1.24m to £2.3m) depending on the configuration.
Max sheet format 760x1,060mm (portrait)
Max cutting area 740x1,050mm
Cartonboard thickness range 220microns to 2mm
2 C boards Flutes N F G B C, double wall EE, Microflute range 1-4mm
Feeder pile height 1.1m (inc pallet)
Delivery pile height 1m (inc pallet)
Footprint 9x2m or 19x2m in non-stop configuration
Weight 8 tonnes
Price About £1.24m to £2.3m depending on configuration
Contact Highcon www.highcon.net +972 8 910 1705
The Highcon DART creasing rule system remains unique. Other laser-based digital carton converters have to use their lasers to form fold lines by either shallow cuts or perforations that weaken the material. Large format ‘XY’ cutting tables can form true creases but they are very much slower (and cheaper) than the Beam 2.
An alternative is to run physical guillotine-type creasing rules inline with the laser units – the US company LasX demonstrated this at Drupa 2016 with an L-shaped line that combined two Pettrato Eclipse creasers at right angles to each other, but this was for B2 format sheets, not the B1 of Beam 2.
At LabelExpo 2019 MGI showed a prototype narrow web digital cutting unit that used several rows of ‘CNC’ multiple knife heads to cut at high speed without the use of lasers. This was due to be announced at Drupa 2020 in a larger cartonboard version with creasing heads as well as knives, as an inline option for MGI’s 2,000 sph B1 format Alphajet digital printing and embellishment system (Printweek Star Product September 2019). However, nothing further has been heard of this since the postponement then cancellation of Drupa.
Given that there’s no precise equivalent to Beam 2 on the market, its nearest equivalent is probably a modern conventional metal die platen with high-speed makeready and inline stripping. Running speeds will be faster and makeready for standing dies is probably faster than waiting for DART. Metal dies can be re-used several times, but new dies cost more and require several days lead time to make them.
“Beam 2 is about three times more productive than a traditional system. Wanting to cut something to actually doing it could be 10 minutes now, whereas it used to be two days. It’s running continental shifts flat out. It’s a serious bit of kit” Charles Linney Executive director, Linney Group