The laser diecutter for narrow web converting made its debut about 20 years ago at Labelexpo Americas. Presented by the US press maker Comco, it was a squat, free-standing curiosity that drew the attention of converters who pondered its potential impact on what they do for a living.
It took a while, but cutting label shapes using laser beams emerged in later years as a young and growing player with a future in the narrow web industry. How strong a future remained to be seen. The interest is there, certainly, but growth has been gradual. Label converters as a group tend to be cautious in their adoption of new technologies, especially when an age-old practice--in this case solid and flexible metal tooling--does the job well already.
"There is always fear when it comes to totally changing the printing method, and it takes time for converters to understand the benefits of something new, including return on investment," says Floriana Montella, business development manager for AB Graphic, based in the UK. "Another reason for delay is the price of digital equipment, in some cases undeniably higher than some conventional configurations." In some countries, she notes, the cost of a label is still so low that it doesn't justify the purchase of high-tech equipment.
"But there has always been a worldwide interest in laser technology," she adds, "and during the last 15 years some countries have invested more into digital than others. The USA, Japan, Germany, Brazil and Canada are more open to change than others. And there are those who have already adopted laser cutting because the number of labels they produce is so high that it justifies the investment."
Tom O'Hara is president of Spartanics, an Illinois-based company that has focused on laser diecutting since its early days. The narrow web market, he says, has largely gotten past the acceptance stage. "My experience in talking with customers is that the technology has been out in the marketplace long enough, performing long enough, that we don't have to prove the viability of lasers. That was a challenge at the beginning. The driver today is the move to digital. We have a few laser diecutters in conventional flexo converting companies, but the vast majority are with digital operations. What is increasing the market share in double digits for the last few years is the improvement of digital in speed and reliability."
"We've seen continued interest and growth among our label customers," reports Dave Grenwis, marketing manager at Delta ModTech, a Minnesota-based converting equipment manufacturer. "Some are just getting into laser cutting and others have several laser systems installed. Integration of on-the-fly cut changes, with the use of a bar code reader, is becoming very popular since it allows for longer runs with less changeover. We have also linked machines...