Rotary Die Cutting vs. Laser Die Cutting: What are the Pros and Cons?

January 15, 2019

Significant differences exist between rotary die cutting technology and the latest, more technologically advanced laser die cutting techniques. Just as an opening salvo of contrast revealing info, rotary machinery requires contact. Cut by powerful beams of amplified light, laser-equipped die cutting gear never once touches an inserted blank. Leading on from there, here's a closer look at the rotary die cutting vs. laser die cutting battle.

Laser Die Cutting Comes Of Age

There's no shop fabricated steel rules to procure, not when using a laser. The focused light goes on its merry way, creating intricate slits and geometrically dense kiss cuts. Already, the gap is opening up, because lasers aren't "on a rail." They're not locked into a preordained path. Also, referring back to our opening passage of text, rotary die cutters can't function without a material cutting web, one that's been mounted on a rotating cylinder. With lasers, the pattern is stored virtually inside a computer chip, where it can be erased or modified. Easy to modify and gifted with lower operating costs, it's hard to argue against this futuristic pattern-forming solution.

Hamstrung By Power Consumption Issues

Here's where rotary die cutting makes a comeback. Although the equipment relies on high-functioning web patterns and finely tuned mechanical assemblies, once the various parts are in place, no other technology can keep up with rotary cutting. Blanks flow through the equipment at a blur, and every kiss cut is repeatedly laid down with nth degree precision. Lasers expend energy. Until that energy threshold is reached, the light-powered cutter cannot do its job. The delay is small, of course, but multiplied by a thousand sheets of blank cutting media, that delay accumulates until it impacts a job's productivity margins. Furthermore, since heat is used to cut material, not mechanical force, nasty byproducts can escape into the air. Imagine what would happen if plastic was used instead of paper. Dangerously toxic gases could fly free as the laser cuts.

Who's the winner? There wasn't an outright KO, no knockout and crowd cheers here, for both die cutting solutions come with pros and cons attached. Lasers cut more detailed patterns, which suit a prototype creating phase well, but the technology isn't suitable as a full-scale production solution, at least not yet. For speed, for large batch cutting runs and commercial grade repeatability, rotary die cutting equipment is the clear winner. But then there are a handful of not-so-clear features to evaluate. Yes, laser cutters slow down when slicing patterns in thicker substrates, but that slowdown is offset by a very short setup period and the fact that light never blunts.

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