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Foil Stamping/Embossing Efficiencies More Important than Ever

by Jeff Peterson

August-September, 2012
With the continued decrease in run sizes in an increasingly competitive marketplace, foil stampers and diecutters must utilize every avenue possible to keep production time to a minimum and get each job off press as soon as possible. One way to control on-press time is to have much of the project prepared offline before the job begins. This article will analyze some of the potential opportunities that can make huge differences in total job costs from one to the next.

Although it is not a specific offline operation, it is worth noting that communication on the foil stamping or diecutting job before it ever begins can be one of the most important ‘offline’ procedures to save time and money. Over 75 percent of on-press problems are attributed to a lack of communication between those involved in producing the job. Simple things such as making sure the printer trims gripper and side guides and marks it for the stamping/diecutting operator can save valuable time on press. And, of course, double checking that the foil is compatible with the coatings and inks is essential. If time allows, it is recommended to receive sheets early in the process and test the foil well before the job goes on press.

Offline options
One consideration to save valuable on-press time is an offline die registration system. This type of lock-up system can be extremely valuable for multiple lock-ups on a honeycomb chase. It is programmed to compensate for heat expansion of both the die and honeycomb and also will factor in board stretch. Utilizing a pdf of the foil stamping separation, the dies easily are set in place in precise position for the next foil stamping job. Very few or no adjustments are necessary once on press. This operation can be taking place as another job is running, potentially saving hours of set-up time on a sheet with 8 or 10 different die positions. There is a fairly significant investment in this type of system, and there must be an investment in a second chase for each press for which it is utilized. However, if the operation is running multiple-up die jobs on a regular basis, the investment can pay for itself in a short period of time.

Another offline time-saving opportunity for multiple-up jobs is utilizing a steel plate where each of the dies is locked into place prior to the running of the job and then the entire plate is locked onto the honeycomb chase. It is perfect for large- format jobs with multiple dies. A strong advantage of this type of system is that the steel plate easily can be stored easily with the dies still in place for future re-runs. It also helps decrease overall makeready time on press.

Embossing and combination set-up
When embossing or combinations (foil and embossing) is utilized on a job, there are specific pre-press procedures that can save considerable time. This includes properly preparing the counters prior to running the job. It is important to pre-apply double- sided tape to each counter before going on press, and it is recommended to use locator pins and pre-set them within each counter.

Another important recommendation when working with multiple-up dies and counters that are applied to a Mylar base (floating the counter) is to utilize Mylar strips versus single Mylar pieces for each die. Here, a simple adjustment can save valuable time. It also is recommended to begin the build-up of the makeready on an embossing or combination job under the makeready plate first with 2pt. or 4pt. press paper, and then build-up any specific low areas with makeready tape under the floating Mylar strips. If the die will not bottom out, a last resort may be to “cap” the counter, but this is not recommended because it will usually lose some of the detail in the embossed image.

New equipment considerations
Although investing in newer equipment has been a difficult venture in recent years, the potential repercussions of not having updated equipment may be more risky with changes in production runs in today’s marketplace. Having the ability to quickly change over from one job to the next is critical with shorter runs and demands for shorter turnaround times.

Newer foil stamping and diecutting equipment includes computerized, job-saving functions that allow the operator to save the settings and set-up when that job repeats. It also works well as a reference for new jobs where the type of stock and set-up is similar. New foil stamping presses include heating systems on the chase to allow the operator to adjust the temperature in different zones. In other words, the temperature can be lowered or increased in specific areas where the foil may not be covering or may be running too hot.

New presses also are usually equipped with more efficient foil advance systems (servo driven) that help with more accurate foil pulls and automatically measure foil step and repeat for the most efficient use of the foil. There even are presses now that include camera registration systems that can read the printed image rather than the sheet edge. This can be enormously helpful if there are any inconsistencies from sheet to sheet on tightly registered jobs.

From a time standpoint, newer platen-style foil stamping presses are going to run at speeds as high as 7,000 to 8,000 sheets per hour, where older equipment may be lucky to reach 3,000 sheets per hour. So, the question a foil stamping operation has to ask is how much can the operation save by decreasing makeready and set-up time by as much as 50 percent and more than doubling the running speed of many of the jobs? These savings may pay for the new equipment fairly quickly with an increase in the number of total jobs run.

Proper maintenance
Whether the equipment is newer or older, having a maintenance checklist that is followed on a regularly scheduled basis is an important factor in helping to keep the equipment running most efficiently. There can be a multitude of off­line procedures and pre-planning put in place to save time and money, but if the equipment is not properly maintained and cleaned, there will be a great deal of wasted effort. A regularly scheduled maintenance program must be followed where all of the components of the platen stack are properly cleaned. This includes the press head, die chase backer plate, cut plate, bolster plate and press bed. It also is extremely important that the press is properly leveled and checked regularly. This should be part of the full maintenance checklist that is followed on a pre-determined schedule.

In today’s competitive environment, implementing an eff­icient set-up and makeready system that will decrease the overall running time for a particular job is more critical than ever. Offline equipment and tooling options, specific makeready procedures and proper maintenance of the equipment all are vital to accomplish this and help foil stamping/diecutting operations provide quality output at competitive prices.