In keeping up with advances in carton die-forme manufacturing, as well as the latest in CAD software, I recently visited Hygrade, Australia’s leader in this specialised service to the carton and box industriesWhile some of the basics of forme making haven’t changed much over the years, the cutting of plywood, the bending and hammering in of steel rules as well as the laborious task of rubbering, the tools certainly have.
These days laser cutting of flat ply boards as well as rotary shells is executed with swift precision. Cutting speeds vary depending on what is being cut, ply thickness and so on. In comparing laser cutting of the early 1980’s to those machines of today, the speed has increased by around 500 per cent and the accuracy of these fast new machines is as good now as ever, generally about +/- 0.1mm.
Auto machine bending, cutting and bridging of steel rules bring accuracy and consistency to cutting formes along with a level of quality never seen before. This constantly improving development is invaluable where large numbers of cartons are cut from each sheet, especially if later run through automated packaging systems.
Similarly pre-cut pertinex counter plates as well as embossing dies are all made with striking accuracy thanks to advances in mitring tools. Even the humble process of rubbering formes has now become hi-tech with lengths of rubber cut by water-jet machines at alarming speed.
The skilled pre-nicking of steel cutting rules by Hygrade makes these press-ready when delivered to the client. Locating pins ensure registration of forme, counter and stripping units, each set made exactly to suit the client’s die cutting machines.
Hygrade recently purchased a new state of the art machine that fires steel pins into stripping boards. They also manufacture blank separators eliminating labour costs and potential health and safety issues.
Not so long ago, one piece cutting and creasing plates were used by only a handful of converters, but Hygrade’s ability to manufacture these, providing reverse creasing, scoring as well as embossing and debossing, has given the carton industry all the tools they need to compete like never before.
All in all, much of the business at Hygrade is geared to improve efficiencies and save time in streamlining all the pre-press requirements for fast and accurate forme cutting & creasing. In passing on these efficiencies the costs are kept down for converters, thereby ensuring the manufacturing of Australian cardboard packaging operates in a competitive and healthy environment.
It should also be said that Hygrade’s manufacturing capabilities extend far beyond the services they provide to the carton and box industries. Its experience in tool making for pressure sensitive labels and gaskets for instance, has opened many doors for them and assisted in the rapid expansion of the company, now the largest of its kind in Australasia.
The recent purchase of a CNC router compliments their water-jet profiling unit capable of cutting through a huge range of materials up to 100mm thick. Aluminium, bronze, copper, fibreglass as well as a wide range of plastics can all be machine cut with speed and accuracy.
Of course all these bottom end operations only come about through the expert use of sophisticated design software. In Hygrade’s case, not only because they are agents, but like so many others in the packaging industry, the use of ArtiosCAD is the preferred choice when it comes to structural design tools.
Owned by EskoArtwork and developed off the back of Laserpoint CAD, which originally evolved from Interact CAD in the early 1980’s, this software is constantly evolving.
Now up to the recently released 7.35 version, ArtiosCAD has consistently continued to find new improvements at the structural design end of the software. While the main tools have been in play for some time, minor updates and additions are always useful. The essentials in creating ArtiosCAD designs are now well known and practised with speed and efficiency by structural designers all around the world.
In a demonstration of the latest in ArtiosCAD I was impressed by some of the non-design applications which, I believe, will move this software on to new successes and possibly attract many new users.
Prototyping of cardboard packaging isn’t exactly new, I’ve been cutting and pasting printed sheets to cardboard for mock-ups far longer than I care to remember. While the demand for this is always growing the speed to which some mock-ups are required is sometimes impractical or unrealistic. Occasionally mock-ups are used only for checking artwork, not always easy to do when laid out in flat form. But this is all about to change with the advent of ‘on-screen’ 3D graphics taking a new turn in packaging presentation.
The 3D features in ArtiosCAD have been developed to become much more user-friendly. Users can now import a variety of 3D formats including Solidowrk, IGES, CATIA, VRML or Step just to name a few.
If one were to import or create an ArtiosCAD design file of something like a glass bottle, then by using the 3D Designer tools, one can place a graphics label onto the bottle shape very easily. The graphics can then be simply contoured to the shape of the bottle giving them an almost photographic appearance in quality and detail.
From this, multiple bottles can be copied and positioned as if being packed into an outer box even if using dividers or neck constraints. Then an outer box can be chosen from a standards library which is automatically sized from the 3D bottles. By simply selecting the corrugated board to be used, thereby calculating the correct board tolerances, the box is constructed in seconds.
Having created the product and the packing outer, the next stage is to import the box graphics and place these in registration over the ArtiosCAD box keyline. Using 3D, the box along with graphics, can then be folded into a full 3D shape. Closure flaps and varnish free areas can be checked easily as well as the detail of the graphics for position etc. Having done all this, the box can then be easily repositioned for viewing at any angle and from any direction. Each view of the box is kept as a frame (much like that on a camera) and then played back much like a small movie showing every detail of the box through construction and graphics.
For those familiar with ArtiosCAD 3D software, there is little new about what I have just described as most of the features have been available for some time now. Yet surprisingly, 3D has been slow to penetrate the market for a number of reasons.
CAD designers are notoriously busy producing samples and mock-ups for many enquiries as well as preparing every job for tooling. As a consequence, the application of 3D presentations has been viewed as an additional service.
What’s changed more recently is the desire by clients to view various options of graphics on their packaging and request a number of colour mock-ups which take time and money.
So no longer one sample, one mock-up then action, the preferred protocol now is to view various options quickly and cost effectively prior to making a decision. In perhaps predicting this change, EskoArtwork have successfully concentrated much of the software development towards compatibility.
As most in our industry would be aware, PDF is out there and very active, now used by almost everybody in the graphic design and print industries this easy to use software is available to all and sundry. So it should come as no surprise that EskoArtwork have developed the ArtiosCAD 3D to incorporate PDF output. Using the current version of Acrobat Reader, one can manipulate the image and view the carton graphics from every angle, revolving and moving them around the screen right in front of them.
The simplicity of this feature is a window of opportunity for those that are prepared to take it on. I believe this convenient application will change the way we sometimes view graphics on cartons. While I have no doubt there will always be a need for ‘touch & feel’ quality colour mock-ups, the use of 3D will now, I think, finally take off and become another must-have to carton designers everywhere.
Once carton designers can see the value in presenting different design options without even making a sample, and with positive feedback, the 3D feature will no longer be regarded as ‘an extra’ but as a real time-saving tool.