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Quality, waste get action from suppliers of sheeters.

Whether it's eliminating dust in the process or preventing delicate substrates from being scratched, quality has become one of the top concerns in the sheeting process, according to a PAPER, FILM & FOIL CONVERTER survey of suppliers serving this segment of the converting industry.

The sheeting business today "is very quality oriented," Erin D. Erni, marketing manager for Maxson Automatic Machinery Co., Westerly, RI, said. Converters involved in sheeting are "looking for anything they can do to produce a better sheet," according to Erni.

Reimund Breetschneider, vice president of sales for sheeting at Will-Pemco Inc., Sheboygan, WI, is also seeing a focus on quality. "We have a feeling that when you have printing presses downstream, the cutting quality must be much better," he said. "Without a better cutting technology, you won't get cleaner sheets."

Tanya Wilson, marketing executive for Strachan Henshaw Machinery Inc., Chicago, IL, said waste and labor reduction is a continuing concern. "We've noticed a lot of customers want to reduce waste and labor," Wilson said. "A sheeter is designed to produce better accuracy so that means less waste." Wilson sees this concern as a reason customers are replacing guillotine and nonprecision sheeters with newer models.

Mark Abderholden, technical sales manager for Marquip Inc., Madison, WI, said most of the market is driven by cut-quality concerns and short-order requirements.

David Rosenthal, vice president of marketing for Rosenthal Manufacturing Co. Inc., Chicago, IL, said customers are always looking to make their operations more productive. The firm specializes in custom machinery. "Our customers want a machine tailored to their specific needs," he said. "We get very involved so we can match our equipment to their needs."

A trend is to add other processes to the sheeting unit. "For example, we could add slitting, rewinding, punching or in-line laminating to the unit," Rosenthal said. "Where there were two or three operations separately before, now the work can be done in one operation on the custom machine."

Cutting-section design has recently undergone a change with the switch to the dual-rotary knife cutting principle. Two rotating knives positioned above and below the web are synchronized to cut through both sides of the substrate, rather than the single knife cutting through the substrate.

"One of the major trends we're seeing in the last 12 to 18 months is a lot more activity in the dual-rotary knife sheeter area," Maxson's Erni said. "This type of sheeting offers better cut quality when sheeting heavier caliper materials and when sheeting multiple rolls of paper." Erni defined heavy caliper as being beyond 24-pt. board and said there's more activity for board than paper in this area.

"With the two knife cylinders coming together and making the cut, the cutting action itself offers better quality work. It's especially important for high-quality work in the pharmaceutical and cosmetics markets," Erni said. "Dual-rotary knife systems help keep the number of hickeys and contaminants on the web to a minimum so there are no problems when the sheeted material goes on press."

Erni has noticed the most activity in the folding-carton area. "This used to be the kind of work only a mill could do," she said. "Now it's becoming more common for converters." Cost and speed are two considerations. Previously, the investment for this type of work was well in excess of $1 million, but with machinery developments the investment today is down to the $700,000 range. Speeds in the 1,100 to 1,200 fpm range also make the work more economical."

Will-Pemco is seeing increased demand for the dual-rotary principle. "The double-rotary knife sheet fills the needs of the market today." Breetschneider said. "Cleanness of cut and accuracy of the stack are important when down-line processes, such as printing, are involved." He said the fact this type of unit is becoming more affordable is aiding its popularity.

Customers are also seeking machines that are simple and easy to operate by one person. "We're continually developing equipment to meet these needs," Breetschneider said. If customers are looking to replace an old machine, the new unit "must be precise and affordable."

Marquip's Abderholden said independent converters are moving to dual-rotary knife technology so they can provide the quality needed. Problems, such as dust or the fracture of a coating, are eliminated.

Cut-to-register sheeting for preprinted rolls of material is another trend surfacing in the marketplace. For example, a material is printed flexo roll to roll and then the sheeting is done off-line to register marks. "This type of work requires high accuracy," Maxson's Erni said.

Close-tolerance work was mentioned as a current trend by Chuck Cooley, sales engineer for Contech/Converting Technologies Inc., Goddard, KS, a finn heavily involved in industrial sheeters. "This type of work involves making optically registered cuts from a mark, and we've done more of that kind of work in the last year than ever before," Cooley said.

Marquip's Abderholden is seeing interest in the area of web cleaning. "Web cleaners are a big trend, today," Abder-holden said. "At least 50% or more of the machines we've sold have a web cleaner, which is further evidence the customer is trying to get rid of dust."

Marquip, which serves the folding-carton industry, has seen much interest in its line of protection products. "We offer an umbrella of protection devices that look at the web for a variety of defects, including voids, blemishes and slime holes, and dumps bad product before it gets to the press," he said. "Defects of this type could break a press blank, which would cause a great deal of downtime." Other systems detect mill-roll splices and a scallop-detection system for damaged rolls.

"By 2000, some of these protection systems will become commonplace and 100% of the product will be inspected all of the time," Abderholden said. "Board is a commodity item, and when its gets to be more competitive, the people that differentiate themselves will service."

In-line sheeting is also being considered more and more by Maxson's customers. "This type of work is more demanding because the two pieces of equipment have to be married," Erni said. "The press and sheeter must work in synchronization and considerations have to be made to allow for continuous operation." Such considerations include developing a dual stacker operation. "With this type of operational speeds up to 1,000 fpm, you can't stop the press to unload the sheeter every time the stacker becomes full," Erni said.

Will-Pemco's Breetschneider said the majority of the firm's sheeters are used in off-line sheeting applications with many being used to serve sheetfed presses.

"Off-line sheeting is still the most popular." Strachan Henshaw's Wilson said. "We've seen an increase this year in sales of our basic model, which is an off-line unit."

Maxson's Erni said that equipment today must be designed to do long-run as well as short run work. "There's more demand for short-run work, and in the customer's mind quick set up has to be possible. Dual-motor drive designs have been introduced to accomplish these considerations. These designs require less maintenance and allow key-pad entry by the operator for faster changeovers."

Contech's Cooley said there's a growing interest in the sheeting of specialty materials. "There's been a lot of interest in our business for sheeting delicate materials," he said. "This requires special engineering so these delicate materials don't get scratched during the sheeting process."

Bert Mastriani, president of BMAC/Bert Mastriani & Co., Fairfield, NJ, has seen interest for another type of substrate. BMAC has recently developed a low-cost sheerer for foam and bubble packaging. The unit's development was the direct result of a need being suggested by customers.

"There's trend for sheeting to be done at the distribution end of this business rather than at the substrate manufacturer's plant," Mastriani said. "The number of sheets in an order varies, so it makes sense to do it there. Our unit meets the needs of this market."

Strachan Henshaw's Wilson said modern precision sheeters are getting a boost in the plastics and films area because of the need for accuracy with this type of substrate. The firm is also seeing some new applications in prepreg sheeting for the computer chip-board market.

Rosenthal said unusual substrates are commonplace for the company. "People are always coming to us with new materials," he said. "That's because we have some very diverse customers in lots of different end uses." Some the unusual substrates outside the traditional paper, film and foil substrates he mentioned include copper foil, composites and Lexan film.

Several suppliers mentioned in-house sheeting as an up-and-coming trend. "Lots of printers are going into in-house sheeting to accommodate customers with quicker delivery.

Rosenthal said "more and more companies" are bringing sheeting in-house rather than depending on a supplier. "They're seeing that it's more economical and allows them more control over the job. Inventory is better and waste is cut. In-house sheeting also allows more flexibility in reacting to changes in job sizes."

Knife retrofits are a trend at Marquip. "For instance, taking a fixed-bed sheeter and replacing the knives with a dual-rotary system offers a low-cost solution to cut quality," Abderholden said. "People are doing it because they need the dual-rotary technology."

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