Highcon announces new converting machines

Highcon has announced a number of new digital die cutting devices, including a new Beam 3 for the folding carton market, and a prototype for the corrugated market that for now has been codenamed the Vulcan.

Highcon has created a range of digital creasing and die cutting machines that are quite unique. The basic concept is that if you are going to produce very short run packaging, then you will probably need a system to add the necessary creases and die cuts to convert the cardboard sheets to boxes. Unlike conventional die cutting, Highcon has separated these into two stages though both are carried out one after the other within their various die cutting machines. 

For the creasing, Highcon creates a special foil, via its Digital Adhesive Rule Technology or DART, which involves dropping a polymer fluid onto the foil to match the design in a DXF or PDF file and then curing this to form hard raised lines. This foil is then placed on the substrate and a pressure roller is used to force the raised lines to create creases on the substate. After this, the substrate moves on to the cutting, which is carried out by an array of CO2 lasers that can vary the cutting pattern for each individual sheet. 

Up to now, Highcon has produced two main ranges. The Euclid series have been designed mainly for small to mid-sized users, while the Beam series are targeted at mid to large converters. In each of these series, there is one variant for folding carton and another for corrugated boards. Currently, Highcon has around 80 machines installed at 60 different customers: 30 at commercial printers; 27 for folding carton; and a further 23 for corrugated production.

Simon Lewis, vice president of strategy and marketing at Highcon, says: “We don’t replace analogue die cutting, we live side by side. We are truly print agnostic which is necessary in this changing world. And our operators don’t require years of experience.” He adds: “The brands become released from minimum orders and a high starting price. Jobs can be finished without waiting for new tooling. We can improve shelf appeal and deliver amazing unboxing experiences, including zippers that actually open.”

The most significant of the new machines that will be shown at Drupa is a new device called the Beam Writer, which can be used to create the DART foil offline. The Beam Writer can be used with any Beam systems that are already installed, including both folding carton and corrugated but not with the Euclid machines, which have a different foil mounting mechanism. Shifting this process to an offline device is an obvious way to improve the overall throughput of any of the Highcon machines. Moreover, Highcon has been able to improve the efficiency of the process with the Beam Writer laying down the crease lines for each job in parallel rather than series. Highcon says that this new device should reduce the set up time by around 25 percent and that on average this should translate into a saving of around 10 minutes on every job. 

The development of the Beam Writer also indicates a change in the way that Highcon’s customers are using these machines as they look to squeeze more jobs out of them. Lewis told me: “I think it’s fair to say that we didn’t have so many customers who were focused on the kind of “loading” and “utilization” in earlier years as we have today.”

The Beam 3 is Highcon’s latest cutting and creasing machine for the folding carton market.

There’s also a new machine for the folding carton market, the Beam 3, which will replace the existing Beam 2. On its own, the Beam 3 is said to be 25 percent more productive than the older model with Lewis noting: “Start up is shorter and more productive which is game changing for production managers.” He says that the faster set-up is driven by new hardware and algorithms and that the Beam 3 has also gained “new software for the optical system allowing it to operate faster so we’re harnessing the laser power more efficiently.”

When the Beam 3 is combined with the Beam Writer, users can expect to see up to 50 percent more productivity, on average. The exact gains in productivity will vary depending on the mix of jobs. For now, the Beam 3 comes with its own built-in DART unit but Highcon may later take it out of the Beam machines, depending on market feedback. Unfortunately Highcon won’t comment on the pricing for the Beam Writer so it’s hard to get a sense as to whether or not the added productivity will justify shelling out for the extra hardware. That said, as printers become faster and converters look to become more efficient on shorter runs, its inevitable that people will look to the Beam Writer to take out a potential bottleneck in the process. 

As with all the Beam machines, the Beam 3 takes B1 sheets up to 760 x 1060 mm but needs a 15mm margin for the grippers. It’s suitable for use with N, F, G and E flute types up to 2mm thick. It can cut through cartonboard and labels up to 900 micron thick, but can only crease these materials up to 650 microns. It can get through 5000 sheets per hour, depending on the layout and imposition.

Highcon says that improving the running speed and the registration accuracy has increased the range of applications, for example, including multi-up cartons that are suitable for industrialized high-speed filling lines such as in the pharmaceutical market.

Highcon also offers a Digital Die Cutting Workflow Package (DWP) including a true PDF workflow from Hybrid Systems, AI-based imposition using Esko Phoenix, and automated nicks and strip line creation. There’s also a Last Minute Editing Suite developed by Highcon so that operators can carry out minor edits without having to send those jobs back to the pre-press department.

The Beam 3 should be available from Drupa onwards. It’s also possible to field upgrade existing devices, with CEO Shlomo Nimrodi noting: “Protecting customer investment is crucial so everything is field upgradeable.”

To underline this, Highcon is already planning to upgrade a Beam 2 that’s currently installed at Eurographic, in Poland to the new Beam 3 spec. Bartosz Nowakowski, general manager of Eurographic Group, commented: “The surge in production per shift is poised to make a significant impact on our operations.”

Lewis says that the upgrade process is fairly straightforward and that there is no need to make any changes to the laser array, adding: “There are modifications (new parts) in the paper gripping system (side gripper) and the replacement of the DART drums (top and bottom) together with software updates.”

Simon Lewis, vice president of strategy and marketing at Highcon.

In addition to this, Highcon has also upgraded its existing Beam 2C for corrugated, which is now said to be 15 percent faster at cutting. The Beam Writer can also be used with the Beam 2C, which should lead to a further boost in productivity. The upgraded Beam 2C runs at 4000 B1 sph and takes corrugated boards from 1-4mm with F, E, B and C Flute including double wall EF and EE flute.

Lewis told me: “All Beam systems sold from last week on will be upgraded in the field until “original” Beam 3/2C upgraded come off the line towards the end of the year.  Beam Writer will be available for “volume” shipments in early 2025.”

The Vulcan

Highcon has also announced details of a new, much larger machine for the corrugated market, for now codenamed the Vulcan. Lewis says: “The Vulcan is a really big machine. It’s the first digital die cutting for the bread and butter 1.4 x 1.7m industry.” 

There will be no crease writing inside the Vulcan so users will need to use a separate device, in this case, the Vulcan Writer, which can handle the larger format. It has a maximum sheet size of 1.4 x 1.7m and supports boards up to 5mm, including microflute, B, C, and EB flutes. It will have a maximum throughput of 3000 full-size sheets per hour, which is around 7000 sqm/hr. It will have a job changeover time of 5-10 minutes. It is also planned to have full stripping built in. There’s an optional optical registration system and a choice of configurations, between a pallet base or a non-stop feeder with stacker and waste removal.

The Vulcan will not be shown at this year’s Drupa as Highcon was forced to slow its development, citing ‘the tough economic environment of 2023.’ Highcon won’t fully restart this development program until the end of 2024 though it is hoping to have the first alpha test unit working at a customer site in 2026, with a full commercial unveiling at the next Drupa in 2028.

The Vulcan digital cutting and creasing machine will take Highcon into the 1.4 x 1.7m corrugated board market.

The company has signed up five customers to a pre-development program, each of whom have paid six-figure sums (with Lewis quipping that this could be either dollars or euros). The program started in 2022 with four customers; Thimm, which is based in Europe and specialises in cardboard packaging; The BoxMaker, based in the USA and offering custom boxes; UDS in Poland, which offers design, printing and converting for cardboard displays and packaging; and Grupak, a Mexican company that works in paper and corrugated packaging.

These four were joined in 2023 by Schumacher, which is based in several countries across Europe and has signed a Memorandum of Understanding or MOU for 5-10 Vulcan units to be delivered by 2030. Its CEO, Bjoern Schumacher, explained:  “We are very pleased with our Highcon Beam 2C, but Vulcan is the system that can start the inevitable digitalization of corrugated finishing. Seeing is believing, and the demonstration of the prototype that I saw in Israel last June, convinced me that Vulcan will be game-changing for us.”

Highcon is now offering further customers the option to pay now to secure a certain number of early delivery slots for the Vulcan once it completes its beta testing.

The Vulcan is a very bold statement indeed and will see Highcon taking on more established analog die cutters. This is going to be a very interesting market to watch over the next couple of years, which is a strange place for me, as someone who writes mostly about printing, to find myself. Still, this is the sort of thing that makes Drupa such an attractive show to visit.

In the meantime you can find further details from highcon.net.


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