Die cutting is the manufacturing process of stamping or cutting two dimensional parts out of flat sheets of material. This process, often used in conjunction with laminating services, is a crucial finishing service for a wide spectrum of parts, including rubber and foam gaskets, circuit boards, ID cards, stickers and a wide range of other adhesive-backed products.
Die cutting machines, which manufacture die cutting products, come in a variety of configurations, each specialized for creating different types of die cut shapes. Rotary die cutting is a continuous process that pushes material sheets through rolling calendar dies, while steel rule dies cut single or multiple sheets in batches. Laser die cutting, although it requires no die tooling and produces much less waste material, can be time consuming and costly for long runs; ultrasonic die cutting is a relatively new technology that uses ultrasonic vibrations to cut and heat seal edges simultaneously. Die cut foam is used extensively in medical, hydraulic, electronic and consumer industries as die cut gaskets, vibration absorbers, bandages and adhesives, while plastic die cutting produces a wide range of display items such as die cut handle bags and stickers. Rubber die cutting can also be used to make gaskets. Die cutters can be used to create all kinds of shapes out of all kinds of materials.
Rotary, steel rule, crush and kiss cutting are performed on flat sheets of material by a cookie cutter-like cutting tool called a die. Steel rule die cutting, the simplest and most common type of die cutting, uses sharpened, thin "steel rule" blade dies, which are embedded in rubber and mounted on a solid wood block. The rubber surrounding the steel rule's cutting edge serves to eject punched out pieces, and the sheets of foam, plastic or rubber are rapidly crushed between the die and a rubber pad with several tons of force. In rotary die cutting, sheets of material are crush cut between the angled blades on a cylindrical die and an anvil. Typically, the material is cut in continuous roll form, though sheets of metal can be fed through the rotary die. Rotary steel rule drum is a combination of rotary and steel rule die cutting, which is used to cut large parts such as boxes or garments with a high degree of accuracy. In ultrasonic die cutting services, a metal horn vibrates in a manner similar to that of an audio speaker, although ultrasonic waves are below the level of human hearing; the resulting vibrations generate heat and pressure that will seal thermoplastic materials. Laser die cutting machines, which are operated by CNC, are driven by a 3-axis table. Laser die cut machines come in two types: flat cutters, which cut flat sheets of material, and rotary cutters, which cut material from a web.
Steel rule dies are made for a number of applications. Conventional dies can attain the highest accuracies and the most intricate of forms as well as fold lines, scores and perforated or partial cuts. These dies are typically used to cut corrugated boxes, folding cartons, gaskets, plastics, fabric, rubber, foam and composites. The blades are held in place by high density plywood; the thickness of the blade is usually between .028" and .056". Heavy duty steel rule dies, such as clicker dies and bolt dies, have thicker blades (.056"-.112") to cut through thicker, tougher materials such as plastics, Kevlar, fabric, rubber, leather and composites to make a range of gaskets, vibration absorbers and plastic parts. Both rotary and steel rule die cutting can perform either kiss cutting or crush cutting. Crush cutting creates a cut all the way through the material sheet, making a clean, complete hole; foam pads, adhesive bandages, gaskets and rubber parts are usually crush cut. Kiss cutting, which is used only on adhesive-backed materials, cuts through the top layer of the material without cutting through the backing. This is used to create sheets of stickers, foam adhesives, bumpers and many other products that can be peeled off a backing sheet.
Rotary dies are typically used in the corrugated box industry, but they are also commonly utilized for plastics, foam, rubber and textiles. In rotary die cutting, parts are consistently within a tolerance as tight as .02", slightly higher than typical steel rule die cutting, which must be carefully aligned by hand and is more error prone. Laser die cutting can cut intricate, precision tolerance shapes and is very useful for cutting materials that are impossible for conventional steel rule dies to cut, such as steel thicker than .5". Laser die cutting can also be used to cut ABS, acrylics, aluminum, brass, composites, copper and cured fiberglass. Because laser die cutting uses no dies, it requires none of the costly initial tooling that all other types of die cutting requires; this cuts down on cost, while the laser die cutting process cuts down on wasted material due to its high tolerance capabilities. These properties make laser die cutting ideal for prototyping and short runs, but laser die cutting cannot cut parts at the speed and volume rotary and steel rule die cutters can, and most typical long run projects are still performed more time and cost efficiently by traditional dies. Ultrasonic die cutting is ideal for cutting thermoplastic materials that tend to easily fray. However, this type of die cutting is limited in that only relatively thin materials can be cut, and parts have a small maximum width. Each die cutting method can be a great asset to all kinds of industrial and commercial operations.
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Die Cutting Terms
- Holes in die cutters that aid in
the prevention of deformations in die cut materials by allowing the release
of air from the die cavities.
- DuPont's trade name for aramid fibers that are strong, tough and stiff, have a high melting point and are used in composite construction. Kevlar is lighter, stiffer and more costly than glass fiber.
- A die cut that penetrates the upper layer(s) of the
die cut material instead of penetrating through the material.