Paperboard on fire

A surprising alliance between paper and fire has been realised in the new machine of Germany-based companies Karl Marbach and Carl Ingolf Lange. Instead of conventional punching and cutting tools, the mechanical innovation uses a laser beam to produce the blanks.

The idea was at the same time obvious and revolutionary. While the use of lasers is quite common in other fields, such as for example tool making, it still seemed to be inappropriate for cardboard manufacture, given the fact that this is a highly incendiary material.

Not so for Carl Ingold Lange, managing director of Lange GmbH and Peter Marbach, junior manager of the Karl Marbach group, who together have developed a technological revolution called Board Eater. The name graphically describes the technique, which uses a laser beam that by means of a tilted mirror is directed precisely to the cardboard to be shaped. The course of the extremely focused light is controlled by a PC equipped with dedicated software. “Our tilted mirror moves at ten times the acceleration of free fall - fourteen times faster than Schumacher’s Ferrari accelerating from zero to one hundred in four seconds,” Carl Ingolf Lange, the inventor of the Board Eater, explains.

The advantages of the new ‘cutting machine’ are evident. “Instead of eight days of preparation it only takes a few seconds to manufacture a new box,” Mr Lange summarises the benefits of his invention. While the conventional process for a steel rule die usually takes eight days, with the help of the Board Eater the production of the blanks is possible without the usual long prelude. No tools, no punching processes wearing out tool and material, no tedious resetting are necessary and maintenance breaks are minimal.

The preliminary work is realised by one person at a computer, thus causing only very limited costs. In addition, this technology permits production simultaneously world-wide by sending online CAD data to several networked machines. The number of pieces is controlled on demand and is made just in time so that excessive or inadequate numbers as well as high inventory costs are avoided.

Closing the digital gap

In the opinion of Mr Lange, the new technology perfectly fits in with modern electronic business processes, allowing a digital connection to printing processes and making packaging manufacture faster, more flexible and more effective, briefly: an e-business. In times when digital printing is gaining ever more popularity (see article on page 66) the new technology seems to be the missing link in completing digital workflow.

It seems somehow strange that Marbach has introduced a machine that makes conventional die-cutting tools ultimately superfluous, considering the fact that the company has been a specialised manufacturer of conventional die-cutting tools for 75 years. “While all other production steps have undergone dramatic changes, die-cutting technology has not experienced significant developments during the past 100 years. It was high time we went further and closed the gap in the digital workflow. With this technical innovation we finally have cut the Gordian knot,” explains Peter Marbach. “However, this technology will not endanger our core business since it only allows for the manufacture of small volumes and will find its implementation in digital production lines,” explains Mr. Marbach.

With a laser power of up to 1,500 watt, the machine is able to produce 30 boxes per minute the size of a cigarette pack. This technique is also applicable for corrugated board, thus also allowing the production of transport boxes. The range of materials qualifying for the machine reportedly covers cardboard up to 1,500 gram per square metre, corrugated board fine up to triple corrugated board, closed or open flute, and plexiglass. Format sizes include 500 x 600 mm to 1,500 x 3,100 mm. A factor which also contributes to the attractiveness of the new machine reportedly is the limited maintenance, requiring only the replacement of the laser tube after about 10,000 operating hours.

Feature against counterfeiting?

Although cutting paper with the help of fire is in itself revolutionary, it is not the ‘cutting’ procedure which makes this technology a special one. According to Mr Lange, it is rather the process that leaves slight grooves where the cardboard has to be folded that makes it unique. “No matter which folding pattern you would like to use, be it meander or fishbone, you only need to programme it and press the start button,” outlines Mr Lange. Since this process did not exist before, a new expression, creaser line technology, had to be created in order to describe it.

In the view of Mr Lange it is exactly this technology which could make the invention a valuable one in the fight against counterfeiters. “You cannot copy it with conventional machines. Forgers are not able to duplicate this technology unless they have this machine,” states Mr Lange. It is also the variability which could make this technology even more interesting as an anti-counterfeiting feature. According to Mr Lange, each pack could be manufactured with unique specifications. “It is only a question of imagination and programming,” elucidates Mr Lange. “You could also manufacture small deliberate variances that are not perceived as such by counterfeiters.”

Being able to manufacture these high-tech products is only one side of the coin. On the other side it still leaves one question unanswered: How can you verify out in the market that the product is a counterfeited one? “Since these packs are manufactured with the support of a computer programme, the manufacturer already has digitalised specifications for each pack at his disposal. He would only need to save this information on a web-site, available only for authorised personnel who could then be able to detect counterfeited boxes world-wide, ” argues Mr Lange.

Introduced in October 2001, the prototype of the Board Eater machine has already attracted a great number of visitors. Even helicopters, transporting high-profile representatives of the cardboard and paper industry, have been seen landing in the parking lot of the company. However, despite the great interest, potential customers so far have remained very reserved. Maybe this is symptomatic for technological revolutions. Nobody wants to be the first to order. Nevertheless, Mr Lange is confident that his invention will win its own segment. Not least because of its operator convenience. “It does not need a specialist to operate it. Anybody able to drive a car can do it.”

Emily Link

Carl Ingolf Lange GmbH – Philipp-Reis-Straße 6 – D-71642 Ludwigsburg - Germany
Tel. 07144 / 8577 - 0 – Fax 07144 / 8577 - 29 – info(at)