CO2 Laser: a new technology for the fabrication of corrugated fiberboard and cardboard
Corrugated fiberboard is the most widely used packaging material. A low cost, its great mechanical properties and an overall good strength make it perfect for manufacturing boxes, cartons and other packages different for design and dimensions.
Generally, corrugated fiberboard is fabricated by mechanical manufacturing processes: the profiling of the shape and the scoring of foldable parts are achieved by tools such as blades, die boards or routers. All those are contact processes, meaning that the tool has to physically touch the surface to achieve the desired transformation.
Mechanical machining processes are solid and reliable and have a long history but they also have some major drawbacks: a lack of flexibility toward changes, a limited range of admitted tolerances, a high risk of producing unwanted damage to the material and a generation of trimmings, dust and other waste products.
CO2 laser and corrugated fiberboard
Basically, an industry based on mechanical machining was typical of an era and for a market where manufacturers marketed their products and customers were obliged to pick from what the market had to offer.
With the advent of digital fabrication this paradigm has changed. Customers are now looking for a different approach, where the priority is given to tailor made products and respect for the environment. A new approach that requires new tools, more flexible and accurate. Tools that let manufacturers control their costs without sacrificing quality and shares of the market.
For this reason, the last years have seen the application of CO2 lasers to the fabrication of corrugated fiberboard and paper in general. CO2 lasers have proved to have all the qualities of mechanical tools without having the drawbacks.
Speed, precision and flexibility: why a CO2 laser is perfect for corrugated cardboard
The main advantages of CO2 laser fabrication processes over mechanical, derive from the fact that laser material processing is a non-contact process. A laser beam can easily engrave or etch, cut or drill a panel of corrugated fiberboard thanks to the sublimation that is provoked by the laser onto the surface of the material under processing.
This is a key feature of laser material processing. First of all it allows great processing speed: all things being equal, a laser cutting system is many times faster than a rotary cutting machine or a die-cutting machine. A laser can achieve the same operations at a speed of thousand of meters per minute. This without compromising the quality of the cut, which always remains excellent.
Another advantage of laser material processing is its flexibility. With traditional machining process, changing the cutting geometry means changing the tool. This means that a factory can hardly start a new production unless it is massive and allows a return on the investment.
Changing geometry is far more easier in laser material processing. It’s just a matter of minutes and only requires the time to load the drawing of the new geometry in the control software. This means that a CO2 laser powered cutting machine for corrugated fiberboard can produce 5000 or 100.000 pieces without losing money. CO2 lasers allow a better response to the requests of customers of which they can satisfy needs such as custom products, a small number of pieces, a rapid prototyping of new packaging products or the exploration of new types of materials.
A third advantage of lasers is that they don’t produce almost any waste. Dust and other waste products are part of the mechanical fabrication of paper and cardboard. Laser material processing is instead a very clean process: cuts and other processes are achieved without producing any scrapes, dust or other waste product, allowing for green production and better work environment.
The lack of those waste products means that the cuts obtained are of the best quality: a CO2 laser produces cuts with smooth and compact surfaces. Unlike mechanical fabrication, it does not affect the fibers of cardboard and paper: therefore the material structure remains untouched, resulting in a reduced possibilities of damaging the material.
Mechanical methods are subject to wear. The use of worn out tools reduce the quality of the fabrication: that’s why they have to be periodically replaced or repaired. Those operations slow down the production process resulting in an increase of production costs. On the opposite, a CO2 laser will always be a sharp cutting tool, thus always allowing the best quality of the processes.
Those features make laser a perfect tool for the converting corrugate fiberboard, cardboard and paper in general. The laser is a fast, flexible and green tool. It allows a manufacturer to satisfy all the requests of customers: a characteristic that is essential for a company operating in the economy dominated by the paradigm of the long tail.