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Industrial Cutting Techniques for Plastics and Rubber Materials

There are several industrial cutting techniques that can be employed to produce a wide range of plastic and rubber pieces and components. Some of these methods are better for thicker materials, while others excel with thinner-gauge plastics. Some might be better for plastics, while others can be used on any material.

Which one is right for you? Which one will deliver the speed of production you need without sacrificing the quality?

Let’s explore some of your options.

A Closer Look at Laser Cutting

Lasers are great. A direct and focused laser beam can cut at amazingly high detail levels, which means very tight tolerances even on very small pieces. This cutting method is particularly useful on thin-gauge plastics or compressed fibers and adhesives.

These cuts produce very clean and smooth edges since the laser can actually get hot enough to literally vaporize the material it’s going through.

A laser cutting machine is can be programmed with highly detailed plans and still deliver a quick turnaround at various levels of production. This makes it great for prototyping since it can be used for small runs or test runs before creating dies for an extensive production schedule.

Lasers can be used for more than just cutting, too. As a part of the production process, lasers can be used for annealing, drilling, engraving, etching, scoring, perforating, and more.

On top of that, a laser can handle several processes at once – like cutting, marking, and engraving – without having to re-fixture the sheet of plastic.

Delving into Die Cutting

The die cutting process is very straightforward. Steel dies are created and used to stamp out parts, like a cookie cutter (though, of course, these machines are capable of much finer detail).

This fabrication process is very versatile and customizable, so it can be used to produce simple or complex pieces, and it is effective on a wide range of plastics and other materials, like rubber, foam, cork, and more.

Precision die cutting can actually include a number of different processes, including digital die cutting, flatbed die cutting, and rotary die cutting – each offering different advantages on different projects/materials.

Rotary die cutting, for example, uses a cylindrical die that rotates against a mandrel which makes it a great choice for thinner-gauge materials or for high-volume production runs.

This cutting method can be used for:

  • Through Cutting – Cutting through the entire material so the piece can be separated from the whole.
  • Scoring – This process doesn’t cut through the whole material. It just indents or partial cuts into the material to make it easier for folding and other processes.
  • Kiss Cutting – This cut is specifically for adhesive-lined materials because it goes through everything but the backing material layer.
  • Perforating – Creates a series of punch-through holes so the piece won’t be fully removed from the whole material.
  • Broaching – When the material is particularly thick, it may require this specialized form of die cutting.

What about Waterjet Cutting?

This technique uses extremely high-pressure water streams to precisely cut shapes out of a given material.

These cuts can be used even on thicker materials, and, like the laser, is controlled by a computer to deliver the exact same results with each piece.

This is also a convenient cutting method because the water pressure and abrasive flow rate and other parameters can usually stay the same for all the cutting jobs. It’s just the speed of the cut that will have to change depending on the materials being cut.

Waterjet cutting is a popular choice for prototyping, but it is certainly a valid option for longer production runs, as well (depending on the specific project demands).

It is possible to use water cutting on a range of materials, including metals, which makes it the most common choice when the material in question is sensitive to extreme heat (making laser cutting out of the question).

Other Methods

There are other cutting methods that have been used over the years, but they tend to have specific use cases.

This could include hot knife cutting, in which a wire or blade is electrically heated to melt its way through the plastic. It’s usually used to cut blocks of foam and polystyrene that are really thick.

The same goes for traditional sawing, which may be used for sectioning plastic bar stock so it can be further machined with a different process.

Which Cutting Method is the Right One?

There are a number of factors that must be considered before choosing the best cutting method for your project. Things we will need to think about include:

  • Material – What type of plastic or rubber material will be on the block? The material’s characteristics will play a huge role in the type of cutting methods that can be used.
  • Thickness – Certain cutting methods may be overkill on materials that are too thin. Then again, if we’re dealing with a high thickness, it will require very specific machines in order to continue producing quality cuts at a satisfactory rate.
  • Production Rate – Some methods simply aren’t suited to production at higher speeds, or it’s possible that the cuts will lose quality if the speed is pushed too high. When you need a certain level of production, make sure you’re working with a die cutting partner that can handle high speeds and high quality.
  • Special shapes – If you need something more than a basic shape, it may limit your options for cutting methods. Lasers and waterjets, for example, can be used for intricate cuts, but it will end up taking more time.

These cutting processes must be used effectively to ensure you get the quality pieces you need to develop your products and save money and time. Explore your options, don’t make any assumptions, and chose the right industrial cutting techniques for rubber and plastic that deliver the production rate and quality you need.