Video: Understanding steel rule die-cutting

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By Mike Sorrels | Mar 30, 2021
Clamshell press at GMN's fabrication cell

In the manufacturing landscape, die-cutting is an indispensable fabrication process used to convert a wide range of materials into specific shapes and sizes. Whether you wish to utilize a custom-shaped silicone foam into a gasket, require a panel filler for a medical device, or simply need to cut out labels and adhesives, die-cutting allows you to efficiently cut materials in large volumes with increased consistency and accuracy.

While there are several die-cutting methods such as laser cutting, water-jet cutting, and rotary cutting, our video below offers a glimpse into steel rule die-cutting, one of the most common cutting methods utilized at GMN.

Steel rule dies and clamshell die-cutting press 

Made of steel, the die is formed by bending, curving, cutting, and shaping a straight steel rule in the required pattern. Once the rule is mounted and secured on a laser-cut wooden board, the die is ready to use. The lead time to make a steel rule die ranges between one to three days, depending on the complexity of the design.

Steel rule die-cutting is typically performed on a clamshell press. Comprised of two platens – one stationary and one movable – the press in different tonnages can support varied sizes and materials. As seen in the video, the die is installed on the stationary platen and the material to be cut is placed on the movable platen.

The precise alignment of the material is ensured with one of the following ways:

  • 3-point registration system - This consists of two grips to hold the material in place and one guide mark to accurately align it with the die.
  • Pin-register system - Pre-punched registration marks on the substrate itself that can be aligned to the die position. 

The movable platen is pressed against the stationary one to complete the cutting process. Although most of the steel rule die-cutting is performed on a clamshell press, GMN also utilizes vertical, cylinder, horizontal, roll-to-roll, and hydraulic punch presses to cut a broad array of materials such as polycarbonate, paper, foam, Lexan, and aluminum. The hardness of the material directly influences the maximum material thickness that the presses can accommodate.

Advantages of steel rule die-cutting

With the versatility to accommodate varying shapes, sizes, materials, and designs, steel rule die-cutting is undoubtedly one of the most popular die-cut fabrication methods to meet your unique needs. Steel rule dies allow up to 10,000 hits approximately, and therefore, can be used for medium to high production volumes. In addition to achieving tolerances as low as 0.01”, steel rule die-cutting offers you the flexibility to accomplish kiss cuts, custom-shaped die-outs, clean cuts, scoring lines, and perforations.

Limitations with steel rule die-cutting

One of the limitations with steel rule die-cutting is that the steel rule has a minimum bending radius of 0.03” which means that any designs with square corners or the ones that require the steel rule to bend less than 0.03” are not suited for this technique. Nonetheless, it is a highly preferred solution due to its cost-effectiveness when compared with chemical etch dies and Class A tools. 

To see some of the clamshell presses at GMN in action, watch our video here.