RotoMetrics and the history of rotary tooling

Keith Laakko, vice president, global marketing and business development at RotoMetrics, charts the history of rotary tooling.
RotoMetrics won the Award for Innovation at the 2018 Label Industry Global Awards. L-R: Butch Schomber and Keith Laakko of RotoMetrics, and Guillaume Clement of Flint Group

In 1957, if you would have asked most people in the American Midwest to identify an engineering marvel, they probably would have named the opening of the mighty Mackinac suspension bridge connecting the upper and lower peninsulas of the US state of Michigan. However, just west of the Mississippi river, in the state of Missouri, another lesser-known game-changing event also occurred in 1957. That was the year Richard R. Rosemann, the founder of Roto-Die, later to become RotoMetrics, began designing and manufacturing simple rotary dies in St Louis, Missouri, for the earliest flexographic press manufacturers. 

In the years that followed, those first innovative Roto-Die tools would also, in their own way, have a lasting impact on the daily life of people all over the world. Those early rotary solid dies would help to create a global industry where one had not existed before. Looking back during the years of innovation and growth in the finishing industry, RotoMetrics stands as a supplier who has not only helped to create it, but has always remained at the forefront by helping the industry grow, prosper and thrive.

Beginning with the simple solid dies to cut paper labels to offering hardened blades and chrome-plated dies in the 1960s, to adding fully hardened tool steel dies, print cylinders and other rotary tools to their product line in the 1970s, RotoMetrics and other die manufacturers were helping define rotary tooling during the industry’s early years. From the late 1970s through to the early 1980s, RotoMetrics was the first manufacturer of rotary tooling to automate its processes by adding CNC machining capabilities, which ultimately replaced the pantograph for die manufacturing. 

With the later addition of EDM manufacturing techniques and other technologies, RotoMetrics effectively ushered in a new era of automation, and set a new industry standard for delivery times. Solid dies that used to take two weeks to produce now could be done in less than a week. Today, solid die technology allows RotoMetrics to deliver a solid die on the next day.

Flexible dies
The 1990s brought the introduction of flexible die technology. Initially limited to paper materials, innovations and competition helped to drive new manufacturing processes, including the successful integration of chroming technologies to improve flexible die durability. This tipping point of technology accelerated the move from traditional solid dies in tag and label applications to more flexible die solutions. Continued innovations in manufacturing and coatings allowed converters to increasingly adopt flexible dies and meet demands for shorter production runs. 

The advent of digital presses further evolved the die manufacturing process and the need for faster delivery and customized shorter production runs. RotoMetrics and others developed digital solutions specifically geared to meet the 24/7 accelerated timing. RotoMetrics was also a prominent player in industry globalization in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s. With the opening of RotoMetrics International in the UK in 1989, the company became the first manufacturer of rotary tooling to open an international office. Locations in other countries followed, leading to the global presence RotoMetrics enjoys today, with offices and representatives in Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Spain and India. 

What does the future hold for rotary die makers? Continued innovation and leadership as companies embrace the challenges of today’s marketplace, like working with evolving filmic materials and increasingly thinner liners and facestocks. RotoMetrics and others are keeping an eye on the technology requirements of tomorrow, including RFID labels and laser die-cutting, as well as developing and embracing new manufacturing, order management, automation, digital and delivery technologies. 

RotoMetrics is confident it will remain a leader in the industry, and knows that Labels & Labeling will continue to identify and communicate these innovations in the years ahead. Congratulations on 40 years in the industry! Happy anniversary.