From its rather modest origins in Stuttgart, Germany, Kocher + Beck GmbH + Co. Rotationsstanztechnik KG has evolved to become an international company with production sites in Germany, the UK, the US and Russia. Today the company, with headquarters in Pliezhausen, Germany, manufactures a variety of products, including cutting tools and dies, magnetic cylinders, silk screen printing plates, automatic winding systems and special customised solutions.
Kocher + Beck was founded by Erich Kocher and Rolf Beck as a company constituted under civil law (GbR) in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1965. In its first year, the company was housed in a simple shop facility, where the two founders engraved trophies and stamps, and produced the first cutting cylinders. This new area of business – the production and finishing of cutting cylinders for label printing presses – required a larger facility, so that in 1967 Kocher + Beck moved to Echterdingen near Stuttgart Airport. There, seven years later the company became a general commercial partnership (OHG). Finally, in 1982 the company imported the first rotary flexible dies, which were developed in America, and modified them for German quality requirements. These improvements included grinding the cut flanks by hand because US dies for cutting label strips were only etched. Furthermore, the company began the production of the first magnetic cylinders in various versions.
Another seven years later, due to rising demand the company was once more compelled to seek new premises, as the existing capacity could no longer cope with the high level of incoming orders. Pliezhausen near Stuttgart was chosen for the new headquarters, and this is where the company continues to manage its global business to this day. With its relocation to the 4200 m2 building, the commercial partnership became today’s Kocher + Beck GmbH + Co. Rotationsstanztechnik KG, and established the production of flexible dies and cutting cylinders as its core business.
In 1991, the die and tool manufacturer switched from manually grinding flexible dies to automated production using CNC mills. To do so, the company built production systems in line with its own vision, in order to satisfy its own high quality standards and those of its customers. Furthermore, it developed the edge polishing technique for polishing cut flanks, and opened the first sales office outside of Germany in the British town of Coalville near Leicester. Just three years later, a production facility for flexible dies was founded, also using the same company-made, tried and tested machines from Pliezhausen. However, this international focus led to controversy between the two owners, with the result that Erich Kocher left the company. Thus Rolf Beck became the sole managing partner of Kocher + Beck. Over the next few years, under his management the company introduced further products, including envelope production tools using magnetic cylinder technology, and laser-hardened flexible dies.
In 1996, Rolf Beck’s sons Lars (current Managing Director) and Peer (left in April 2012) were appointed as company managers. At that time, flexible dies already accounted for 60% of overall turnover, while the company’s export rate had reached 48%. And demand continued to rise, so that a year later the production area was expanded by 3000 m2. This included 2200 m2 of production floor space and 800 m2 for management and design. A further 200 m2 was acquired through the purchase of a neighbouring building, which is used for the CAD department and as additional storage areas. Moreover, the innovative GapMaster system and magnetic letterpress printing cylinders were developed at this time, considerably boosting the company’s turnover. Further expansion took place in 2001 with the purchase of another building, bringing Kocher + Beck another 400 m2 for production and 1276 m2 of office space.
The company’s internationalisation also continued apace with the opening of a sales office in Kansas City in the US in 1999, and the establishment of a production plant in Shawnee in the State of Kansas in 2001. Then, in 2006 a production facility with 27 employees was founded in Moscow for the manufacture of flexible dies and hot foil stamping cylinders. Kocher+Beck shares a building complex with Avery Dennison and CCL Label. The cutting tool and die manufacturer gained further production capacity in 2007, with the takeover of an American competitor ADT with 57 employees in Suwanee, Georgia.
In 2009 the Historische Feinmechanik Beck was founded, where technical components and assemblies are produced for cars from the pre-war period.
Today, Kocher + Beck has a workforce of approx. 520 employees, and earns an annual revenue of around 60 million Euros. It produces flexible dies, magnetic cylinders, letterpress and flexographic printing cylinders, envelope production tools, cutting cylinders, cutting units, stamping cylinders, pressure measurement systems, gearwheels, cross cutters, splicers and customized solutions. All subsidiaries are mirror-image production facilities, with identical machine systems. Every day the company produces over 1500 flexible dies, all of which feature the same quality and are made from the same German steel. It boasts customers from 70 countries, and an export rate of 80% (the export rate of the Pliezhausen headquarters is approx. 65%). For this reason, since the end of 2011 Kocher + Beck has been one of few German companies to be certified as an AEO (Authorized Economic Operator). Consequently, the cutting tool and die manufacturer enjoys numerous privileges under European Union customs law. At the same time, however, this is proof of the company’s reliability and solvency, its adherence to legal stipulations and its satisfaction of certain safety standards.
The right equipment for every application
Kocher + Beck has also grown due to high demand for flexible dies for label printing, which still constitutes the manufacturer’s core business. Nowadays, as well as high-quality standard flexible dies, numerous different versions are available for different applications. These include the Laser Long Life (3L) series. Here, a special laser technique achieves a hardness of 65-68 HRC. As a result, the dies have only a minimal tendency to wear, and so achieve a long service life.
The Chrome 24 and Nanotec flexible dies are also suited to applications that demand a lasting performance. The Chrome 24 features a layer of chromium 0.01 mm thick with a hardness of 70 HRC, and is therefore suitable for abrasive substrates such as paper-based adhesive materials. On the other hand, Nanotec flexible dies are coated with a very thin but hard micro-coating (more than 80 HRC). In addition to an exceptional service life, this results in reduced glue and ink adhesion on cut profiles. Areas of application are the cutting of abrasive plastics and paper materials.
For applications requiring dies with anti-adhesion properties, Kocher + Beck offers its customers Gluex flexible dies, which are available in the versions Plus and Ultra. Both dies have a special coating, which prevents glue and ink from depositing themselves on the cut edges.
In addition to the extensive range of flexible dies, high-quality magnetic cylinders are also available. These boast gap dimension tolerances of 3 µm maximum, and a magnetic force of 9.1 N/cm2. If even greater force is required, these values can be increased fivefold through the use of special magnets. The manufacturer also maintains, repairs and modifies magnetic cylinders.
Since 1997, the GapMaster system has been one of the most innovative products in Kocher + Beck’s portfolio. Based on a variable-format impression cylinder, it enables the gap dimension in relation to the magnetic or cutting cylinder to be adjusting during ongoing production. The smallest increment is 0.0008 mm with a standard setting of 0.1 mm. This ensures that different substrates with every type and thickness of base material can be reliably processed. In addition, the correctly set gap dimension reduces wear to the dies and components. These systems are employed in a great range of cutting units, as well as in systems that Kocher + Beck has developed in-house for various printing press manufacturers. These include the quick-change cutting station for cutting and magnetic cylinders, for example, which is available as an option for Nilpeter FA and MO label printing presses.
The sturdy TecScreen silk screen printing plates, which are produced exclusively at the Pliezhausen headquarters, also enjoy high demand. In several steps, the stainless steel meshes are nickel-plated, wound and then coated with photopolymer in UV-protected clean room conditions. Finally, a transparent base film is laminated on to protect the mesh from mechanical damage during subsequent work operations. Processing can take place in conventional copying systems using film, or in digital UV exposure devices. Furthermore, Kocher + Beck supply the complete range of peripheral devices and accessories, such as the film punching machine, universal assembly tower, welding bar, squeegee, rinsing unit, silk screen end rings, etc., so that customers can themselves produce their print matrices in a cost-effective manner.
The automatic UR Precision splicers have also asserted themselves on the market since their launch in 2010, and enjoy high sales figures, so that existing production capacity is now working virtually flat out. For this reason, as mentioned above, there are plans to build a new production floor 1200 m2 in size.
The UR Precision systems are servo-operated splicers and re-winders, and enable webs of multi-layered or mono-materials to be fed or wound without interruption. The splicer features an integrated roll lift for loading the material. Additionally, a servo-driven buffer system and isolating cutting roller separate the downstream process to ensure problem-free splicing with an automatic butt splicer.
The winding system automatically cuts the completed roll and transfers the web onto a prepared core. The roll is then pushed out pneumatically and deposited on a special, mobile lift truck. An integrated tension controller ensures optimum winding. A web edge control system is also available as an option. In the last three years, over 40 of these systems were successfully brought into operation in Europe and the US.