Hands On, Vol. 2: Service Die Cutting and Packaging Corp.

(Click above to play video)

This is the second installment of Hands On, a series of informal posts dedicated to honoring the people, machines, and processes involved in making and manufacturing.

This week we take a step by step hands on tour with our own packaging manufacturer, Service Die Cutting and Packaging Corp. Located in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, this 7 employee business has been in operation since 1963.

The building is a seemingly non-descript warehouse, and from the outside you would never guess what kind of amazing machinery operates behind the the old brick and faded facade.



The business was started in by Stanley Kuntz. During his era, there were no such thing as email or "incoming illustrator artwork files." In fact, the business got it's first computers in 2003, when son Jason Kuntz took over.   It has now been owned and operated by Jason for the past 10 years.



After a few weeks of getting quotes and samples from multiple possible providers, we ultimately decided to go with Service Die Cutting because we've found it to be absolutely invaluable to be in close proximity to as many of our suppliers and manufacturing as possible. It's allowed us to meet the company and the people involved, face to face and hands on, who help create a part of the vision for our product.


For a brand like ours - focused on design, these kind of relationships are essential. If you only knew how many times we sent artwork back and forth! By having a local producer we now understand more about how packaging works, the steps taken, and what kind of capacities and restraints we have to work with for future projects.



This is a cutting die

If you want a box cut into a shape, you start by getting a metal cutting die. Basically, there are sharp blades into a piece of wood. You use this piece of wood to stamp the paper from which you are cutting. It's basically a big cookie cutter. A cutting die is an upfront type of expense, but it's something you purchase now and will use again later in future runs.



Jason sent us an .illustrator file that had the die-lines laid out in the same shape as the cutting die. Then we finalized the design and sent our artwork files on over so they could be made into a printing plate. Just as the cutting die was, this is something purchased early on but kept for later printings.



Ace is the gentleman chatting in the video who is responsible for running our blank, flat boxes, through a printing press. He's been working for Service Die Cutting for 18 years.

Printing Press

This printing press is a beautiful piece of machinery that sits on the 2nd floor of the natural light flooded warehouse. The blank rectangles of cardboard are loaded into one end of the printing press called the feeder. When the machine is turned on the cardboard is picked up and goes through various rollers and chambers as it's taken closer to the printing plate. There is an inkwell which applies the ink to the rotating printing plate, which in turn transfers that ink onto a rotating rubber "blanket", which then finally rolls the final image onto the cardboard. The finished and printed cardboard finally ends up in the "delivery" end of the machine in nice uniform stacks.

Blue ink in the well, the white roller is where the printing plate goes, and the blue roller is the rubber blanket


The printed boxes need to now be cut and creased into shape. This is done with a quality Thompson Press dated to sometime around the 70's. It can churn out around 1200 boxes an hour. This is where we met Chris Mellet. Jovial and friendly, Chris has been working here for about 10 years - but he has nothing on his uncle Joe who has been there for 50 years!

The room of forgotten dies from previous jobs!

This is our die on the cutting press. The green is the creasing matrix.

Before you can start to operate the press, you need to align the cutting die with something called a creasing matrix. This is basically rubber lines with a dull edge that are fixed to the flat part of the press. There is also a set up for proper paper alignment. The plate forces the material between the cutting die and the creasing matrix, simultaneously cutting and creating creases.

Chris in front of the die cutting press. He has been here for 10 years.

A quick hand and eye is necessary to pick up uncut pieces of material, lay it down to be cut, then quickly remove it so the next can be laid down.



The final step is gluing and folding. In the corner of the warehouse lies a 40+ foot machine called a gluer/folder. This is where we met Fred and Mark. Together they've worked here for over 10 years and on this day they were in charge of making sure our boxes were glued up right.

Mark near the drying rack

Fred near the glue dispenser

The machine has a loading end and a drying end, with gluing and folding in-between. The boxes are slid along a center carrier - a long series of rotating wheels and belts. Glue is ejected from an applicator on the carrier and then immediately after the green rubber belts, which angle from flat to horizontal, force the paper to fold into the shape. The boxes are then rolled through to the drying end of the machine where they air dry on a drying rack.



The last part of this process was picking up the final goods. This run consists of about 2000 boxes. As exciting as it was getting the these finally in hand, it means moving onto the next daunting task of hand folding! In our case, we'll get some help from many of our generous friends and supporters. We are forever grateful for the help! Is this method sustainable in the long term? Definitely not, but we've begun our research and will cross that bridge when we arrive.

These are just a small portion of our first run.

To learn more about Service Die Cutting and Packaging Corp. be sure to visit them at www.servicediecutting.com and tell Jason we sent you!