Reflective gear for firefighters and other workers can be tricky to manufacture. That’s because reflective materials contain small fiberglass beads. Not only is fiberglass very abrasive, wearing blades down quickly, it is dispersed throughout reflective material unevenly, which causes die blades to wear unevenly—or even break during the converting process.

So what can you do to address this issue? What have successful manufacturers done to set the standard in high-performance reflective gear and apparel? 

Their secret is in the solid rotary dies used to manufacture reflective trim and safety fabrics—more specifically, the materials used to create the dies.

Tool steel refers to carbon and/or alloy steel that is particularly well-suited for creating dies and knives because of its distinctive hardness, resistance to abrasion and deformation, and ability to hold a cutting edge at elevated temperatures. IMPACT has its own proprietary premium tool steel composition used specifically for abrasive materials or high run products .

But wait, you say. Premium tool steel makes the cost of a die exorbitant! 

What if you learned that a premium steel die—even at a higher upfront cost—would actually save you money in the long run AND make it easier to convert reflective material?

It will. Keep reading.

Many manufacturers have tried a “backup die strategy” to address the issue of uneven wear and die blade breakage. They keep several chrome plated or otherwise cheaper solid rotary dies  in rotation, knowing that each would probably only last a few runs. At least one die would be out for repair or resharpening at all times. Though broken blades can often be repaired, damage from the abrasive fiberglass can be so extensive that often the die must be remade entirely, interrupting the rotation cycle and resulting in downtime.

So is premium tool steel enough to solve the problem alone?

Almost. Blade angle, and a unique blade sharpening process involving proprietary techniques can further optimize the process, resulting in more parts produced between re-sharpening, fewer changeovers (which means less downtime,) and more re-sharpenings or re-knifes over the life of the die.

Sometimes numbers speak louder than words. Here’s a breakdown of the cost of die per part produced that tells the whole story:

So, the next time you are converting reflective or other highly abrasive materials and considering whether a steel tool die is worth more than 5x the price of the standard option, ask your supplier to provide a cost benefit analysis. If they can’t, please give us a call. We will provide you one at no cost to you, and we will set you up with a team of experts to help you hone and refine your entire converting process.