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Beyond The Blade: Cutting Solutions To Fit Any Workflow By Cassandra Carnes

By Author: Laser Cutters
Total Articles: 7

In addition to dependable manual cutting and trimming products, automated solutions including router/cutters, cutter plotters, as well as hybrid print-and-cut solutions provide faster, customizable results with a heftier price tag. When considering an automated cutting solution, PSPs must be prepared.

“Many customers go for the biggest and the best unit without first considering what type of cutter integrates easily into their existing workflow,” admits Dana Curtis, product manager, Roland DGA Corporation. For example, users need to know whether drivers are available and if the cutter is supported by other elements of a workflow.

Those looking to add automation to finishing capabilities should consider the overall influence on the existing workflow. This includes the ability to keep more work in house, improving efficiency to speed turnaround, and the capability to promote new services.

More Than a Cut
Shops accustomed to manual cutting face a learning curve when automating these processes. In addition to the hardware, software and workflow considerations are a reality. PSPs should be educated on what to expect when implementing automated cutting solutions into their existing operations. Creative capabilities are another consideration.

The objective is to remove steps from the workflow to enable higher productivity. Users should also zero in on features that improve effectiveness or provide a competitive advantage, such as perforated cutting or the ability to cut in multiple passes.

Many PSPs look to automated cutting solutions to reduce finishing bottlenecks. Once that is established, Bill Hartman, VP business development, digital finishing, EskoArtwork, suggests improving on the efficiency of the entire design-to-print-to-cut workflow, including preflight, layout, and automation—which is dependent on volume and the number of files.

Good software easily integrates into a PSP’s network, plus takes advantage of existing printers and RIP solutions, notes Randy Paar, display graphics marketing manager, Océ North America. He explains that the product should be scalable to support multiple devices and streamline printing and cutting file setup.

Hartman points out that good layout software does two things. First, it nests projects on a board effectively, so that it conserves material and allows the PSP to complete jobs faster. Secondly, it works seamlessly with a finishing table’s vision control system to ensure that even contour pieces placed off kilter on a table are cut cleanly.

Automated cutting requires a deliberate and strategic system of preparing files and constructing workflows in order to reap the benefits. “Choosing the appropriate production software is vital because it integrates the entire workflow together, facilitating the automation process of tasks such as sending multiple jobs or using multiple tools within each job,” notes Shado Norstegaard, lead designer, Summa, Inc.

Ultimately, the right software and workflow increases productivity and is as important as the equipment, says Dmitry Minin, finishing specialist, Colex Imaging, Inc. He notes that most RIP software also supports cut marks.

Features to Choose By
Determining the right cutter for a print environment, and whether or not to bring in automation, is contingent on a variety of factors. The best investments consider a shop’s current and future needs.

The extent a company plans to invest in cutting tools is relevant to its output. Hartman suggests that many want a cost-effective, multipurpose machine that cuts, creases, and scores. Through, kiss, and oscillating cuts are popular. V-Notch knives are ideal for cutting thicker boards.

The length of an automated cutter should match the width of a shop’s digital printer. “We recommend five feet as a benchmark to accommodate most applications,” notes Curtis. He explains that while the speed of the cutting tool is substantial, it is more important to consider its durability.

MCT, Inc., a new entry into the market, promotes superwide cutting devices. The versatile product structure allows for systems to be equipped with laser or pizza wheel fabric cutters to match a variety of grand format printers.

Versatility is crucial with any investment, especially in terms of finishing. A range of substrates are available, and applications from large to short-run personalized are out there, so a flexible cutter is essential, explains Neil Zdunkawicz, product manager, Graphtec America, Inc.

Typical cutting machines feature surfaces that measure 60 to 80 inches wide by 120 inches long. For applications that require pendulum processing or large parts, John Harris, director of sales and marketing, MultiCam Inc., says the company recommends 240-inch long tables. “With the advent of high rpm spindles, cutting speeds approach 50 inches per second or faster. Rapid traverse speeds now exceed 100 inches per second and allow much greater part throughput,” he explains.

Most shops seek automated cutting solutions that handle 54-inch wide flexible materials and/or large sheets of rigid substrates, says Norstegaard. “Everybody wants the fastest solution possible, but cut speed shouldn’t be the primary factor to consider,” he continues. “Automated cutting requires a perpetually evolving and versatile range of cutting tools in order to handle a wide gamut of applications and materials.”

Consider the type of cut and the expected volume. For shops with large straight cut demands, cutter/routers may not be the best solution. To avoid bottlenecks, Renier Höppener, president, Inpro, suggests separating straight cuts from die cuts.

Inpro provides a range of heavy-duty wide format guillotines designed for wide format printing devices. The hydraulic Inpro Jumbo guillotine cutter is available in lengths from about 86 to 208 inches. Höppener explains that these solutions provide an advantage over automated die cutting because they cut stacks on demand.

Knowledge Prevails
PSPs looking into cutting solutions have a lot to consider. Automation provides clear benefits, but what is the return on investment? Is it the right time to introduce automation? What features will support future demands? How will a new cutter influence the current workflow?

PSPs must evaluate the state of their cutting requirements now and how demands in this segment of the business are likely to evolve in the future. “At the time of purchase a lot of customers do not realize the full potential of a well conceived cutting system,” says Pete Alsten, product manager, Zünd America, Inc. Many fail to realize the importance of implementing an effective print-to-cut workflow, creating unnecessary labor in prepress and inefficiencies throughout the production process.

Fran Gardino, marketing manager, Mimaki U.S.A., Inc. agrees, noting that it is a common mistake for PSPs not to properly investigate cutting solutions before making the investment. “They need to make sure jobs will work by testing before they buy it,” he stresses.

Another common mistake, according to Harris, is trying to take delivery of a new machine just in time to complete a large project. “The machines are easy to run in the long term, but have a definite learning curve for first-time users,” he says. “Having the pressure of learning a new machine and getting a large project out is not typically a good idea.”

It is also important to recognize the capabilities of a new, automated device. “Greater creativity delivers higher margins,” says Hartman. He explains that many PSPs tend to look at squares and rectangles and are consequently stuck producing low margin jobs.

Investing in Automation
There are clear benefits to investing in automated cutter/router, cutter plotter, or print/cut solutions. They drive efficiency, improve capabilities, and lead to improved productivity. Primary reasons for investing in an automated cutting solution include the ability to bring more work in house and creativity back into the fold.

While ideal for many applications, conventional cutting solutions are unrealistic for large jobs. “A standard team of four employees can take up to 45 minutes to finish a 150 foot roll,” states Minin. He notes that once you factor in salaries, workman compensation insurance, and a high rate of cutting injuries, ‘where is my order?’ is not something that any company wants to hear.

“Anytime a process can be automated it reduces the amount of time to produce a product,” says Mike Springan, product manager, technical training, Mutoh America, Inc. “The finished product is completed much faster and more accurately cut than any manual process,” he adds.

If a shop is contour cutting graphics by hand, automating the process dramatically increases productivity, suggests Curtis. “If a business is looking to produce a premium product, it will need the ability to contour cut and perforate graphics. Cutters today are much more efficient than they used to be. Contour cutting, perf cutting, and RIP support all contribute to a much faster production process,” he adds.

Automated cutting solutions are introduced to deal with the increased demand of the customized product industry. “With convenient and affordable total print-and-cut solutions, PSPs are able to accelerate their working pace and elevate quality,” comments Sandy Shih and Chien Lo, cutter product line, GCC.

While beneficial, automation is expensive. It is important to realize the investment is directly related to printed output. “Solutions are found from $100,000 to $300,000, depending upon output and the range of capabilities you want the machine to have,” notes Hartman.

The type of investment a PSP can expect when it comes to adding automation relies on the width and feature set of the cutter. Curtis says typically cutters are priced at around $100 per inch.

Mutoh’s Springan agrees, adding that the investment is minimal when a cutting plotter is bundled with a printer and will pay for itself in a short period. MultiCam’s Harris says full system prices range from $40,000 to $120,000 depending on capability. Oce’s Paar adds that solutions $100,000 or higher provide a professional quality system.

While the investment varies considerably, flexible, modular solutions are priced so that the initial purchase price can be limited without sacrificing future capabilities. “All tooling, software, and material-handling features that may not be critical at the outset can easily be added, changed, or upgraded at a later date,” notes Alsten.

Making the Right Cut
Most forms of output require cutting. Whether handled manually or through an automated cutter plotter, print-to-cut solution, or a vision controlled device, the investment should be made according to a shop’s current and future needs.

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