By Lisa Guerriero
Rigid media is increasingly ideal for a variety of indoor and outdoor applications. Its combination of durability and printability make it popular with clients as well as with print service providers (PSPs).
Working with rigid material presents challenges especially at the finishing stage. A marriage of force and the right tool delivers a clean, precise cut. Manual cutting methods can prove difficult, especially when customized shapes are requested.
An automated router or cutter is a useful resource, making it easier to finish rigid substrates and ensure carefully edged or shaped work. In addition, automated cutting allows PSPs to effectively nest graphics to cut down on material waste. Automated tools reduce labor costs and minimize human error.
These features provide efficiency and job delivery capabilities that help PSPs meet clients’ needs and stay competitive for larger projects.
Shaping a Unique Substrate
iZone Imaging has used wide format digital printing technology since the company’s founding in 1999. Based in Austin, TX, it makes the most of its central location to serve clients in the U.S., though its solutions are found on almost every continent, including Africa, Asia, and Australia.
43 employees work in the organization under Mike MacEachern, CEO, Grady Brown, president, and Virgil Canady, director of operations, iZone.
The PSP’s signature product is a custom-imaged, proprietary laminate, which it uses to create solid, printable sheets. These are referred to as custom high-pressure laminate (CHPL). iZone’s traditional CHPL solutions carry a ten year warranty against fading and de-lamination. They are used for indoor and outdoor applications, including signage, architectural surfaces, and exhibit panels.
According to iZone’s website, CHPL is made by layering high-resolution printed and melamine sheets, with a core of phenolic resin-impregnated sheets. The group of layers is then pressed at high heat and pressure. While under the pressure, all of the materials are consolidated into a single panel of thermoset plastic.
CHPL requires a durable finishing mechanism. The PSP introduced automation in 2003 after reaching out to MultiCam Inc. “The objective was to offer custom-shaped panel profiles and include machined pockets, beveled edges, and custom hardware attachment holes. With automation we also hoped to improve productivity and waste management through effective nesting of individual panels or parts within full sheet layouts,” says Canady.
MultiCam conducted an in-house demonstration for iZone, and the management team was impressed by the CNC capabilities of the digital cutter portfolio.
Today, iZone employs multiple MultiCam 3000 Series routers. After the creation of a CHPL, “we perform custom cutting and machining with a MultiCam CNC router, and often combine the finished CHPL pieces with wall and ground mounting systems and hardware,” explains Canady.
The MultiCam 3000 Series helps iZone deliver unique applications. “All projects that require custom-shaped panels, intricate machined openings, machined mounting holes, dado or beveled edges, or any other complicated requirements are processed through our CNC router. This occurs on the majority of our orders, and allows us to nest our full sheets for maximum yield and minimal waste,” observes Canady.
Directions with Flair
iZone employed many of its tools and skills for Parkland Health & Hospital System in Dallas, TX. The shop created a wayfinding system for the emergency room’s four million square foot parking garage.
The PSP worked with a third party design firm, focusEGD, which had three key reasons for selecting iZone and CHPL. It wanted vibrant colors for the panels, which were designed to be more visually appealing than simple directional text. A durable material was required to withstand weather. Finally, focusEGD wanted a frameless mounting system that would be sturdy but also provide a clean, smooth look.
The design firm provided multiple graphics for the eight-floor Parkland Health & Hospital System emergency room garage. iZone created rectangular panels with the floor number, directional information, and also a section of colorful shapes at the bottom. To direct hospital visitors, the signage on each floor features a different color scheme and pattern of shapes. Additional panels of colorful patterns mark key locations like elevators and emergency exits.
iZone collaborated with focusEGD to manufacture samples, showing that it could print and create the complex palette the client requested as well as provide a panel that could be mounted to the surfaces. In total, the entire job took five weeks.
Typical lead time for iZone is three weeks from start to finish, but this project was unique, observes Canady. “Extensive planning and prototypes were produced to ensure the product met expectations.”
The PSP printed the graphics on its Hewlett-Packard (HP) Designjet Z6200 with HP-branded aqueous ink and media. An ONYX Graphics, Inc. RIP powers the printer. Once the graphics were printed, the process of creating the CHPL began.
It used the MultiCam 3000 Series routers to custom finish the wayfinding signage. “These routers are durable enough to handle the extreme hardness of the CHPL product,” he says. When it came time to install the hanging component, the router was used to drill holes for mounting clips. Once printed and assembled, the panels were ready for a third party installer.
Investing in Automation
Custom-made laminated panels are the hallmark of iZone’s business. MultiCam CNC routers allow the PSP to cut and shape substrates effectively. Automation helps the company meet the lead times that are essential to its reputation.
Apr2015, Digital Output