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The Final Cut

Multifunction cutter/routers boost efficiency in the flatbed era.

By Thomas Franklin

1 of a 4 Part Series

There are a number of cutting options available for a digital printer, depending on the media in question. They range from old fashion, manual methods—scissors, knifes, and saws—to more automated solutions such as drum cutters, which are used for kiss cutting thin, flexible materials; to computer numeric control (CNC) routers, for boring through solid substrates like wood to multifunction routers.

Saws, dies, and other traditional methods of cutting graphics prove to be slow-footed in the short-run, digital era. Turning around a 3,000-piece order of POP displays, standees, or other display graphics demands speed and flexibility. Such capabilities are available in a multifunction cutter/router.

This multifunction solution is more prevalent in a digital print environment because they handle multiple types of cutting jobs on a single platform, quicker and more accurately than competitive methods. "Not because they makes cuts other systems or methods can’t," says Marco Azzaretti, director, graphic solutions, Gerber Scientific Technology, Inc. A simple change of a cutting tool transforms the system from a sensitive vinyl cutter into a platform for cutting and creasing corrugated media or routing rigid substrates such as foam core.

When you’re done finishing a graphic, you can use the system to create the graphic’s own packaging, adds Don Skenderian, VP direct sales, Kongsberg/Esko Artwork.

There are three main trends driving the adoption of multifunction cutters/routers, Azzaretti observes. The first is a desire for improved efficiency. The second is a push toward short-run production and the need for application flexibility. Third, "customers are looking to broaden their capabilities, which will help them to broaden their business."

The adoption of flatbed UV printers in particular help drive the need for multifunction routers, says Steve Aranoff, director of business development, MGE, Inc. The ability to print directly to rigid materials creates demand for more robust cutting and finishing solutions, he adds.

These router—or digital finishing systems, as they’re often called—are available stand-alone or with an optical registration system for improved accuracy. Manufacturers include Gerber Scientific, Kongsberg/Esko Artwork, Kutrite, Mimaki, and Zund. Sizes range from 26 to 126 inches with prices spanning from $50,000 to $200,000, depending on configuration and software packages.

Many of those systems, including Gerber and Kongsberg, incorporate MGE’s i-Cut and i-Script digital finishing workflow solution. The firm positions the solution as a universal platform to better automate the finishing workflow. "What we want to do is eliminate all the steps between designing and finishing, the fewer steps along the way, the fewer mistakes and the better the efficiency," says Aranoff. The firm also services the screen printing market with its AI-Cut offering.

The efficiency and multifunction capabilities in new finishing systems means less waste, less time spent on production, and fewer employees dedicated to cutting, says Aranoff. This efficiency is increasingly important as more businesses bring on digital printing. "We’re really seeing a convergence of several industries, all getting digital printers," says Azzaretti.

"It’s like when Canon started selling laser printers. You bought one and sold prints for a $1.50. You bought two and started selling them for $.89. The more people bring on the technology and start competing on price, the more important maximizing your efficiency becomes," says Aranoff.

There are other virtues as well, Skenderian says. "The buzz word now is sustainability, so if you’re more efficient, you’re generating less waste."

Jan2008, Digital Output

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