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Automating Every Cut

Digitally Finishing Short-Run Packages and Prototypes

By Melissa Donovan

Digital influences the short-run packaging and prototype market, creating opportunities for print service providers (PSPs) to add new services and allowing those working in offset to complement current technology with digital. Firms may initially commit to a digital printer for short-run packaging and prototyping, and not extend that commitment to finishing. Soon after, the value of a digital finishing device is apparent.

 

“If a company is printing digitally and finishing traditionally, they derive only half the benefit of a digital workflow. If you finish a short-run job traditionally, you pay for the cost of the die and the set up time, which is amortized over the cost of the print run,” shares Steve Bennett, VP, sign and display business, EskoArtwork.

 

There are many benefits to automating your entire workflow. Royce Owen, director of marketing, Summa USA, explains that it opens up potential revenue by filling a niche within the industry for firms that can handle a job from start to finish. With everything in-house, a PSP guarantees the quality of the final product.

 

“A digital cutting system eliminates the bottlenecks in a finishing department. Manual cutting, with all inherent costs in terms of daily salaries, reprinting with potential for mistakes, and lack of efficiency, is reduced to a minimum,” explains Werner Waden, president, Colex Imaging, Inc.

 

Digital cutting devices also up the ante with the ability to create three-dimensional (3D) packaging prototypes. “Just about everyone is working from some type of digital proof, but 3D product prototypes are a more powerful communications tool,” says Steve Urmano, director of marketing, Mimaki USA, Inc.

 

Weighing Choices

Both standalone and all-in-one print-to-cut devices are available. In regards to packaging, there are pros and cons to each, many of which revolve around floor space and media choice. All-in-ones are typically priced lower than the sum of standalone products. For environments with limited floor space, these devices are an excellent alternative.

 

“An integrated printer/cutter has the advantage of offering a more streamlined workflow and samples are produced with a push of a button. This saves time and money and minimizes the chance of user error,” explains Dana Curtis, product manager, Roland DGA Corporation.

 

A standalone approach provides better productivity and flexibility, with speed and throughput providing the highest advantages. However, PSPs need to ensure there is space for two machines.

 

“A separate cutting system is often preferred when production volumes are higher because one machine can be printing while the other is cutting, decreasing the amount of time necessary to produce the job. Most dedicated cutters also tend to feature more robust cutting systems than can be found on the average all-in-one print/cut machine,” shares Owen.

 

Software Powers Automation

For PSPs not familiar with digital finishing devices, there is a level of user friendliness. “As with any technology there is some degree of learning involved. Software continues to become more intuitive and server/client-based for easy integration,” explains Randy Paar, product marketing manager, Océ North America.

 

Software plays a large factor in the communication between a printer and a finishing device. From the prepress stage to the RIP—front end to back end, it is important to understand the appropriate features and how they benefit a short-run packaging and prototyping environment.

 

Colex powers its flatbed cutters with i-cut, user friendly software compatible with industry leading RIPs and printers, manufactured by EskoArtwork.

 

EskoArtwork Kongsberg cutters utilize i-cut Vision Pro. The software reads a barcode on the artwork and accesses the file, so operators don’t have to find it. From this file, the system selects the best tool settings to process materials with preset cutting parameters. By reading registration marks before cutting, the table determines exactly where the artwork is placed.

 

GCC developed its own driver for both die and half cutting so users can easily create packaging. The Microsoft Windows driver allows users to edit projects from design software and output directly to the GCC Jaguar IV plotters’ system.

 

Mimaki cutters utilize RasterLink Pro version 5 RIP. On the CJV30 printer/cutter series, cut and print data can be combined so print-and-cut processing is done directly from the RIP.

 

Mutoh America, Inc. offers an open source product line, supported by all major RIP manufacturers. “Printer/cutters are some of the easiest devices to generate great results with minimal experience,” says Randy Anderson, product marketing manager, Mutoh.

 

Océ’s ProCut Prepress software allows users to design and create cut-and-crease lines all within the same program. It sends print jobs to any RIP, for the utilization of multiple printers while automatically sending digital cutting and creasing lines separately to the cutter. The software also features auto nest, which maximizes media usage by grouping files together based on the finished shape.

 

Roland print/cut devices are bundled with VersaWorks RIP software. This program incorporates spot color placement for white, matte, or gloss varnish and silver inks, as well as contour cutting. Any current PDF used in a prepress workflow is easily converted to work with a Roland device.

 

Summa ColorControl is proprietary RIP software. The AxisControl product directly interfaces with the flatbed table and gives full control of the positioning tools, functions, and settings of the table. SummaFlex and SummaFlex Pro are front-end applications with job preparation, post processor, and import plug-ins for CAD and illustration software. The Pro version also offers support for optical camera recognition.


Curvy Cuts and Other Maladies

Contour cutting is a difficult element in the creation of a finished prototype or package product. Manually navigating around curves leaves room for error.

 

An automated process nearly eliminates the challenge contour cuts present to a PSP. “Every mid- to high-end machine is equipped with a contour cutting function. The main point is accuracy,” explains Sandy Shih, product manager, GCC. This accuracy comes in the form of the software and operator knowledge.

 

“It requires some math and geometry know how if you are creating a file. If you are doing the cutting and not the design, it’s much easier. You just need to know the machine and software,” shares Urmano.

 

Bennett elaborates, explaining that without the correct software, contour cutting would be very difficult. The user would have to create a cutting path by hand. With an automated system, this path is generally created in a design program.

 

Besides contour cutting, devices also feature the ability to score, crease, and more. For example, Roland devices contour cut, score, crease, and create perforated cuts for paper board and semi-rigid cardstock. The newest addition to the VersaUV LEC line, the LEC-540, contour cuts through a top layer of lined media or perforates on non-lined media.

 

Teckwin Development Co., Ltd. introduced its Teckut CNC Router series at the end of November 2010. The devices feature an auto tool change, allowing users to not only cut, but work with a trailing blade knife and a pencil tool.

 

Summa recently released its first flatbed cutter, the F Series F1612, which specifically handles scoring, creasing, and kiss cutting. The base unit is equipped with a drag knife module.

 

The Océ ProCut digital cutting tables allow for up to three tools with different functions loaded on the device. Besides creasing and cutting, it can also be equipped with a router, oscillating knife, kiss-cut knife, and a driven rotary knife, all are tools selected by the customer.

 

In addition to contour cuts, Mutoh’s Kona line features a cut out function, which cuts the individual images out, but leaves them attached to be separated manually. With multi-segment alignment marks, Kona products cut over 30 feet.

 

The Mimaki CF2 Series offers configurations to score and crease. It also provides a half-cut mechanism by adjusting the depth of the cutter blade.

 

GCC’s Jaguar IV series features an Accu-Aligning System, standard on all models. It guarantees precise contour cutting by detecting registration marks.

 

Kongsberg tables cut, score, crease, and kiss cut. Other features include angle and oscillating knife cutting. The creasing tool allows for the easy folding of carton and corrugated board. With devices such as the Kongsberg i-XE offering a maximum vertical tool force of 12 kg, most rigid box boards can be creased.

 

Colex’s flatbed cutters, announced at SGIA in October 2010, include router spindle, creasing, kiss cutting, fixed knife, and oscillating knife capabilities. The Fotoba Dreamcut device, at 67 inches, won the SGIA product of the year award in the finishing equipment category.

 

Control from End to End

Realizing a digital finishing device’s capabilities and how it complements a business is essential to selection. Depending on the primary applications created in house, media used, and available floor space, a print provider can decide between a standalone or all-in-one option. In regards to short-run packages and prototypes, either configuration is viable. Implementing a finishing device gives PSPs peace of mind that their entire workflow is nearly error free.  

 

Click here to view the Digital Finishing Devices Target Chart - an all-inclusive information resource!

 

Jan2011, Digital Output

 
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