Print service providers (PSPs) rely on specialized tools to produce quality output. With increased demand on turnaround capabilities and an expanded range of product offerings, reliability and speed are essential and versatility is crucial. Almost every job that enters a shop requires some form of cutting.
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.