By Amber E. Watson
Automated finishing increases quality, speeds up delivery time, and adds to the bottom line for many print service providers (PSPs). A range of tools are available, depending on the need. These include dedicated vinyl cutters, print-to-cut devices, and flatbed router/cutters that handle a variety of materials in a number of thicknesses.
The best time to invest in an automated finishing device depends on the individual needs and the capacity of each shop, as well as the requirements from its customers. A purchase may occur simultaneously with a printer, or a short time after. Once the leap is made, PSPs realize the benefits of control over in-house finishing, improved quality and throughput, and the ability to handle higher capacities and avoid bottlenecks.
Here, we profile four different print providers that acquired automated finishing devices in order to compete with, and stand out from, the competition. Each shop or artist exemplifies how automated finishing devices are a strong complement, and often an essential, part of the digital printing process.
Before investing in automated finishing equipment, PSPs often outsource what they cannot handle. Eventually, however, shops like Horizon Media Signs, a division of Paducah Printing Corporation, in Paducah, KY, conclude that in-house finishing offers faster turnaround times and the ability to take on more—and larger—jobs.
The history of Horizon Media Signs dates back to 1877. Today, 31 employees work from a 35,000 square foot facility and offer a range of services including sheetfed offset printing, digital variable data printing, bindery, signs, banners, Web site design and construction, mailing services, graphic design, and photography.
Horizon Media Signs acquired finishing equipment during and directly after the purchase of its digital printing equipment. For several years prior, the shop outsourced large format printing and finishing. “During this time, we monitored how much of this type of work was sent out, and in doing so, were able to see when it was the right time to bring these processes in house,” shares Rob Estes, VP, Horizon Media Signs.
In-house finishing was completed by hand prior to purchasing a Fotoba Dreamcut from Colex Industries and a Colex Sharpcut Flatbed Cutter. What is now completed in a matter of minutes used to take hours. “For example, a common, single order for 30 banners at 10×3 feet would take one person about three hours to trim all the pieces to size by hand using a straight edge and a knife blade. With the Fotoba Dreamcut, we cut that same job in ten minutes,” says Estes. The shop now saves on production time and man hours, while still producing a quality product that customers expect.
Along with a Hewlett-Packard (HP) Scitex FB700 flatbed UV printer, HP Designjet 28500 latex printer, a Roland DGA Corporation 54-inch eco-solvent printer/cutter, and an Epson Stylus Pro 9800, the shop’s Fotoba Dreamcut and Colex Sharpcut run almost every day.
Colex’s outward commitment to training and support was a deciding factor for this PSP. It helped put its mind at ease when it came time to install new finishing equipment. The Fotoba Dreamcut and Colex Sharpcut are ideal for the shop’s existing job mix, which includes yard signs, point of sale signage with contour cut design, and the cutting out of multiple up projects printed on 4×8-foot rigid boards of corrugated plastic, foamboard, aluminum composite material, and plastic.
According to Estes, it was necessary to bring digital finishing equipment in house to compete with the competition. “These machines save time on the jobs we already have, and allow us to compete on larger jobs we bid on because of the faster turnaround time,” he shares.
The Fotoba Dreamcut and Colex Sharpcut were purchased in Summer 2013, and Estes believes the shop’s breakeven point for its investment will be reached within the first nine months after installation of the devices.
Better Quality, Faster Speeds
For small shops and artists, investing in finishing equipment is a big decision. When it came to investing in an automated finishing device, Jason Bartziokas—a Canadian artist who began designing custom helmets for hockey players while still in college in 2002—held out as long as possible.
Bartziokas went full time with his designs and fine art business after graduating in 2004 and waited until his volume of work justified the savings he could achieve by deciding on an automated finishing device.
About three years ago, Bartziokas took the leap. “The competition was producing a cleaner effect with a faster turnaround,” he explains. This is when he invested in a 24-inch Roland CAMM-1 Servo GX-24 desktop vinyl cutter.
Roland’s GX series vinyl cutters are ideal for vehicle graphics, signs, decals, labels, stencils, pin striping, window tinting, paint protection film applications, and heat transfers. Ranging from 24 to 64 inches in width, Roland GX cutters cut a variety of materials from vinyl and paint mask to twill, heat transfer material, paint protection film, and sandblast.
Prior to these capabilities, Bartziokas etched fine details, such as lettering and logos, by hand. Not only did the manual process produce less defined lines, but it also took a lot longer—up to five hours, compared to 1.5 hours with the plotter. “The biggest factor in my return on investment (ROI) is in the amount of time I save not having to do the detailed fine work by hand. At this point, the machine has paid for itself,” he shares.
Bartziokas produces approximately seven custom helmets a month during the busy season of August through November. While he still airbrushes imagery onto the helmets, the Roland cutter is used in some form for every mask.
It took Bartziokas about three days to learn the ins and outs of the plotter and how to use it with the new software—Adobe Systems Incorporated Creative Suite. Roland’s support team along with a DVD assisted in learning vectoring techniques and how to use Adobe Illustrator.
The overall amount of time saved means taking on more clients, who mainly consist of 16 to 20 year olds working their way up in their hockey careers.
Keeping up with Demand
For PSPs in the business for many years, automated finishing is not new, but the challenge lies in keeping up with the demand for bigger sizes and faster speeds.
Over 12 years ago, Renze Display Company, a family-owned business since 1935, installed its first automated router table at a size of 4×8 feet, which followed the launch of its digital printing services.
Renze operates out of an 87,000 square foot shop in Omaha, NE where its 42 employees build custom exhibits, produce interior graphics, branding, event graphics, and point of purchase displays.
The print provider currently uses a MultiCam Inc. 64×144-inch router and cutter with auto tool changing, auto misting for cutting metal, and the MultiVision digital registration system. The shop’s second device from MultiCam is a 60×120-inch high-speed Digital Express also equipped with MultiVision. The shop also owns a two-unit vacuum hold-down system from Dekker Vacuum Technologies, Inc. with a series of valves to control both machines.
With automated finishing, Doug Buchanan, president, Renze, notices marked quality upgrades with the speed and flexibility needed to meet the demands of customers. In fact, the decision to purchase automated cutters was completely customer driven. “We are constantly asked to provide new and unusual displays, graphics, dimensional letters, and logos in a time frame that continues to shrink,” shares Buchanan.
In every part of the printing process it is important to avoid bottlenecks. This is especially true with finishing, according to Image Options, which runs from a 78,000 square foot facility in Foothill Ranch, CA.
Since 1999, Image Options acquired an array of large format digital and dye-sublimation equipment. The decision to add an automated finishing device was largely based on the shop’s growing capacity, shares Dave Brewer, CTO, Image Options.
According to Brewer, the timeline from research to purchase was approximately four months, at which point a decision was made to invest in a Zünd G3 3XL-1600 with multiple routing and cutting tools and an added center-winder roll-off unit for automatically advancing flexible materials. The width of the machine, which cuts material up to ten feet wide, along with greater speed and throughput, were key factors in the decision.
The device is now used 24/7 on vinyl, acrylic, fabric, and multiple boards. “Now that it is up and running, we benefit from a significant decrease in bottlenecks,” says Brewer. “We anticipated a 12 month ROI, but attained it sooner because of the above-mentioned benefits and the ability to accept jobs previously turned away.”
When the timing is right, adding an automated finishing device saves time and labor. While the initial investment is not small, ROI is typically achieved within one to two years, and sometimes sooner. Automated finishing capabilities help PSPs stand apart from the competition. The speed and quality of automated routers and cutters provides value to customers while still providing a shop with profit.
Jan2014, Digital Output