By Olivia Cahoon
Digital print advancements in wide format output drive the development of a full range of substrates. As the need for fast and durable equipment rises, industrial grade flatbed routers and cutters have become more prevalent. The ability to handle larger volumes, finish at higher qualities, and remain durable help define these devices against more lighter duty models.
What is Industrial Print?
The term industrial print is still relatively new to the industry. To better understand what it means, we asked finising vendors how they would define industrial print in regards to router and cutters.
“The nature of industrial printing is generally printing that is done during a manufacturing process, but this can range from product prototyping to short-run benchtop UV production via superwide format UV flatbed work, up to fully automated production lines,” explains Josh Hope, senior manager, industrial printing market, Mimaki USA, Inc.
Greg Stewart, product marketing and strategy manager, Esko, believes that industrial print relates particularly to wide format and corrugated printing. As inkjet printers become faster, the need to quickly finish products becomes more urgent. “Because of variable printing, perspective has changed from how fast many thousands of one job is completed to how to deliver five to 10,000 units of different jobs,” shares Stewart.
Others believe that industrial grade finishing equipment isn’t so different from traditional equipment. “Industrial print may deal with a few additional substrates, such as domed logos, but both industrial and traditional finishing still revolves around materials that are up to two inches thick,” says Steve Aranoff, VP sales and marketing, MCT Digital.
It appears that no matter what the definition is, industrial print includes two key qualities—the applications and the volume. “Structural display applications including store fixtures, trade show, and outdoor displays where heavy MDO, MDF, thicker acrylic, alumicore products, and heavy duty corrugated board are used, would be considered industrial or heavy duty applications. On the other hand, industrial print may also refer to the volume—in other words, medium to long runs as opposed to short runs of prototyping,” adds John Cote, North American sales manager, Zünd.
Volume, Quality, Durability
Industrial grade routers and cutters are designed with volume and value in mind. To achieve this, vendors incorporate new features to ensure that end users receive the best quality. “There are three keys to industrial cutting—volume, quality, and durability,” suggests Gary Greis, national sales manager, Inpro grand format cutters, Graphco. These features qualify industrial grade routers and cutters for industrial usage.
Industrial finishing equipment handles oversized substrates, the tables are expected to be large. Aranoff points to growing requirements for ten-foot wide cutters.
Some vendors, like ARISTO, offer machines with a work area up to 5,200×7,200 millimeters.
But width isn’t the only concern for industrial markets. Dana Goodale, product management director, Gerber Technology, explains that a pull-through capability allows long substrates to be cut into sections. This works well for long substrates that otherwise need to be cut down separately and then applied to the router or cutter for proper finishing.
Industrial routers and cutters are also made with thick material in mind for keeping up with demands to finish heavy duty substrates. Most industrial finishing equipment can handle material up to four inches thick. A handful of vendors offer high-torque systems. “Spindle horse power and torque at high RPMs allows routing standard thicknesses of high density plastics, wood panels, and aluminum in one pass with excellent quality finish,” advises Dan Bussey, marketing manager, MultiCam Inc.
To ensure accuracy, some industrial finishers have camera systems like ARISTO’s AutomaticEye. Andreas Kretschmer, market manager, ARISTO, shares that cameras detect and correct distortions and imbalanced printed materials. This process eliminates wasted time from finishing errors.
Joe Hillman, strategic development manager, Universal Laser Systems, says “optical registration uses a camera to locate registration marks or other printed features, and then adjusts the cut path to compensate for misalignment or stretching of the material. This ensures accurate cutting for every piece, even if they are not identical.” The camera automatically adjusts for small material placement differences to improve efficiency and quality.
Cooling and Finishing
Cutting metal tends to generate high amounts of heat. To combat it, Goodale says that most industrial grade routers and cutters feature cooling methods like mist coolant or cold-air guns. Other features for advanced cooling include tables equipped with super-strong, water-cooled milling spindles. “The spindle revolves fast enough that it requires advanced cooling, particularly for working extensively with heavy duty materials such as thick sheets of acrylic, wood, or MDF, and aluminum composite material,” explains Stewart.
Because industrial environments serve high volumes, routers and cutters are made to work fast. “Depending on machine type, size, and tool heads it is possible to reach a maximum cutting speed of 2,300 millimeters per second with a maximum acceleration of 2G,” says Kretschmer.
Roberto Rodriguez, president, Digital Graphic Systems Inc., believes that speed and automation increases productivity for finishing processes to keep up with high-scale printing runs. Industrial routers and cutters need to match a printer’s pace as closely as possible to keep production moving.
Because industrial cutters are usually busy with production runs, some end users look for prototype cutters to test new designs. “A dedicated prototyping cutter can be placed into a design office environment giving a designer the ability to interface the cutter directly from the design software,” says Hope. While the main machines are in full production, the time between design concept and working prototype is minimal.
“The best industrial grade routers and cutters offer print service providers (PSPs) the ability to precisely match tool configurations, material handling, and workflow automation to their particular needs,” says Cote. End-to-end workflow software provides the setup and cutting parameters needed for industrial production. With the right workflow, the entire production moves quickly and efficiently.
Other industrial considerations include creasing qualities and waste removal. Steward says that downforce is crucial for corrugated materials, especially to crease, which can only be made with a specialized wheel. Goodale shares that a grounded chip-removal system is an ideal feature because it safely and effectively removes potentially high volumes of statically charged chips and cutting debris.
In addition to handling heavy duty substrates, industrial grade routers and cutters are also built to last. Maureen Damato, sales dealer and account manager, Colex Finishing, Inc., suggests typical lifespan is at least 15 years. Features such as racks and pinion drives should offer reliability, long life, and cost-effective maintenance.
With the ability to cut materials like leather and wood, it’s vital industrial equipment is durable and features the correct tool sets. “Since cutters typically last from ten to 15 years, having one that can advance with the needs of an ‘industrial’ printer is immensely important for growth and continued competitiveness,” says Aranoff.
With such a range of features, industrial finishing equipment is used across industries for many different applications. Robert Boyes, senior product line manager, Coherent Inc., says that its products are utilized for clothing labels and signage. Applications like athletic lettering and signage are satisfied by industrial routers and cutters. “These systems are commonly used in research and development labs, military development labs, and universities in addition to industrial applications,” adds Boyes.
Bussey points out that custom packaging, point of purchase (POP) displays, retail displays, furniture, and indoor and outdoor signage benefit from industrial equipment. He says users tend to look for machines that are versatile for future productions. “One application may require routing of dense materials where a more powerful spindle is required to achieve the smooth finishing cuts, and another application may require using a knife system to cut through materials such as vinyl and fabrics,” he continues.
Hillman believes industrial users are looking for equipment with high reliability that doesn’t depend on continuous repairs, adjustments, or part replacements. He shares that industrial grade routers and cutters are especially useful for cutting materials like acrylic, card stock, fabric, foamcore, and mat board.
In addition, Rodriguez says that cardboard packaging companies, large sign shops with high levels of material processing, and large dye-sublimation print providers that require cutting textiles up to 126 inches require routers and cutters. “Industrial grade machines have to be prepared to run 24/7 with minimum interruptions and at above average productivity levels,” he adds. Applications like aluminum, backdrops, channel letters, custom cut out magnetic signs, cut out signs, engraved signs, labels, metal plates, stickers, theater sceneries, trade show booths, TV sets, and wood are all suitable.
“The user needs to be ready for a variety of applications, requiring versatility in the router/cutter because they never know what job will come through the door. Industrial users want to match that versatility with production speed,” explains Damato.
Industrial users are also looking for quality automation and proper training. Cote shares that automation in every phase of production should be efficient and include tools like automatic file retrieval via barcode or quick response code, automatic tool setup, calibration, and tool changing. Assistance in accessibility, after-sale support, proper training, and workflow integration also helps a business run smoothly.
Now that we know what industrial users want out of industrial grade routers and cutters, it’s time to look at what equipment features PSPs should consider before making a purchase.
“PSPs need to take a close look at their entire production process to find the industrial cutter or router that will most easily integrate with what they already have, while providing the level of capacity and automation that best meets their current needs but is also adaptable down the line to keep up with changing demands,” recommends Cote.
Goodale suggests PSPs consider the equipment’s cutting depth to see if it is deep enough for thicker materials and if it can 3D rout for industrial applications.
“Heavy-duty knife solutions are necessary for thicker material that can cut significantly faster than the material can be routed with the proper strength,” shares Aranoff.
Pricing depends on the types of routers or cutters and the equipment’s capabilities, features, and size. For example, with laser-based systems, Boyes says that there are three tiers. Low volume and power applications are generally offered below $40K and most aren’t intended for factory floors. “Ours are in the mid-range, between $100K and $300K, where the differentiation is driven by power up to 1kW. Higher power lasers start in the $250K range and with high end or very specific handling can be priced at or above $1M,” he adds.
Hillman shares that “laser systems that support print and cut, range for around $10K for a system to $50K for a fully featured system with a large bed size.”
PSPs should also consider how they will operate the finishing equipment—with experienced operators or beginners that need a simple process. “The best piece of equipment in the world will go unused or drastically underutilized if the workflow is too difficult for the users to grasp,” admits Goodale.
Characteristics like rigidity, performance, and versatile options that include automatic tool changing, laser pointing, and vision should be considered as well.
Industrial grade routers and cutters are made to be fast, durable, and efficient. They cut through heavy-duty substrates like aluminum, metals, and wood and are also fast enough to run in factory settings. These routers and cutters handle a range of applications like furniture, labels, POP displays, outdoor signage, and stickers across multiple industries using a number of different features.
Jan2017, Digital Output