By Olivia Cahoon
Print service providers (PSPs) must ensure finishing equipment keeps production running smoothly. One solution, digital flatbed routers, streamlines the finishing process by eliminating the need for manual cutting and outsourcing. Before implementing a flatbed router, print providers should consider current and future requirements and calculate the return on investment (ROI). With proper planning, an automated finishing device presents unlimited opportunity into under-explored markets.
Above: SpeedPro Imaging, based in Westwood, NJ, purchased a 5×10-foot Colex Sharpcut SX-1631 digital flatbed cutter in August 2016.
Digital flatbed routers are ideal for applications including three dimensional, acrylic, braille signs, foamcore, packaging, point of purchase (POP), rigid material, and trade show signage. John Cote, North American sales manager, Zünd, shares that “a router or router option included with a multifunctional digital cutting system considerably broadens the range of products a print business can offer.”
As wide format companies offer a larger range of substrates, they also reach new customers with more creative solutions. George Folickman, director, business development, wide format, Esko, says that flatbed routers and cutters allow print providers to enter new, high-margin markets like POP and displays. He believes high-volume shops benefit from these tools because they can do enough work to validate the investment.
The addition of new substrates brings the capability to offer new products. Dana Goodale, director of product management, Gerber Technology, says that print shops that implement flatbed routers can offer thick plastic for channel letter sign faces and cut industrial materials to sell into manufacturing markets.
Print providers without an automated router or knifing system must manually finish or outsource a project. Both options can lead to bottlenecks and may even deter a print provider from certain substrates.
Implementing a digital flatbed router avoids the extra costs of outsourcing and saves time lost in manual labor. Maureen Damato, sales account manager, Colex, believes there is a market shift for machines that feature both a router and a knife cutter to cover a larger array of media and free up bottlenecks.
Steve Aranoff, VP business development and marketing, MCT Digital, agrees and states that handcutting quickly becomes a bottleneck, especially when cutting custom shapes. “Routers and digital finishing tables allow a printer to have tools necessary to virtually cut and finish every job,” he adds. By automating and economically cutting multiple materials, routers give printers more opportunities to increase profit.
Flatbed routers introduce automation to finishing departments, which decreases human error. Javier Mahmoud, VP, sales and marketing, CET Color, explains that if an employee cuts 100 signs by hand, it’s expected that human error will be factored in. Flatbed cutters with a conveyor belt cut and advance by itself, reducing waste.
Not only is the finishing process faster, but it’s also more efficient. “For high-volume jobs, a CNC router can repeatedly cut out the same shape accurately,” says Cliff Cabral, applications manager, Vision Engraving & Routing Systems. For example, some routers have an auto braille inserter to quickly insert braille beads and eliminate the process of inserting beads by hand.
Cote believes that without automation, routing accuracy and consistency are difficult to achieve. He suggests print shops integrate a productive automated workflow that automates processing steps from prepress functions like file preparation and automated nesting to automatic setup and tool changes.
Analyzing Costs and ROI
Before purchasing a digital flatbed router, it’s important to consider ROI. Average ROI can be based on cost reductions for existing jobs, savings compared to outsourcing, and the possibility of large and more profitable jobs.
According to Cote, a PSP in the signage, POP, and display business with yearly sales approaching $1M pays for its flatbed cutting system in 18 to 24 months. “Once a print provider reaches that $1M or so threshold, it is time to consider investing in a multifunctional cutting system that can be tailored to the business’ needs and adapted to changes and growth in demand,” he adds.
Folickman says that Esko has seen payback investments in as little as eight to nine months and rarely more than two years. He advises print providers consider the material waste and lost capacity when calculating ROI.
In addition, Mahmoud believes employee numbers should also be analyzed. Implementing a flatbed router may affect the number of employees required for finishing. Print providers should consider if employees that are no longer needed in the finishing process have the potential to move to another department.
Finishing solutions should grow with the PSP. Damato advises print providers to be aware that a high-performance cutter lasts 12 to 15 years or more and therefore, the right router allows businesses to grow into the next decade.
The finishing equipment should also play to the strengths of the business’ most commonly used materials. “If they work on a lot of steel, a traditional CNC router is the best choice. If they work mostly on wood, dibond, and PVC, they should select equipment that optimizes those materials,” says Folickman.
Cote says the simplicity of both the user interface and digital production workflow should be considered. Routing equipment that is easily integrated into existing workflow allows the print shop to adapt easier to the new equipment for faster benefits.
According to Goodale, routing generates a lot of dust. Router work areas should be clean, well ventilated, and not too close to the printer’s location or other equipment that requires a clean environment.
Cabral believes the most important part of implementing a digital flatbed router is proper training. Some flatbed router manufacturers offer training specific to the needs of each customer.
Cutting Game Changer
Established in 2006 in Westwood, NJ, SpeedPro Imaging of Westwood started with three employees in a 2,200 square foot workspace. Today, it employs five and offers event graphics, trade show displays, vehicle wraps, wall murals, and window graphics. The shop has completed projects from NJ to Beijing, China.
Purchased in August 2016, the PSP uses a 5×10-foot Colex Sharpcut SX-1631 digital flatbed cutter. It features a triple interchangeable tool head, complete substrate cutting compatibility, and vision registration software and camera. The cutter finishes a variety of material including acrylic, canvas, coroplast, honeycomb, fabric, foamboard, vinyl, and wood.
“We can produce just about any type of digitally printed or direct to substrate print order anyone may need,” says Ralph Trujillo, president, SpeedPro Imaging.
Since purchasing the Sharpcut SX-1631, graphics are rarely finished by hand. “All of our cuts—from metal to paper posters—are always perfect,” comments Trujillo. The PSP’s total investment in the automated finisher was about $80,000. A ROI is predicated within the first year.
He recommends print providers with a plateaued business or that outsource a decent amount of cut jobs to consider the benefits of purchasing a router. He believes the cost savings and turnaround times make flatbed routers invaluable.
Sign Businesses Expand
To successfully sell wide format printing services and generate profit, print providers should consider the finishing end of the workflow. Digital flatbed routers allow PSPs to accurately and quickly finish a range of substrates.
Sep2017, Digital Output