By Cassandra Balentine
Many print service providers (PSPs) come to a point where a wide format router/cutter may improve production and introduce new revenue streams. In addition to routing/cutting, these systems offer other tooling options to provide countless possibilities.
Above: Vision Sign CNC Routers and Engravers allows shops to create ADA-compliant Braille signs, cutouts, dimensional letters, and directional signage with just one machine.
Despite a hefty price tag, router/cutters are known workhorses that expand opportunities and enhance productivity. Ample research tools are available to help prospective investors select the best solution for current and future needs.
While the advantages of router/cutters is clear, the purchase price is significant.
An investment in 2020 isn’t a regular investment. Mark Bibo, director, global field marketing, graphics and packaging, Gerber Technology, says one of the biggest challenges PSPs currently face is the uncertainty of the economy. “Right now it’s hard to tell exactly what’s going to happen even just a few months from now, causing companies to be a bit hesitant when it comes to investing in routing/cutting solutions. Some companies are going to play it conservative, which could potentially lead to giving their competitors an advantage,” he cautions.
“This economy carries uncertainties that will inevitably have an impact on business owners’ decisions,” agrees Heather Roden, strategic account manager, graphics/packaging, Zund America, Inc. The COVID-19 pandemic forced PSPs to make a thorough assessment of their business to determine whether they could respond proactively and pivot their product offering as necessary. “Many PSPs ultimately kept their business not only operational but thriving by changing the focus to a number of COVID-related deliverables. As economic stimulus programs develop both from the government and OEMs, aggressive PSPs should feel no challenge in outfitting their business in preparation for the economic upturn,” she urges.
Since COVID-19, there are fears and hesitation about investing in routing/cutting equipment, admits Maureen Damato, sales partner manager, Colex. “However, COVID-19 has presented new products and signs required by PSPs including protective face shields, textile masks, floor graphics, sneeze guards, dividers, and new social distancing signs in the industry,” she notes. Many service providers are investing in equipment to meet the demands of these products.
Even in a normal economical environment, Phil Johnson, sales manager, Airmark Corporation, admits that for a lot of PSPs, an investment in routing/cutting solutions is held back by a combination of cost justification and the perceived learning curve.
This is why Gary Buck, VP, sales and marketing, Summa America LLC, says it is important for manufacturers to show the return on investment (ROI) and help customers use equipment to its full potential.
Johnson says the good news for prospective buyers is that this technology has come a long way from a usability standpoint. Thanks to features like automated depth control, barcode workflow automation, and intuitive production software, using a router/cutter has never been easier.
“Often a PSP is well versed in the latest printing technology but may not understand how an automated cutting device fits into the workflow. Fortunately, CNC routers and knife cutters are very user friendly in terms of the interface and integration with popular RIP software,” shares Jim Heenan, national sales manager – routers, AXYZ Automation Inc.
Mark de Guzman, marketing, Vision Engraving & Routing Systems, admits that while cost is usually a concern for businesses looking to purchase new equipment, most established PSPs are aware of this and understand the revenue value of a quality-made router. “A lower grade, cheaply made machine often breaks or malfunctions, causing unwanted downtime or renders the device useless. Long term, you end up spending more on a cheaply made system as opposed to paying for a higher quality router,” he suggests.
ROI is part of the decision to invest in a router/cutter. While these devices offer many possibilities, understanding how to maximize their potential is another hurdle.
Prospective buyers have many options for learning about the benefits of routers/cutters, including online resources like YouTube and forums where users can discuss and share their experiences with this type of equipment.
For example, Airmark features a customer experience center at its Seattle, WA location, where prospects can participate in an in-person demonstration and operate the equipment themselves. Additionally, virtual demonstrations are available.
Heenan says the best way to learn about routers/cutters is to see a live demonstration, whether it be in person or via the internet. AXYZ hosts webinars focused on topics such as acrylic fabrication and print-to-cut applications. The company also offers demonstrations and sample cutting for a range of router and knife projects.
Colex offers live webinars to show the full capabilities and versatility of the Sharpcut Flatbed Cutter.
Gerber offers webinars, live sessions on social media, blogs, ebooks, and additional information on its website to help customers and prospects better understand how routing and cutting technology can enhance their workflow.
In addition to online and in person demonstration sessions, Summa provides training through its dealer partners. Additionally, educational videos are available on the Summa YouTube channel.
Vision Engraving’s training program, VisionU (University), teaches the basic and advanced techniques of running a Vision Engraving CNC router or engraver. Classes can be customized from very broad to a specific application, allowing for quick implementation of a CNC router to add a service or improve a process. PSPs can learn how to make ADA signs, custom signage, cut out letters, print-to-cut, and other print or sign-related applications.
Roden says Zund America is equipped to assess potential customers’ individual production workflows and finishing needs.
While PSPs are encouraged to check out educational resources and demonstrations to see for themselves how a router/cutter may improve their printing operation, versatility is a universal advantage these solutions provide.
“The variety of applications possible with a CNC router makes it an indispensable piece of equipment in the sign and print industry. ADA signs, cut out letters, print-to-cut, and other custom signage adds to current services. These can enlarge a customer base to increase profits and provide a quick ROI,” says de Guzman.
Bibo agrees, adding that with both routing and cutting capabilities, offerings are diversified, relationships with current customers are enhanced, and prospects are found. He feels that the versatility of a high-performance router and a cutter on the same digital finishing system allows owners to produce high-quality output on both flexible and rigid materials.
“Whether its kiss-cut vinyl decals, packaging, fine art trimming, or routing wood and other materials up to one-inch, a router/cutter gives users the ability and functionality to get the job done. This allows businesses to expand product offerings for customers and create new revenue streams for business,” explains Johnson.
“Owning a multifunctional digital finishing device positions a PSP for pursuing a variety of manufacturing opportunities,” adds Roden. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Zünd digital cutter owners utilized existing—or easily added—tooling that allowed for adapting and changing deliverables to produce items like face masks, face shields, distancing floor graphics, and protection barriers. “Making a capital investment in a router/cutter does so much more for a company than a digital printer alone—it automatically turns them into a digital manufacturer.”
The advantages of high-end finishing systems don’t end with versatility.
Router/cutters help reduce production bottlenecks on other equipment like roll-fed cutters and printer/cutters, increasing uptime. “Any overflow work from a roll-fed cutter or a printer/cutter can be produced on a router/cutter, freeing up other equipment to continue producing additional jobs. This increases equipment uptime and throughput,” offers Johnson.
de Guzman says reducing manual and repetitive tasks increases overall productivity. “Those gains in productivity and efficiencies generate a high cost in savings for print providers.”
Eliminating outsourcing is another benefit, which Buck says allows for reduction in lead time. “A well-considered investment in cutting equipment facilitates the PSP’s workflow, increasing ease of use,” he continues. “A flatbed cutter or router is an investment for many years to come.”
The benefits of router/cutter solutions are clear, as are the challenges. These high-end finishing systems are attractive for their productivity and versatility, but the associated cost and training may lead to hesitation. A variety of knowledge tools are available from manufacturers and distributors to ease concerns and provide insight on the various capabilities the systems provide.
Sep2020, Digital Output