By Olivia Cahoon
Part 1 of 2
Finishing devices equipped with traditional routing and cutting tools are common digital print shops. However, alternative options are available. Print service providers (PSPs) adopt laser cutters because of their many benefits. A non-contact process, the technology uses heat to make incisions, leaving the material unharmed. Depending on the type of jobs and media run in a print shop, laser cutters are an option.
A One-Stop Process
Laser cutters perform a number of versatile functions using a virtual blade. Chip Hollingsworth, technical support manager, Paradigm Imaging Group, says the virtual blade is about the diameter of a pin, which allows finely detailed cuts sharp enough for inside and outside corners.
The virtual blade is a highly focused CO2 thermal laser beam that melts away edges. It “guarantees no mechanical forces are applied to the material, which prevents it from moving out of registration or lifting during cutting,” explains Steve Aranoff, VP of sales and marketing, MCT, Inc.
Operators can cut a variety of different substrates with laser cutting equipment. James Stanaway, director of marketing, Epilog Laser, says this includes wood, acrylic, fabric, paper, foam, and matte board.
One of the most efficient qualities of a laser system is it both engraves and cuts. Molly Tabery, marketing director, Kern Laser Systems, explains that with laser equipment, “cutting fire-polished acrylic is a one-stop process, rather than multiple as it would be for something like a router knife. Finer detail and more intricate cuts occur using a laser cutter.”
Joe Hillman, strategic development manager, Universal Laser Systems, Inc., adds that laser cutting is a completely digital process that doesn’t require stencils or guide creation. He says it is most beneficial when complex geometric shapes or delicate materials that could easily be damaged by a mechanical cutters.
Melting Away the Competition
Operators want equipment that performs with minimal maintenance and error. Laser cutters are used more frequently due to efficiency and minimal upkeep.
Stanaway believes one of the largest benefits of laser cutting is minimum maintenance with no mechanical wear or necessary replacement for knives. “Simply clean the lens assembly once a week and keep the machine free of debris to keep your laser running for a very long time,” he says.
Oscillating tools and router knives run the risk of micro-cracks and rough edges. Laser cutters seal edges to avoid fraying, leaving the surface clean and complete, says Joan Kang, product manager, GCC.
With laser cutting there is no fear of wasting material. The laser beam does not exert any physical force so there is no stretching or snagging of the material during cutting.
“Due to the contact-less process and a limited number of moving parts, lasers keep wear and tear to a minimum. This also saves money and reduces downtime associated with maintenance,” shares Josh Stephens, senior applications engineer, Trotec Laser, Inc.
Stephens says that laser finishing system investments pay off because of the increased capabilities that create opportunities for improving creativity, expanding product offerings, and cutting and finishing.
While laser cutters offer a number of benefits, they aren’t a fit for every PSP. Some substrates, like vinyl, are not compatible with a laser cutter. When combined with heat, vinyl emits toxic fumes that can damage machinery.
Tabery adds that some PSPs can’t justify the cost of owning and operating this technology.
Laser cutters offer a clean and contact-free cut ideal for a range of materials. They enable customization and techniques, like 3D engraving, with little upkeep. The second article in this two-part series looks at popular laser cutting equipment.
Oct2016, Digital Output DOLS1610