The next generation
Andrew Edwards, divisional manager of sign and display, ArtSystems
The move to more flexible multi-purpose print hardware that we saw with the introduction of HP Latex will continue and more printer vendors will move in this direction in next couple of years.
The need to meet ever stricter environmental and resource efficiency laws will also continue. This means all sign-makers will need to look much closer at their total workflow to remain profitable and in compliance with future laws. The next generation of printers will also open more application areas again. We have seen this with HP Latex, which has enabled sign-makers to address new applications like soft signage and digital wall coverings with a single printer technology.
The traditional vinyl cutter is now always part of wider signage workflow or has become a multi-purpose print finishing tool”
The Summa F series is a good example of this, and there are many more now entering the market. Management of the whole workflow is vital and products like Onyx Thrive are now about detailed workflow management that looks at every step in the print process from the initial job file to the type of print finishing the job will need.
The next five years will be about managing and extending the current technologies and ensuring that they really deliver on productivity. One element that will become more important to all sign-makers and print-service-providers generally will be the design element. HP already sees this as the next key differentiator to providing end-users with new and compelling reasons to invest in new signage.
Again, the print technology will help to enable this but putting high design values at the centre of a job will be the route to building more profitability and user loyalty. There are a series of new initiatives and tools about to be launched this year, that will make putting creative design into all their jobs a lot easier for sign-makers, so watch out for these soon.
A direct approach
Robert Marshall, vice president of market development, AXYZ International
One of the biggest developments in recent years has been the ability to print on just about any substrate through the use of UV-based flatbed technology. It is now quite common to see high-quality printing on a wide range of rigid substrates such as aluminium, acrylic, wood, MDF, aluminium composite material (ACM) and many others.
Traditional finishing systems using, for example, a high-speed knife or low-power routing spindle are not well suited to these heavier materials”
This is where the traditional sign making router is starting to play its part. Machines such as the AXYZ Series routers with their high-power 5 or 10HP spindles and camera registration system for exact print and cut alignment are the best way of processing such materials, whether a one-off print job or high- volume production. Recent developments include new cutting heads, vision systems, new drive methods and an all-new controller to handle high-speed motion smoothly and safely.
Now, with a choice of knife heads that can be used alongside the routing head, we have a single machine that can be used on all substrates from paper or cardboard to natural wood or aluminium.
With the latest generation of ink technology it is now much easier to print directly onto materials such as clear acrylic. The ability to cut clear acrylic and leave a smooth polished edge is important because flame or diamond polishing cannot be used on printed materials. The AXYZ router utilises a new 7-segment controller for ultra-smooth motion and a high quality helical drive system with servomotors to maintain rigidity and precision at all times. The result is a smooth, virtually polished edge which needs little or no further finishing.
Mark Hobbs, commercial director, Welwyn Tool Group
Once a banner has been printed it will be necessary to hem, or possibly join it for larger images, in order to complete the finished item. Until approximately five years ago many companies relied on using tape to hem or join the banner, until the introduction of a compact automatic PVC welding machine introduced by Swiss manufacturer Leister; the Uniplan E.
This proved for many banner makers to be an excellent means of ensuring the longevity of a join or hem, particularly as the reliability of tape was found to degrade in sunlight.
The ease-of-use and cost effectiveness of the Uniplan—approximately 18 months pay-back when compared to tape—also meant that banner makers could now complete the finishing process in-house rather than having to rely upon costly external finishing firms”
The Uniplan is still available today and a popular choice for the small to intermediate-sized banner maker who wants to ensure the best finish for his customer.
Recently however, Leister has launched the new Variant T1 which is a faster automatic welding machine—at up to 15 m/min—and particularly useful for where banner production is required on a greater scale and a faster welding speed is needed. The Variant T1 also ensures a 40mm overlap weld which means that joins are 25 percent stronger still, making the Variant T1 the perfect choice for larger banners of over six metres. As a portable machine much like the Uniplan E, the Variant T1 provides a much more cost effective option for larger scale manufacturers who had previously only been able to use high frequency welding machines, which are comparatively expensive to both purchase and to maintain.
Go fast, go flexible
Neil Stevenson, sales director, Graifityp
Cutting and finishing technology has for a long time has played something of a catch up game to its wide-format print cousins, but this trend is definitely changing as advances in the printing sector slow down and the differences between competing machines become more marginal.
In fact, the tables could be set to turn as many of the latest and pending releases from cutting and finishing machinery developers not only meet the top speeds of their wide-format print counterparts, but now regularly exceed them. This has been driven by demand from the market place, as sign-makers and print-service-providers seek to overcome bottlenecks and hone their competitive edge.
The strongest possible argument to back up this view is my own experience here at Grafityp, as we have just launched a new range of top level professional cutting plotters from GCC that highlight just how fast this sector’s technology is developing”
The strongest possible argument to back up this view is my own experience here at Grafityp, as we have just launched a new range of top level professional cutting plotters from GCC that highlight just how fast this sector’s technology is developing.
The new range takes the form of the RX series, which have been absolutely crammed with new features and innovations that are all designed to make them one of the very best cutting systems on the market.
The development of this series reflects wider trends that will continue well beyond 2013. For instance, speed has become a big area of focus for improvement, with the RX cutters now reaching output levels of 1530mm/s. Flexibility is another key area of improvement.
The choice and variety of materials available to the sign trade continues to grow, and so the RXs are able to handle a huge breadth of substrates. Further improvements in material handling are also an evolving area. The RX thus also features adjustable pinch roller pressure up to 600grams force, meaning that it is at home working with everything from delicate window films, to standard vinyl, right up to sandblast rubber, and reflective films.
The common denominator in all of this is that the evolution of cutting and finishing technology is now far more rapid than ever before, and developers are really looking to address even the smallest needs of manufacturers. For instance the RX also has a new auto sheet off facility, which is a big bonus during unattended work flow or mass production.
In addition to advanced contour cutting, dual port connectivity, and the Innovative Tangential Mode, a new interface also allows users to set up multiple parameters by using different colour lines giving the operator greater flexibility when setting up a job. So, what can the sign-maker expect? In short, whatever their business needs to be profitable and efficient.