Monday, 05 Aug 2019 12:34 GMT

Digital Cutters

Cutting remains a key part of the production process for many sign-makers. With this in mind, Rob Fletcher looks at some of the latest digital cutters to hit the market

Making the cut

As all members of the sign-making industry will know, attention to detail is of paramount importance when it comes to the final look of a signage project. Whether we’re talking sizeable installations, or smaller-scale sign work, it is critical that the final piece looks the part.

One way of ensuring quality throughout the production process is to oversee it yourself. Some sign-makers continue to outsource certain work, but by bringing this in-house, you can take greater control over production and make sure the final piece lives up to your own high standards.

Cutting is one of the most commonly outsourced jobs in sign-making, but with a wide range of digital cutter machines available on the market, could investment in this kit help improve your output quality and allow you to take full control of production?

Cost saving benefits

Graphtec GB is one of a number of suppliers and manufacturers of digital cutting kit to the sign-making sector. Phil Kneale, director at Graphtec GB, says that sign-makers should consider bringing cutting in-house as the kit required to carry out this work is generally affordable.

“Digital cutters represent a relatively low-cost investment for sign-makers at a time of noticeable reductions in expenditure on capital equipment, due to the uncertainties surrounding Brexit and the consequent need to make savings in operating costs without impacting unduly on both business growth and profit targets,” Kneale says.

The key benefit of bringing this work in-house relates to cost savings in that there is no need to employ third-party sources to carry out cutting requirements

“The key benefit of bringing this work in-house relates to cost savings in that there is no need to employ third-party sources to carry out cutting requirements that would only add a further layer of cost and consequent erosion of profit margins.”

Kneale also offers up an interesting stat, in that around 90% of kit installed for core sign-making can be adapted – with little or no additional investment – to allow sign-makers to engage with new markets and introduce additional revenue streams to fuel business growth and consequent profitability.

“For example, with the addition only of an inexpensive heat press and desktop printer, working in conjunction with a digital cutter, sign manufacturers can maximise the opportunities that now exist in the lucrative printwear and promotional products sector,” he says, adding: “Similar opportunities exist in other markets and in particular the packaging design and product labelling sectors.”

The entry-level CE Lite-50 is one of the latest digital cutting machines available from Graphtec GB

With this in mind, he draws attention to some of the latest digital cutting kit on offer from Graphtec. New machines include the entry-level CE Lite-50 and higher productivity CE 6000 Plus and FC8600 roll-fed cutters, as well as and the latest FCX2000 flatbed machine.

These are supplemented with the new F-Mark Plus automatic digital die-cutting machine. The F-Mark Plus is based on the Graphtec CE6000-40 Plus cutter and incorporates a built-in CCD camera equipped with dedicated F-Mark technology and specially designed software.

“The range of digital cutters supplied by Graphtec GB covers every conceivable requirement,” Kneale says, adding: “It includes low-cost entry-level small-format options to larger high-volume machines, all of which have both individual and common design and performance characteristics to meet diverse application requirements.”

Surpassing expectations

Elsewhere and Jan De Roeck, marketing director, industry relations and strategy at Esko, agrees that new investment is important if sign-makers are to keep pace with the ever-changing industry.

Jan De Roeck, marketing director, industry relations and strategy at Esko, says new investment is key if sign-makers are to keep pace with competitors

De Roeck says: “The changing demands and challenges faced by the continually evolving sign and display sectors have made it imperative for wide-format printing professionals to invest in the most advanced – and thereby efficient – equipment.

“When looking at the importance of investment in new digital cutting solutions for a print business, it is necessary to understand the trends within the sector. A number of external factors, from increasing global competition and shorter deadlines to faster turnaround requirements, are having the knock-on effect of increasing business complexity for print providers across the sector.

“In a highly competitive industry, it is those suppliers who can meet their customers’ needs, and continually surpass their expectations, that will thrive.”

De Roeck explains that Esko is committed to bringing new solutions to market to help its customers meet the demand and expectations of their clients. Among the latest releases from Esko include the new Kongsberg C Edge, an upgradable table design that avoids costly reinvestment for customers as their business grows, De Roeck says.

The new Kongsberg C Edge from Esko can run at speeds of 75m/min, at an acceleration of 1G, and is suitable for use with a range of substrates

Offering high-speed production capability up to 75m/min, at an acceleration of 1G, the Kongsberg C Edge is suitable for a range of substrates used in the sign sector. It can also be fitted with the new second Fast Tool adapter to reduce manual tool changes and minimise downtime.

De Roeck says: “When two Fast Tools are utilised together, converters can achieve higher throughput with clever tool combinations and improve output quality, especially on signage materials like vinyls. The C Edge is also available with or without a conveyor.”

Also new from Esko is the Dual Heavy Duty Unit, which De Roeck says makes it possible for corrugated converters to cut, crease and perforate jobs without the need to change tools, boosting finishing productivity by up to 50%. Also, when combined with the Esko CorruSpeed Tool, converters can cut and perforate corrugated substrates with die-cut like quality at full machine speeds of up to 100m/min.

Factoid: When combined with the Esko CorruSpeed Tool, converters can use the new Esko Kongsberg C Edge to cut and perforate corrugated substrates with die-cut like quality at speeds of up to 100m/min..  O

In addition, Esko has introduced a new Motorised Roll Feeder for its Kongsberg C64 digital cutting table, which De Roeck says will deliver accurate and efficient cutting of soft signage materials.

Esko says the new Motorised Roll Feeder for its Kongsberg C64 digital cutting table will deliver accurate and efficient cutting of soft signage materials

A built-in dancer bar provides the correct tension with adjustable weights and an active edge correction allows for a steady straight feed, even if the roll is imperfectly rewound after printing, while a spreader roll is also incorporated as a final checkpoint to smooth out any remaining wrinkles for precise finishing of soft signage jobs.

De Rocek says: “The new Motorised Roll Feeder is the only solution in the soft signage industry that ensures accurate cutting results on tensile materials; from the very first cut through to the end of the roll. Perfect feed enables our customers to deliver defect-free products, avoid waste and rework and boost their efficiency.”

The Motorised Roll Feeder is available as a retrofit solution for the Kongsberg range and, when used in combination with the Take-Up Unit, provides the only true roll-to-roll production on the market today, according to De Roeck.

React to demand

Another established supplier of cutting solutions is Trotec Laser, which, as its name may suggest, focuses on laser technologies. Marketing executive James Hutton says many businesses can instantly cut costs and improve profits by choosing to bring laser cutting in-house, rather than outsource.

Hutton expands: “A laser can quickly pay for itself through the expansion of production capacity and the ability to react very quickly to customer demand.

Trotec Laser says using laser cutters and engravers alongside print machines enables print, sign and display businesses to effectively produce outstanding products and designs

“Many Trotec customers invest in laser technology to add another processing technology to their armoury and to work alongside existing machinery, while others have completely replaced mechanical engravers and CNC milling machines with lasers due to the improved efficiencies in workflow, throughput and end product quality.

“The use of laser cutters and engravers alongside printing machines enables print, sign and display businesses to effectively produce outstanding products and designs.”

Hutton bills Trotec’s large-format SP series laser products as an “ideal choice” for processing signage and display items. Available in bed sizes from 1,245 x 710 mm up to 3,210 x 2,210 mm, the large-format cutters can cope with large-format materials and have a number of built-in features that Hutton says will deliver “unbelievable efficiency” when cutting acrylic, wood, plastics and other material.

The larger, open laser bed models of the SP2000 and SP3000 allow for easy loading and unloading of materials from all sides of the system and feature intuitive time and cost saving features such as the tandem assist mode. This mode allows the user to split the working area of the laser into two zones and load and unload material as the laser processes in the other zone for maximum productivity.

Hutton adds: “Unlike competing technologies, there are no tooling costs, minimal wastage and little room for error when using a laser cutter.”

From speaking to manufacturers and suppliers in this market, it is clear that if you are to bring the cutting process in-house, you will be taking much greater control of your production and potentially saving money in the long run. With a wide range of kit and technologies available to sign-makers, perhaps it is time you look at bringing cutting in-house or update your previous systems to ensure that you keep pace with the ever-changing market.