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CNC Routers

Investment in quality cutting machinery is critical for sign-makers and wide-format printers in terms of accurate finishing. With this in mind, Rob Fletcher picks out some of the latest offerings

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Cut to the point

Sign-makers can spend thousands of pounds on production equipment, but if they do not get it right when it comes to finishing technology and investment in this area, then they put the quality of the final product at risk.

Commitment to quality CNC routing machinery will help overcome a number of challenges when it comes to producing and finishing signage work and allow you to produce high quality work on a wide range of materials.

We take a look at some of the latest CNC routing machines available to the industry and analyse the core benefits they offer to sign-makers seeking to gain an advantage in the market.

Quality and accuracy

AXYZ manufactures CNC router machine and knife systems for companies around the world. Jim Heenan, national sales manager for AXYZ routers in the UK, explains that a quality CNC router should be seen as the centrepiece of a sign-making business and, as such, should be constructed of high-quality components.

“A heavy steel base, high-end servo motors, helical rack, and pinion, as well as motion control, all contribute to a clean edge finish on common signage material such as aluminium, acrylics, plastics, and wood,” Heenan says.

“Very little to no extra finishing is required. It is also beneficial to consider additional options such as a vision registration system, cold air guns, and misting units to ensure high edge quality and accuracy.”

Heenan also notes the advantages of having this sort of technology in house, explaining that not having to outsource routing and knife cutting provides more flexibility and shorter lead times to sign-makers.

“Quick turnaround of cut parts can give businesses a competitive edge in the marketplace,” Heenan says, adding: “Without quality kit in house, you may not be able to offer a wide range of services and products.”

Taking a closer look at the latest solutions from AXYZ, Heenan highlights Metalworker, a new product that has been designed for high-speed non-ferrous metal fabrication. With this product, AXYZ has also introduced a series of performance enhancements including the use of larger servo motors, all designed to increase production output.

The new Metalworker from AXYZ has been designed for high-speed non-ferrous metal fabrication


“This product has seen interest from sign customers primarily fabricating non-ferrous metal sheets,” Heenan says.

Also available from AXYZ is the Innovator Series model, which Heenan says is increasingly more popular with sign shops that are starting out.

“The product’s industrial performance, competitive price, and upgrade-ready kit provide users with all the tools necessary to process all types of signage material including woods, foams, plastics, and non-ferrous metals,” Heenan comments.

In addition, over the last two years, AXYZ has made a host of enhancements to its popular Trident Series. Designed on a modular and heavy-duty CNC platform, and offering a high-speed, independent Z-axis for all cutting positions, the Trident was designed for high-speed processing of all signage material.

AXYZ has made a wide range of enhancements to its Trident Series in recent years


“Our customers continue to benefit from the machine’s industrial performance, which compared to other lighter-duty machines sold in the market, allows you to process thicker substrates at high speeds,” Heenan says.

“The ideal Trident customer will normally run standard materials such as foamex, correx, and aluminium composite but will be open to any other types of jobs such as processing 10mm aluminium or 18mm plywood.”

Proper investment

Elsewhere and, as its name may suggest, Complete CNC Solutions also has a wide range of options on offer. Julian Sage, owner and managing director of the company, says with the introduction of so many CNC suppliers over the last 10 years, it is inevitable there will be some confusion when customers are looking to invest in a CNC for the first time.

Julian Sage, owner and manager director of Complete CNC Solutions, says sign-makers should invest in kit that can be upgraded in the future
 

However, he warns against the perception that all CNC machines are the same, explaining that there are in fact a whole host of makes, models, sizes and features, all of which offer something different to the user.

“Don’t be fooled by ‘entry level’,” Sage says, adding: “This does not mean that it can do everything that a high quality, more expensive CNC can do; it just can’t. As much as I hate the saying “you do get what you pay for”, when buying a CNC, it is true.
 

O Factoid: The Tekcel EXR from Complete CNC Solutions can cut material up to 100mm thick O


“I therefore cannot stress the importance of investing in the best quality CNC from the very start. I’ve seen and heard so many horror stories over my many years of supplying CNC systems where customers said they wished they had spent more and got the better kit, or that they’d purchased a Tekcel EXR 2m x 3m from the start, instead of an entry level 8 x 4.”

I’ve seen and heard so many horror stories over my many years of supplying CNC systems where customers said they wished they had spent more and got the better


With this in mind, Sage offers some pointers as to what sign-makers should look for when they are investing in new CNC kit. He advises that when suppliers offer cheap or budget CNC machines, they are exactly that, offering only small bed sizes, limited features, inferior parts, poor build quality, weak spindles and are overall problematic.

Sage also advises against buying a CNC machine that cannot be upgraded with additional features in the future, as this could limit you in the longer term.

“You may not need these features now, but don’t dismiss the ability to add these at any stage to open up other avenues,” Sage explains, adding: “Tekcel CNC systems are fully upgradeable and many additional features can be added at any time. A good quality CNC machine should be able to handle many types of materials and processes and not be labelled for single material use.”

A quality CNC machine should be able to handle many types of materials and processes instead of just being labelled for single material use


Sage also cites safety standards as something to be aware of in order to ensure that your staff are kept safe when working with the machine, while he recommends seeing the machine in action, in person, before making the decision to buy, in order to ensure it is the right fit for your business.

In addition, Sage highlights the issue of CNC tooling, which he describes as a “massive” part of a CNC’s life. Therefore, he says, getting the best out of these is vital for quality production and profits.

“I would always recommend you look to buy tooling from a quality CNC supplier and always use solid carbide not high-speed steel,” Sage says.

In terms of what Complete CNC Solutions can offer, Sage refers back to the Tekcel EXR 2m x 3m CNC routing system, which he says is the most popular solution with customers due to the fact it can be used across sign, print and display jobs, as well as handle a range of different materials.

“Whatever your requirements, the Tekcel EXR 2m x 3m system makes light work of it, processing popular sheets sizes of 8’ x 4’, 10’ x 5’, jumbo boards and metric 2m x 3m,” Sage says, adding: “With a standard gantry height of 150mm, this allows a maximum material cut thickness of 100mm.

“To cut these various types of materials efficiently, you need a high-quality performance machine and spindle to be able to cope, which is why all our Tekcel routing systems are equipped as standard with vacuum table hold down, tool length indexing, 17-bay auto tool changers, along with the industry standard high-performance HSD manufactured spindles.”

With so many options available to the market, it is easy to become overwhelmed by choice when it comes to investing in new CNC cutting technology.

However, by taking the advice of trusted suppliers and looking out for key features and abilities when running over the tech specs of CNC cutting kit, then will help narrow down the choice and ensure you are spending your money on high quality and the right sort of equipment.


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