By Melissa Donovan
Print providers want options and that extends to the smallest parts of their business operations, like tools for finishing equipment. Bit, blades, knives, and even belts are small investments that make a big difference when purchased through the right vendor. These are acquired through OEM or third-party resellers. Lately the latter organizations have made a stir—with multiple companies popping up to service the industry.
Above: OEM consumables like those from Zünd are an economic choice for blades and bits.
More companies are making appearances as third-party resellers of finishing tools like bits, blades, and knives. This rise in vendors is fueled by many factors.
According to Nikolai Mikkelsen, president, VTX Tools, demand has always existed, but digital print/finishing has continually grown year over year for the last 30-plus years. “With that growth, comes the increased demand for the cutting systems needed to keep up with the increase of digitally printed substrates, and in return, more consumables—blades, bits, and accessories. And when business is good, new companies are formed to take part and benefit from the growth.”
Justin Davis, director of sales and marketing, Flatbed Tools, says more cutting machines are sold every year, adding to the machines already in use, which creates demand for digital cutting consumables. Another reason is that print providers are cutting more than traditional printed substrates.
As print providers branch out, they also make an effort to build on their existing knowledge. “With more pressure to produce parts faster, cleaner, and with better edge quality, consumers have begun to educate themselves in an effort to achieve this. It’s no longer good enough to just accept what is handed to you by the machine manufacturer. They are experts in machines but not necessarily materials, and in some cases the manufacturer has very little experience with some of the materials therefore they can not produce the best bit or blade for the job,” explains Josh Martinez, account manager, X-Edge Products, Inc.
New technology leads to print providers upgrading legacy equipment to keep up with demand. “Companies replace their products with newer models, which often leads to discontinued consumables as well. Those who are still using these older products are then forced to look elsewhere to find their blades, bits, and other consumables to get the job done,” shares Alvita Scott, inside sales, CutGuru.
Third-party resellers are popping up and thriving in response to all of these factors because according to Davis, they offer a wider range of consumables versus OEM. However, he cautions “customers should be careful because when you pay less you may get a lesser product. You don’t want to sacrifice quality. You don’t want blade tips that chip easily, for example.”
“Purchasers are—and always have been—looking for ways to save money, especially when it comes to operating costs,” explains John Phillips, production optimization consultant, Zund America, Inc., in response to the uptick in third-party consumable vendors. However, in support of OEM, he says Zünd prices are quite competitive with non-OEM blades and bits, and once you couple that with longer blade/bit life and higher and more consistent cut quality, OEM consumables like those from Zünd are an economic choice.
There is demand for cutting consumables purchased from third parties and OEMs. This occurs based on growth in machine usage as well as the type of machines utilized.
“Companies looking to automate and streamline production are purchasing more equipment, new equipment, and upgrading old equipment to keep up with demand. With this comes the need for more consumables at a reasonable cost,” notes Scott.
It is a natural evolution from manual to automated cutting. “I think the rise in demand for tools is due to more machines being utilized than ever before. The market keeps growing. People are going from hand cutting to buying machines to do that work more precisely,” explains Davis.
“There is a rise in demand for tooling along with an increased demand for Zünd cutting equipment and automation solutions in general. This is partly due to tighter availability of labor but also the result of the greater production efficiencies and profitability made possible in many cases through automation,” comments Phillips.
Today’s automated cutters offer tool interchangeability, making multi-tool accessibility for a user even greater than before and opening up digital cutting practices to not only the traditional printer but industrial verticals as well. “The interchangeability that models offer is a factor. With the variety of substrates people want to cut, the machines aren’t only for the printing industry anymore—there’s packaging, technical textiles, composites, just to name a few. The cutting machine manufacturers understand that,” says Davis.
“Yes, with more interchangeability, comes greater potential options. Previously, manual tool change spindles and fixed knife systems made it much harder to change the bits and blades so the answer was to pick the tool that would do ‘okay’ when cutting multiple, different materials. With automatic tool changers on the rise and even automatic knife changers starting to be offered, there is pressure to produce better router bits and knife blades as well as more options,” shares Martinez.
Consumable demand is also growing thanks to the made-in-the-U.S. movement. “There’s a general shift in the marketplace for more manufacturing in the U.S. These cutting machines help do just that, while also being very efficient,” adds Davis.
According to Phillips, supply chain disruptions, along with worldwide shipping costs and delays, also lead many North American manufacturers to increase domestic production capacities. This means in some cases investing in multiple locations within North America to meet market demand and increase proximity to their customer base.
“We have seen a handful of new cutting machine brands enter the U.S. market in the last ten years. Whether it’s a newly formed company, a division of an already established company, or a European/foreign company entering the U.S. market for the first time. More machines equals more consumables,” states Mikkelsen.
Differentiation in the Market
We polled the vendors interviewed for this piece—in addition to a quick synopsis of others—to get an idea on how they differentiate themselves from other players in the market.
Colex Finishing, Inc., which specializes in wide format cutting equipment for graphic sign, display, point of purchase, and packaging, offers an extensive line of precision cutting equipment together with premier service. Colex manufactures the Sharpcut Flatbed Cutter 5×10- and 10×10-foot options and in addition provides tools for the device, which are manufactured at the company’s headquarters in Elmwood Park, NJ. All tools, bits, and blades are in stock and available for overnight delivery.
CutGuru offers consumables at a low cost. Its customer service is unsurpassed and it has a user-friendly website to purchase consumables easily, according to Scott.
Flatbed Tools celebrates over 25 years in the industry. From industry expertise to RIP knowledge to print-to-cut consultations, Flatbed Tools provides top-tier technical, workflow, and support services that help make businesses more productive and successful. It offers bits, blades, and belts, which are all fully vetted and tested to ensure the best materials on the market are used to provide longevity.
In August 2022, Kongsberg Precision Cutting Systems, manufacturer of digital cutting solutions, unveiled an online store to boost the speed and ease of ordering replacement consumables for its hardware. The site improved searching for individual bits, blades, and other consumables in addition it includes demonstration videos and advice guides and additional functionality to enable one-click re-ordering, as well as simplified access to a customer’s order history and information on their installed products.
Superior Carbide was founded to offer premier tooling at an incredible price. The company allows its customers to remain focused on doing what they do best, not searching for vendors or being caught with downtime. It aims to be a one-stop shop for products, resources, and knowledge. According to the company, it circumvents traditional channels to bring the absolute best prices for blades, router bits, and belts.
While VTX Tools might be a new name in the industry, the players behind the company are anything but. Mikkelsen’s father, Steen, invented i-Cut software and introduced two popular cutting systems to the U.S. in the late 90s and early 2000s. The Mikkelsens and others then partnered to launch the first online platform for consumables sales, and then in 2011 were involved with CutGuru. Today, Mikkelsen says VTX Tools sets itself apart from the competition with its “experience, knowledge, and passion to develop the best quality blade, bit, or accessory for the best price possible.”
X-Edge Products is responding to demand with new tooling innovations and expanded options tailored to produce the best possible parts with the best possible edge quality. “Beyond that we have approached things from the customer’s standpoint. Most of us at X-Edge Products are on the consumer side of things as machine operators or small shop owners. Designing tools based on what will provide better parts and more of them per hour rather than simply what will make the tool last the longest was a formula that put more profit in the consumer’s pocket,” comments Martinez.
As a manufacturer, Zünd operates full control over specifications and tolerances as well as the provenance of the raw materials—e.g. tungsten carbide—that go into tools. All blades and bits are marked with Zünd insignia, part numbers, and batch numbers to ensure quality, consistency, and traceability. In addition, Zünd holds patents on many designs, so it offers tooling and consumable items that are exclusive to Zünd and not available from any other sources.
Is there a contrast between consumables like blades, bits, and knives sourced from third-party vendors and OEM?
Phillips says there are differences between third-party and OEM vendors when it comes to consumables, and the biggest advantage is that at Zünd the company has full control over the manufacturing process. “This built-in quality control results in superior blade life/tool longevity and cut quality/consistency. In addition, Zünd offers a variety of tools, blades, and bits—all tailored to specific applications and the materials involved. The know-how behind Zünd finishing tool technology is the result of years of materials testing and customer input.”
Not all third-party vendors repurpose OEM products, many design and/or manufacture their own. “There’s a difference between OEM and third-party parts but those distinctions depend on the third-party vendor you choose,” admits Davis. “While we offer standard replacement bits and blades, Flatbed Tools is particular when sourcing the materials for them. And we developed our own lines of blades and bits for cutting specific substrates, so we have the right tools for each job.”
Martinez agrees with Davis’ sentiments, noting that X-Edge Products has its offerings made to its designs and specifications. “If we find a product that does well, then we try to improve on it if at all possible. We are living what we make, not just making a living.”
“Customers who do not look beyond OEM are missing out on an opportunity to optimize performance, improve stock availability, and improve their bottom line and production costs,” shares Scott.
Davis stresses the importance of support. “Our biggest difference is we provide a level of support customers won’t find anywhere else to get so much more out of their machines and their workflow. A partnership with Flatbed Tools is a big value-add for their business. We’re more than the consumables. We are experts—troubleshooting, problem solving, and providing technical support.”
“The difference is not in the product, but more in the support and company. VTX Tools’ pricing is much better, but we love what we do, and will go the extra mile for our customers,” adds Mikkelsen.
The choice to purchase consumables like bits, blades, knives, and belts is up to the print provider. It’s a level of comfort and ultimately what works best for its business model. Luckily, there is no shortage of buying options between OEM and third party.
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May2023, Digital Output