By Digital Output Staff
As we enter into the Fall months, product introductions are rampant. In the finishing space particularly, flatbed routers/cutters advance with increased speed, multiple tooling options, and a transition to linear drive systems. To meet quick turnarounds and smaller runs, as well as address the lack of operators/help, features like speed, multiple tools, and linear drive systems combine to enhance productivity. Print service providers (PSPs) look for these features and more when considering new routers/cutters to their businesses.
Above: The VariAngle offered by Kongsberg automatically changes the cutting angle of the knife, allowing you to run the cutting table without the need for intervention during the production. Conventional V-notch solutions stop production to change tools or blade angle.
The Need for Speed
Enhancements to existing products or new features on recent introductions focus on increasing speed. With this common denominator it seems safe to say speed is one of the most important offerings PSPs consider when it comes to new flatbed router/cutter systems.
The need for quick finishing “mainly comes from the ever-increasing speed of digital printers, along with the continued digitalization of packaging manufacturing,” shares Beatrice Drury, marketing communications manager, Zund America, Inc.
Nikolai Mikkelsen, president, VTX Tools, points out that speed increases on the print side means following on the finishing end. “With wide format digital print making leaps in performance over the last decade, narrowing in on traditional lithography/offset, while allowing for one-off and just-in-time production, the need for digital flatbed finishing is growing lock step. This is especially true in the packaging and point of purchase (POP) market segments.”
“Cycle time is one of the most important factors in productivity. Every company strives to satisfy customer needs. In an everyday scenario, an order is received and is then pushed through the production process. This job is quoted, designed, printed, finished, assembled, and packed up. Each step along the way has varying metrics to determine how long something should take and how much will be charged for each department. Getting the job done right and on time are always high on the priority list. But was the job completed efficiently within the projected/budgeted allotment?” asks Raum DiVarco, GM, Cutworx USA.
Price is no longer the main factor when it comes to customers choosing which PSP to work with. “Not only does increased speed allow for increased output, but the faster your turnaround, the happier your customers will be, which often means they will send you more work, even if your price is a bit higher than your competition,” admits Josh Martinez, account manager, X-Edge Products.
Also a large part of increasing speed is where the finishing device is placed in the production line. “Inline ability speeds up production and minimizes labor and handling of each job,” notes Keith Verkem, senior product manager, Colex Finishing, Inc.
Speed isn’t relative. DiVarco warns of the importance of distinguishing between rapid traverse and actual cutting speed. “Linear magnetic drive systems offer increased acceleration and cutting capabilities, which benefits materials like die-cut decals; graphics on coroplast, cardstock, and foamboard; as well as corrugated displays and boxes.”
Faster speeds also mean machines are used for more than signage, agrees Max Allen, director of wide format, GW wide format, Graphic Whizard Inc. This includes packaging, die cutting, and roll labels without tying up the cutter for extended periods. “Productivity equals profit. The increased speed of cutting tables can mean more throughput and more jobs completed during times of heavy workflow.”
Speed is important throughout the entire workflow. This is essential to understand. “From a production perspective, being fast in only one area can lead to production bottlenecks, so overall productivity is key to best results, with the introduction of greater automation to keep productivity to optimum levels,” suggests Caroline Anne Bell, marketing coordinator, Elitron.
“In reality, users aren’t looking for greater speed in finishing; what they really need is increases in productivity—especially, productivity they can count on. Without reliable workflow automation encompassing all aspects of the digital cutting/finishing process, from prepress to logistics, any advantages gained from high machine speeds quickly evaporate. This is why comprehensive and fully integrated workflow automation is so important and valuable,” concurs Drury.
Automation comes in the form of feeding, stacking, loading/unloading, and even sheet turning systems that complement a flatbed router/cutter, adds Bell.
Drury also believes an “intelligently automated system needs to include automated material handling. It would not make sense without the benefit of automated, unattended, pallet-to-pallet production capabilities.”
Multiple tools and/or automatic tool changing (ATC) systems is another topic surrounding new product announcements.
“Productivity is the driving factor behind the demand for ATC and multiple tools. Maximizing machine runtime during an eight hour workday is essential for meeting deadlines. ATC features are beneficial for both productivity and ease of use, especially for less experienced operators,” says Nick Walters, technical sales director, Amcad & Graphics.
According to Mikkelsen, tool changing has been around a long time in the router world and is currently becoming prevalent in flatbed digital cutting. “The ability to change tools efficiently without operator intervention allows for productivity gains as the machine sets the changeover time versus the person. Especially if running ‘lights out’ or having one operator handling multiple cutters or machines. In addition, by allowing the machine to handle this process, the human error factor is also reduced.”
“The demand for ATC is driven by making the cutting process faster and more efficient. Having tools on hand or the ability to automatically change the tool allows for less manual intervention while running jobs,” agrees Verkem.
Allen points out that “reducing touch points through automation will minimize errors and costly mistakes, as well as lead to more uptime on the equipment.”
Equipping a flatbed router/cutter with multiple tools—whether automated or not—is also good in terms of versatility. “The addition of the ATC provides the customer with greater capabilities beyond just digital printing and cutting. It allows customers especially in the POP, theater, or exhibit manufacturing sector to use the machine in their production workshop to cut wood, plastic, foam, and metals,” says Roy Valentine, sales manager, Techno CNC Systems.
“The demand for increased versatility is on the rise, hence sophisticated tooling systems are developed. Cutting, creasing, multi-milling, v cut, kiss cut, all in one system. This provides the opportunity to offer a multitude of possibilities to clients and increase creativity, while using many different materials,” explains Bell.
Multiple tools as well as ATC meet the versatility of substrates seen in today’s print shop. “With an ever widening selection of materials comes a need for even more diverse tooling selection. With that, the need to quickly change between those tools to handle the various materials while still increasing throughput, an ATC and/or multiple tooling becomes a must rather than a luxury,” states Martinez.
“This is another important aspect of workflow automation aiming to maximize productivity and keep the need for manual/operator intervention to a minimum,” adds Drury.
The sophisticated technology involved in linear drive systems continues to advance.
Linear drive systems are the next step in the evolution of cutting and routing. “As the performance requirements for cutting productivity continue to scale, the speed of rack and pinion and belt drive systems are beginning to plateau. This is why linear motors are becoming the latest buzz word. Just as linear drives did for wide format digital printers, these types of drive mechanisms allow for previously unheard of accelerations and speeds, equating to performance gains,” explains Mikkelsen.
“Linear drives offer tremendous advantages in terms of speed, acceleration, and positioning accuracy. They are also highly reliable, wear free, and energy efficient. These capabilities all play a tremendous role in generating the kind of productivity Zünd was looking for in developing its latest, fourth generation of digital cutting systems,” shares Drury.
According to DiVarco, evolved linear drive systems reduce mechanical wear and tear. “In the past, achieving higher speeds with rack and pinion drives required larger motors, heavier gantry systems, increased costs, and potentially compromised performance. However, innovations in encoder designs, linear motion, and driver technology have enabled machines to operate at faster speeds without sacrificing performance, versatility, and precision.”
“There are certainly technological advancements for linear drive systems, and these result in greater speed, acceleration, and accuracy. This leads to jobs being completed in less time and greater precision, resulting in an overall increase in the quality of the end product,” adds Bell.
Additional trending topics surrounding flatbed routing and cutting include sustainability and high-performance materials used in the construction of the actual hardware.
Sustainability is more than a buzzword. Elitron is combating it head on with its Elitron Power Management System (EPMS). Installed on the company’s full range of cutting systems starting in 2023, EPMS reduces the energy consumption of the vacuum found on the finishing devices by up to 50 percent.
“It’s engineered using an electronic control board, designed entirely by Elitron, interfaced with the inverter, to manage a series of dedicated sensors, to optimize the operation of the vacuum motors. The electronic board ensures optimum vacuum power is used on the working area. Simultaneously, it monitors the maximum current absorbed by the motor, to guarantee continuous optimal working conditions. A compensation valve is used to constantly guarantee the required vacuum power, while maintaining the optimal working temperature of the vacuum motor even during intense workloads,” shares Bell.
The construction of the newest routers/cutters should be addressed. Mikkelsen points out that with linear drive systems increasing speed, thus setting new acceleration benchmarks, this leads manufacturers to introducing new inertia loads, which require fresh approaches to design.
“The forces resulting from such unprecedented speed and acceleration require changes to the machine substructure, whose build needs to be exceptionally stable to guarantee smooth operation and maximum cutting accuracy,” agrees Drury.
Materials such as carbon fiber to lighten or strengthen the gantry or concrete that creates both mass and rigidity to the machine’s base are used to dampen inertia, lighten loads, and create more rigidity, explains Mikkelsen. “The more rigidity incorporated into a design, the greater the increased performance available from linear drives can actually be utilized,” he continues.
Mineral casting, a type of concrete that combines minerals with a binding agent, provides stability for the Zünd Q-line substructure and is capable of handling any load level while maintaining superior precision, according to Drury.
More devices are being constructed from stable materials. Techno’s Titan is an all tubular steel construction that is welded, precision machined, and stress relieved. “This allows the machine to route any wood, plastic, or metal with precision and ultra smooth cutting results. Top-of-the-line components result in long operational life,” attests Valentine.
Kongsberg Precision Cutting Systems’ (PCS’) MultiCam Apex 3R CNC router “features a heavy, all-steel tube frame that ensures durability and makes it more rigid, which reduces vibration and improves routing quality,” shares Matt Thackray, VP/GM, Kongsberg PCS operations in America.
Mikkelsen says the next hurdle is tool model design. “For example, the current frequency of oscillating tools for cutting corrugated cardboard precludes most new linear drive machines from running at peak performance. Overcoming this performance achilles heel is the next test of a manufacturer’s ingenuity in design.”
Future of Finishing
It’s a new age for digital finishing with breakthrough advancements. Manufacturers introduce innovative technology, from the substructure of a device to swiftly changing from one tool to the next or automating material handling.
Sep2023, Digital Output