By Olivia Cahoon
Nearly every printed sign requires some type of finishing before it is complete. Cutting capabilities are essential for the substrates output on—as well as hardware accessories like frames. When heavy-duty materials require cutting a saw blade is an ideal option.
Saw blades handle substrates such as aluminum composite material (ACM), plastic, and wood. In addition to cutting thick materials efficiently, saw blades also allow print service providers (PSPs) to bring large panel processing in house. Selecting a cutting device with a saw blade depends on the application’s material and teeth configurations.
Above: Atlas Saw & Tool released a saw blade designed for thin sheet aluminum cutting in Summer 2019.
Serving the Signage Industry
Saw blade cutting is a traditional finishing function that caters to sign makers and graphic production shops. Devices with saw blades offer benefits such as cutting multiple sheet materials, handling thicker panels, and utilizing different cut types.
There will always be a need for saw blades in the signage industry. While CNC routers are ideal for producing shapes such as circles, letters, and numbers, saw blades are better suited for the signage industry’s main products—square and rectangular signs.
“Saw blades provide a clean edge finish, just like CNC routers,” shares Kent Kerns, GM, Atlas Saw & Tool, A Fletcher Business Group Company. In straight cut applications, he believes the real advantage of using a saw blade is the ability to simultaneously cut multiple sheet materials. Unlike a CNC router, which can only cut one sheet, a saw blade cuts up to ten or even 20 sheets at once. “This can greatly impact a PSP’s ability to meet high-volume demands—increasing productivity, efficiencies, and turnaround time,” continues Kerns.
While saw blades are considered a traditional finishing function, they serve shops planning for future growth by offering capabilities that optimize current and improve future production.
For example, shops only cutting substrates are likely to choose a substrate or desktop cutter. However, those outsourcing panel processing and wanting to cut large panels and substrates—up to two inches deep—should look at saw blades, suggests Steve Sheetz, sign industry product manager, Safety Speed Manufacturing.
“The right saw blade, paired with the right cutting mechanism, makes cutting efficient, accurate, and easy,” he adds. Select systems feature interchangeable saw heads as well as cartridge heads that utilize different finishing features and cuts.
According to Michael Della Polla, president, Saw Trax Manufacturing, Inc., saw blades can achieve a specific finishing cut depending on the type of saw blade used. Other features also influence the cut’s finish, such as the number of teeth, the material’s cutting edge—carbide or steel, the angle of the teeth, and the tooth type—alternative taper or triple chip.
Applications & Materials
Saw blades handle a range of materials such as ACM, aluminum, composite panels, foamboard, plastic, PVC, and wood. Typically, most jobs that require sizing or straight cuts benefit from the use of a saw blade.
Saw blades are crucial for producing accurate straight cuts in square and rectangular signage. “Whether a PSP is printing signage on acrylic, plastic, or any number of today’s materials, a saw blade will always be the right tool for the job—especially where production efficiencies are needed,” recommends Kerns.
Any flat signage substrate that needs quick processing to an accurate size and with a clean edge benefits from a saw blade, shares Zack Wiggin, lead technician and partner, Hendrick Manufacturing. “Saw blades can be produced to cut any non-ferrous substrate, so the end user has many tooling options for their materials for optimal results.”
With the growth of soft signage applications in recent years, Kerns also sees a corresponding increase in the use of saw blades for frame-building applications. “Having the ability to produce a 45- or 90-degree saw cut that leaves a clean edge can greatly improve a PSP’s overall cutting and frame-building fabrication process and produce a better edge quality as well as increased joint results.”
Framed, digitally printed canvas is also trending—causing an increase in the use of saw blades for cutting canvas stretcher bars and aluminum profile frames. “This uptick is particularly noticeable among our large scale PSP fulfillment operation clients,” offers Kerns.
While there are alternative options available, these tools typically cannot handle the same heavy-duty cutting capabilities of a saw blade.
For example, CNC router bits, lasers, and router tools are considerable alternatives, but the processes are slower and the necessary machinery is usually more expensive. “CNC tooling is extremely accurate but when used to perform the same task as a saw blade, it is much slower and removes a wider kerf of material,” explains Wiggin.
When selecting a router, Polla finds most PSPs experience challenges with the router bit spinning sideways, which takes out a larger section of material. In turn, the router creates more dust and the cutting becomes slower.
While CNC router bits, lasers, and router tools can be used in place of saw blades, there really isn’t a technology available that performs the exact same function. “High costs, slow setup times, and the fact that they can only cut one sheet at a time often makes these options cost prohibitive—especially for PSPs with medium- to high-production needs,” shares Kerns.
With the signage industry increasingly using thinner, more flexible materials, saw blades remain relevant thanks to the ability to produce straight cuts, handle thicker substrates, and offer new advancements.
“Saw blades remain relevant by evolving with the needs of that industry,” comments Polla. “In my opinion, a well-equipped sign shop will always have a panel saw because it gives the flexibility of blank size and material used.”
Kerns agrees and believes that as long as there is a need to cut square and rectangular signage, saw blades will always be relevant, regardless of material. “Saw blades will always be able to cut materials more efficiently and at a greater capacity than a CNC router or laser.”
Despite their relevance, saw blade devices are impacted by an evolving market. While most businesses maintain the need for a saw blade on a regular basis, Sheetz says the number of thicker cuts has diminished as thinner materials become popular. However, thinner materials can also be cut with saw blades efficiently, although not always necessary. “Having good blades paired with the right machine allows for the capability to cut all products, straight and square, each and every time,” he adds.
To continue serving the signage industry, saw blades are designed with new advancements for heavy-duty needs. In recent years, saw blade systems have improved in terms of material handling, plate construction, and teeth configuration.
Advancements in saw blade technology are directly linked to increased material development. New substrates constantly enter the signage market, particularly recyclable substrates using extrusion or cast methods. “It’s critical that when a new material becomes available that there is a saw blade system specifically designed to precisely and efficiently cut it,” explains Kerns.
Saw blade plates are a critical component of the saw blade. While the teeth performs cutting, the plate ensures the teeth are properly aligned. Plates should remain flat after use to run straight and create smooth cuts without noise. Wiggin believes that “today’s saw blade plates are becoming much thinner to reduce the kerf—maximizing the yield in material.”
Teeth configurations and sharpening have also improved. “Blade manufacturers have many different teeth configurations to optimize the cut finish depending on the material a customer might be cutting,” comments Wiggin.
The saw blade tooth shape and the teeth grouping dictate how the blade cuts. Teeth configurations are designed for specific materials and cutting styles.
According to Polla, saw blade advancements also include upgrades to the carbide used on the cutting tooth surface and changes in blade angle and rake to create the best cut possible on varying material.
New advancements like teeth configurations and plate construction help saw blades stay relevant in a constantly evolving industry, especially with the ability to print to thinner, more flexible materials that don’t require such heavy-duty cutting capabilities.
The November issue of Digital Output continues the conversation on saw blades. Read about available tools and a custom framing chain working with saw blades on a regular basis in Staying Sharp with Saw Blades.
Oct2019, Digital Output