By Cassandra Balentine
Within a print shop, the need for productivity and versatility does not stop with print. Finishing—cutting in particular—is an area that must keep pace with the printing equipment it serves. After the purchase of a printing device, finishing equipment is often the next investment. Finishing bottlenecks often undermine a shop’s ability to maximize production with new print hardware.
Automation is the standard in larger shops. By tying into the workflow, a seamless approach to printing and finishing provides the ability to move more work through a shop in a day. With the increased demand for short runs mixed with longer run work, automation improves efficiency and productivity. Here, we tell the story of several print providers that improved productivity with investments in automated wide format finishing equipment.
Automation is King
Based in Union, NJ, 2XL Imaging began out of SAS Graphic Supply, a provider of offset hardware and software solutions. A family-owned company, the shop decided to create a printing division to serve its existing customer base in 2008.
Kevin Scharfstein, VP, 2XL, notes that the company was specifically created to offer wide format UV printing. Today, true to its original purpose, it sells to offset clients from SAS. The shop staffs 15 employees and runs three flatbed printers—one from EFI and two from Durst Image Technology US LLC; as well as three Esko Kongsberg cutters—two XP24 devices and one C; and several laminators to complete regular finishing requests.
With each new flatbed purchase the company makes, an automated finishing device to complement it is always included in the order. Scharfstein says he ultimately decided on Esko due to the company’s lengthy knowledge of end-to-end workflows.
Since SAS promotes the benefits of automated workflows to its client base, it is important that 2XL practice what it preaches and implement an automated workflow between print and finishing within its own operation.
The company installed its newest finishing device—the Kongsberg C—in July 2014. 2XL was the first North American installation site for this model.
The investment in the Kongsberg C followed a recent installation of a Durst Rho 1012. The company needed a finishing device that could keep up with the capacity from its newest printer.
Scharfstein admits that the purchase of the cutter was the best investment in years. “The table format works for the shop. It features a small footprint and is able to run landscape orientation through a 10×10-foot table without much additional space required to maneuver around the machine to load and unload boards.”
The Kongsberg C features Infinite Motion Control, which allows for continuous loading and unloading of boards, a feature that eliminates the time an operator spends walking around to manually perform the task.
“The cutter dictates the speed the operators go,” says Scharfstein. While the speed of the cutter is the same as the others in the shop, the automation is what makes the difference when it comes to increased throughput, he explains. “The time saved in eliminated manual load/unload is huge, and allows us to keep up with whatever comes off of the Durst Rho 1012.”
Scharfstein says the new cutter essentially runs on its own—half of one of his existing press operators can run the table. With the new set up in place, its older Durst and EFI wide format hardware run smaller jobs, while the new Durst Rho 1012 is tasked with the larger projects.
Two men, Berg and Bergseth founded B&B Image Group in 1935 under the name B&B Display. The company originally offered hand-painted signs and produced hand-built displays. Moving around Minneapolis, MN, today it is situated in the Northeast area of the city, overlooking the Mississippi River. The growing company operates with a staff of about 20, and plans to add to its team in the near future.
Over the past 80 years, B&B has transitioned from hand-painted signs to screenprinting to computer-to-cut vinyl, and finally, wide format digital printing and finishing. In the past two years, the company has invested more than a half of a million dollars in new printing and finishing technologies. Its ability to combine the latest in digital printing with traditional screenprinting enables the shop to produce a unique offering of mixed media graphics for the point of purchase (POP) industry.
“We have combined digital printing with the screenprinting of glitters, textures, thermal ink, and gloss clear spot and overprints,” says Jay Ostrander, president, B&B Image Group. “The majority of our work is for retail graphic and POP markets, but we also produce graphics for the manufacturing industry,” he continues.
The shop purchased its first CNC cutter because of its price tag. “It was about $50,000 less than a top-of-the-line cutter and we felt that it would handle most—if not all—of our needs,” explains Ostrander. “We didn’t have any experience with the equipment or the company we purchased it from and came to realize that there was more to CNC than just cutting out parts of a job,” he adds.
The company decided to upgrade and settled on the Versa-Tech 1.6-meter from MCT Digital. There were several factors that went into the decision to purchase this particular device, including the speed and advanced capabilities offered compared to its previous cutter.
Overall, Ostrander describes it as a top-of-the-line cutter with a good price tag. Additionally, the support offered by MCT weighed into the decision. “We got absolutely no support from our previous cutter vendor, which made it very difficult to get through the large learning curve of a CNC cutting system,” says Ostrander. “It’s not just the operation of the equipment, you have to know how to set it up with the various substrates and problem solve when things don’t work like they are supposed to,” he explains. “MCT has been there every time we needed them, and we never got the ‘oh no, you again,’ response that you might experience from a company that has already made the sale.”
B&B has completed many large jobs since the installation of the Versa-Tech in Summer 2014, which Ostrander says would not be possible without the equipment. “In addition to faster speed, which is crucial, the dependability of the machine to run 16 hours per day for four weeks straight makes the difference between completing jobs on time or scrambling to farm out the work and take a hit on costs and timing,” he adds.
The learning curve on the Versa-Tech was easier due to the shop’s previous experience with a CNC cutter. “It helped that we had a CNC before so that work was already integrated into our system,” explains Ostrander.
Ostrander adds that the Versa-Tech does a great job keeping up with its newest press, a high-speed, 5×10-foot Agfa Graphics Jeti 3020 Titan. Additionally, it has several projects that involve screenprinting thousands of full-sheet acrylic and PETG panels that need to be finished at a number of different sizes and shapes. B&B also performs in-house die cutting and some of this can be run on the Versa-Tech.
The Versa-Tech is a workhorse used for approximately 90 percent of the substrates that the shop prints on.
A New Link in the Chain
Based in Fort Worth, TX, Cockrell Enovation is a growing print provider offering digital and offset as well as large format printing. Coming from a sheet-fed, commercial print background, the company identified a need for large format capabilities and invested in an 80-inch EFI VUTEk QS2000 wide format printer in 2012. This investment enabled the shop to respond to wide format demands for existing clients as well as attract new customers by offering an expanded service set, including everything from banners and trade show displays to directional and event signage, and POP applications.
For a little over a year, Cockrell Enovation generated wide format print volume while outsourcing its wide format cutting needs or conducting it manually in house. The company knew an investment in a cutter was apparent and had the volume to justify it. It spent about a year surveying the market. Ultimately, the shop decided on a Zünd digital cutter, which was installed in July 2014.
John Cockrell Jr., VP, Cockrell Enovation, estimates that currently its wide format business makes up about ten percent of its overall operations, a number that has steadily increased since obtaining the capabilities. The Zünd operates about six to eight hours a day.
With the automated cutter, the shop does much more in house, saving on shipping and turnaround time. Cockrell provides an example that illustrates the magnitude of change in its productivity. Each quarter, the print provider is tasked with producing POP items for a fast-casual restaurant client. The job is typically a bundle that includes everything from freestanding corrugated signs to window clings and counter toppers for approximately 300 to 500 locations. Traditionally, this type of order was expected to take ten days to provide enough padding for finishing. Today, with automated finishing capabilities in house, the turnaround is cut in half to five days.
In terms of workflow, the cutter fit right into the print provider’s existing print MIS. “It becomes another link in the chain. Instead of taking the job off of the cutter, it flows straight from press to finishing,” says Cockrell.
Beyond the obvious wide format printing and finishing work that Cockrell Enovation now produces from start to finish in house, it has also improved the other side of the business. “It really supports the commercial print side as well. We do a lot of jobs that require specialty finishing through the sheet fed and digital products business that need to be die cut. With the Zünd, we are proactive with the types of products we produce, creating prototypes in house. It cuts time out of the process and makes it more professional then doing it all by hand,” he explains.
Having only a few months behind it on the shop floor, Cockrell estimates that the machine will pay for itself within six months. He calculates return on investment by looking at what they were spending on outsourcing versus the cost to bring it in. “From day one, the Zünd cutter has been advantageous,” he admits. The company expects its wide format operations to expand in the future and continues to invest in technologies to support this growth.
When a shop is in the position to ramp up productivity, it is important that all elements of the workflow are considered. Adding automated finishing could reduce time spent on simple tasks, enabling more jobs to flow through the shop each day. Once an investment in a new printer is warranted, consider how finishing is affected and what should be done to eliminate bottlenecks on the back end.
Jan2015, Digital Output