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Trends and Innovations in Cutting and Routing Technology

Output providers continue to look for new cutting, routing and finishing solutions to help them provide the latest products and services to meet their clients' needs.

By Bill Schiffner

Today's cutting, routing and finishing technologies provide shops with more product offerings.

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  • Finishing has been a popular product service in print shops for decades, and continues to grow in today's competitive marketplace. Output providers continue to look for new cutting, routing and finishing solutions to help them provide the latest products and services to meet their clients' needs. They are demanding increased automation capabilities, seamless integration into their existing workflows, and features that will expand the overall versatility of the finishing services they can provide.

    Automated Solutions
    "There are two things going on in the industry. First, the ongoing march of digital printing continues. There is more digital output, and a lot of it is wide format. The continuing move to digital is driving print service providers (PSPs) to invest in more technology-based solutions to be competitive. It's one of the industry's few growth areas," commented Bill Hartman, vice president of business development, digital finishing at Esko. "As digital print is adopted, PSPs need to look at complete design-to-print-to-cut solutions. They should evaluate options for printing and finishing, as well as for the variety of software for workflow and possible automation."

    Hartman says that high-end shops will also need to consider material handling - a means to transport material from the printer to the cutter. As digital printers get more productive, better material handling will be needed to keep up with the volume of printed output. "On the other side of the spectrum, there are many, many small shops that are investing in entry-level cutters to match up to entry-level wide-format printers, to complete entry-level solutions," he added. "This is a significant trend."

    Utilizing More Diversified Substrates
    Pete Alsten, Zünd America's product manager, is seeing a trend toward ever more diversified substrates, from thicker, rigid plastics, cardboard, and even aluminum, which require routing and heavy-duty oscillating tools, down to thin polyester fabrics and mesh. "For output providers, this puts renewed importance on having a multifunctional cutting system, at their disposal that can easily and productively handle a very wide range of applications," said Alsten.

    "The workflow is changing more and more toward high-volume digital production consisting of longer single jobs, which are now printed and finished digitally, or multiple smaller jobs queued for the same/similar types of materials to minimize changeovers. Output providers are taking advantage, more and more, of the various levels of automation, from semi-automated to fully automated/unattended production for rigid and flexible materials."

    Demand for Cutting Vinyl
    "Vinyl cutters have been around for a long time, and Roland has been offering these devices for nearly 20 years. Early on, vinyl cutters were used primarily for sign making, but over time, they have become more versatile tools used for other applications, including apparel decoration, vehicle graphics and pre-printed decals and labels," said Roland DGA Product Manager Daniel Valade. "This evolution is due to the increasing capabilities of cutters, as well as new software available."

    "The apparel market is a sector where there is still significant demand for vinyl cutters," he commented. "The selection of materials available for heat transfer applications continues to grow, with glitter and hologram specialty transfers becoming increasingly popular."

    He points out that a growing number of digitally printable heat transfer materials that can transfer to a much wider variety of apparel substrates (beyond cotton and poly blends) are also showing up in the market. He says vinyl cutters are using these digitally printed heat transfer materials, along with the ability to cut rhinestone templates, to take garment decoration to the next level.

    Roland GX-24 Changing Marketing Trends
    Hartman adds that, with more flexibility in printing and cutting, marketers are collapsing - slicing and dicing - marketing campaigns. "Today, campaigns are no longer national. They're regional, ethnic and prepared in different languages. It is so targeted that displays in one store in a city can be different than the brand's displays at another store in the same city. There are more versions and a shorter life. This brings the pressure of rapid turnaround, and certainly projects that cannot be done by hand."

    He points out that time to market also brings with it a tremendous pressure for prototypes. "Every level of the value chain is accelerated. Pieces must be printed quickly. Prototypes must be cut automatically. It also means that software must be available that can automatically send jobs from design to print, to cut. If you do not have a plan in your operation to deploy technology across the design-to-print-to-cut spectrum, you are at serious risk from those competitors that do."

    "Finally, the greater ability of software systems to work with cutting and routing systems has fostered more creativity. We are seeing it in the ability to design more three-dimensional displays. It is not a huge trend yet, but it is happening. Of course, digital wide-format output is growing. This means more complex signs, displays and packaging. Textile printing is also growing rapidly," he added.

    More Finishing Solutions on Display
    From cutters to routers, laser engravers to high production finishing systems, there were a plethora of products to help sign shops finish the job. Let's take a look at a sampling of the current crop of finishing products that were on display at the 2013 SGIA Expo in Orlando.

    Roland GX-640 Cutting Edge Innovations at Roland
    Valade reports that optical registration systems, such as Roland's Quadralign technology, give vinyl cutters the ability to read crop marks generated from a digital printer, and precisely contour cut those pre-printed graphics, providing the user with a powerful and cost effective print and cut solution. The addition of user-friendly software, such as Film & Vinyl Designs offerings (for window tinting and paint protection) and Roland's R-Wear Studio (for Rhinestone templates) have also made it easy for traditional sign makers to transition into these growing markets.

    "Roland's proprietary Quadralign technology, which allows the optical registration of Roland's GX-640 to read crop marks produced by 64-inch Roland printers, represents a major advancement. Advanced software, such as R-Wear Studio, has significantly expanded the capabilities of Roland's cutters, while also making them easier to use than ever before."

    Valade reports that attendees at the 2013 SGIA Expo were able to check out their popular GX-24 Desktop Vinyl Cutter, as well as, Roland's most technologically advanced cutter to date - the Pro GX-640. "We showcased our innovative Quadralign technology, which allows Roland's cutters to be paired with the company's 64-inch print-only devices to form powerful print and cut combinations," he commented.

    A Trio of ValueCuts from Mutoh
    Mutoh America, Inc. showed their ValueCut cutting plotters, which were rolled out earlier this year. Specializing in long-run cut jobs and precision accuracy, the ValueCut 600, ValueCut 1300 and ValueCut 1800 come standard with a versatile roll support system for easy handling and perfect tracking, multi-segment registration for long-run cut job accuracy, a two-year limited warranty, spare blade, oil ball point pen and SAi Flexi starter software. The ValueCut 1300 and 1800 models include floor stand with media catch basket; both are options for the VC 600 model. These products are said to be ideal for POP displays, decals, stickers and both indoor and outdoor signage.

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    Universal ILS12.75 Universal Laser Systems
    Universal Laser Systems showcased their laser lineup including the ILS12.75, their largest and most versatile platform. Engineered specifically for manufacturing environments, it can handle applications ranging from prototyping to automated manufacturing. The ILS12.75 incorporates a Pass-Through feature, which allows both side doors to be opened to process materials of unlimited length. Universal's ILS platform is also the only CO2 laser system in the world that can be converted between CDRH Class 1 and CDRH Class 4.

    The ILS series offers Universal's Camera Registration (UCR) that features a camera mounted inside the laser system to locate and determine the exact positions of registration marks on printed materials. Software adjusts the predefined cut path to fit the material. A laser system user simply places material close to the correct position in the laser system, and the UCR automatically makes adjustments to the cut path to fit the material where it is placed.

    Vision Engraving & Routing Systems
    Vision Engraving & Routing Systems' 1624R CNC Router/Engraver allows production shops to maximize workspace with huge capabilities. Featuring their Vision high-speed Series 4 Controller, a graphically advanced Vision Pro software and Red Laser Pointer for easy job setup, this machine is said to be perfect for a wide variety of applications, including contouring and routing. Applications include: ADA-compliant signage, routing out wood signs and cutout letters.

    Kern Laser Engraved Plex Vytek Laser Cutting
    Vytek Laser's L-Star Laser Engraving Cutting System is a system that offers versatility, high productivity and low cost of ownership while delivering top-notch throughput for both cutting and engraving applications. The company L-Star 450 Watt is a high-performance Laser Cutting System said to be ideal for plastic fabrication, POP and metal cutting.

    Kern HSE Laser Kern Laser Systems
    The HSE Laser System is the flagship model in Kern Laser Systems' product lineup. "The combination of fast processing speeds and superior beam quality over the entire tabletop has made the HSE our top selling model," commented Derek Kern, vice president of sales and marketing at Kern. The HSE100 feature a 52- by 100-inch cutting/engraving area. "The HSE has been very popular with sign makers and wide-format shops," said Kern. "These machines are sold as a turnkey package, and include the chilling unit, vacuum system, computer, monitor and all software needed to run the system. Acrylic, foam, wood and metal are just a few of the materials that are commonly cut or engraved on the HSE laser system."

    Summa F1612 Flatbed Finishing from Summa
    Royce Owen, director of marketing at Summa, Inc. explained that, with the debut of the Summa F Series flatbed in 2010, the financial investment for entering the flatbed finishing market has been significantly lowered, allowing for smaller companies who previously may not have been able to afford a flatbed finishing system to offer in-house finishing/prototyping services to their clientele.

    New Summa products on display at the SGIA Expo will include the S Class 2 (S2), the second generation of Summa's S Class range of flagship vinyl cutters. S2 features several substantial enhancements and upgrades to the original S Class, such as a seven-times-faster internal processor, full-color touchscreen display, Ethernet connectivity and the ability to store and run cut jobs directly from the cutter using a USB flash drive.

    Summa S Class 2 T Series Summa displayed the F Series F1612 Pro Flatbed System, "It's one of the most versatile and affordable flatbed finishing systems available. A brand new F Series routing system is available, expanding the capabilities of the F1612 into new realms and applications. In addition, Summa also showed the usual lineup of DC Series printer-cutters as well as the popular SummaCut Series of vinyl cutters," Owen concluded.

    Zund S3 Zünd Cutting Systems
    Looking at the most common upgrades to existing Zünd cutting system installations, Alsten has seen significant growth in demand for tooling required for cutting fabrics and also for processing thicker honeycomb materials (Bioboard, Xboard, Reboard, etc.). "These applications require specialized tools and, in the case of fabrics, material-handling options that can easily be added to Zünd cutter configurations."

    "With Zünd Cut Center 2.0, the latest version of the Zünd user-interface and workflow software, we have made the digital cutting process even easier and more productive. Zünd has been focused intensely on providing increased automation on all levels - software and hardware." Alsten added that the focus of their exhibit at the 2013 SGIA Expo will be on further productivity increases, again in terms of software and especially in fully automated material-handling (loading and off-loading).

    Colex Flatbed Cutting System
    Colex will debut its newest model Sharpcut Flatbed Cutter System. The Sharpcut is Colex's most productive and value added solution for finishing complex digital display graphics' jobs. "Most shops have a router today, but traditional routers cannot efficiently perform the necessary specialized functions inherent in the versatile Sharpcut," commented Werner Warden, Colex president.

    "The Colex cutter/router is special in that it allows finishing technicians to perform intricate cuts with the Sharpcut multi-functional mechanized capabilities. The Colex unique solution is its Triple Interchangeable Tool Head station that selects the proper tool for the job. Unlike most routers, the Sharpcut, in addition to its fixed knife and special oscillating knife for cutting and routing, can execute kiss cutting, creasing operations and V-Cut-90 degree angles as well as routing rigid substrates," he explained.

    Waden added that the Sharpcut Flatbed Cutter can be equipped with a semi-automatic board feeder, thus increasing productivity substantially while minimizing manual labor.

    "This provides users with the best affordable digital cutting automation system. The Sharpcut can also be equipped with a digital roll holder, allowing the cutter the versatility to cut blank or digitally printed rolls and boards."

    Kongsberg XN 3 Finishing Solutions from Esko
    Hartman claimed that Esko has been able to integrate the entire value chain, from design to print to cut. "This includes software to oversee the production of projects - and perhaps automate the process - as well as helping to speed up printing and cutting. Print providers must be prepared to handle more jobs of smaller job size with a quicker turnaround. Esko Kongsberg cutting tables and i-cut Suite software - which help coordinate printing and cutting as well as providing efficient methods to build projects (e.g. nesting) - address those points," he concluded.

    Kongsberg XP Auto

    Bill Schiffner has covered the imaging industry for more than 20 years. He has reported on the many new digital technologies that have reshaped the imaging marketplace.

    This article appeared in the SGIA Journal, July/August 2013 Issue and is reprinted with permission. Copyright 2013 Specialty Graphic Imaging Association ( All Rights Reserved.

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