As the economy continues to flounder, companies continue to look for additional ways to save money, while trying to remain competitive in their respective fields. Work staffs have been pushed to the limits as some companies try to survive with the “doing more with less” mentality. Wide-format print providers have increasingly turned to automation as a way to improve efficiency and profitability. Cutting systems and routers are an important piece of the profitability equation. Wide-Format Imaging contacted a variety of print providers to find out how shops are integrating them into their workflows.
1) How has purchasing a wide-format cutting system and router helped your workflow?
Brian Bass, owner, Bass Print Solutions, Springfield, MO: The cutting system has helped us to be more competitive on higher quantity print direct to substrate jobs. For example, we recently reproduced a job that we had done before we had the I-Cut Kongsberg I-XL system. This job was print direct to substrate two sides and trim out in an odd shape. The first time we ran this job we had approximately eight hours in finishing time. When we did the job the second time, utilizing the I-XL, we cut that time to two hours.
Emily Williamson, president, Franklin Imaging, Columbus, OH: The router has allowed us to choose between a “print then cut” workflow or a “cut then print” workflow. For most jobs, it makes sense to print first then cut, but there are some jobs where the opposite is true. For example, we run truck magnets for a large company and have found that it’s much faster to have the pieces cut first, and then they can be laid out on a metal template to be printed. The weight of the roll would make it quite cumbersome to print first. In this application it is enormously helpful to have the roll feed option on our cutter. The cutter continues to advance while it cuts, so the operator stands at the end of the machine and grabs the magnets after they are cut. The cutter has also made it possible for us to run volume jobs through our shop. We would never be able to keep up if we were cutting pieces by hand.
Joseph L. Garcia, CEO/president, New Era, Austin, TX: Our workflow has improved significantly. Our cutting system has enabled us to completely eliminate hand cutting. We were hand cutting 100 percent of our output and now hand cut almost nothing. There were three people hand cutting and now there is one person running the Zund G3.
Frank Cusano, operations manager, Vernon Display Graphics, Carlstadt, NJ: Before we got our system, we had been either hand routing our smaller projects or farming out some of the larger projects to local houses. It is absolutely amazing how much smoother our projects are being turned out with less pain and heightened productivity. Since its installation, it has been one of the most productive pieces of equipment in the house running almost all day, every day, over multiple shifts. It still blows my mind how we had operated in the past without it.
Greg Ebert, prepress manager, The Garvey Group, Niles, IL: I can’t imagine having a wide-format solution without a cutting system in place. The press runs are typically under 150 sheets on any given form, with quantities being an average of 20 to 50 sheets. These jobs would be difficult, if not impossible, to produce within a deadline if we would have to outsource cutting, and are impractical for getting a die made for our die cutter. The cutting processes that we employ for various substrates vary greatly, so that the ability to go from one job to the next quickly using different modules on our Zund is an advantage.
David Merrick, president, BIGraphics, Nashua, NH: The M3000 Flatbed Cutting System from Gerber Scientific Products added capacity to our finishing department without having to add staff. Its production capacity is the equivalent of an additional staff member, so it allows us to generate more jobs with the same number of employees and it alleviates the physical strain that cutting by hand can cause BIGraphic’s staff.
2) Has this equipment helped improve your profitability? If so, how?
Bass: It’s a little too early to know for sure, but my instinct tells me yes. Some jobs we would have to outsource the finish work because we didn’t have the capabilities of the I-XL. Now we can keep that money in house. An increase in production speed, as well as offering our clients new finishing options, has already won us some new work that we wouldn’t have had a chance on before.
Williamson: It can be difficult to breakdown the color department revenue by print vs. cut, but much of the work we have we couldn’t do at all if we didn’t have our cutter. When we give tours it is typically the router that piques the most interest. The cutter saves tremendously in labor. One operator can run the cutter and the flatbed printer and produce finished pieces in a fraction of the time it would take to cut them by hand.
Garcia: We were able to lower our overhead because of the staff reduction with hand cutters. We now can cut aluminum, acrylic, foam sheets, matte boards and many other rigid substrates that have allowed us to offer new products and enter new markets.
Cusano: Absolutely! It has taken the smaller projects from hours of manual labor to minutes of machine time with greater precision and vastly improved quality. On the larger projects that we were sending out of house, we were obviously paying considerably more than our costs of now producing in house. Also, logistically, it became somewhat of a nightmare moving large pieces of material from one shop to another and back again. This saves us countless dollars in trucking, packing and material handling fees.
Ebert: We have been in the wide-format digital UV business for only a year now, so it is difficult to make a comparison at this time. An interesting piece of business that we really hadn’t thought much about when we installed the Zund have been those projects that we are cutting only, such as large display letters and shapes for retail that are cut from rigid substrates.
Merrick: Our packaging partners engage us to produce one-of-a-kind samples or small quantities of custom-printed marketing pieces. The M3000 gives us the capability to do these types of jobs very quickly and extremely economically. It is a win-win situation for our clients and us. We have also greatly reduced our own shipping costs by creating custom-sized shipping boxes using the M3000. Each day we make one-up, custom boxes to fit whatever job needs to be shipped. Previously, we purchased prefabricated boxes at $4 to 5 per box, and now we buy 4x8-foot sheets of corrugated cardboard for roughly $2, and quickly fabricate any box we need at a much lower cost.
3) What type of projects are you using them for?
Bass: We use the I-XL for several types of projects, including retail POS and POP and indoor and outdoor signage. One off “die-cut” mockups, which would not have been cost effective before when we had to outsource, are now done in house. In addition to direct to substrate large-format printing, we also produce digital offset printing. For short-run jobs, we use the I-XL for die cutting, which we also had to outsource in the past.
Williamson: We see a lot of demand for kiss-cut stickers. Customers love that they are not stuck with standard sizes/shapes and enormous quantities. One of our corporate customers had us print and cut out life-size photos of their executives. The pieces were a big success at a fundraising event. Employees could pay to have the figure attend meetings or visit their cubicle. We have also been creating custom boxes for clients. Our most popular substrate is probably brushed metal Dibond. We have created interior signage, as well as show pieces, to display customer projects in their conference rooms or lobbies. The pieces look beautiful when hung with standoffs.
Garcia: We are using the system to cut output from of our HP flatbed and grand-format latex printer, including acrylic panels for our interior design customers, aluminum prints for our B to C channel and mass retailers.
Cusano: We primarily do in-store temporary and permanent displays for the POP/POS retail environment—some of them large chains and some for smaller.
Ebert: We use the cutter for virtually everything that comes off of our UV digital press. Currently, we produce a lot of window signage with complex shapes and very tight borders. We use it for POP displays and packaging with direct print on corrugated stocks. We do some prototyping that can lead to larger quantity runs that eventually are printed on our litho presses and sometimes our die cutter.
Merrick: The ability to cut all kinds of materials was a major factor. Our varied customer base means that we are frequently cutting foamboard and Gatorfoam, as well as plastics of all kinds including styrene, Lexan, and PVC. And, the M3000 is sturdy enough to handle the rigorous finishing requirements of Alumalite and Dibond. Our shop also maintains an “office clean” environment, so the M3000’s ability to knife cut plastics like 6mm PVC is a really great and the on-board vacuum system allows us to cut Alumalite or Dibond with virtually no mess.
4) Have the products lived up to expectations for your particular needs?
Bass: Like any new piece of equipment there is a learning curve. Once you have an understanding of which tools work best with different medias, this machine is awesome. It affords us repeatability that you just can’t get when you’re finishing by hand.
Williamson: We have been quite impressed with our cutter. It has had no downtime or service calls to date and the training time isn’t as significant as I expected it to be. When we try a new substrate or application there can be some trial and error as we figure out how best to do it, but overall it’s not been a source of headaches for us.
Garcia: It has absolutely lived up to expectations.
Cusano: We have put it to the test creating many different displays, some with very creative concepts, and a wide variety of materials and it has exceeded our expectations.
Ebert: We haven’t had to turn down any projects for the cutter. Zund offers tools for most substrates and thicknesses. The only tool missing from our cutting abilities is a pneumatic tool, which we are considering for thick board materials that are too heavy for our EOT, (Electric Oscillating Tool). A pneumatic oscillating tool (POT) is available from the manufacturer when we need it.
Merrick: Complex contour cutting, short-run full-color boxes, marketing prototypes, and custom corrugated packaging – the M3000 can do all this and more. It’s an ideal finishing solution for today’s graphic suppliers. It is tremendously versatile and fits the needs of our business model perfectly. It has been an outstanding addition to BIGraphics.