Finishing: On the Cutting Edge

As wide-format technology continues to evolve, with new products and procedures popping up seemingly everyday, the question becomes how have these changes affected the finishing market. In order to keep up with the new technology, companies need to invest in updated routers and cutting systems. What type of equipment is being bought? How is it being used? How is affecting in-house workflow? These are among the questions we asked several high-level executives at various print providers. Based on their answers, router and cutting system manufacturers seem to be keeping pace quite nicely.

Q: Why did you purchase your wide-format cutting system and router?

Scott Cohen, president, King Kolor: We had gotten very good at square cutting, but still struggled with custom shapes and contour cuts. I had been looking for a table for close to two years. Then the team at Gerber told me about their M3000. I attended a demo and we took delivery about a year ago.

Larry Ennis, owner, Custom Printed Graphics: We purchased our MGE I-cut digital finishing system right after we took delivery of our first Vutek UV flatbed printer in early 2006. We realized to better utilize our 10.5' flatbed printer we needed a sophisticated cutter.

Troy McGinnis, general manager, Gigantic Color: We have run digital routers for almost 10 years now. We needed the finishing speed and accuracy that would tie directly to our large-format digital business.

David Merrick, president of BIGraphics: We always invest heavily in new technology so we can keep pace with our creative customers' demands. We recently installed the M3000 Flatbed Cutting System from Gerber Scientific Products to take advantage of its automated, digital cutting of both rigid and flexible stock.

Q: Have the products lived up expectations for your particular needs?

Cohen: Absolutely. The M3000 can do everything Gerber said it could and more. The versatility of the tool kit and the ability to change out tools are great features. It can also perform more than one function in the same job without stopping.

Ennis: Yes, our I-cutter has done everything we have asked of it working within its given parameters.

McGinnis: We have had several different systems, from the very first MGE I-Cut system to Zundt to MultiCam units. The biggest improvement over the years is the robustness of the units as well as the overall integration with the printer RIP stations.

Merrick: Our M3000 is a durable, reliable, attractive machine that features a 6'x10' table that can accommodate our oversized graphics. Its versatile range of tools permits us to finish just about any of the commonly used graphic substrates—all at a more reasonable price than comparable machines. It is tremendously versatile and fits the needs of our business model perfectly. It is an outstanding addition to our company.

Q: What type of projects are you using them for?

Cohen: We produce everything from large-format standees to strip signs that go in bookstores. The ability to print and cut without "eying things up" and cutting by hand is fantastic.

Ennis: We use it for 95 percent of the finishing work coming off our digital flatbed printers, whether it's a routine rectangular cut or almost any shape imaginable, on almost any substrate up to one-inch thick. It also lets us score and drill precise holes where needed.

McGinnis: Our routers now cut in upwards of 70 percent of all work that comes off our flatbed units. There is still a need for traditional guillotine cutting for square cuts numbering in the thousands.

Merrick: 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. It does a great job on lenticular plastic and minimizes our breakage and redo rates. We have been producing quite a bit of lenticular plastics display materials and it makes manufacturing them easy—even when contour cutting.

Q: How has this equipment helped your workflow?

Cohen: The M3000 has automated our finishing department immensely and has increased our capabilities, and our shop-floor capacity. We can now do a lot more business with the same staff.

Ennis: It's helped our workflow by giving us greater flexibility in how we can layout our production off our digital flatbed printers. We do most of our die cutting in-house now rather than outsourcing.

McGinnis: They dramatically changed our capabilities. We no longer rely on manual systems and the repeatability is fantastic. We don't even need to add bleed to images anymore. We recently installed the new HP FB 7500 flatbed and when that machine is kicking out 100 5x10-foot boards an hour you better have the finishing to keep up.

Merrick: Investing in the M3000 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. The automation of the M Series alleviates the physical strain that cutting by hand can cause. For instance, cutting 10 18x24-inch sheets by hand or with the wall-mounted straight cutter is time consuming and in the end the person is physically tired. Not only are the finishing results consistently accurate and the speed impressive, but installing an M Series cutter has made for a happier finishing staff.

Q: What is the most unique/interesting wide-format project you have worked on?

Cohen: We do a lot of packaging comps, short-run boxes for clients and many different display items. Each of them is interesting in their own way.

Ennis: We did a dinosaur standup cutout that was digitally printed on 2mm sintra and I-cut along with the easel. We also did a stand-up Santa and Christmas tree that were digitally printed on C-flute white corrugation and digitally die cut along with the easels. The Box was digitally printed flat the I-cut and scored. Also the bow was digitally printed on 50-pt board then I-cut to look three-dimensional. Lastly, our promotional puzzle was digitally printed on 2mm sintra and I-cut along with the box it comes in.

McGinnis: That answer changes almost everyday. What was once unthinkable is now ordinary.

Merrick: Whether it is a marketing firm, ad agency, promotional company, event coordinator, or sign maker, BIGraphics meets their graphic needs both big and small. Even though our name implies large-format work, we do not limit ourselves to strictly oversized displays. From one-of-a-kind mural-sized graphics to intricate contour cutting of point of purchase displays, or short-run, custom-printed, corrugated boxes, we handle it all.

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