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Print service providers are constantly seeking ways to increase their bottom lines by working faster and smarter. Because of this there is a great deal of effort being focused on increased productivity for increased profits. While much of the focus lies in choosing the appropriate digital presses, it cannot be overstated that shops wishing to increase their bottom line should investigate automated cutting systems for finishing products. Investing in semi-automated or fully automated system allows the PSP to increase productivity while providing a higher level of efficiency and accuracy. Our experts weigh in on the matter.
MultiCam, Inc. promotes CNC technology with this issue in mind. "With the price of large-format printers becoming more economical, the digital finishing industry has grown tremendously in recent years. Now smaller shops can afford to purchase roll-feed, flatbed and hybrid printers. But printing with these highly productive pieces of equipment is just half the job. Then printing companies must use another technically advanced machine to automate the cutting portion of their production," says Shawn Kirsch, tech support application specialist, MultiCam.
Automated Versus Semi-automated
Making the decision to choose between an automated or semi-automated system may be difficult, especially for the PSP that is new to the world of new technology. Digital cutters are not new to the printing scene but the technology is constantly being upgraded, providing new options and opportunities.
Reto Woodtli, general manager of Zund America, Inc., gives advice to those seeking to purchase an automated or semi-automated cutter.
"The first thing they have to look at with automation is the existing format. Are they running high volume, wide format? It's something that the print companies have to look at to make sure that they get the best return of investment, that they don't buy overkill that in the end will restrict them even more than actually help," says Woodtli.
"A fully automated system can maybe restrict some flexibility that you have with a semi-automated [system]. It does not always make sense. The semi-automated system, to me, is a good start for a small to mid-size company. The advantage of a semi-automated is that the cutter is given the piece of productivity and not the operator. Before the operator would control the output; with the semi-automated it's an inexpensive that allows the cutter to dictate the productivity."
James McNickle, director of marketing and customer service at the Fletcher-Terry Company, talks about the company's semi-automated platform. In McNickle's experience, choosing to upgrade to a semi-automated system just makes sense, particularly if one is focused on increasing productivity and profits. McNickle discusses a recent art show where the need for automated or semi-automated cutters was evident. There are many customers that continue to hurt themselves—financially and sometimes physically—by sticking to their old school ways.
"All people want to do is they want to cut cardboard but they want to use it as packing materials for their artwork. Right now they're cutting with a straight edge and a knife. They're not getting good cuts; they're having people getting injured. It's a very slow process," says McNickle.
"Cutting comes in a variety of different formats in terms of end usage for packing for finished signage for cutting down large pieces that need to be cut down to a usable size. There's a lot that goes along with that."
McNickle says Fletcher-Terry has developed a solution for this type of customer. "Fletcher-Terry is going to be coming out with an affordable entry level cutter that will get them from a straight edge and a knife into a cutter range."
McNickle talks about various areas focused on by Fletcher-Terry regarding increasing productivity and longevity of the equipment.
"The other thing that we promote—what provides more value to the end user—is what we call our interchangeable cutter head platform. That means they can buy a wall machine and they get a selection of heads that will cut [various substrates] because they all require a different kind of head. What we promote is that you can buy a unit and hold onto it for twenty years and that machine will never become obsolete because of the new cutting heads that we come out with that can be adapted to that machine. So we try to promote longevity of investments for the smaller shops."
Kirsch discusses how the design of their products improves flexibility: "MultiCam constructs the table to maximize machine rigidity so printers can take full advantage of the routing side of the Digital Express. Use it on heavy substrates without sacrificing productivity or cut quality. Companies also benefit from the high-speed servo-drive system while knife cutting on light substrates. With the wide range of cutting head attachments MultiCam offers, printers may configure machines based on their specific application and production requirements.
"In the past, contour cutting was an application reserved for long-run production as no economies of scale existed in the short-run production market. Now with the use of its MultiVision digital registration system, MultiCam offers economical contour cutting for the short-run market," says Kirsch.
Woodtli addresses the importance of flexibility and offers advice to those searching for the right product for the company.
"A lot of customers, especially new customers, have the tendency to look at what they do right now. Maybe they work in a niche or maybe they have one big account that accounts for a lot of their sales and they buy equipment with that specific application in mind. They don't look out of the box. They don't look at what possibilities a digital cutter actually gives them," says Woodtli. "They should always invest in a system that can grow and adapt with them. There's nothing more frustrating than having all this productivity out there and then they are limited by equipment and they have to make huge investments again just for the machine to adapt."
"A digital cutter does not just cut, it is a cutter, it is a router, it is a creaser, it is a droid – all of these things that give customers huge opportunities and possibilities if the equipment can grow with the ideas and the development of the customer."
Woodtli also points out that the PSP should focus more on productivity versus speed as there are many factors that need to be considered. "The second point is productivity versus speed. Some customers focus on speed. The top speed is not what really counts. What counts is your throughput. How simple is it to set up a job? How fast can you change between jobs? All these factors are almost more important for productivity. Speed doesn't count that much. If it takes you 10-15 minutes to upload and set up a job, that's more time than the average job runs."
Fletcher-Terry continues to produce semi-automated systems with an eye toward the future.
"We're still in the category of being a semi-automatic we're not an automated cutter we're not into the contour cutting capabilities, says McNickle. "That's not our gig. We're into straight line 90 degree cutting."
"The philosophy we're taking in a marketing direction which we developed about a year and a half ago is 'follow the substrates, follow the money,'" says McNickle. "What that means is that these common substrates used in common industries are all crossing over. Wherever the substrates go, that's where we're going to go because they need to be able to finish it and cut it. We get people buying our cutters that are making U-Haul trailers. It's a substrate—I don't care how it's used it still needs to be cut in a uniform, clean finish."