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What Really Matters about Digital Cutting

What Really Matters about Digital Cutting

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Published by Dejan Popovic
Zund Digital Cutter
Zund Digital Cutter

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Published by: Dejan Popovic on Jun 21, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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post press
Originally published in
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What really mattersabout digital cutting?
Lars Bendixen outlines the importance of criterianeeded when investing in a cutter/router
they often realise it makes sense to buy awider cutter than they actually need today.As you expect your business to grow, it isequally important to evaluate the cutter/routerupgrade possibilities and in particular the costof upgrading, both in terms of cuttingcapabilities and tooling and also in terms of productivity and automation.
productivity matters
Another common mistake is to look at speedor acceleration as an expression forproductivity. Specifications typically statespeed and acceleration as maximum figureswhen following a straight line in one givendirection. Actually, the figures may differconsiderably for other directions and, inreality, you will be cutting different shapesconsisting more of curves than straight lines.The cutter will further stop in corners toextract, turn and re-enter the blade whichnaturally also influences the productivity.When routing it is mostly the material andtooling that dictates the speed at which thecutter/router moves and, as a result, one cansimply not rely on the cutter with the highestspecification as being the most productive.Remember that productivity includes jobpreparation time, machine set-up orchangeover time, cutting time and materialhandling time. A larger cutter and cutters withextensions in the front and back enables you tocollect the cut parts and position the next sheetwhile cutting continues. Without such options,even the fastest cutter will never be moreproductive than the operator’s ability to removecut parts and feed material. In terms of productivity, eliminating such idle time can bemany times more effective than, for example,doubling the speed and acceleration figures.To figure out the real productivity you needto test the time the cutter/router requires tofinish several copies of several of your jobs,using your selection of materials. Cutting withtwo knives simultaneously obviously doubles thethroughput, so don’t forget to check whethersuch twin-cutting functionality is offered.Robust or bulky looking cutter/routers areoften expected to cut and route thickermaterials faster. Remember that no chain isstronger than its weakest link and even thebulkiest looking or strongest cutter/router isnever stronger than its weakest point.When cutting, the actual force which isput on the knife blade is mainly dependent onits geometry and how sharp it is (its ability tocut), how deep you cut and at which speedyou are cutting. All popular cutter brands areeasily able to move with forces which willbreak the blade; even bigger motors orstronger constructions, able to create evenlarger forces, will not necessarily bring theexpected advantages.For routing, and in order to take advantageof the fast X/Y moving capabilities, most cutter/ routers use high frequency routing spindlescapable of exceeding 30,000rpm. The weakestpoint is then usually the spindle bearings andthe force put on the bearings is amplified bythe length of the router bit. You must actsuspiciously when manufacturers claim theycan route deeper, faster, while utilising a highfrequency spindle. The real question is howlong the spindle will last when doing so?It is often assumed that cutting rigidpaperboards like Re-board, X-board andsimilar brands require a lot of force/strength.Due to the clever construction of theseboards, they are both lightweight andincredibly strong and rigid in use. But, forcutting, it is more relevant to consider theweight of the material rather than its strengthor rigidity. Less weight indicates that thematerial contains more air and then often cutsquite easily. Cutting 16mm Re-board materialat a speed of 1m/second typically requiresaround 100 Newton of horizontal force.For cutter/routers like the Zünd G3 this isan easy task, even in a 24/7 operation.
The advantages of digital cutting and anefficient print-and-cut workflow are eminentand new digital cutter/router models andmanufacturers continue to enter the market.Print service providers have been involvedwith digital printing for years and havebecome experts in evaluating, image quality,resolution, printing speed and other factors.But, when it comes to digital cutting, theymay face a new challenge in evaluating andselecting as yet unfamiliar cutting/routingequipment.
Popular multifunctional flat-bed cutter/ routers include Zünd, EskoArtwork Kongsberg,Summa, Aristo and similar brands. In thefollowing article we will discuss what reallymatters and what is important to look for whenevaluating and selecting such digital cutter/ router equipment.
size matters
Digital printing technology develops fast andequipment normally has to be amortisedquickly. Cutting technology, however, isdifferent and when buying equipment it is acommon mistake not to recognise that thelifespan of premium cutter/router brands oftenexceeds 15 years.It is, therefore, important to consider notonly your requirements of today but also yourexpected future needs. Most look for a cuttersize to match their current printing equipment;but when they look back to see how theirprinting formats have developed over time,
Eliminating machine stoppage due to material handling is the most effective way to increase productivity 
post pressversatility matters
Digital cutting presents printers with anopportunity to expand and differentiate theirofferings. Whether it is for new applications,new materials or new services, the largerrange of tools available and the more featuresoffered by the cutting system, the greater theopportunities. Even some opportunities appearunlikely or unimportant for the moment; butwho knows what the next 15 years and morewill bring? What happens when yourcompetitor suddenly offers a capability orapplication that your cutter doesn’t have?Obviously the question about cost of upgrading must be asked again.One often overlooked and underestimatedfeature is the ability to route to an accurateconsistent depth relative to the surface of thematerial. Applications involving bending of Di-bond aluminium composite sheet,engraving, in-lays, Braille, and many aspectsof illuminated acrylic signage requirev-grooves and slots to be routed in exact andconsistent depths into the material.Some cutter/routers are, however, onlyable to work with depth relative to the tablesurface. All table-plates have a flatnesstolerance of perhaps a few tenths of amillimetre. Often cutter/routers areconveyorised and the conveyor belt hasa thickness tolerance of a few tenths of a millimetre. On top of the conveyor belt,a sacrificial routing underlay is placed toprotect the conveyor, adding yet another fewtenths of a millimetre in thickness tolerance.Finally, add the thickness tolerance of thematerial being worked at and the fact thatrouting is not a clean process. In reality therecan be routing debris from previous jobs stuckin between each layer and summing up alltolerances makes it impossible to route withaccurate depth relative to the table-plate. Forapplications involving accurate depth,it is absolutely crucial that the cutter/router isable to work relative to the material surfaceand not just to the table-plate.Other often overlooked but valuablefeatures include the ability to route soft alloysand 3D signage, create Braille signs, cutpicture framing mounts, make multiple angledcuts and the ability to cut textiles. Digitaltextile printing is probably the fastest growingsector within the digital printing industry andtrim-cutting soft signage is often still a manualprocess, causing a bottleneck in theproduction. Digital cutting of printed textiles ishowever not an easy task. Make sure to askhow to avoid wrinkles and stretching. Somecutters are able to advance automatically andpull the textile off a roll. But is the textilestretched by doing so? What do you do whenthe print/media is distorted but you still needto cut it at exact measures to fit a mountingframe? Which tooling is used to cut textilesand can the textile even be fixed on the cutterby means of vacuum?
material fixation matters
When applying strong forces on a knife bladeor router bit, it needs to be assured that thematerial won’t move or be pushed away.Popular cutter/routers all use a vacuumsystem to fixate material while cutting, but notall vacuum systems are working equallyefficient.Most systems apply a vacuum pumpdesigned to generate a certain minuspressure. Such pumps are typically rated andcompared by their nominal powerconsumption and a cutter/router may include,for example, one or two 4kW pumps.This is, however, merely an expression of power consumption and not a true indicationof how well the material is kept in place whilecutting. Whether such pump will apply theminus pressure it was designed for largelydepends on the vacuum system being closedwith no air flowing into the system.This means that all unused areas of thevacuum table must be covered or closed off inorder to achieve a proper vacuum. In realitythis is not achievable. For example, whenrouting there will always be air flowing alongthe path being routed. The more you route,the longer the path, the more airflow andconsequently less vacuum and fixation isachieved. When working with porous paper-based or textile materials, air will be pulledthrough the material, creating a leak in thevacuum system which results in less vacuumand fixation.In practice, material fixation depends on acombination of vacuum and a certain airflowrate. Systems capable of high airflow ratestherefore generally work better, especiallyfor routing and cutting porous materials.For systems without high airflow capabilities,consider how much time is required to closeunused areas by masking and finally, ask howmuch the vacuum system will cost you inelectricity on a yearly basis. The vacuumturbine system used in the Zünd G3 typicallydelivers five times higher airflow using only afifth of the electricity required by conventionalpump systems.
ease of use matters
Most cutter/routers are operated throughsoftware of varying complexity. With time andexperience good operators may learn to workaround certain limitations regardless of thecutter brand. But, let’s face it, even goodoperators will not have the necessary know-how from day one and once operators haveproven their skills, they often move on andadvance to other positions.The amount of time required for a newoperator to get comfortably working with thecutter/router is a very important factor – and‘comfortable’ is the key word here. Whilecutting is often one of the last processesbefore the product is packed and shipped tothe customer, any mistake at this stage maynot only result in wasted, sometimesexpensive material but could cause a need forre-prints, overtime, missed dead-lines andeven lost customers. Just knowing this to bethe case is usually enough to make mostpeople uncomfortable.Operators are usually trained at the timeof installation, but how much of this training istransferred when, subsequently, one operatorhas to train the next? How intuitive is thesoftware? And does the system provide anyguidance for the operator in selecting theproper tool, knife and corresponding settingsfor the job? What about software tools for job preparation? Can the next jobs beprepared while cutting? Consider carefully howdependent your company wants to become onoperator skills and experience and howquickly a new operator can comfortably pressthe start button with confidence on the cutter.Digital cutting will always involve sometrial and error and good accessibility is a realadvantage. At times the operator needs topause the cutter to check for example thecutting depth. Consider how easy this is andwhich features are offered to keep theoperator safe in doing so. Can settings beadjusted in the middle of a job and cuttingcontinued? Is the job, for example, lost whenyou trip the safety features or press theemergency stop?
Originally published in
The weakest point of a cutter/router is often the tool/spindle bearings and not the X/Y drive system 

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