By DPS Magazine staff
Cutting is an important function for any print environment. The versatility and volume requirements of each specific business helps narrow down the options.
Above: Rollem’s slitting systems are equipped with a programming module to allow operators to set the placement of slits and perforations on a sheet.
“Digital print providers need finishing equipment robust enough to handle higher volumes while being uniquely designed to meet the requirements of today’s short-run digital space,” shares Bob Flinn, director, business development, Standard Finishing Systems.
Simple-to-operate equipment capable of handling multiple applications with a smallish footprint are ideal for digital print settings. Advancements in physical features as well as software and workflow integration make these systems more efficient and powerful than ever.
The Digital Difference
Multifunction slitter/cutter/creasers and similar devices provide the versatility, reliability, and ease of use required by many of today’s digital print environments. These solutions provide various combinations of cutting, slitting, trimming, creasing, and perforating in one device.
When it comes to cutting/slitting devices, shorter runs and more jobs means an increase in the variety of cutting plans. Flinn says this can create a bottleneck when it comes to post-sheet processing due to the amount of program setup required on traditional cutters. “Digital print providers need more versatile cutting solutions with quick setup and job memory storage to keep up with the number of jobs processed per shift.”
Chris Van Pelt, president, Therm-O-Type Corporation, says slitter/cutter/creasers have the capability to perform multiple finishing operations in a single pass without the need for a specific piece of tooling, like a die used on a rotary or platen press. “All cutter/slitter/creasers perform cross-sheet finishing functions by programming the desired position and function down the length of the sheet. Inline finishing functions—slitting/scoring/perforating/semi-slitting—are performed using quick change rotary tooling cassettes or auto adjustable tooling,” he explains.
Cutter/slitter/creasers are ideal for digital printing plants where operators frequently finish different products—typically in small quantities—during each shift. Van Pelt points out that once the equipment is programmed for the various products, changeover is generally quick and requires minimal operator skill.
While cutter/slitter/creasers are excellent finishing machines for many digital printing applications, they do have limitations. “Compared to other finishing equipment, like right angle slitters, rotary die cutters, and platen presses, they provide low throughput speed. Some models are extremely slow. As a result, they are not ideal for medium and large quantity orders,” shares Van Pelt.
When compared to the cutting needs of traditional print shops, there are essential differences to consider. Britt Cary, VP, marketing and sales, The Challenge Machinery Company, points out that the size of the jobs designated for the digital printer are typically smaller in quantity than traditional printers that require more frequent job setups throughout the manufacturing process.
“We used to place certain digital printers under the ‘short run’ output category, which requires finishing equipment designed to handle a little bit of this and a little bit of that,” explains Susan Corwin, director of marketing, Rollem International. She says, typically the equipment incorporated a variety of presets to handle the most common finishing applications such as trimming and scoring a greeting card or fold-over pamphlet. Often the equipment was limited in its ability to feed or handle higher quantities.
“When we compare these shorter finishing runs to offset printing—with runs in the hundreds and thousands of pieces—the finishing equipment for this traditional print environment must be built for true production runs. For example, the equipment should have the ability to feed skids of stock and operate at faster speeds to keep up with the press output speeds,” she explains.
Another significant difference is that some digital print engines will error in stretching or shrinking the images, causing the final product to not measure exactly the same size as it was designed. “This stretching/shrinking of the image creates more difficulties in finishing processes, like cutting, slitting, creasing, or folding,” cautions Cary.
Ray Hillhouse, GM, U.K. operations, Plockmatic Group, says the advent of digital print production brought in its wake a number of serious finishing issues. “Firstly, was the tendency of digital output to crack when folded, which was compounded by the lack of suitable ways of pre-creasing material prior to folding. Clearly, methods such as hand creasing or using a platen or cylinder press—both needing high levels of operator skill—were out of place in the pared down digital environment. He says there was also the issue of lengthy setup times, which again were at odds with the idea of digital being quick and easy. “What was needed was an effective pre-creasing system that was fast to setup, easy to use, and took up minimum space. Where short runs were the order of the day, speed of setup was as important as basic operational speed.”
Digital production environments have evolved with an emphasis on efficiency, space, cost, speed, and production. Max Allen, dealer manager, Graphic Whizard, points out that most of its digital customers require a versatile, all-in-one unit to reduce touchpoints and simplify operation so they can maintain volume while reducing staffing requirements. “An all-in-one slitter/cutter/creaser saves labor costs in the commercial space to help promote growth and higher profit—or it could be the only investment for an in-plant printer in order to turn a single employee into a productive print shop,” he suggests.
Digital print providers constantly evolve and often have to output work incredibly fast compared to tradition offset print environments, shares Kevin Chen, product manager, Duplo USA. As companies move to a short-run business mentality, multifunction cutters are ideal for many digital printer providers because jobs are instantaneously brought from the printer and processed in one pass.
Jim Driscoll, EVP, EMT International, says digital print provides the capability to efficiently produce shorter run applications with variable content and format as opposed to traditional longer run fixed format offset output with long setup times and run requirements. Features like automated format/position changes for inline sheeting, creasing and slitting applications triggered via a two dimensional barcode or press signal without requiring operator intervention or stopping of a digital press are increasingly important.
With versatility covered, multifunction cutting solutions for digital print providers focus on amping up productivity and efficiency to meet the ever-evolving demands of the printing industry.
“The more jobs you process, the more efficient you need to be in terms of information flow. Ensuring that job information is delivered to the operator in a timely way is critical to efficiency and optimizing lead times,” comments Chris Raney, VP of postpress, Heidelberg USA Inc.
Automation capabilities are the biggest advancement in terms of increased efficiency. Raney believes that this is an important feature that helps improve cutting productivity.
“Automation makes setup and changeover from job-to-job quick, accurate, and operator friendly,” explains Flinn. It can help shops reduce downtime, increase productivity, and doesn’t require highly skilled labor to operate compared with traditional cutters. In a market where the most skilled finishing operators are retiring, automation can help shops staff their floor without a drop in quality.”
“Barcode and registration mark advancements mean even less operator intervention is required to run a slitter/cutter/creaser, as operators can load their sheets and feel confident that they can walk away and receive a high-quality finished product,” offers Allen.
Software and workflow integration continue to play a bigger role. Flinn says it is increasingly important as customers demand more complex applications, where more finishing steps and more frequent adjustments are required. “Finishing solutions that feature automatic job changeover using dynamic barcodes are a real game changer. This capability reduces makeready time and eliminates manual touchpoints, potentially saving on labor and costly errors.”
Larry Hollingsworth, Eastern district sales manager, and Andreas Exner, Western district sales manager, Absolute Printing Equipment/Perfecta USA, see software as the answer to efficiency. They say for example, Perfecta has worked closely with print engine manufacturers to seamlessly integrate programming into the workflow that allows correct, error-free cutting in an instant. “In the digital printing world time is indeed money.”
In addition to automation and integration advancements, multifunction cutters continue to evolve in terms of productivity and capabilities. Van Pelt says this includes increasing sheets per hour, higher capacity feeders, and replacing bin type deliveries with conveyors. “Adding finishing capabilities has also improved efficiency and versatility. Adding die cutting, hole punching, blind embossing, strike vertical, and horizontal perforating, for example, dramatically increases the range of products that can be produced and enhances the marketability and profitability of the products.”
“Functionality like perforation help owners and operators put more digital output on a single machine to reduce setup time and equipment costs,” shares Allen.
Heavier stock weights and longer sheets are also in demand. “Heavier stocks mean customers can avoid embellishment like lamination and longer sheets are making printers more productive by ganging up more files and reducing print costs,” he adds.
One advancement is a new category of rotary sheet-fed die-cutting systems, which offer the ability to not only trim, slit, crease, or perforate, but also die cut in the same process. “Where some multifunction cutters perform single or bi-directional processing of products into squares and rectangles, the die cutter—equipped with a flexible die—can cut virtually any shaped product and place a perforation, slit, tab, or hole anywhere on the sheet,” says Corwin.
When considering the purchase of a cutter/creaser/slitter machine, Cary points out that it is important to not make the common mistake of thinking that all cutting processes required in your shop can be performed on such devices. “The cutter/creaser/slitter machines cut only one sheet at a time, which gives them the unique ability to more easily deal with common digital print inconsistencies. However, if all cutting requirements in the shop are demanded from these ma-chines, the sheer volumes run through them will cause the machines to quickly and prematurely reach their estimated product life. That error of thinking can be costly for a business,” he cautions.
As previously mentioned, software is critical to improving efficiency in the cutting process for digital print environments.
Hollingsworth and Exner ask us to think about the cutting process. “Cutting is still done the old-fashioned way, i.e. a knife is forced through a lift of paper. A single sheet of paper tears or cuts easily but a thousand sheets is very tough indeed. Software comes along and speeds up the makeready process, thus speeding up the entire process. Deadlines can be obtained using software,” they suggest.
Chen agrees, noting that workflow integration and software are crucial for efficiency. In fact, Duplo USA partners EFI to develop a workflow that saves up to 70 percent in setup time by automating job preparation and eliminating manual data entry with EFI Fiery Impose in Fiery-driven print environments. “This integration offers time saving workflows, reduces errors, and accelerates turnaround times,” he shares.
Software doesn’t have to be an additional purchase, as it is sometimes built into the cutters themselves. Allen points out that Pt 335SCC Multi from Graphic Whizard is programmed through the built-in touchscreen and doesn’t require external software. “Once a job is saved into the memory, the operator can either select the job or use barcodes to choose it automatically.
Barcoding doesn’t save a lot of time in the setup, but is invaluable in ensuring the right jobs are programmed and performed on the finished piece. By automating imposition with barcoding, operators can streamline the process to save up to 70 percent of their setup time,” he adds.
Hillhouse shares that workflow integration is typified by Morgana’s marriage of its AutoCut Pro product with a Morgana AutoFold Pro unit. “The Morgana AutoCut Pro delivers the benefits of three functions in one, with highly accurate cutting, slitting, and high-speed creasing in one system. Pairing this unit with the Morgana AutoFold Pro allows the user to work with a wide range of media. Working with new, longer formats, this equipment combination can turn long printed sheets into beautifully finished, six-panel brochures, as just one example.”
Multifunction finishing solutions enable users to perform an array of tasks like slitting, cutting, and creasing. These systems are ideal for digital print environments requiring versatility. As jobs become more complex and press speeds creep up, the efficiency and productivity capabilities of these machines continues to evolve.
Sep2020, DPS Magazine