By Cassandra Balentine
Most wide format graphics require some form of cutting before they are considered finished. Depending on the environment, when it comes to automated cutters, print service providers (PSPs) may choose between a roll or a flatbed cutter. Roll cutters enable contour cutting of printed and non-printed output.
“A few ideal applications for roll cutters would be kiss cut and die cut decals, cut vinyl lettering for signage and banners, heat transfers, and reflective signage. Other applications include material marking, patterns, and stencil cutting for painting applications,” shares Phil Johnson, sales manager, AirMark Corporation.
Roll-fed cutting plotters have been a mainstay for sign companies dating back to the early 1990s, comments Paul Wagner, solutions architect, HP Inc. He says their popularity can be attributed to several factors including cost effectiveness, high productivity, and reliability. “Their primary use has evolved from cutting colored vinyl in the 1990s, to contour cutting printed graphics today. Traditional vinyl cutting remains viable for some applications.”
Maureen Damato, sales partner account manager, Colex Finishing Solutions, says the latest roll cutting equipment brings PSPs increased productivity, full control over turnaround time—removing shipping charges, increasing profitability, and removing outside vendors for jobs that were outsourced—leading to more consistent quality.
PSPs rely on many factors to determine whether it’s a good time to re-evaluate their cutting capabilities.
Wagner believes that before making equipment decisions, PSPs should consider current demands as well as in the context of anticipated growth projections and business goals over the life of the device.
Variables to consider include customer demand, outsource volume, floor space, and of course budget. “For most businesses, the time to integrate a cutter would be if they have been outsourcing a high volume of cutting work to other providers, getting more customer requests for cut vinyl products, or if providers would like to expand their product offerings beyond just print applications,” suggests Johnson.
He says most companies assume the cost of integrating a cutter is high and what most find out after investing is that the increased revenue from new product offerings, or a reduction in cost by producing cut vinyl products in house, generally returns profit within the first three to six months.
Accuracy and Productivity
Ensuring accurate cuts is essential to quality and productivity. A variety of functions aid in recognizing registration and improving print and cut workflows, including barcodes/quick response (QR) codes, cameras, and sensors.
Camera and sensing technology comes into play for automation and accuracy.
According to Wagner, optical sensor and camera technology advancement focuses on data processing improvements, including better resolution, edge detection, and faster scanning speeds.
Damato points out that the Colex Fotoba X/Y XLD-170WP wallpaper model now offers a tracking camera offering finished trim rolls of wallpaper with accuracy for butt joint installations.
To improve workflow, barcode-based solutions have grown in popularity. “Barcode scanning in the cutter combined with automated barcode generation in RIP software supports workflow automation such as unattended batch cutting, reduced waste, and improved productivity,” states Wagner.
Johnson agrees, adding that barcode workflow automation reduces the amount of user interaction that is required to cut graphics with cutter brands like Summa. “There are also advanced media handling options like an intelligent motorized take-up system that rolls up your cut media automatically after cut jobs are complete and the automatic cut off knife that can cut your media into sheets after cutting is complete.”
Advanced tracking systems like Summa’s dual servo feeding system improve cutting accuracy over distance and reduce waste by minimizing inaccurate cuts. Barcode recognition technology also increases production automation and allows users more time to work on other projects rather than having to continuously operate the cutter manually and send jobs one at a time.
“Roll cutters are a mature technology, with improvements coming in user interfaces and optical registration systems, as well as the integration of barcode scanners to improve workflow integration,” says Wagner.
Graphtec America, Inc.’s roll cutters offer Advanced Registration Mark Sensing system (ARMS), which is designed to efficiently load and process jobs automatically. The company explains that a cutter’s axis alignment is an important function used when intending to cut pre-printed media, such as stickers or decals. The axis alignment function electrically adjusts the contour cutting data to align with the printed image using reference marks. ARMS uses sensors to detect registration marks and performs the axis alignment.
The new HP Latex Plus Cutting Solutions ship with HP FlexiPRINT and CUT RIP, which includes solutions for long standing challenges with reading registration marks on metallic, non-white, and even holographic and prismatic medias. “When used in conjunction with the new HP Latex 700 W or 800 W printers, the HP Latex cutters offer unrivaled media versatility along with easy, fast, and accurate cutting,” adds Wagner.
Introduced in 2019, Mimaki USA, Inc.’s CG-FXII Plus roll-to-roll cutting plotter features the company’s ID Cut function, which is designed to enable continuous cutting operation to be performed automatically. It scans printed out register marks with ID, then reads and cuts cut data. According to the company, users can perform unmanned and continuous cutting operations, and operators can proceed with another operation simultaneously when the machine is cutting.
Designed for a print then cut workflow, Mutoh America, Inc.’s ValueCut 2 Multi-Purpose Cutting Plotter line offers all the functionality required by professional sign makers including traditional vinyl cutting for lettering jobs, contour cutting of pre-printed stickers, and a cut-through feature for the creation of individual stickers. Some of the latest features of the ValueCut 2 comes standard with an AAS Copy feature, which allows users to perform repeated cut jobs with one click from the RIP. In addition, the ValueCut 2 now allows disabling of the media sensor for cutting transparent media with ease.
Summa now offers a twin workflow option for users who have both a Summa roll-fed and flatbed option. “With twin workflow, you can create one cut file that can be used by both the roll-fed cutters with OPOS X—Summa’s latest optical registration sensor—and OPOS CAM camera sensor available on the S2 T Series, giving users more flexibility to register marks on any of their Summa systems,” says Johnson. “For most users, graphics are kiss cut on the roll-fed devices to achieve faster output speeds. Advanced camera profiles are available for both the roll-fed OPOS CAM machines to improve mark recognition on a range of materials including those with high reflectivity or with low contrast.”
Tooling Advancements and Meeting Challenges
Some challenges need to be addressed in terms of roll cutting, and equipment manufacturers are hard at work implementing these changes.
For example, Johnson says cutting single-ply materials with no liner can sometimes be a challenge. This can be mitigated by using a carrier sheet or Summa’s new automated sheet feeding system. “Overall the cutters are intuitive and easy to use. Airmark includes training with each cutter and unlimited toll-free technology support to ensure the learning curve with the cutter is short and to maximize uptime.”
The sheet feeding system available for the Summa S One cutter allows users to stack and feed smaller printed sheets into the cutter much quicker than in the past when they needed to be loaded one at a time. “Summa continues to add new blade types and angles as well as routing bits to accommodate cutting a wider range of materials,” says Johnson.
Tooling advancements continue to further roll cutter potential. Damato says the Fotoba X/Y Cutters offer increased speed and acceleration to avoid bottlenecks in delivering a finished job to the customer. Fotoba X/Y roll cutters handle 64- to 126-inch wide media for square X/Y cuts.
“The advantages of the Fotoba X/Y cutters are speed—capable of cutting a 150-foot roll in under ten minutes; accuracy; and the ability to automatically adjust to provide perfectly squared edges even if the roll is telescoped when fed into the cutter,” continues Damato.
Media handling and support is always an area of interest when it comes to roll-fed finishing equipment.
Damato points out that the Colex Fotoba X/Y cutters offer new options including a rewinder for wallpaper roll material and motorized jumbo roll feeders for jumbo rolls up to 880 lbs increase productivity.
Improved cutting of thicker substrates is another area seeing improvements. Advanced Color Solutions offers, among other cutting solutions, the Graphtec FC9000 Series. A newly developed feeding system and cutting head that has further improved cutting quality of thin and thick materials ranging from delicate window tint to rigid magnet and high intensity reflective.
User interfaces are also getting a facelift. Johnson agrees, noting that cutting technology from brands like Summa offer significantly better user interfaces like full-color touch screen menu systems to make operation much quicker and easier.
Summa’s new S One cutters have an intelligent, full-color touch screen menu system that allows users to quickly and easily make adjustments to their cut parameters like cutting speed, force, etc. Flash cutting, which is a feature exclusive to the Summa S2 Series, allows users to output cut-ready files using only a USB flash drive that plugs directly into the cutter. The newly released GoSign software includes new media profiling options that allow users to create their own custom media profiles to meet their exact specifications and this saves time and prevents errors when switching between different media types.
Wagner says the latest generation of HP Latex cutters feature an improved user interface and touch screen front panel.
Roll cutting equipment is a staple for many wide format PSPs. The latest features work on improving speed, productivity, accuracy, and material support.
Jul2021, DPS Magazine