By Melissa Donovan
Part 3 for 4
Digitally printing and finishing fabric is something slowly making its way into manufacturing facilities. The technology enables short runs and quick turnarounds, which is bringing fabric production back into the U.S. None of this is possible without automated software programs found throughout the entire process from design to printing and finishing and even inventory management.
Finishing fabric is challenging, as the composition of the material easily leaves rooms for wrinkles and other problems that could prevent accurate cutting from occurring. A number of features are found in cutting software—traditionally bundled with a digital cutter—that are important to the digital print and finishing process.
Programs are available with features that group the graphics prior to cutting for optimal usage of the textile and to avoid waste. Gerber Technology CutWorks is a modular software system that offers a complete design, nesting, and cutting solution for flexible materials. CutWorks offers several powerful nesting packages including manual nesting and multiple automatic nesting modules to improve material utilization and nesting speeds.
Software for Laser Cutting
Software used on a traditional optical registration systems isn’t necessarily designed to handle all of fabric’s nuances and this is where advanced laser cutters and software come into play. “Fabric shrinks, requiring excessive dots or registration points to ensure accuracy. It takes time for the operator to add each individual dot and for the system to read each one. There are cases where this is time consuming, especially when you have sensitive fabrics,” explains Matt Gusse, VP sales and marketing, Advanced Color Solutions (ACS).
Christina Lefebvre, area sales manager North America, Matic, agrees that working with the software on a dedicated laser cutter is ideal when considering fabrics because it is generally designed with only fabric in mind. “Printing on fabric is not limited to 4×8- or 5×10-foot measurements that fit nicely on top of the bed of a cutter. Fabric print jobs might be continuous graphics of 30 to 50 feet long. The software needs to be able to account for shrinkage, stretch, banana effect, and accurately line up your graphic if it’s being cut in multiple passes.”
Vision Laser software, found on Golden Laser devices distributed by ACS, uses one or more HD cameras mounted above the conveyor cutting bed to scan the printed fabric or materials on the cutting area. The software recognizes the outline of the pattern and then generates the cutting data.
“It identifies the printed sublimation pattern, then creates the cutting path data automatically and completes the cutting process so as to perform continuous recognition cutting for the entire roll of printed fabrics with minimal manual intervention,” shares Gusse.
Matic’s Helios Plus dedicated laser cutter is equipped with software that compensates automatically for shrinkage and distortion, eliminating the need for manual measurements.
“Because of the challenges of cutting/finishing digitally printed graphics, particularly related to stretch, skew, and potential wrinkling, this application requires a lot more register marks printed along with the graphics to ensure accurate cutting,” explains Beatrice Drury, director of marketing and communications, Zünd.
Zünd’s Over Cutter Camera is an intelligent optics system for fully automated digital capture of registration marks. The camera is mounted above the center of the cutter, either on a support frame or suspended from the ceiling. It automatically captures all registration marks within the working area of the cutting system in a single image in a matter of seconds. The data processing functions are integrated into Zünd Cut Center software and algorithms analyze the data captured by the camera and simultaneously compensate for any distortions.
At a Finish
Certain software solutions are ideal for controlling the finishing process of a digitally printed textile. As it is commonly a bottleneck—especially as manufacturer struggle to keep up with fast-paced digital printers—software can help alleviate the challenges.
The final part in our series on software for digitally printed textiles focuses on inventory and cost management solutions.
Jun2018, Industrial Print Magazine