By Cassandra Balentine
Automated cutting solutions are commonly utilized in manufacturing. Flatbed cutters are used to finish a variety of media options, including textiles. While it is possible to get by with manual processes for this step, adding automation is a strategic choice that often reduces bottlenecks and improves production efficiency.
Founded in 2014, Hatch Exhibits employs a staff of 20. The company is headquartered in Elkridge, MD out of a 70,000 square foot production facility. It provides a full range of offerings from design, building, and installation including interactive technologies, model making, full-service fabrication, portable and modular displays, CNC and laser services, full-service repair and maintenance, digital manufacturing, digital print production, rapid prototyping, and custom crating.
The exhibit expert’s primary focus is three-dimensional (3D) marketing environments, including trade show exhibits, retail environments, custom restaurant millwork, corporate interiors, and museums. Chris McCormick, founding partner, Hatch Exhibits, explains that these requests include involvement from initial design and conceptualization to final production, installation, and management.
Above:Hatch Exhibits, based in Elkridge, MD, recently created a rush project for the corporate office space of Under Armour. Requiring approximately 4,700 square feet of fabric, a Colex Sharpcut was used to precisely cut all graphics to size quickly and efficiently.
Evolve with Automation
At its start, Hatch Exhibits outsourced its graphic production jobs to outside vendors, focusing more on the strategic goals of its customers. Initially, it had little interest in producing this type of work in house. However, that changed when the company realized it needed better control of the turnaround times and quality of the products it outsourced. “We were having trouble receiving the quality desired in short turnaround times that allowed us to complete projects on time and within budget,” shares McCormick.
About 18 months ago it decided to invest in large format equipment, bringing in both a flatbed and roll-fed printer, which immediately afforded the company the opportunity to provide higher quality products and faster service to customers. It quickly added more—and larger—machines to the mix.
Its current printer lineup includes a Mimaki USA, Inc. JFX200, Mimaki JFX500-2131, Mimaki UCJV300-160, Mimaki JV400-160, and d.gen Teleios. For software it runs Onyx Graphics, Inc. as well as RasterLink from Mimaki.
With these hardware investments, Hatch Exhibits brought a lot of its graphics production in house. However, it still outsourced fabric graphics. This was primarily due to the learning curve required and the initial monetary investment needed to get up and running with this type of offering.
The company decided to make the leap into fabric production when presented with an opportunity to purchase a direct dye-sublimation (dye-sub) printer and automated conveyor sewing solution. With these new capabilities, Hatch Exhibits was well equipped to produce its fabric graphics in house—but only in certain parts of the workflow.
“At this stage we could do very high-quality prints, but were hand measuring and cutting everything. It was a very long process, but we had the control we needed,” comments McCormick.
In a short period of time, Hatch Exhibits started producing more fabric work than it could feasibly finish manually. It decided it was time to look at a better finishing solution to increase production and quality. Soon it started researching automated cutting machines that could help expand its in-house fabric graphic production capabilities.
It decided on the Colex Finishing Sharpcut Conveyor Flatbed Cutter SX3216, which includes an Automatic Roll Feeder. This was the best fit for two reasons, based on capabilities and price point. “It solved our immediate needs with the fabric and general graphic production but in addition opened up new possibilities in custom, short-run point of purchase displays and packaging solutions,” shares McCormick.
The 5×10-foot Colex is not the only finishing device in house. The company operates additional CNC cutters with different focuses. It uses a ShopSabre PRO510 for its heavy-duty wood, plastic, and aluminum cutting needs.
The Colex Sharpcut SX3216 features a triple interchangeable tool head, complete substrate cutting compatibility, a powerful six-zone vacuum system, and vision registration software and camera. It is capable of finishing a range of materials including foamboard, gator foam, styrene, sintra, PVC, wood, MDF, coroplast, paper and card stock, honeycomb, falconboard, vinyl, aluminum, canvas, acrylic, plexi, Dibond, and of course—textiles and fabrics.
Since its implementation, the Sharpcut enables Hatch Exhibits to take on much larger fabric-based projects and complete them faster and more accurately than the manual process it previously used. It now spends less time cutting and fitting fabrics for applications like silicone edge graphic frames. It also finishes more traditional large format graphic production work.
McCormick says its automated cutting solutions help keep the company’s overhead lower by not having to add more staff. “We now have the ability to produce large volumes of graphics in a very short period of time. Once we are finished with a specific project and there is a lower workflow, we aren’t carrying the additional staff that was only needed intermittently,” he admits.
The machine was easy for the company to get up to speed on. “It’s built on a Win CNC platform, which is the same platform our ShopSabre uses, so we were fairly familiar. We were in full production right after our initial training session with the Colex staff,” shares McCormick.
Before bringing in the Colex, the company would use the ShopSabre to cut substrates for the graphics department. “It worked, but the wood shop had a lot of dust that was time consuming to deal with,” admits McCormick.
Now, the company successfully separates its graphic material processing to the Colex and cuts down on dust contamination tremendously.
“Since purchasing the Colex Sharpcut, we completed several projects requiring both custom cut fabric and other substrates that couldn’t have been accomplished without this equipment,” explains McCormick. The company is always looking to offer its customers a better quality product and faster service for upcoming projects. The goal is to utilize the Sharpcut to help increase its graphic production and fabric capabilities with larger dye-sub printers in the future.
Hatch Exhibits recently created a rush project for the corporate office space of Under Armour, a repeat customer. The client supplied the artwork. The project ended up requiring approximately 4,700 square feet of fabric. The turnaround time was five days. The Colex Sharpcut was used to precisely cut all graphics to size quickly and efficiently.
For media, it used Impact Prime by Top Value Fabrics. The high-performance backlit media is a heavyweight, flame resistant 100 percent polyester fabric.
McCormick notes that the fast turnaround time and large amount of square footage of the job was the most difficult aspect. Additionally, the frames had to be fit onsite, so the accuracy the Colex provided on the finishing end was critical.
While printing and finishing graphics isn’t the primary focus of Hatch Exhibits, the company finds success by handling this work in house. With continuous, strategic investments in printing and finishing equipment, it controls the quality and timeliness of its work. Additionally, it furthers productivity by replacing manual tasks with automated processes.
Jun2019, Industrial Print Magazine