By Elizabeth Quirk
Today, print service providers (PSPs) looking to enter into digitally printed packaging need to consider the automated routers and cutters required to successfully complete the process.
In this article, we discuss the end process of digital finishing for package printing and why digital, automated routers/cutters are a necessity for handling even the most robust packaging materials, like corrugated surfaces or substrates.
Many PSPs already employ some type of finishing device, whether it’s a manual cutter or fully automated system. The strategy of entering into the digital packaging market is one of the methods PSPs can use to elevate their printed material from a commodity to a higher level price point. Any time a printed square or rectangle is post-processed with intricate cutting, creasing, or folding, it garners a higher profit.
By having a digital, automated router or cutter involved in the process, it makes the job easier and gives the company a competitive advantage. Plus, with the explosion of digital print as a viable technology, the industry benefits from shorter runs, more customization, and regionalization.
Heather Roden, strategic account manager, Zünd, believes this when she says the consumers in the North American market respond more readily to customized packaging, and marketers tend to keep campaign cycles shorter to retain buyer attention.
“Digital packaging is an ideal answer to these market demands. We have found the versatility and productivity of Zünd cutting systems to be advantageous to a variety of PSPs, including those who cut flexographic plates, coating blankets, prototypes, and short-run packaging,” adds Roden.
Automated routers/cutters provide better accuracy and end results compared to manual cutting. They permit perfect finishing for all rigid substrates, and for new or poorly trained workers, this is extremely helpful.
Aimee Heuschkel, director of marketing creative services, Gerber Technology, believes PSPs should invest in digital, automated routers/cutters because of the labor savings, improved quality of the finished product, flexibility, increased profit, and the ability to expand into new market opportunities—such as industrial part manufacturing.
“Plus, it provides the ability to accept jobs from other PSPs that don’t have digital cutters. The competitor becomes the customer,” suggests Heuschkel.
The versatility of these automated machines are crucial. Digital cutters accept multiple tools and are used for corrugated, cardboard, wood, plastic, cutting, routing, and creasing.
Help at the End
The end result is not the print itself, but a finished product that has been properly cut, and perhaps sealed or laminated, before it is delivered to a client. With wide format printing, and materials from digitally printed fabric, to plastics, to wood, and even metals, routers/cutters fit the bill.
It’s much easier for a PSP to take a job off a printer and immediately place it on a digital finisher, overseen by software that drives the printer with a PDF file and finisher with a corresponding cutting file, admits George Folickman, director of business development, digital finishing, Esko.
“Plus, there is no waiting time for rush jobs, very accurate and clean work can be done with the right finishing table,” he adds.
With a digital, automated router/cutter PSPs easily provide a complete end-to-end solution. From print to finished product; turnaround time is shortened,.
Roberto Rodriguez, president, DGS – Digital Graphic Systems Inc., believes a digital, automated router/cutter has a fast return on investment (ROI) since it lets the PSP sell applications with added value.
“On the other hand, it helps create three-dimensional (3D) structural designs, point of purchase displays, and trade show booths, which are not sold by the square foot. This increases the margins substantially. In the case of simpler applications, the equipment increases repeatability and efficiency in the production process,” explains Rodriguez.
A digital cutter is ideal for complementing traditional processes, for example digital prototyping. According to Josh Hope, senior manager, 3D printing and engineering projects, Mimaki USA, Inc., they can “help the agency or customer requesting the prototype to move from design to finished concept within minutes, using the exact packaging materials that are intended for final use.”
Roden describes prototyping as an area where digital cutting assists both traditional and new digital methods for creating packaging. “Designers can test shapes for functionality, appeal, material endurance, as well as structural support in protecting contents,” she continues.
Lastly, a digital, automated router/cutter allows the PSP to make unlimited shapes and structural elements with added value.
Guide to Buying an
While in the process of looking for a cutter/router, Hope suggests keeping a close eye on functionality and size. Pay attention to if it has the necessary functions to cut/trim the majority of jobs, or if the cutter needs to be at least as big as the largest job, making office space a consideration as well.
Avoid the “build and they will come” way of doing things, advises Javier Mahmoud, VP of sales and marketing, CET Color.
“Make sure you first have the work to feed a cutter. Also, automation is two staged. One, once the product is cut, the belt that the product was on will advance so you can load the next piece. Stage two is automated media handling. This can always be added onto later,” he explains.
For those looking for a table to cut corrugated or heavy-duty substrates, the strength of the platform and lifespan are important considerations as well, shares Folickman. “The tools need to be well tested to provide v-notch cuts to honeycomb materials, as well as offering specialty tools for cutting materials such as foam.”
For PSPs, software matters as well. Robert Marshall, director of marketing, AXYZ International, argues a fast and accurate camera registration system is an essential to ensure perfect alignment of printed materials within the cutting program.
Folickman believes vendors that provide turnkey solutions offer a way for PSPs to be as efficient as possible with their equipment because of its structural design and workflow management capabilities.
“Esko’s ArtiosCAD, for instance, provides PSPs a lower bar of entry for packaging and displays. You do not need to be a seasoned packaging engineer to offer creative designs. PSPs can purchase a design, add graphics in Adobe Illustrator, and very quickly show virtual 3D or hard proofs to the customer,” he explains.
Steve Aranoff, VP business development and marketing, MCT Digital, believes that its company’s all-in-one approach for laser cutting and sealing of fabric, laser cutting of acrylic, etching on many materials—even ones that cannot be cut, such as ceramics and stone—on a single system with full automation capability, puts a PSP into the position of virtually never having to turn down a job.
“While the VersaTech2 is not a so-called entry-level solution, the fact that cutters last 12 to 15 years compared to an inkjet printer’s three years, means that operators can be trained to use—and be comfortable using—a more versatile cutter for a longer period of time. Many customers have found that a VersaTech2 can be justified on doing just a week’s worth of cutting in a month, but many with higher throughput requirements can pay off a system in seven months or less” adds Aranoff.
Heuschkel explains that when looking at a digital, automated router/cutter and its ROI, many different analyses need to be done. Consider cut quality, ease of file conversion, time to cut, reliability, ease of use, ability to expand capabilities, footprint, software compatibility with existing and future software, file import and export, and ability to present print/cut concepts to customers for proposals.
A combination of router/cutter and material handling technology has advanced immensely over the years, and is now able to be leveraged in terms of automation.
“To compete in this environment, graphic industry finishers should be able to work faster and offer more flexible cutting particularly in their use of harder, rigid sheet materials. Hybrid technology has been designed to respond to these growing needs,” argues Marshall.
Heuschkel agrees, saying it seems like a no-brainer to automate more steps in the process. But warns the cost and ROI of the automation need to be weighed against other investment opportunities.
Manually handling large sheets is tedious, and assuming that production levels are adequate, utilizing an operator is less efficient and cost effective than a machine.
Folickman believes the technology of finishing tables has reached a point where there are diminishing returns trying to increase machine speed. However, he argues, “there are still extraordinary efficiencies by reducing the inactive time a table experiences as it waits for a finished sheet to be removed, replaced by a new one.”
“For instance, utilizing the multiple vacuum zones on a finishing table, a robotic arm can keep a table cutting almost every second. While a sheet is removed and replaced on one side, it immediately begins cutting the robotically placed sheet on the other,” explains Folickman.
Advances in robotic technology minimizes worry of cutting mistakes. The downfall of this, however, are companies whose print capacity is not enough to keep the automation tools working. In this case, the cost of entry and the space requirements can pose a challenge.
Zünd offers two solutions—a sheet/board cutter that utilizes vacuum grippers to advance paperboard/cardboard, and the Board Handling System – BHS, which is fully automated for corrugated materials in conjunction with a dual-beam 3D system.
“Because our corporate philosophy is to have an open system, we integrate with a variety of automation enhancements involving robots. For example, packagers can systemize board feeding via a robotic arm picking up sheets from a completed printer skid and placing them on the cutter for processing. Because robots can be programmed to sort pieces into different piles, this makes post-process kitting even easier,” says Roden.
Printing technology has changed considerably in recent years. Rather than be limited to printing on paper and vinyl, it’s now possible to print directly to a range of different substrates. Traditional print finishing tables employing only high-speed knife tools are no longer sufficient. In order to see the end process of digital finishing for package printing go smoothly and successfully, PSPs should weigh the benefits and add digital, automated routers/cutters into their shop.
Apr2018, Industrial Print