By Melissa Donovan
Part 1 of 2
Automating the print process involves evaluating the tools on the finishing end. Manufacturers benefit from complementing digital printers with automated routers and cutters. To further streamline processes, it’s cost effective to take advantage of the software solutions available with these finishing devices.
More than just the brains of the hardware works, these tools enable a host of functions to bolster the benefits of automation. This includes the ability to read quick response (QR) codes or barcodes to properly process jobs, vision systems that detect and compensate for changes in material, and controls for managing the vacuum bed or conveyor belt.
Most automated finishing devices are equipped with proprietary software. It is important the hardware is backed by intelligent software solutions to assist in achieving an automated finishing process.
Gary Buck, VP, sales and marketing, Summa America, stresses that software makes a tremendous difference in the well functioning and performance of cutting equipment. “Having good hardware is a must, but it does not guarantee efficient equipment operation. That is why it is so important to have software that is specifically developed for the cutting equipment, ideally by the same brand.”
The nature of today’s market pushes the need for powerful software that drives routers and cutters. Lean manufacturing processes and just-in-time production require “intelligent software to support the operator, minimizing cutting time and waste through functions such as precise cut-to-print registration, automatic job retrieval, nesting, optimal processing parameters, and analytics,” says Chris Nicholson, customer experience director, Zund America, Inc.
“It’s important for cutters to be equipped with a powerful software solution in order to achieve an accurate, high-quality cut,” agrees Mark Bibo, global director of field marketing, Gerber Technology.
Serving Certain Functions
The software driving finishing devices serves multiple functions. This includes everything from managing files so jobs are properly processed to supporting cameras that can read registration marks to ensure accuracy.
An important feature is the ability to capture design files for use with a finishing device. The software should import industry standard file formats like PDF, DXF, HPGL, and XML, explains Bibo. “Other major functions include managing tool path parameters so cutting speeds or cutting depths can be defined, stored, and easily used for repeat jobs,” he continues.
Most proprietary software systems include tools like a materials library and automated job setup functions. “These ensure the best possible processing methods and cutting parameters are used for any given job and substrate. The benefits lie not just in the fastest possible production time but also in minimized waste of setup time and materials,” shares Nicholson.
“With extensive materials libraries, customers can immediately produce output for the many materials they will use. Not only will customers find the materials they need to produce, but the tools used to produce these materials have already had their cutting performance optimized for that exact substrate,” notes Bibo.
QR codes and barcodes are useful in setups with automatic material handling, as they automatically retrieve a file. “Without automatic QR code scanning capabilities, it would be impossible to cut different jobs from a stack or printed on a roll without constant interruptions to the cutting/finishing process for manual file retrieval,” comments Nicholson.
According to Keith Verkem, senior product manager, Colex, by reading a printed barcode or QR code, the software can reduce errors in job processing by limiting manual operator input and offering the customer a fully automated workflow.
What many refer to as vision systems or cameras are also useful as they can read registration marks that help in determining where and how to cut or even to detect when material is wrinkled or askew. These functions are powered by the software.
“The software, ideally, is in an easy-to-use platform for the operator, enabling flexible import, as well as applying final design corrections, and maybe most beneficial, is the ability to automate a cutting workflow according to the operator’s needs,” adds Buck.
Most of today’s hardware—printers and finishers included—is designed to work with the press of a button. Software solutions of course aid in this, especially those specifically constructed to further enhance automation. As such, how to use that software is fairly easy even though it is undertaking complex tasks.
Zünd focuses on making its proprietary software product, Zünd Cut Center, as intuitive and user friendly as possible. “This combined with the many interactive features designed to support the operator makes the software very easy to learn. Every Zünd cutting system sale includes training for operators and prepress personnel,” shares Nicholson.
“In addition to being intuitive, software solutions also need to be easy to use,” adds Bibo. Gerber’s TigerVision was designed to not overwhelm customers but provide an easy-to-use starting interface that they could grow into. “The true benefit of TigerVision is to make it easy for our customers to produce output using just the material name for simple repeat jobs, then allowing full customization for more experienced users.”
Summa keeps its software as simple as possible. The interface is designed with a clear navigation and flexible action sets. As simple as it is designed to be, ease of use evolves with tutorials. “In order to get familiar with all the functionalities and find out what features are beneficial to you, it requires some practice,” admits Buck.
Without smart solutions, the hardware can’t function to its full potential without manual intervention. The goal of automation is to minimize operator interruption and eventually achieve a lights out workflow. Software is an essential component in a well-functioning finishing device. IPM
Click here to read part two, Automated Cutting Software.
Oct2020, Industrial Print Magazine