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Finishing the Big Jobs

A product is not finished until it has been finished! There are many finishing options for signs and display graphics, but if you are upgrading or thinking about adding new equipment in your shop, there are a variety of finishing solutions for specific workflows that need to be considered carefully. You can often improve ROI and delivery time to customers by making a finishing purchase in tandem with your printing device purchase. The print service provider (PSP) should consider cost reductions for existing jobs and savings over outsourcing. In addition, shops should consider whether a new finishing solution will allow for new, larger, more profitable jobs, and the possibility of taking cutting jobs from other print shops and competitors that don't have appropriate finishing equipment. The fact is that adding finishing equipment can help reduce production time, reduce overtime demands and allow for more output, further driving profits.

Finishing is a critical component of grand-format print production, and because printers are faster than ever, and printed materials continue to get wider and longer, manual finishing methods are becoming increasingly inadequate. Many PSPs operate and thrive by offering shorter and shorter delivery times. Because of this, it's critical that the finishing process does not become a major bottleneck that will delay delivery and invoicing to customers.

Analyze Your Media

PSPs need to analyze the type of media they use. With as many different materials there are, there are just as many specific cutting requirements. The type of media is essential in deciding whether they just require straight-line finishing or contour-cut finishing equipment. Soft or hard, rigid or flexible, heat-sensitive, prone to distortions the diversity of materials and their specific cutting parameters keeps growing, and so do the applications for which these materials are used.

One process that all print displays—banners,  posters, point-of-purchase, murals, etc.—have in common: the finishing step that involves cutting. The cutting process can be purely functional or provide a way to further enhance or embellish the product and opening doors to new customers. Automated finishing increases quality, speeds up delivery time, and adds to the bottom line for many PSPs.

Automation Considerations

PSP’s that think they might require automation for their finishing department have to consider the following: Do I first tackle my flexible roll cutting or my board cutting? “Do both” is the easy answer, but many fast-growing shops have to allocate their capital carefully.

X/Y cutters for rolled materials cut very fast, usually five to eight times faster for flexible media than a flatbed X/Y cutter. Reason: The flatbed cutter cuts with one knife, the X/Y roll cutter cuts with multiple knifes at the same time. They are capable of cutting a 150-foot roll in under 10 minutes, but they are only capable of cutting squares and rectangles up to 40 mil/1mm thick, like banners, posters, wallpaper, etc.
If most of a PSP’s workflow requires cutting both boards and rolls into shapes and rectangles, the choice is the flatbed cutter. Flatbed X/Y cutters are offered with the following choices:

  • Fixed table for manual loading of boards and /or manually pulling rolls over the table
  • A table with a conveyor belt to facilitate automatic loading of boards and roll media. The automated board loaders and the roll feeders are optional.

Flatbed cutters can handle a wide array of media in thickness up to two inches and more. They are the universal tool in the finishing department. The X/Y cutter does specific jobs very fast. If the shop prints on rigid material or requires contour cuts, the correct choice is a digital flatbed cutter. The PSP should look for versatility of the equipment and its ability to cut a wide range of media. Flatbed cutters can cut materials like paper, foamboard, Coroplast, PVC, acrylic and DiBond.

PSPs generally know what their needs are today. And they are often able to guess their short-term needs. But when it comes to long-term—it is difficult to foresee changes in their business and the demands of their customers. This is a great reason to select a cutter that allows adding cutting tools for future workflow needs. The ability to add packaging and 3D cutting software in the future should also be considered.

Focus on Value

It is time to put digital flatbed cutting equipment into proper focus as a method for adding value and creating perfectly finished products. The benefit of implementing a router/knifing system into a print business replaces manual labor and avoids the expense of outsourcing. Print businesses can achieve on time and faster delivery and preserves confidentiality.

In the past, the market was built of knife-cutting machines with limited routing capability or routing machines with limited knife capability. Routers were typically slow at knife cutting and knife cutters too lightweight for high-demand routing. Recently however, the knife-cutting machines have been increasing their routing capabilities by increasing the power and robustness of their spindles. A flatbed cutter with both router and knifing capability will allow a PSP to offer many products and materials to their customers. Some manufacturers offer a laser-cutting option for finishing rigid media and cut textiles.

Print providers should be aware that a high-performance cutter will last 12 to 15 years or more and therefore the right router/cutter purchase will let your business grow over the next decade. Shops should be ready for whatever job comes through the front door.

Flexibility and Profitability

Productivity and reliability are critical factors when remaining competitive in today’s challenging economic conditions. Today’s digital cutting systems provide users with the flexibility to react quickly and dynamically to changes in customer demands. Finishing can sometimes become a bottleneck in your workflow and productivity—however with the right equipment, finishing can become a shop's strong suit and a significate profit center.