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Getting to the Cutting Edge

(April 2012) posted on Tue Apr 17, 2012

Getting the most out of digital finishing sometimes requires hardware and software decisions.

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By Bill Hartman

You can’t do that
While extremely versatile, finishing tables are not a be-all end-all. There is a limit to the materials than can be used on them. Working with ceramics or glass can cause chipping, which is not surprising with a true knife and drilling technology. Lasers are a better choice for these substrates. It’s also difficult to mold metals into a shape. For example, thicker, heavier aluminum sheets cannot be creased to make it easier to fold them. These are materials that are better left to specialists. More unusual work needs the help of others.
Cutting tables are also not helpful for large volumes of work. While they are fine for a few thousand pieces, they are not going to cut 50,000 adhesive-backed vinyl decals. Keep that for diecutting. And, 3- to 5-m grand-format printed graphics for billboards and building wraps can be cut by inexpensive, XY-cut devices. However, if the artwork has any contours, there are some bigger challenges.
There are some industrial projects that may not lend themselves to work on digital finishing tables. While tables are very accurate, there are no tolerances to cut holes into circuit boards with small holes for components. Here, a laser would be more helpful. As mentioned earlier, finishing tables are certainly appropriate for industrial projects such as control panels.

What’s new with tables?
Basic table technology is pretty mature for most applications. Speed is always being improved, in small increments, to try to keep up with the increased productivity of printers.
This leaves the challenge to finishing table vendors to think hard and introduce new and different tools. It’s not easy. Table manufacturers have implemented most of the finishing operations needed. There is a tool for just about anything, from cutting to routing. One of the more interesting new tools is a v-notch cutting tool, for miter cuts in thick materials such as triple wall corrugated and papercore boards.
Tables are also getting proficient at allowing the user to change tools. Changing a milling bit, for instance, can be done in seconds (including bit calibration). Many systems recognize the tool units automatically, through electronic identifiers.


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