This article provides an overview of digital flatbed and laser cutting systems and highlights what’s available on the market.
Software capabilities have also become more sophisticated, while user interface has become simpler. Some systems provide interactive tools that make it possible for workers who are unfamiliar with computers to fully operate the cutting system and all of its features. Features such as this also can help bypass language barriers, because they teach by example, rather than using spoken or written words.
Modern laser systems have done away with the pinholes and burn-throughs that were seen with early laser cutters. As a result, laser cutters can take on special requirements such as perforations, creases, score lines, kiss cuts, consecutive numbering, personalization, and more.
How can I integrate a digital flatbed or laser cutter into my production workflow?
Lots of systems and price points are out there. Several factors will influence your return on investment and the efficiency of your workflow. Pay attention to the system’s overall ease of use: setup procedures for different materials, modularity and functionality for different applications, and available levels of automation. Evaluate overall processing speeds—not necessarily linear speed, but rather productivity as determined by how many pieces are cut per hour, cut quality at those speeds, and the reliability of the equipment.
Kick the tires. Equipment suppliers should cut samples for you—preferably a selection of your own materials and data from your files—and give you a personalized demonstration of the system. Experimentation in a hands-on setting will give you a much better idea of system performance, productivity, and ease of use than simply comparing specifications on paper between models and manufacturers.
Think about the range, cost, and availability of consumables, and always determine whether—and to what extent—you can upgrade the equipment. Can you add different toolheads to the flatbed cutter? What about upgrading lasers to take on jobs that require high output? Find out what types of tooling, automated material handling, or other relevant options can be added later on. Will your new cutting system be able to adapt to your ever-changing business environment and keep up with future needs?
Regardless of which type of cutting system you choose, consider the potential for new types of business and increased profits. Your salespeople will be able to say yes to the prototypes and short runs that were out of reach and your shop will be able to tackle graphics applications with increasingly complex designs.
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