Learn about the types of cutting systems that are available, the capabilities each variety provides, and the production issues you need to consider before selecting a system for your operation.
By Tom Kleeman
The make-ready considerations associated with each of the different cutting systems can have significant bearing on which type of device a screen shop should select. But these considerations are frequently overlooked by screen printers.
When applications don't involve challenging substrates or adhesives and run lengths are short, digital lasers and cutting plotters clearly offer the best return for the investment. However, as run lengths increase on these systems, consumables costs (replacement laser heads and blades for cutting plotters) can become uneconomical, and the slower op-erating speeds of these machines can begin to hinder productivity. For longer run lengths, flatbed or gap diecutting presses deliver the best value.
Focusing on diecutting systems, the primary economic concerns relate to the cost of making die adjustments and maintaining run lengths to offset these adjustment costs. Typically, tooling-adjustment issues arise when screen printers are working with materials that they have not used before or recently. Adhesives, for example, may present some nasty surprises the first time they are cut. These materials can lead to significant downtime when dies must be cleaned and readjusted repeatedly to achieve the proper cut. On occasion, the adjustments become so dramatic that the tooling must be completely remade.
With a smaller-format gap press, however, such adjustments become significantly easier as the tooling features far fewer cavities than the dies on larger-format clamshell and flatbed systems. Where these larger systems may have 40 cavities, the smaller gap press may have only 2-4. Also, the optical-registration feature on high-end gap presses ensures that die position is always accurate. This means that tooling adjustments are required far less frequently, and when they do occur, the adjustments do not have to be repeated. Once the tooling is adjusted, shops using these machines can easily handle periodic short-run repeat orders of the same job and don't have to worry about repeating their make-ready tooling adjustments.
Overcoming production bottlenecks
All manually-fed cutting systems are prone to cause production bottlenecks. These bottlenecks stem from the amount of time it takes to feed and unload materials and to remove cut pieces from sheets and rolls, which is typically far slower than the screen-printing process that is churning out the printed material. For shops using manual cutting equipment, making sure that sufficient labor is on hand is the only way to avoid such delays.
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