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
Tooling-availability problems are a very common source of bottlenecks. Either the tool is not delivered on time or there is something wrong with the tool that becomes clear when production begins, making it necessary to replace the die. Cultivating close working relationships with skilled diemakers will help you get the right dies when you need them and will make it much easier to have dies adjusted on short notice. In some screen-printing operations, the volume of dies required may be high enough to justify creating an in-house diemaking department and employing full-time diemakers.
Regardless of where dies are made, printers that have developed systems for maintaining die inventories face far fewer production hang-ups than those with sloppy die-management policies. Some users rationalize that steel-rule dies are relatively inexpensive and throw them away shortly after each job, despite the fact that many of the dies can be reconfigured and reused for other applications. Maintaining a die library can help avoid the expense of continually buying new tooling. Such libraries or die-storage areas can be arranged in some sort of numerical sequence by job and/or customer. More sophisticated shops use bar-coding systems on dies with scanners to ensure that the correct dies are selected. Some high-end gap presses are equipped with memory features that allow you to input a die number so that the system can automatically recall all job settings for use with that die, greatly minimizing setup time.
Because of the great number of dies that shops can have on hand, they also should have procedures in place for double checking that the artwork for a given job has not changed. One of the most common production glitches that occurs is when printers set up tooling for a job that they think is a repeat order when, in fact, the customer has made slight revisions to the design that require tooling changes, too.
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