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The Slice is Right: A Guide to Cutting-Equipment Selection

(August 2002) posted on Tue Sep 03, 2002

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.

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By Tom Kleeman

Additionally, procedures need to be in place to ensure that dies are handled and stored properly. Steel-rule dies can be nicked relatively easily. Hard tools also need to be properly stored, inventoried, and monitored for wear. If you try to push the use of a hard tool too long without sharpening it properly, you will eventually find yourself in the midst of a run that the tool can no longer cut with clean edges. A successful backup strategy that many screen printers employ for hard tooling is to always have a steel-rule die or a spare hard tool made that can be used as a backup if the primary tool needs to be refurbished or recreated.

Successful die management also includes making cost-effective decisions about which types of dies to use with which jobs. For example, consideration should be given to the life cycle costs of various types of dies because up-front cost is usually a poor indicator of lifetime costs for the tooling.

A typical sourcing scenario for a hard-tooled die might turn up two options, including a high-end die and a lower-cost die. Assuming identical die configurations, the high-end die might have a price tag twice as high as the lower-cost option, but withstand 3,000,000 cycles before requiring sharpening and support resharpening 12-15 times during its lifetime. The lower-cost die may also allow resharpening 12-15 times, but could require resharpening after 1,000,000 cycles. So for twice the initial cost, the high-end die would support 3 times the number of cutting cycles as the less-expensive tool. However, if you wouldn't expect to use the die for more than 15,000,000 cycles, buying the more costly tool would be an unnecessary expense.

Maintenance and training

It always pays to follow maintenance procedures recommended by equipment and die manufacturers. Most of these maintenance procedures require very little time, and when compared to the costs of downtime, their expense is negligible. One of the most fundamental maintenance habits that you should get into with diecutting equipment is to track the number of cycles that the press has been in operation. You can establish regular maintenance routines, such as sharpening of dies, based on the cycling history of the press, much like you schedule maintenance on your car based on accumulated mileage.

In selecting equipment, you should also consider how long it takes to make repairs and whether loaner equipment is available from manufacturers. Modular equipment enables manufacturers to provide loaner modules that help ensure continued uptime when equipment repair becomes necessary. Also, it usually pays to keep important spare parts for the equipment in house.

To realize a full return on your cutting-equipment investment, it makes good sense to properly train employees on how to operate the machinery. Some users believe that operating cutting equipment involves little more than turning the power switch on and off. But the fact is that when screen-printing companies take time to train workers on proper equipment operation, the companies see more throughput and fewer equipment breakdowns. Before committing to a new cutting system, find out what type of training options the equipment manufacturer offers.

Cutting to the chase

Whether you wish to support new products or enhance your current production process, the perfect system awaits you. It may be a fast flatbed diecutting system, an economical cutting plotter, or a high-end gap press augmented with optical-registration features. To match your needs with the right piece of equipment, give careful attention to your current goals and future production plans. Make sure the equipment you select offers the level of speed, accuracy, and flexibility you need to help your business profit and grow. By understanding all the options in cutting technology and the advantages and drawbacks of each, you'll be able to ask educated questions and find the machine that's the right fit for your operation.



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