Me & my: Tekcel EXR
Thursday, April 29, 2021
Upgrading its router has not only made H&H Reeds faster and more flexible, it has made the company a nicer place to work too.
More than 140 years have passed since George Reed set up a printing works in Cumbria and it’s still going strong today as H&H Reeds. The firm has expanded its size and scope over the years and now claims to be “Cumbria’s largest and greenest commercial print based company”. The main print factory in Penrith is handily close to the M6 north and south and serves customers locally in the North West, nationally, and even internationally, with one customer in Portugal and another in the Falkland Isles.
Commercial printing in Penrith is handled by digital and litho presses, with the largest being a B2 Heidelberg Speedmaster XL with four colours plus coating, with associated folding, stitching and other finishing equipment. The company has branched out over the years into large-format signage. The past couple of years have seen significant expansion by acquisition first with the December 2019 acquisition of Carlisle company Print Graphic followed by website developer Dotcom Associates last May. Commercial print and signage production is now concentrated in Penrith, while the creative hub for design and web work is in Carlisle, about 25km to the north up the M6. Currently 38 people are employed between the two sites.
Last year the company decided to invest about £100,000 in its large format facilities, installing first a new Mimaki UCJV300-160 inkjet printer-cutter (installed just before the March lockdown), followed a few months later by the subject of our story, a Tekcel EXR cutting and routing table.
Responding to the Covid-19 pandemic the company introduced a range of virus protection screens for customers, followed these with a social distancing support bundle of printed display boards, notices, posters and floor graphics.
What is a Tekcel EXR?
Tekcel CNC routers have been built in Australia for more than 20 years. The UK distributor is Complete CNC Solutions in Cheddar, Somerset. A router is comparable to a digital cutting table that can work with paper, card and vinyl, but it incorporates a heavy duty head spindle motor and tools for 3D profiled machining of thick and solid materials such as wood and metals. The EXR model bought by H&H Reeds has a 2x3m bed and OptiCAM camera registration. The servo motors drive precision ball screws for head positioning and cutting at up to 600mm per second. H&H Reeds’ router can cut material depths up to 135mm, though Tekcel offers 285mm and 485mm options too.
What is it used for?
Last year’s purchase of the Mimaki UCJV300-160 inkjet printer-cutter wasn’t directly connected with the Tekcel purchase, says Andy Oliver, signage production manager. “Although compatible, these machines do not work together, they are part of the wider investment in the signage department as a whole. The EXR actually works alongside our flatbed JFX200-2531 UV printer. The Mimaki UCJV is a roll-to-roll printer, which enhances our wide format offering.”
The Tekcel EXR replaced a 16-year-old Tornado V2 router, says Oliver. “The new machine has a bed size of 3m by 2m so it offers a much larger cutting area than the previous 2.5m by 1.2m machine, so it gives us much greater capability in that respect. However it doesn’t end there, the EXR allows us to utilise a wider range of sheet materials more efficiently. These can range from standard signmaking materials such as Dibond and other ACMs or acrylics, to materials like aluminum, copper, brass, hard and soft woods. Our CNC fabrication of signs is solely produced by this new EXR machine.”
Newer technology is proving useful too, he says. “One of the EXR’s new capabilities includes the OptiCAM registration technology, which has revolutionised our production processes. It has allowed us to, in layman’s terms, reverse our production flow. We now have the capability to print directly to uncut sheets of material, then load them on to the EXR where the camera system reads the registration marks and cuts out the job to its required specs. Previously we had to cut substrates down to the size required by the job then print on to them using our JFX200 flatbed printer, which was much more labour intensive and time consuming.”
Was anything else considered?
“We did look at a variety of other options such as the Zund, Esko Kongsberg and AXYS models,” Oliver says. “However we thought the EXR was the best fit for us, as it has a similar operating system as the previous model, so it seamlessly slotted into our setup, with minimal fuss. Our operators’ skillset was already in place, with staff members who were used to running a CNC router.
“The EXR is a more complete machine with a decent level of crossover with these other machines. While they all have their place in the market, they are mainly more digital cutters, especially the Esko Kongsberg. The versatility of the EXR ticked the most boxes for us, especially its ability to tackle almost every material on the market from 50-micron vinyl to 20mm metal.
“Basically, the EXR has the ability to tackle almost any job that we encounter, with ease.”
How did the adoption go?
The installation was carried out by Complete CNC Solutions. “Mark from Complete CNC came and installed our EXR and it was up and running within two days, complete with training,” says Oliver. The service was excellent and professional, ensuring that there was minimal workflow disruption during the installation period.”
The working area was reconfigured prior to the arrival of the EXR, he says. “We used to house our Tornado V2 machine in a soundproof room, which took up a chunk of our workshop. However the EXR does not require this as its extraction capabilities are far superior. This has major health and safety benefits and it has also allowed us to remove the soundproof room from our workshop. We now have a much more open, multi-dimensional and free-flowing work space.”
How has it been in practice?
Once up and running the Tekcel EXR proved a hit with operators, says Oliver. “They are over the moon with this investment. The setup and ease of use is noticeably simpler than our previous machine, due to the automated tool changer and the vastly improved suction of the vacuum table, as well as the implementation of the OptiCam system.
“We now use Vectric Aspire as our CAD/CAM design software. This was a move away from the previous ArtCam software and there was a small amount of training given when the machine was installed. But the programs are very similar, so the transfer was very simple.”
Pluses and minuses?
All pluses, really, says Oliver. “Personally, one of its biggest strengths is its ability to cut intricate designs over a wide range of materials without compromising speed, efficiency and quality. These are boosted by the increased automated functions, such as the automatic tool changer, and vacuum table, which saves a lot of on-the-ground operating/manufacturing time. That in turn increases capacity and profitability.
“Another huge plus is the new tangential knife and OptiCAM Hardware on the EXR. These are are game-changers for us. The precision and speed at which the EXR can handle lightweight materials such as 1-5mm Foamex for POS signage and act as a digital cutter, saves us an abundance of time. This is especially on intricate jobs that previously would have to have been hand cut, which, as much as we may hate to admit, is time-consuming and laborious.
“The final major plus is the improvement it has made to the production area of the signage workshop.”
Not really, says Oliver. “I can honestly say, without hesitation that there has not been a single grumble about the EXR.” His main advice to anyone else considering getting an EXR is “allowing time to fully get to grips with how to operate the machine and utilise its full capabilities, as it can be complex in areas, which could be daunting for beginners”.
Another piece of advice: “If someone was to purchase this machine, I would consider its overall impact to their production processes and workflow. As previously stated, the EXR has transformed our workflow to change the order in which our products are created. So, users need to understand that this will happen, and how. Doing due diligence to minimise its disruptive impact would be a worthwhile task. However, this would not discourage me from recommending it to anyone at all. Would happily buy again.”
He’s happy with the support from Complete CNC too. “The service package we’re on with Complete CNC is perfect for our needs, they are a dedicated and professional team, Simon in particular. They have always responded with impressive speed when it comes to fixing a problem, of which there have been very few, or even if it is technical advice. They are always on hand, which is great to lean on when needed, and will go above and beyond without hesitation.”
In summary, the Tekcel has been a success story for H&H Reeds, Oliver says. “The new EXR has met and exceeded our expectations, the possibilities are almost endless. It does everything it said it would on the box! Not only does it offer a significantly better finish quality, but it also does it at greater speed. These two primary factors were instrumental in our decision to purchase.”
Bed size 2x3m or 2.5x1.5m
Gantry clearance 150mm (300mm & 500mm options)
Max material thickness 135mm (150mm gantry height), 285mm (300mm gantry), 485mm (500mm gantry)
Footprint 2x3m model: 4.2x2.8m; 2.5x1.5m model: 3.1x2m
Spindle motor HSD 9kW (11HP) min speed: 6,000rpm; max speed: 24,000rpm
Drive motors 1kW digital servo motors with encoder on X (x2) Y and Z
Cutting speed Up to 600mm per second (36m/min)
Positioning speed Up to 600mm per second (36m/min)
Tool change systems Automatic 10 or 17 seat tool bay (pop up/down, pneumatic)
Control panel 15in touchscreen
Price About £80,000 in H&H Reeds’ configuration
Contact Complete CNC Solutions www.completecnc.co.uk 01934 742186
This is a 140-year-old print company based in Penrith on the edge of the Lake District. It currently employs 35 people and the 2019 turnover was £3.5m.
Work handled is a mix of commercial litho and large-format signage, plus design and website development services. The Tekcel EXR CNC cutting and routing table was installed last year as a replacement for an old Tornado V2 router. It is used to shape a variety of solid materials, some of which are printed on the company’s Mimaki JFX200-2531 flatbed.
Why it was bought...
H&H Reeds needed to update its signage offering and wanted to be able to work with a wide range of materials on a larger scale, more efficiently.
How it has performed...
Oliver describes the Tekcel as “a more complete machine” than it’s previous router. “Basically, the EXR has the ability to tackle almost any job that we encounter, with ease,” he says.