Speak to a printer that already has a digital cutting table in its finishing department and it's likely it will say it's more important to its business's success than the print machines. The ability to contour-cut, kiss-cut, score and rout a wide range of substrates makes these machines a must-have for many applications, but especially so for sample making and short-run production of a raft of materials. Those substrates include self-adhesive vinyl, through card, corrugated materials, plastics, wood, fabrics, foam, metal and composites. At either extreme of these tables are the options of hand finishing, which is a time-consuming, skilled and error-prone manual process, or, for long runs, die-cutting.
The G3 is Zünd's latest table and was launched last year at Drupa. It's the first machine that has been optimised for the needs of the graphics market, which at 70-80% of its total sales is by far the biggest sector that the firm serves. Other sectors that use its digital cutting kit include textiles, clothing, auto sport and aerospace.
According to UK product manager Nick Reed, the biggest difference between the G3 and the earlier PN range is that the G3 can hold up to three tool heads simultaneously and handle substrates up to 50mm-thick, double that of the old machine.
"With its ability to hold three tools simultaneously, switching between different media is very quick," says Reed. "So you can go straight from kiss-cutting self-adhesive vinyl, to cutting Dibond, to routing acrylic. That means you don't have to batch up your production, for example spending all morning cutting Dibond. From a planning point of view, you can mix it up and produce jobs on any substrate at any time."
Zünd offers a choice of nine tool heads for the G3 to cope with different tasks and different materials. The range includes the standard knives, the universal cutting tool for board, polypropylene and lightweight corrugated up to 3mm thick, as well as blankets for printing and coating and the kiss-cutting tool for self-adhesive materials such as decorative vinyl up to 3mm thick. Two oscillating cutting tools - an electric one and a more powerful pneumatic one - cover thicker tougher materials such as corrugated boards and foam. A driven rotary tool is designed for fabrics, while a 1kW router is designed to deal with the hardest and thickest materials, including rigid foam core boards, acrylics, aluminium composites and wood. A V-cut tool handles rigid sandwich boards up to 16mm thick with a choice of 15, 22.5, 30 and 45 degree angles for fabricating 3D products for point-of-sale (PoS) work. Lastly, two creasing wheels are offered to handle the fabrication of folded products from a variety of stocks.
Another development with the G3 series is the introduction of the M-2500 machine, which at 2.5m long by 1.3m wide, is the perfect size for dealing with 2.4x1.2m boards. It was primarily designed for the US market, but is also a popular size in the UK as it is still a standard board size.
Machines are offered in a range of different table depths and widths ranging from the smallest G3 M-1600 (a 1.6m deep and 1.33m-wide machine), up to the giant 3XL-3200 (a 3.2m-deep by 3.21m-wide table). Width is categorised by letter. Hence the 1.33m-wide model is labelled ‘M'; the 1.8m-wide, ‘L'; 2.27m-wide, ‘XL'; 2.74m-wide, ‘2XL'; and the 3.12m-wide model, ‘3XL'. Three depths are available: 1.6m, designated ‘1600'; 2.5m, ‘2500'; and 3.2m, ‘3200'.
Pricing ranges from £30,000 for the smallest, most basic table, up to £150,000 for the biggest table with the most tools and automation.
When it comes to productivity, Reed admits it's a tricky figure to arrive at and prefers to get customers to bring typical jobs to the firm's UK office in St Albans, Hertfordshire.
"People bandy about speed figures, but speed isn't everything. It's about productivity, which is a difficult thing to measure," he says. "The G3 will go at 1.2m/s, but that's only in a straight line with soft thin substrates."
He likens using that straight line cutting speed to classify a cutter to using a car's top speed in a drag race to calculate average speed cross country on winding lanes. But cutting isn't the only contributor to overall productivity; there's also loading and unloading, as well as the aforementioned tool changeover time.
The basic G3 is loaded and unloaded manually. However, productivity can be enhanced with extension tables and a semi-automated sheet feeder that allows the next job to be ready to go immediately after the previous one has finished. At the delivery, an extended table allows the operator to prepare and remove the last job while the next one is being cut.
For roll media, a core-less roll handling system made up of two rollers enables any size of roll to be handled, including those with damaged cores.
The cutting head is controlled using a camera system for reading visual marks and a laser system for reference positions on unprinted media. The camera is also used for edge sensing, which is used to register blank sheets, including creasing corrugated sheets for PoS and packaging - this is done on the internal (ie unprinted) side of the sheet. Zünd has moved away from using the i-cut vision system, now owned by EskoArtwork, which also produces the rival Kongsberg tables. A new software package called GTK has been written especially for the G3. However, if a customer already uses i-cut, then it is supported.
GTK is used for the graphics market, but for packaging customers, Zünd supplies Desktop CAD and has found the two markets overlap.
"There's a lot of crossover, with small-volume PoS, such as dump bins and counter top displays. For runs of 50 into the hundreds, the G3 is ideal, whereas for traditional die-cut packaging the minimum is typically 1,000," says Reed.
As the markets converge, graphics firms are looking at the packaging market, which, adds Reed, is open for a modest investment in Desktop CAD software and a creasing wheel.
RIPs to fit
For graphics firms that need a workflow to put optical marks for the cutter and deal with tiling or panelling, as well as nesting and step-and-repeat, Zünd offers its Prepare-it! software, which prepares jobs prior to ripping. However, Reed adds that these days most RIPs include the necessary tools so the software is superfluous to many firms investing in a cutter.
Zünd's whole approach is modular. You can start with a basic system and add additional features, be it materials handling or tools as your business evolves.
"The Zünd is future proof," says Reed. "You can keep the system for 20 years - you couldn't say that about a wide-format printer. It puts you at a level where you couldn't be without it."
He attributes the machine's endurance to the robust Swiss engineering, and strong service presence, which in the UK comprises seven engineers.
Universal cutter, kiss-cutter, electric oscillating cutter, pneumatic oscillating cutter, driven rotary tool, 1kW router, V-cut tool and two creasing tools
Max bed size
M-1600 = 1.33x1.6m
XL-1600 = 2.27x1.6m
2XL-1600 = 2.74x1.6m
3XL-1600 = 3.21x1.6m
M-2500 = 1.33x2.5m
L-2500 = 1.8x2.5m
L-3200 = 1.8x3.2m
XL-3200 = 2.27x3.2m
2XL-3200 = 2.74x3.2m
3XL-3200 = 3.21x3.2m
Max substrate thickness 50mm
Linear speed up to 1.2m/s
Camera/vision system optional ICC camera, GTK software
Price £30,000-£150,000 depending on size, tools, workflow and accessories
Contact Zünd UK 01727 833 003 www.Zünd.co.uk
Aristo Aristomat 1625 TL
Hamburg-based Aristo has been making plotter-cutters for decades. Formats range from 1.3x1m up to 4.3x5.2m. Its TL and GL machines work with Caldera, ColorGate and Onyx. Options include conveyor feed, sheet feed, roll feed, roll wind up, router, bevel cut, driven wheel cut, bar code reader and Infracrease for cutting and creasing Correx.
Max working area 1,600x2,500mm
Max material thickness 25mm (35mm optional)
Contact Applied Cutting Systems 01580 761500 www.appliedcutsys.com
EskoArtwork Kongsberg XE, XL, XP series
Kongsberg uses a camera registration system from i-cut. A choice of 16 tools can handle materials from fine folding carton through foam and rigid materials to triple-wall corrugated. It can switch between production of acrylic and corrugated displays without anyone touching the tool.
Max working area 800x1,100mm-2,210x6,550mm
Max material thickness 50mm
Price XE10 £36,000 through to XB44 £170,000
Contact EskoArtwork 01527 585805 www.esko.com
M-Series cutters feature MVision-Cut automatic print-to-cut registration that compensates for image or material distortion. The patented T3 Tool Head System with automatic tool recognition holds up to three tools at a time and offers quick and easy changeovers.
Max working area 1,900x3,000mm
Max material thickness 75mm
Price from £49,000
Contact Spandex UK 0800 77 26 33 www.spandex.com/uk
Kasemake highlights the high quality and low cost of its cutting and creasing kit. Capable of cutting most fibre and polymer based substrates the "A" range come as standard with tangentially controlled electric oscillating knife, drag knife and creasing tool, plus pen.
Max working area 2,500x1,600mm
Max material thickness 17mm
Price £28,000 (including software)
Contact AG/Cad 01606 863344 www.agcad.co.uk
The CF2 includes FineCut cutting software. Heads include tangential, reciprocating and drag knife and dependent upon the head, the table is suitable for cutting A to E flute board, plastic corrugated fibreboard, PVC, rubber, display boards, fabrics, leather, paper and foam core board. Most CF2s are sold as packages with Mimaki's UJV-160 printer.
Max working area 1,200x1,800mm
Max material thickness 25mm
Price from £29,995
Contact Hybrid Services 01270 501900 www.hybridservices.co.uk