A full-service print shop is presented with printing to and subsequently cutting all types of materials from foamboard to aluminum, acrylic, wood, and corrugated. It can be particularly helpful to own a multifaceted cutting table—one that offers ease of use when it comes to switching various tools like router bits, blades, and knives—to finish these different substrates. “There are many benefits to a flatbed cutting table that allows for various cutting tools. The more tools available to you, the more materials able to be cut. One machine that cuts different materials will save money and floor space. It also expands your list of offered services, attracts more customers, and gives your sign business a boost in revenue,” explains Mark deGuzman, marketing, Vision Engraving & Routing Systems. Above: The Elitron Kombo SDC+ comes with up to five tools, plus an automatic milling bit changeover with three milling bits. Prime Benefits Efficiency and cost are two of the main reasons print service providers (PSPs) work with flatbed cutting tables that offer multiple tooling options. Instead of taking up space with multiple machines, the work of many is managed on one. In general, adding a flatbed cutter is a “game changer, increasing revenue with the ability to say yes to every request that comes through the door offering quick turnaround times to customers,” says Maureen Damato, director of channel sales, Colex Finishing, Inc.
“Working with flatbed cutting equipment has changed many print shops. It expanded their offerings. Digital flatbed cutting and finishing is essential. Hand cutting is not as profitable. A job that might take 30 minutes to an hour to hand cut, can take minutes on a flatbed cutter, especially with specific tooling and parameters using optimum production speeds and feeds,” agrees Justin Davis, director of sales and marketing, Flatbed Tools.
Mac Grainger, CNC system specialist, Industrial CNC, points out that today it is challenging to compete and meet current market demands. Customers turn to their graphics shops for guidance. Sign shops looking to complement current offerings or expand on in-house production capabilities look to CNC routers and cutters as the obvious solutions.
According to Beatrice Drury, marketing manager, Zund America, Inc., “while single-function machines can be worthwhile in certain situations—for example, if a shop has a high volume of jobs in a particular application—most shops can benefit from the versatility and space-saving advantages of a multifunctional machine.”
An interchangeable head with positions for different tools offers maximum flexibility. “Tooling can be personalized and easily changed in order to satisfy specific cutting and milling jobs. Many different types of materials can be cut and routed,” explains Caroline Bell, marketing coordinator, Elitron.
It’s important to note that there are automatic tool changers (ATC) and manual changing options. ATC is growing exponentially. “Machines that have an ATC are able to use up to ten tools at a time. This ability allows the sign shop and/or fabricator to process a variety of materials from aluminum to acrylic, giving the shop ultimate flexibility,” summarizes Cody Smith, director of sales, CAMaster, Inc.
Many flatbed cutters recently introduced include ATC. “ATC allows the operator to further increase productivity, and it gives the sign shop owner the flexibility to allocate one operator to multiple pieces of equipment. Every sign shop and operator can benefit from ease of use,” says Mark Packman, product manager, digital finishing, MultiCam, a Kongsberg PCS Company.
He provides an example of a packaging job that may require crease, perforation, and thru cuts. “This means three tools for the same job. With ATC all three tools are loaded. Once you click cut, the operator can leave the cutter, go work on their flatbed printer, and return when the job is finished. Ancillary advantages of ATC are that it will reduce operator error and waste costs associated with errors,” continues Packman.
A Look at Cost Investing in any large purchase is daunting. A flatbed cutting device with tool flexibility does cost more than a flatbed device that only works with one tool. Yet, the benefits may outweigh these costs.
Generally speaking, greater tool flexibility is associated with higher end—and higher cost—flatbed cutting systems, admits Drury. “To be effective, the tools for different cutting methods have to undergo development and manufacturing processes that take into account users’ speed and quality requirements, tool durability, software and motion control, as well as integration in the production process—all affect the cost and return on investment of each specialized tool.”
Mark Boncher, VP of sales and marketing, Superior Carbide, says “the short answer is yes, each tool insert and tool will cost more money. However, companies like ourselves offer cost-effective options for upgrading tables, especially slightly older cutting tables, to have more flexibility in cutting options and software. A table with knife cutting and routing capabilities gives shops the opportunity to approach an array of customers and take on revenue-generating projects.”
deGuzman notes that while the price of a cutting table with tool flexibility might cost a little more depending on how many tool options are purchased, it is less expensive to buy tool attachments, as opposed to multiple machines.
“Flexibility is a synonym of growth in the long term. And obviously growing means investing. Since these kind of machines are thought to last more than ten years, many companies prefer to add as many tools as possible at the time of the purchase in order to seize as many opportunities as possible. That said, it is not mandatory to enlarge the range of available tools immediately, upgrading is always possible,” explains Matteo Muto, sales and marketing manager, Valiani.
Grainger points out that ATC does cost more. However, standard systems—without ATC—accommodate tool changes for different materials and applications. “For a few rare applications, the additional cost of ATC technology is justified but for most shops the return from an ATC system is minimum. Tool changes are quick and easy without the added expense of ATC.”
Tool Options While not every tool can be used on every device, users do have a choice. Each is designed for a specific purpose, so knowing your main materials is essential. There are many options. “New substrates come to market every day. Some utilize the existing tools of the manufacturer and some require us to manufacture a new tool,” explains Packman.
“An oscillating knife is ideal for semi-rigid materials such as cardboard, foamboard, soft plastics, and leather,” says deGuzman. Oscillating knives are one type of knife tool, says Muto. The others are drag knives—ideal for thinner substrates such as folding cardboard, single-wall corrugated board, foam, and plastics; and rotary knives process aluminum composite, acrylic and plexiglas, lexan, and wood.
“A kiss cutting knife is used for decal stickers; creasing wheel for boxes; a motorized rotary knife for textile and fabric; a fixed double-edge knife for magnet material and card stock; and a universal single-edge knife to cut PVC,” lists Damato.
For router bits, end mills, V bits, and ball nose bits are for wood, plastic, sign foam, acrylic, solid surface materials, aluminum, and metal, according to Grainger.
Raum Divarco, GM, Cutworx USA, says that with router cutting, there are multiple spindle types and sizes to tackle materials in differing thicknesses. Where to Get It If you already own a flatbed cutter with interchangeable tool capabilities, you may be wondering where to buy additional tools. There are options to purchase directly from your OEM or aftermarket vendors.
The tools available on the Colex Sharpcut are manufactured at the company’s headquarters in Elmwood Park, NJ. All tools, bits, and blades are in stock and available for overnight delivery, according to Damato.
Drury advocates that for “tools to be effective, the tool, cutting system, and workflow have to work well and reliably as a whole. To make sure that happens, the OEM is always the best option.”
“It all depends on the OEM. Local service, support, and timeliness varies. An advantage to working with an OEM is that it has deep knowledge of their specific equipment and software. On the other hand, working with a third party, like Flatbed Tools, can unify workflows and knowledge across many flatbed equipment and software, including printers,” notes Davis.
Boncher says it is important to know there are other options besides OEM. Third-party companies like Superior Carbide offer cost-effective options and timely customer response.
It Just Makes Sense Many flatbed cutters are modular, allowing for switching tools depending on what needs to be cut that day or even hour.