Automated Contour Cutting in the In-plant
Improvements in printing technology have brought speed and efficiency advances to many in-plants, but those gains could be lost if the technology on the finishing side isn’t upgraded to keep pace. One finishing technology that’s rapidly catching on with in-plants is automated contour cutting equipment. According to a new IPI study, 53% of in-plant respondents added a contour cutter in the past two years, and 49% plan to get one in the next two.
East Baton Rouge Parish School System (EBR Schools) in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, had been using a guillotine cutter for most jobs, and hand-cutting the rest, but when the five-employee in-plant invested in a flatbed inkjet printer, it became obvious a better cutting solution was needed. So, the in-plant installed three machines: a Polar 78 paper cutter, a Duplo DC-646 slitter/cutter/creaser, and a Kongsberg XN automated flatbed cutting machine, each designed to fulfill a specific need. Together, they allow the shop to not only cut faster, but to cut materials like acrylics and aluminum that couldn’t be cut previously.
About 400 miles northwest in Garland, Texas, Garland Independent School District is currently in the process of upgrading its cutting systems. The 17-person in-plant already has a Colex Sharpcut SX1732 cutter, which it installed in 2020, notes Keith Hopson, coordinator of Printing Services, but it is also in the process of purchasing a hydraulic cutter, which will speed things up even further.
“Ours was about 25 years old, and it was hit or miss sometimes,” Hopson notes. “I was fortunate to get approval to upgrade it.”
For both in-plants, speeding up and automating the cutting process has made a big difference, allowing them to bring work back in-house and also expand on what they offer.
“It changed everything on what we could do, and added a lot of new projects,” says Chad Simpson, graphic arts supervisor at EBR Schools, about the Kongsberg XN. “We started doing all kinds of shaped stuff, like stickers in different shapes, cardboard, etc. Contour cutting was all new for us; there was just no way to do it before.”
He also notes that having the Duplo DC-646 allowed the in-plant to bring certain forms back under its control. Previously, Simpson notes, long-run forms had to be sent out for perforating, then warehoused.
“Now we don’t have to do any of that,” he says. “We can just print and perf as needed, so if a form changes, there’s not as much waste.”
“Our [Colex] digital cutter pretty much cuts everything that comes off the flatbed or roll-fed wide-format printers,” says Hopson. “Banners, foamboard, yard signs — anything you want to put on there, we can cut it with the digital cutter. Before the Colex, we were cutting everything by hand, and it was very labor intensive. It has revolutionized that portion of the shop.”
Another revolution is on the way, he notes; his operation is in the process of adding WebCRD from Rochester Software Associates, which will open up online ordering and Web-to-print, which his district has never had.
“This automation is going to freak a lot of people out,” Hopson laughs, “but we’re all excited about it. And we’re hoping it will bring more work into the shop” – work the in-plant simply wouldn’t be capable of completing without the digital cutting systems to help move jobs through production quickly.
When it comes to installing automated cutting equipment in your in-plant, flatbed cutters can take up a great deal of floor space. Look closely at your overall floorplan, and determine where and how the device will fit into your workflow.
At Garland ISD, the solution was to take out older equipment that was no longer being used.
“We were actually packed in 2020 when the Colex hit,” notes Hopson. “Over the last two-and-a-half years, we sold three offset presses in the same general area, and that opened up some needed production floor space. We also just added a second Mimaki roll-fed wide-format printer there as well. But there is no way we could have fit all that with those offset presses back there.”
Simpson says EBR Schools’ in-plant is fortunate to have a good deal of space, so adding the new equipment was not difficult. He is currently considering investing in continuous-feed inkjet equipment to print curriculum books, but no decisions have been made.
Simpson was surprised at just how much of a difference the automated Kongsberg XN cutter has made.
“I got talked into it,” he says. “I didn’t know that we needed it, but we use it a lot more than I ever thought we would. We were having to wait to get stuff back we were outsourcing, so I eventually got talked into pulling the trigger. And now that I’ve used one, I know that I always want one in the shop.”
Toni McQuilken is the senior editor for the printing and packaging group.