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Back to Basics


Once a symbol of violent protest, guillotines are now more of a technological revolution. Harriet Gordon examines how these systems are liberating the profit margins of today’s printers

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Liberté, Profit, Fraternité

Ask a member of the public what springs to mind at the word ‘guillotine’ and you will likely receive descriptions of revolution, execution, and the rolling heads of the French monarchy. Ask a member of the print industry, however, and you will get a very different story.

As well as being iconic images of violent revolution, guillotines are an essential element of a print finishing department. That is quite ironic as it is the printing press which helped spur the French revolution in the first place. This does not mean, however, that their dangerous reputation should be disregarded. The preferred method of execution in the late eighteenth century, these machines are still hazardous; Josh Boulter, technical manager at CJB Printing Equipment, explains the importance of being fully aware of the health and safety aspects of the machinery you are operating.

O Factoid: The guillotine is best known for its use in France during the French Revolution, when it was celebrated as the people's avenger by supporters of the Revolution and vilified as the pre-eminent symbol of the Reign of Terror by opponents. O

He continues: “It is the responsibility of the employer to ensure all operators are deemed safe in the work place and that they feel totally confident in using machinery. All power-operated guillotines need a health and safety check every six months.

CJB Printing Equipment sells over 100 used and new Ideal Guillotines a year, and service many more

 “The most popular guillotine for the copy shop or mid- to low-volume SRA3 digital printer market is the Ideal Guillotine, and the most common model we sell is the Ideal 4855 Guillotine. We sell over 100 Ideal Guillotines a year, both new and used, and service many more. Copy shops, digital printers, councils, schools, colleges, and universities have Ideal Guillotines with cut sizes ranging from 430mm to 720mm. All Ideal Guillotines are designed with short-run fast turnaround work in mind.”

Although health and safety is of course paramount, efficiencies can still be achieved by modernising and upgrading the precautionary safety aspects of your machine. Boutler continues: “At this end of the market most guillotines feature a transparent safety guard that has to be lifted and closed between each cut, which can be a real strain on production. Replacing the plastic guard with an infra-red beam guard means a typical job can be completed in half the time. On the Ideal 5560 extra features include air bed, touch pad, beam guards, and hydraulic clamp with adjustable clamping pressure. Adjustable clamping pressure is a great advantage as you can make sure you don’t mark sensitive digital stock whilst clamping. Touch pads are as standard on the larger size machines from 4855 upwards and are easy to use and very convenient.”

Time for an upgrade?

Indeed, as with any technology or equipment, there is a lot to be said for regular upgrades. Bryan Godwyn, joint Intelligent Finishing Systems (IFS) managing director, explains how guillotines are often only replaced on an ‘as-and-when-needed’ basis.

“As such, many printers do not realise the increased productivity benefits offered by touch-screen programmability, job memory storage, clear operator prompts, and fast knife-changes. Those looking to upgrade their aging guillotines will notice a huge difference in performance capabilities thanks to a high level of automation. The big mistake is to buy purely on price and make the assumption that it is a simple process that can’t go wrong.”

He continues: “Once the life-long accuracy is engineered into the machine, printers should start to look at the benefits that technology brings to the process. What IFS is finding increasingly to be the case is the more technology-rich solutions with intuitive software and prudent paper handling workflow systems are being adopted firstly to increase throughput and secondly to reduce labour costs. Very often the old stalwart guillotine still cuts well and, if it good enough quality, as many of the older machines are, it is re-employed to cut white paper for the pressroom.”

IFS supply Perfecta Guillotines, ranging from the Perfecta 76 to the Perfecta 225. On the topic of modernisation, Godwyn explains how Perfecta offers TU software and a colour touchscreen, designed to bring ultimate efficiency, as it calculates optimum cut sequences.

 IFS supply Perfecta Guillotines, ranging from the Perfecta 76 to the Perfecta 225. Pictured: Perfecta 76TS E

“The result,” he explains, “is a skilled and complex job that requires time and expertise to prepare and input, reduced to a simple foolproof exercise. With joggers and jogging tables efficiency and productivity is further enhanced and because the brute force element is eliminated also this opens up the guillotining process to a wider number of staff.”

One organisation to recently benefit from updating its aging guillotine is the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB). When the charity began the search to replace its machine it had a particular key criteria in mind. The system had to have a soft touch; it had to deliver a high-quality cut without impairing the Braille dots on the sheet.

After weighing up the market available options Stuart Hale, production team leader, chose the Perfecta 76 HTVC from IFS. He explains: “We needed a guillotine that could cut at low pressures to stop the Braille from squashing. Now we can even cut labels and braille cards. We had a 20 year old ITO guillotine and had been looking for a replacement for a while. We liked the new guillotine because we can pre-programme jobs easily on the touch screen and store jobs for a quick set up. The knife change is also much faster and this saves us up to 50 minutes at a time.”

Automated Innovation

Heidelberg UK has also been facilitating guillotine upgrades this year, to companies including Fine Print Services, J Thomson Colour Printers, Senator Press, Singlewell Stationery and Print, Stramongate Press, and W MacCarthy and Sons. Yet, in addition to selling the Polar N PLUS, N PRO, and ECO series of guillotines (offering machines from 56 to 176cm cutting width) the company has also started supplying Polar’s recently launched Digicut, a laser cutting system.

Targeted at small and medium sized printers, this manual machine will typically produce one to 500 products. Work designed in Coreldraw or Adobe Illustrator can simply output to the Digicut and the laser will move across the paper, board, wood, or plastic to manufacture the finished product.

Markus Rall, managing director of Polar, comments: “We are introducing this first in Europe and then overseas.  This is our first, manual entry-level machine but we will look to add automation, reviewing price-performance options. We think this first product offers printers a chance to differentiate without a large capital expenditure or tooling costs.”

Paul Thompson, Polar product specialist at Heidelberg UK, is equally excited about the product, adding: “Digicut is a head-turner. In the UK we believe it will offer a cost-effective option for the quick or commercial printer who wants to stand out from the crowd and a tool for packaging companies looking to produce bespoke personalised presentation and sample carton models.”  

Reducing machine downtime, improving results, and enabling less skilled staff to run equipment, automation is also high on Polar and Heidelberg’s agenda. Examples include the Polar PACE cutting systems, with its automated turning gripper system, which allows the automation of cutting, freeing the operator to prepare the next ream for cutting and download the cut sheet, maximising the productivity of the guillotine.

Hedge your bets

Yet there is no place for automation for automation’s sake and some developments have focused on providing a simpler, cost-effective solution. An example is the Polar N 115, which is designed to appeal to packaging companies with straightforward board cutting needs and commercial companies with a limited product range and a more basic cutting requirement.

Paul Thompson, Polar product specialist at Heidelberg UK, comments: “There is the expertise within Heidelberg to provide best advice on cutting needs taking into account budgets, cutting volumes, the stock range handled, and the quality of cut required. That said, it is the robustness and reliability of Polar machines that continues to secure it a loyal customer base.”

Chris Cooper, Terry Cooper Services (TCS) managing director, similarly affirms the importance of buying from a reputable company that has a sound background with guillotines, and that can offer a minimum of twelve months warranty, CE conformity, service and safety inspections, installation, and good demonstration training.

Terry Cooper Services offers the CCM Premier and Challenge guillotine ranges. Pictured: CCM Premier 155

TCS offer the CCM Premier and Challenge guillotine ranges; Cooper comments: “What customers need from a guillotine is speed, fast knife action, quick backgauge positioning, ease of use, and quick set ups. Most operations now don’t employ operators just for a guillotine so making the machine user-friendly is a must.

Safety measures are paramount when it comes to choosing and operating a guillotine. Pictured: Polar guillotine light guard

“We are seeing a larger demand for smaller guillotines to suit the digital market and as such our 780CCM premier has become our best-selling guillotine.”

Resurgent market

Exemplified by the large numbers of sales being made by all the afore-mentioned manufacturers and suppliers, it seems that a long overdue investment cycle is now finally kicking in—seeing printers across the UK decide to overhaul knackered or outdated finishing equipment.

One such firm is Deanprint, which has recently signed on the dotted line for two Baumann-Wohlenberg 115 high speed cutters from its UK and Ireland agent, Friedheim International.

One of the new Baumann-Wohlenberg 115 high speed cutters installed at Deanprint by Friedheim International—the investment was made to relieve bottlenecks following a renaissance in demand

“With the large amount of cutting work we undertake we require great reliability and productivity, and a couple of our existing five Polar guillotines were beginning to come to the end of their effective working lives,” says operations director Kevin Lee. 

Operations must be sure the cutting system is 100 percent reliable from the day they bought it right through its working life

Deanprint first began trading in the 1890s, and has been established at its present purpose-built 50,000sq ft site since 1920.  Lee explains the need for the Baumann-Wohlenberg 115s was spurred by the installation last year of a Wohlenberg Quickbinder perfect binder and Trim-Tec three-knife trimmer, meaning this production capacity increase meant a bottleneck was formed in the guillotine department.  Kevin Lee explains: “With a recent upturn in demand across our key areas of education, general trade finishing and government contracts, the ability to keep in full production is of paramount importance. Purchasing equipment from an existing supplier this provides continuity in terms of on-going servicing, maintenance, and provision of spare parts, and is of great benefit accordingly.”

Looking back to Friedheim, the firms Baumann-Wohlenberg range does indeed have some stand out features. Going from 76 to 225cm, all models feature fully automatic touch screen control and backgauges are positioned using an electronic hand wheel and driven by a servo motor, which is particularly advantageous when processing sensitive cutting stock. The technology also incorporates a precise clamp bar control, side gauges that are produced from extra thick-walled aluminium to ensure a precise square cut, and a precision transport spindle that operates with linear guiding with re-circulating ball bearings for reduced wear. 

Friedheim also supplies the Schneider Senator range of guillotines, which now feature a new machine control for its 78/92 and 115H/137H/155H models.  With the new intuitive Power Cutting Control (PCC) system, the operator can now use a 15? colour display touch screen for set-up, monitoring, and control. The Senator E-Line 78/92 has also received some new bells and whistles, including a new knife change crank handle at the front and a new knife change device. It also features a new multi-functional hand wheel as an option, which caters for two different back gauge speeds in both directions.

So, looking back across this core sector of print finishing, it is perhaps Cooper who best summarises the importance of making a considered and informed decision when it comes to your own needs: “The guillotine might not be at the top of the shopping list when it comes to investing in the print finishing department, but should it go wrong, it brings the whole process to a stand-still. That is why making the right choice is crucial.”

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