Saturday, 15 Dec 2018 16:02 GMT

Hybrid Finishing Technology

Hybrid finishing technology can help wide-format print firms save on floorspace and cost, but what other benefits does this machinery offer? Rob Fletcher speaks with manufacturers to find out

A Strong Finish

Wide-format print technologies have come on leaps and bounds in recent years, to the point where users can now take on kit that can do several tasks. In years gone by, such jobs required a number of machines, which proved rather costly for users, but evolution in the industry is making life easier for printers.

The focus here is on hybrid finishing technology, which can allow users to route, cut and slice all on one machine. The obvious benefits of taking on this sort of kit are that you only need to invest in one piece of kit and doing so will mean that you save valuable floorspace inside your production facility, freeing up space for machinery critical to other parts of the business.

But what else can users expect from purchasing this sort of technology? What other benefits are on offer to those that opt for hybrid finishing kit as opposed to running pieces of machinery?

Business opportunities

One of the leading names in wide-format print finishing is AXYZ International, which offers a range of cutting and routing machinery. Robert Marshall, vice-president of market development, says the “most important single benefit” of hybrid finishing kit is that it can carry out dual routing and cutting duties that would otherwise require the use of two separate machines.

“Companies and in particular small or start-up ones do not want to invest unnecessarily in multiple pieces of equipment, both in terms of budget and available workplace space,” says Marshall, who goes on to comment: “A second and equally important benefit is that with a hybrid print finishing system it is possible for owners to develop new business opportunities such as those that exist in the potentially lucrative packaging and labelling sectors.”

Continuing his championing of this technology, Marshall says hybrid kit offers users the opportunity to take on a wide range of work due to their flexibility: “The applications are virtually limitless, due to the ability of a hybrid print finishing system to handle a wide range of rigid, semi-rigid and flexible materials. These can be as diverse as aluminium and other non-ferrous metals, aluminium composites (ACM), acrylic, plastics and their derivatives, foamed and corrugated board, vinyl, cardboard and paper.”

In terms of the machinery available from AXYZ, Marshall immediately points to the hybrid AXYZ Trident combined routing and knife-cutting system. Marshall says the development of Trident “marked the company’s entry into the hybrid print finishing sector”, having already established itself as an approved provider of traditional CNC routing and knife-cutting systems.

AXYZ says hybrid technology such as its Trident can handle a wide range of rigid, semi-rigid and flexible materials

He says: “The latest version of Trident incorporates a number of recent machine upgrades. These include a redesigned processing head that is said to be much simpler to operate and easier to service and improvements to the oscillating and tangential knife-cutting units that now provide increased routing/cutting speeds and an ability to handle a wider range of materials.

The AXYZ Trident boasts features such as multi-stationed Automatic Tool Change systems and an AXYZ Vision System that ensures optimum routing/cutting accuracy

“Trident is built to customers’ specific requirements and supplied with a host of both standard and optional production tool enhancements. These include multi-stationed Automatic Tool Change systems, an AXYZ Vision System that ensures optimum routing/cutting accuracy, the latest A2MC machine controller, an exclusive live deck for maximum material hold-down efficiency and the latest helical rack and pinion drive system, the special configuration of which increases output and extends the normal service life of the machine.”

Engagement with sectors

Casting the net wider, and Graphtec GB can also help wide-format print companies seeking to invest in hybrid finishing kit. Phil Kneale, director of Graphtec GB, picks up on what Marshall said about how this type of machinery can help to create new opportunities for the user and allow them to expand their business.

Phil Kneale, director of Graphtec GB, say hybrid finishing technology will “enable engagement with other market sectors”

Kneale expands: “From a printer’s perspective, it will enable engagement with other market sectors and the opportunity to expand business growth through the introduction of additional revenue streams. These relate primarily to those that exist in the potentially lucrative digital printing, labelling, packaging and print wear and promotional products sectors.

“The equipment also requires little time to set up and operate by comparison with other production equipment, in addition to enabling significant cost savings by removing the need to employ an outside supplier that hitherto might have been necessary.”

The equipment also requires little time to set up and operate by comparison with other production equipment

With this in mind, Kneale draws attention to latest F-Mark automatic digital die cutter available from Graphtec. Based on the popular Graphtec CE6000-40 cutter and incorporating dedicated F-Mark hardware and software, the device has been designed for high-speed die-cutting of a wide range of digitally-printed media.

The latest F-Mark automatic digital die-cutter from Graphtec has been designed for high-speed die-cutting of a range of digitally-printed media

Kneale picks up on one key benefit in particular in that with the F-Mark, the die-cutting process is carried out automatically, thereby eliminating the need for machine owners to purchase expensive cutting dies. In addition, the F-Mark will handle up to 120 sheets of printed material at a time with the ability to add further sheets as required whilst the machine is still running.

Kneale comments: “This is an attribute that sets the F-Mark apart from any other comparable sheet-fed system.”

Making savings

Elsewhere, Esko places a strong focus on helping wide-format print companies to save time during production and cut down on waste. Russell Weller, product manager at Esko, explains that the manufacturer is committed to making production more efficient and hybrid finishing kit is one way to achieve this.

Weller comments: “In the finishing room, Esko has thought of every time-saving measure and device to reduce ‘change over time’ and simplify waste logistics.  With a range of cutting tables, feeders, stackers and tooling systems to suit all needs, Esko provides an automation opportunity to multi-task with multi-zone operations using powerful robotics for faster and more versatile material handling.”

Esko has a broad family of Kongsberg digital finishing tables that Weller says will “meet the needs of operations of all sizes”. Weller says these tables can be configured using hundreds of different knife blades, router bits, and a range of other accessories such as plotting pens and refills, crease wheels, crease blades and milling accessories. In addition, the tables offer automation to the user.

The Kongsberg C models in particular are multi-functional, offering super-wide digital cutting solutions for signage and display applications.

Esko bills the Kongsberg C range as multi-functional, offering super-wide digital cutting solutions for display applications

Weller explains: “The Kongsberg C64 combined with our new feeder and stacker delivers impressive 24/7 performance and is designed to keep up with the faster, wider digital printers of today. These multi-functional tables are an investment in the future for all print and display graphics businesses.”

Delving further into the technology of Kongsberg, Weller picks out the i-cut Production Console, the next generation front-end for all Kongsberg cutting tables, as well as the level of automation on the machines.

Weller says: “Kongsberg Automate increases productivity by offering an array of impressive innovations that boost the performance of digital finishing operations to industrial levels. This includes the ability to add robotics for loading new materials and offloading finished materials, and a motorised roll feeder for increased productivity and reduced operator interaction.

“In addition, the Kongsberg take-up unit for flexible materials makes roll-to-roll workflows easier, while the new sheet feeder and stacker have been developed for efficient automated feeding with four feed cycles per minute in a continuous material flow. 

“Offering versatility, speciality tools deliver speed, power and flexibility to handle different materials, such as corrugated, folding carton, solid board, foam, coating blankets, wood and a long list of plastics.”

Apart from the obvious benefits of saving floorspace and eliminating the need to invest in more than one piece of kit, it seems that there are several other key factors that can boost your business by purchasing hybrid finishing machinery.

O Factoid: The term ‘hybrid’ is most commonly used in the automotive industry to describe vehicles that combine an internal combustion engine with an electric propulsion system. Ferdinand Porsche developed the first hybrid electric car in 1901, but such vehicles did not become widely available until Toyota launched its Prius model in 1997. O

Perhaps the most important of these is the ability to use this sort of technology to expand your business into new markets. As the wide-format print market continue to become more competitive, the need to diversify into new areas is more important than ever before.

The cost of making such a move, as well as having train staff to work on various new machines, often puts companies off diversification. However, as highlighted by both Marshall at AXYZ and Kneale at Graphtec GB, hybrid finishing technology means less investment and less training, thus making diversification a viable option.

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