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Taste For Success

CNC Routers

With a wide range of CNC routers on the market, how can printers avoid under- or over-specifying when investing in kit? Help is on hand as Jane Allardice discovers

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Tight registration processing of printed matter, whether routing or knife cutting, is critical given the time pressure on turnarounds in today’s industry

Navigating the specification maze

Computer numerical control (CNC) routers automate the cutting process for printers and sign-makers, enabling speedy, consistent, and high-quality output without the vagaries inherent in time-consuming, manual methods.

There are different types and configurations of CNC router, catering for a range of requirements, across the spectrum from light tooling at entry-level to heavy industrial. How do printers diversifying into large-format finishing decide which router or cutter is best suited to their needs?  Some of the major manufacturers and suppliers of CNC routers give some pointers.

Naturally price will be a consideration, but Robert Marshall, vice president, market development at AXYZ International, cautions that first and foremost it is important to avoid the all too frequent temptation to buy machines based only on price.

“So-called ‘low cost’ machines are invariably standard ‘off-the-shelf’ models with none of the necessary production tool enhancements to effectively accommodate the work to be undertaken by the customer,” Marshall explains. He adds: “These machines provide only short-term financial benefits that are rapidly cancelled out due to subsequent higher overall running costs caused by excessive downtime as a result of persistent machine failure, a lack of direct access to necessary spare parts and accessories, and little or no technical back-up and product training.”

Customer engagement

Determining a CNC router’s capabilities is vital before making a purchasing decision. The materials and cutting techniques it is designed for, the tools and settings available, level of utilisation, workshop or factory configuration, budget, and, just as importantly, the skills needed by the operator all need to be considered. 


Large-format display specialists, The Grain, needed to produce bespoke items very quickly, using bigger and thicker substrates. A visit to Biesse’s Daventry Technical Centre reinforced its decision to buy a Biesse machine

Complete CNC Solutions offers a range of Tekcel CNC routing systems configured to suit a very diverse range of application needs. The company usually finds itself in conversation with customers wanting to do something very specific in the short-term. It soon becomes apparent, however, that the conversation is as much about the work they would like to be doing in the future as addressing an immediate need.

The company’s advice comes backed with the experience of having hundreds of Tekcel CNC routing systems installed in the UK, as well as the means of demonstrating that what it suggests actually works.

“A hands-on demonstration and a pretty detailed consultation go ahead of any recommendations made,” says Julian Sage, Complete CNC Solutions’ managing director, who continues: “We’ll set up an environment that effectively mirrors the work they are undertaking and we’ll prove that our solution delivers in terms of its cost, productivity, and outright quality.

“I’m very pleased to say that we’re on most shopping lists where there’s a need for quality today and the market is better informed than it ever has been. Low, low, ‘bargain’ pricing is viewed with great suspicion and more people are saying ‘show me’ before placing orders. That suits us. We’re very happy to demonstrate what we claim.”

Low, low, ‘bargain’ pricing is viewed with great suspicion and more people are saying ‘show me’ before placing orders

Biesse meanwhile, one of Europe’s largest manufacturers of CNC machining solutions, operates two Technical Centres fully equipped to demonstrate its machining capability to customers, show them how to process their own materials and, in many cases, help them find solutions previously thought unattainable.

The mantra of Nigel Elmes, its technical centre manager, is: “What is your pain and what can we do to help? It’s all about the client process and what we can do to make it happen more efficiently.”

Supplier and customer relations are also firmly embedded in a culture of consultation at the beginning of the purchasing process at AXYZ International. It favours setting up customer and supplier partnerships, which address every conceivable production requirement, both existing and in the future, of the customer and which help comprehensively to resolve any possible operational problems during the lifetime of the machine.


State-of-the-art user interface makes the Tekcel EXR easy to learn and fully exploit

The need for customers and suppliers to engage at the outset is echoed by Mark Whitbread, director of Hertfordshire-based ATA Engineering Processes: “It’s about establishing customers’ requirements. What materials are they cutting and what sort of finishes are they looking for? There needs to be a two-way conversation that goes hand in hand with which products will be recommended.”


Which CNC router?


The range of capabilities on offer from different suppliers can be bewildering, however, all experienced suppliers will offer advice and support as it is in their best interests to build a satisfied client base.

Complete CNC Solutions’ Tekcel EXR is a platform on which it can build a practically bespoke solution to suit the needs of any signs and graphics producer, who wants to profitably tackle any job that comes along.

Sage enthuses: “This system is much more than just a CNC router. It’s a digital cutter too. It can be equipped with a range of knife-cutting options and systems for cutting printed material in tight register.”

If there is a need, the Tekcel EXR can be configured to cut a huge range of engineered boards and flexible materials too. That extends the system’s remit beyond its machining and routing capability, making it much more versatile particularly for print-centric businesses.

“We’re able to configure our Tekcel hardware to suit the needs of those embarking on the CNC router journey for the first time or those who need to burn down big workloads from day one,” stresses Sage.


A close-up of the AXYZ Trident combined routing/cutting print finishing system

He continues: “We can add value to print finishing operations and to those with heavy machining needs. Best of all perhaps, we can configure our hardware to deal effortlessly with practically any signing job that comes along and still deliver capacity for the unexpected work that’s just around the future’s corner.”

AXYZ International also has a range of products for different sectors. For mainstream sign manufacturing, these would primarily be the 4000 and 6000 series of AXYZ CNC routers. These will effectively handle virtually any commonly used sign-making material, including thicker and harder materials, such as aluminium and other non-ferrous metals, aluminium composites, solid and particle woods, acrylic, and plastics.

“While for the burgeoning print and cut sector, the latest Trident combined routing and cutting print finishing machine would be recommended,” says AXYZ International’s Marshall, who emphasises: “Trident incorporates a triple-head tool configuration comprising a CNC router spindle coupled with tangential and oscillating knife-cutting units.”

It also features the AXYZ ATC (Automatic Tool Change) facility for work requiring multiple tooling and the AXYZ AVS (AXYZ Vision System) for optimum routing/cutting accuracy. The AVS is integrated with the latest AXYZ A2MC machine controller that is said to comprehensively resolve problems often found with other less technically advanced controllers such as ‘bounce’ and vibration caused by sudden machine acceleration or deceleration.

Biesse produces a full range of CNC machining centres for various business needs, from workshops looking for their very first CNC router to larger customers looking to ramp up production. Its customers often process a quantity of one type of material, but may wish to process a variety of materials on the same machinery. It will advise on machining speeds and strategies to accommodate these diverse requirements.

Questions Biesse typically asks customers include the type and size of sheet material to be processed to gauge the size of machine to aim for. Too small and you may regret the ability to process larger sheet sizes efficiently. Too large and you risk committing to unnecessary cost.


An AXYZ CNC router used for general sign-making applications, which has been installed at trade-only supplier Smith (part of the newly formed William Smith Group)

Is the work flat panel or 3D? This will determine how many axes the customer needs to consider, while the height and depth of the finished product helps determine the Z-axis.

The quantity of raw material to be processed, how much end product is being manufactured, and how small the components being made are give a picture of the number of vacuum pumps needed to hold the raw material in place to give accurate machining.

Aftercare is key

Post-sales support, of what can be a significant expenditure for any company, is vital. This is both during commissioning and to resolve issues while familiarity with a potentially complex new machine is gained.


O Factoid: In the 1950s John T. Parsons invented numerical control (NC) for manufacturing processes. Originally used in the aviation industry, it led to the widespread adoption of NC machine tools.O

AXYZ International provides bespoke product training programmes, ongoing technical support, and a 24/7 in-house resource for essential spare parts, accessories and consumables. The company also offers a wide choice of customised machines that include multiple processing areas and a host of both standard and optional production tool enhancements, as well as a staggering 336,918 different machine configurations.

Looking now to ATA Engineering Processes, it has machines set up in its factory, so customers can bring in the material they are struggling with and be helped to identify the correct tool, feed, and speeds to achieve the desired results.

Biesse’s Rover A FT Plast—CNC machining centres designed for processing acrylics, composites, plastics, advanced materials, including alloy-coated material, foams or timber panels

Whitbread describes the company’s ethos of customer service as one where its sales team are fully trained in tooling and will visit existing and potential customers on-site to help with particular issues of cutting and finishes. They will recommend the right tooling on the basis of issues identified.

Reworking your decision

Occasionally, experience with a new direction in tooling can prove disappointing. This may be for many reasons from a lack of understanding of existing and future requirements to buying equipment that has coped in a basic sense for a time, but struggles to achieve the required standards of productivity or quality.

Complete CNC Solutions’ Sage says: “We offer a range of CNC Router Tooling that can help anyone with a CNC router, no matter where it comes from, to achieve the best results the hardware is capable of delivering. That tends to bring a bit of stability to production by lowering cost and achieving improved quality and longevity.”

Sometimes, though, there are simply fundamental limitations that cannot easily be overcome. Sage explains: “Then we find ourselves working closely with the customer to demonstrate the value side of the solutions we offer. In many cases, that has meant someone selling an installed machine and replacing it with one of ours. It’s often a case of hardware simply not performing as expected or being more expensive to own and operate than was thought to be the case.”


ATACAM CNC routers are an affordable range introduced to the market last year by ATA Engineering Processes
 

When defining and sourcing a CNC router it is essential to engage with potential suppliers as early as possible as CNC routers are their business. The purchasing decision needs to be made from a position of knowledge and confidence that the appropriate selection is being made. You want an enhanced business; they want satisfied customers. This can be achieved by establishing a strong and supportive relationship from the outset.

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