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Breaking out of a Rectangular World

(January 2008) posted on Fri Jan 11, 2008

Digital contour cutting is impacting the market.

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By Peggy Middendorf

Automation of cutting workflow: The whole workflow of digital cutting is becoming faster (read: more throughput) with automated material-handling options such as conveyors, auto feeders, and robotic off-loaders for roll and sheet processing. Automation eliminates one of the labor-intensive aspects of any cutting job-loading in sheets and off-loading cut product. As new automation options come to market, since many new cutting systems are based on a modular concept, shops can upgrade systems with the latest technology as their workflow and demand increases.

Of course, the key to cutting automation is having the job’s cut-parameters integrated into the prepress process. The front-end software must be compatible with design programs, as well as the cutting systems. MGE’s i-cut optical vision-registration system, for example, is incorporated into various digital-cutting systems across the market. Its i-script workflow allows industry-standard RIPs and printers to work within a common workflow. Designers using Adobe Illustrator send cutting information to a RIP, which outputs essentially a fifth file that contains all of the cut-parameters for a print job (including barcode and register marks); the result is that the print and finishing instructions are forever tied together. This simplifies the job on the back-end because the finishing operator doesn’t need to know much about the job to correctly cut it.

Another example is Zund, which offers several vision registration front-end software choices, such as OptiScout, Touch & Cut, and the aforementioned i-cut as well. "Like a digital print, no one RIP can be used for all situations, the same can be said for vision-registration front-end software," says Alsten. Other manufacturers of digital cutting systems offer various namebrand and private-labeled front-end software and RIP plug-ins for use with their machines.

Reduced costs/additional revenue stream: Not only do digital vision-registration cutting systems offer significant reductions in the costs of graphics production, but they also provide shops the opportunity to sell additional products to customers. Drivers for return-on-purchasing these systems are three-fold, according to Gerber’s Azzaretti: labor savings to automate finishing work that used to be performed manually; reduced cost of cutting dies, which were previously required to contour cut rigid jobs; and being able to deliver end-products to customers that print providers previously could not.