Features Cutting Postpress
Beyond the cut

How intelligent digital cutting technology is fuelling growth in large-format printing

May 31, 2024  By Tony Curcio

The digital cutting table is a versatile system that comes in a range of sizes and can handle an array of applications. Photo © Kongsberg PCS

Every successful printer knows that even the most meticulously printed masterpiece can be compromised by a mediocre finishing job. Of all finishing equipment on the market today, the digital cutting table, with its built-in digital front end (DFE) software, is among the most accurate, sturdy, dependable, and versatile systems available. The key word here is ‘versatile’ because today’s intelligent large-format flatbed cutting tables come in a wide range of sizes and can handle a huge array of applications in addition to paper—everything from rigid and flexible displays to textiles, from short-run packaging and plastics to corrugated, and from wood to metals. The list keeps growing.

Plus, today’s cutting-table OEMs have responded by creating entry-level devices that can be upgraded to a more advanced model as a printer’s business grows. Flexibility also prevails in the tools offered. Most OEMs offer a choice of cutting heads with the ability to hold multiple tools that can be switched automatically. Flexibility is also reflected in the table’s automated loading and unloading options, which can include everything from robotic palette loaders for rigid media to winders for roll-fed substrates. Camera and optical/vision systems can track cutting accuracy on the fly, and built-in software can generate analytics regarding machine use and other performance metrics. Kongsberg PCS, Zund, Elitron and Colex are some of the major players in this space for now.

Fuelling growth in large-format printing


While I hesitate to use clichés, large-format flatbed inkjet printers and intelligent, automated digital cutting tables seem to be a marriage made in heaven.

“Intelligent, automated cutting systems go hand-in-hand with reducing costs and improving accuracy and speed-to-market in large-format production environments,” said Vince Tuccitto, territory sales manager for Eastern Canada, Kongsberg PCS. “Packed with specialty tools, today’s systems offer speed, power, and the flexibility to add new tools for new materials, new applications, and more capacity.”

Tuccitto highlighted several reasons for why the technology is fuelling growth in large format. According to research firm Markets and Markets, the global large-format printing market is projected to grow from US$8.1 billion in 2023 to US$10.4 billion in 2028 at a CAGR of five per cent.

“Compared to hand cutting, every single cut is perfect, and the finished product, regardless of quantity or substrate, always looks the same. The technology also helps eliminate injuries due to knife cutting and repetitive tasks. It even aids in employee retention because the worst job in any print operation is cutting with a ruler. Plus, cutting by hand usually takes double the print time,” added Tuccitto. “Automated cutting systems can work their magic as the next sheet is being printed. This facilitates non-stop production usually at the same speed as the wide-format printer, allowing for more work to be produced. Plus, an automated flatbed cutting system with the right tooling can cut virtually anything and be upgraded to cut new products as markets change or grow.”

There are many digital cutters on the market today, such as light-duty and heavy-duty cutters, print-and-cut devices, CNC routers, cutters specifically for POP displays, textiles, leather, cutters with advanced robotics, etc.

These cutters can help fuel a print shop’s growth. They can be employed to produce one-offs and short runs. They make the cutting process consistent and repeatable, cut parts and materials with precision to the tightest tolerances, minimize waste, reduce time to market, eliminate costly dies and stencils, produce prototypes that are identical to original customer samples, and even facilitate expansion into other markets such as packaging.

Lacasse Printing in Tecumseh, Ont., installed a new Kongsberg X24 Cutting Table in 2022. Photo © Kongsberg PCS

Software: An essential part of the puzzle

While having a fast and precise digital cutter is central to automated finishing, the DFE software driving it should never be underestimated. Functions can include layout and potentially nesting, materials planning and management, cutting machine control and monitoring, and analytics such as tracking production data, material consumption, parts, number, and type of jobs processed. The key here, as with all workflow software, is to reduce costly errors by eliminating as many human touchpoints as possible. Nesting and materials planning are even more crucial in large format because of the higher costs of substrates. So, lowering expenses by reducing substrate waste is very critical.

Additionally, the software must be integrated with existing workflow and business systems to achieve high levels of automation. This will help save time and costs.

The Zund D3 cutting table is a modular finishing solution with four different cutter models and fully automated set-up. Photo © Zund

Driven by application

Marc Raad, president of Significans Automation, is in a unique position to monitor this trend. He sold 150 Kongsberg cutting tables before starting a workflow software and integration company over six years ago.

He said that virtually everything in the digital cutting space is driven by application. “Shop owners must first determine what they want to print, and on what media, then try to predict which new application opportunities will surface as their business grows. With so many options available, the key is to choose the hardware/software combination that will not just fit most efficiently into a specific production environment, but also connect seamlessly with the print shop’s other current workflow systems. The ultimate aim is to facilitate lights-out, end-to-end production on a daily basis. For businesses that have done this, the results have been truly game changing,” explained Raad.

Vince Tuccitto. Photo © Kongsberg PCS

Suitable for large as well as small printers

“Today, extremely intuitive DFE software has removed many barriers for operating digital cutting and die-cutting devices,” said Stephen Longmire, national sales manager at print-finishing specialist Sydney Stone (Mississauga, Ont.). “In addition, size, and price options for print shops both large and small have expanded. We now have two-tool cutting systems that occupy 1 m2, up to large four-tool flatbed systems with oscillating knives, routing systems and auto-loading. With their automated loading and QR-code reading systems, even in entry-level devices, one operator can load multiple jobs and run them with the push of a button.”

This digital cutting technology has fuelled expansion, especially in large format. It allows smaller print shops to create new profit centres and expand into kiss-cut labels, small-run packaging, promotional, and POP.

Marc Raad. Photo © Significans Automation

Strategic installations spur company growth

In 2022, signage, display, POP, and offset-printing specialist Lacasse Printing (Tecumseh, Ont.) invested in a new Kongsberg X24 Cutting Table with automated conveyor and roll-off unit, a 3KW router, and a selection of tools for its finishing department.

“In the summer of 2021, we were struggling with labour shortages and more complex finishing requirements, which in turn was affecting turnaround times,” said owner and president Jeff Lappan. “Our order book was still growing, but customers were demanding shorter turnaround times and pushing us into more intricate work. So, it made sense for us to automate our finishing processes. We needed to do more and do it faster. Our investment not only met these requirements, but also enabled us to enter new markets, introduce new product lines, and expand our product range to include packaging. As a result, we’ve attracted new customers and increased sales.”

George Perreira.

Moyy, a corrugate box manufacturer in Hamilton, made a strategic move recently by acquiring an Elitron Kombo TAV. The fully automatic cutting plotter with integrated loading, cutting, and unloading for packaging and display applications, proved to be a game-changing addition to its production arsenal. With ‘lights out’ automation, the technology facilitated uninterrupted operation and enhanced efficiency enormously.

“The purchase was a response to the market demand for short-run production at competitive pricing,” said Moyy VP George Perreira. “This fully unmanned cutting table was the perfect complement to our digital printing press and workflow automation system integrated by Significans Automation. This forward-thinking approach underscored our commitment to meeting customer needs while maintaining a competitive edge in the industry. It also reflected how this cutting technology is still driving growth, both in packaging and wide-format print.”

CJ Graphics (Mississauga, Ont.) entered large format as one of its first adopters circa 2000. Today, most of its revenue and acquisitions involve wide format. At the end of February 2024, it acquired Media Resources Inc.’s large-format division, adding two Kongsberg and two Zund digital cutting tables to supplement its more than 60 finishing devices.

“These high-end cutting tables were instrumental in our transition to large-format and our subsequent growth,” said CJ Graphics president and CEO Jay Mandarino. “The key is automation, pure and simple. The technology improves cutting accuracy and repeatability, reduces waste, and above all, improves our speed to market. Anyone without it will have difficulty competing. To keep ahead of the technology curve, we’re now looking at cutting devices with advanced robotics. This is a key growth area for our industry, and we’ve been privileged to participate in several industry panels examining this exciting trend. In today’s bold new world, we’re ‘all-in’ with evolving new technologies and AI. We as an industry must invest and rethink our business solutions in partnership with our clients, if we want to survive.”

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2024 issue of PrintAction. 

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