|Comparing CNC routers and XY flatbed cutters for using with UV-curable flatbed printers|
If you have a UV-curable flatbed inkjet printer such as Gandinnovations Jeti UV flatbed (Jeti 1224, Jeti 2030), Oce Arizona 250 or newer Arizona 350, GRAPO Manta, Gerber ion, Mimaki JF-1631 or HP Scitex FB6100 (NUR Tempo Q) you will eventually need a CNC router and/or XY flatbed cutter.
XY cutters can do routing to some degree; CNC routers can do XY cutting to some degree. So you have a challenge to sort out the advertising claims of each kind of machine and make your final purchasing decision. An example of XY cutters would be Zund G3 and Kongsberg. An example of a CNC router with cutting added would be the MultiCam EZ Knife System. But we need to study these, test them, before we can judge.
FLAAR is in the process of visiting sign shops to learn from their day to day experience in using a router or an XY cutter. A parallel step is to visit the headquarters of each router and XY cutter company so we can fully understand their product diversity. So far FLAAR has visited MultiCam in Dallas and Zund for two days in Switzerland. We have also visited 12 manufacturing companies (in Canada, USA, Europe, China, Korea, and Taiwan) that make UV-cured flatbed, combo or hybrid inkjet printers. Since FLAAR is a non-profit research institute, we can be independent and inspect a diverse range of manufacturers.
The reason we devote all this energy to learning about XY cutters, UV-cured flatbed inkjet printes and now CNC routers is because we have an interest in learning which technologies are best for helping us achieve our goals in our own field (museum displays, museum signage and comparable for botanical gardens, zoos, etc), and which technologies are best for assisting the over 270,000 people a year who read this FLAAR web site who have a more general interest in signage, décor, giclee, and related applications.
CNC routers can be used for a lot more than signage
My personal interests in learning about CNC routers and making our results available to our readers is because CNC routers can help make reproductions of ancient Maya artifacts to assist museums provide gift items in their gift shops.
CNC routers can also help museums and national parks (archaeological parks and botanical gardens) with display and directional signage. So FLAAR is now gradually getting into the markets and applications of CNC routers.
Another use of print and cut designs for museums is to allow them to send actual copies of large and fragile stone sculptures for traveling exhibits in far away cities. Or to send an exhibit to schools and libraries in their own city. Museums prefer that the actual original thousand-year old artifact not leave the museum. So FLAAR is working on a program to understand which CNC routers and XY flatbed cutters are best for reproducing ancient sculptures for these purposes.
Last year we began to gether information on XY flatbed cutters and the year before we began to publish FLAAR Reports on CO2 laser engravers.
In other words, for 2008-2009 and onward, you can look forward to seeing FLAAR Reports evaluating CNC router manufacturers and their products. The first step was to visit the world headquarters of MultiCam, adjacent to the Dallas-Ft Worth airport.
Many of the larger CNC router manufacturers also make:
Plasma routers can cut ornamental iron, signs and lettering, plus geometric shapes.
Water jet cutters are another option for different materials
CNC laser cutters and engravers can provide results for other applications.
Sample list of a few CNC router manufacturers
AXYZ routers, Canada; also is OEM source of Teckwin TeckRouter
CMS (North America)
Cnc router systems, Canada
Colinbus (Franklin Industries), Belgium
Computerized Cutter, Accu-Cut
Gerber Sabre would be entry level (aluminum instead of steel frame)
Isel Automation GmbH, Germany
Mecanumeric, Mecacut (French competitor to MultiCam in America)
MultiCam (Dallas, Texas; the first manufacturer that I visited in person)
Teckcel CNC (at VISCOM Germany '08)
I will make a list of which other manufacturers exhibit at SGIA, ISA, and FESPA Digital, and will update this page after these trade shows.
Chinese CNC Routers
At the Shanghai signage show every July there are not dozens but seemingly hundreds of booths exhibiting Chinese-made CNC routers, laser engravers and cutters. There are dozens of Taiwan brands and scores of Korean brands of CNC routers as well.
I have spoken with several distributors and importers who say openly that the problems with low–bid style manufacturing are the same with CNC routers as with low-bid UV-cured flatbed printers: they fall apart after a few months. However we have found two Chinese companies whose printers hold up acceptably, with Teckwin being the leader so far; their TeckStorm flatbed UV printer is a well designed inkjet printer. So gradually one or two brands of Chinese CNC routers will reach a level of precision and stamina. In the meantime, Teckwin is rebranding the AXYZ router as the TechRouter, with MGE i-Cut Vision system. Unfortunately there is no outside independent evaluation service for certifying routers as there is for UV printers (FLAAR serves in this capacity for printers). So gradually we are beginning to take a closer look at CNC routers and XY flatbed cutters.
Half the Korean companies that manufacture UV-curing flatbed, hybrid, or combo style inkjet printers produce products that are as good if not better than printers made in Japan and the US. UV printers made in Taiwan are also acceptable at their price range. So it would be logical that most Korean and many Taiwan CNC routers are as acceptable in their field as UV-printers are acceptable in those applications. But although FLAAR is interested in CNC routers and laser engravers, we do not presently have the funding necessary to test and evaluate every brand. It is hard enough to test and evaluate all 46 brands of UV-curable inkjet printers around the world. But the DYSS X7 digital cutter series looks like a significant die cutting system.
But we can definitely report that for XY flatbed cutters, Zund (especially their new G3 models) and Kongsberg are considered the high-end brands. But printshops in today's down economy may need a lower-priced CNC router or XY flatbed cutter such as the Gerber M Series.
For CO2 laser engravers, the brand that I accept for entry level is Universal, since there was one in our university lab for six years. The Trotec, despite being made in Europe, did not turn out as acceptable.
RIP Software for XY cutters and routers
RIP software is what provides the brains to an inkjet printer. Now some of the better brands of RIP software are offering capability to put the codes on the images for XY cutters and in some cases, for routers. The brand of RIP software I know the best is Caldera. I have spent three days in Strasbourg, France and thus have first-hand experience with their products and capabilities.
Specialized Software for XY flatbed digital cutter/routers
Of all the brands of digital cutter-routers, only Kongsberg has all their own software. This is because Kongsberg is owned by the same company (EskoArtwork) that also owns i -cut vision software (Esko bought MGE). EskoArtwork also has a host of other software products: i -script and SignUp among others.
Wide Format Printers