|Flatbed cutters and routers for thick rigid material for signage and display|
Every time you go to the supermarket you see life-sized cut-outs of TV personalities trying to sell you beer or motor oil or whatever. Many of these are cut with a Kongsberg or other brand of XY flatbed cutter router.
This trend is growing, so companies that previously were dedicated largely to packaging, such as Kongsberg, are now seeing a rise in interest in their cutters for signage and display graphics.
Cutting thick rigid material for packaging
The other reason why digital X-Y contour cutters are becoming more popular is because packaging and signage and display are all merging together. The same package that comes with the fruit or veggies from the farm may very well be the same container that displays these items to you in the supermarket.
More and more budget price chains, such as Sam's Club across the USA and PriceMart and comparable elsewhere in the world, also use the original shipping carton to advertise TV sets and other household items. So the display is a pile of sealed cartons: you see the product only on the side of the box.
So printing on packaging is going digital, indeed large packaging companies are coming to FLAAR to ask for consulting and help learning about which UV-cured printer to buy to replace flexo printing.
Once they have a printer, then they need a digital cutter-router. Since FLAAR works at providing information on the entire workflow, we began studying X-Y contour cutters two years ago. Now that more printshops seek information about these products, we are expanding our coverage with evaluations on Kongsberg cutters and Esko software.
The new trend: cutting printable thick rigid material for architectural and furniture applications
FLAAR is beginning to issue FLAAR Reports on recyclable honeycomb Kraft paper sandwich cardboard board material such as X-board by Xanita, Re-Board, FalconBoard of Pregis ) and BioBoard from PlyVeneer.
You can make small buildings with this material; you can make furniture. It weighs a fraction of MDF board, cuts more easily, and can be recycled. Most of the really nasty chemicals (that are in plastic materials) are not used for this paper-related boards.
All the furniture and the architectural décor involve digital cutters (V-cut tool especially), so all the more reason to undertake the research and do the evaluation procedures on digital cutters in the expanding portfolio of FLAAR Reports.
Why is FLAAR looking at Kongsberg brand cutters?
In the past a cutter or router was made for one or two materials. Changing the cutting tools was awkward or time-consuming. I would frankly not recommend buying a used CNC router of some brands even if they are in good condition and a really low price: the reason is simple: the newer models of cutters today are so much more versatile that it is not worthwhile putting up with the limitations of earlier models.
For example, a cutter made originally to handle fabrics or textiles is okay for fabrics or textiles, but is not appropriate to cut MDF fiberboard.
Many low-end or entry-level cutters are intended to handle only vinyl, other roll-material, or thin foam core. What if you need to cut DiBond aluminum or dozens of the new materials that are hard and thick?
Now you can see why FLAAR has switched from studying other brands of XY cutters over to Kongsberg. Kongsberg is the high-end of digital cutters: European precision. And the software is American (Wisconsin, i-cut from MGE) so you get practical software that a person can learn easily.
XY flatbed contour cutters compared with CNC routers
If you visit any factory that produces cars, wide-format printers, offset printers, flexo printing machines, screen printing machines, engines, motors, etc, you will see CNC routers and a host of other massive cutting, milling, and comparable machines at work.
But these industrial CNC routers are not what are needed for signage, display, or packaging. The routers that are associated with wide-format inkjet printing applications are flatbed X-Y digital contour cutters that also have routing tools. Kongsberg is a good example of a prestige brand of X-Y cutters and routers for signage and display, as well as packaging applications.
But some of the manufacturers of CNC routers are seeing that they can expand their business into signage applications. So they are adding X-Y contour cutting capability onto their routers. I saw such a machine at a printshop in Texas. Unfortunately the manager said it did not work well, nor would this brand (MultiCam) and model be expected to, since it is an industrial shop router that had a cutter function tacked onto it. The more successful signage cutters are those that start from Day One being designed and engineered for signage, display, and packaging.
This is a polite way of suggesting be wary about an old-fashioned CNC router that cloaks itself as a machine for wide-format inkjet material. All brands and models eventually get better and as soon as this kind of older CNC router offers to wide-format printshops the same quality as Kongsberg, Zund, Gerber M-series or Mimaki (at entry level) then we will consider evaluating CNC routers in the future. But today ( 2010 ) there are several brands of precision digital X-Y contour cutters that are already well advanced (and not jerry-rigged). Even MultiCam now has a digital cutter that is not retrofitted: the newer MultiCam Digital Express.
Kongsberg is part of EskoArtwork (formerly Esko Graphics)
Esko has changed their corporate name several times since DRUPA 2000. It is hard to keep up. Fortunately they were clever and kept the brand name Kongsberg as well as “i-cut” of MGE (Esko bought MGE and Kongsberg separately).
Kongsberg cutter router models: XE, XL and the new XP series
All series with “i” in front means they have the i-cut vision system. So you can have most models either way, with (recommended) or without i-cut vision software.
Software from Kongsberg
i-cut, i-script, and SignUp are a few of the software offerings from Esko Artwork. Realize that Esko is a substantial multi-national group of companies: they provide the entire workflow: software, hardware, technical support. Since 2010 much of this software has been combined into an i-suite concept.
Kongsberg XE Series
This series of XE cutters is for labels of all sizes as well as signs and displays. The XE series is for lightweight materials, including flat materials, but is generally used for sheet and roll-fed substrates. Options include sheet feeding and sheet take-up, conveyor belt (transport belt).
Kongsberg XL Series
This is the model that I tend to see in wide-format inkjet printer shops. The XL cutters can handle thick material including substantial, thick and quite hard MDF board. When I inspected the Kongsberg XL cutter at GDS Display in Illinois, I was surprised at how heavy MDF fiberboard really is. Harvey Meiser (owner of GDS) said it takes three passes to cut down through such thick and heavy material. Many other brands and other models would not be able to cut MDF fiberboard.
Kongsberg XP Series
The XP Series is new, for in-line or assembly-line 24-7 cutting. In the past most XY cutters for signage were used less than 24-7, but now that the vision software and tools are so good, and now that wide-format UV-curing flatbed printers are so productive, you need a faster cutter to handle the load. I am not sure that other brands have a model that matches the Kongsberg XP.
Other flatbed cutting plotters and CNC routers for comparison
Aristo and their Aristomat are another brand, but I don't remember ever having noticed them at any trade show even in Germany before 2008. Surely they exhibited but I simply did not know their brand name in those years so did not notice their exhibit booth. Most printshops in America are not familiar with any of these brand or model names.
Mimaki makes flatbed cutters but I have never seen them in any printshop that I have visited, so I do not yet have experience with Mimaki cutters (other than dozens of trade shows). When I inspect printshops around the world most of them have Kongsberg or Zünd cutters. For 2010-2012 I intend to learn more about each brand (such as Gerber M series), since printshop owners (especially during an economic recession) come to ask FLAAR what options are available. Overall our readership is 21% up over last year (our readership rose 42.8% in January 2009 over January 2008).
But naturally I am especially interested in the top tier cutters such as Kongsberg, and now that it has been possible to have an appointment to test their equipment I am updating this page. I flew more than 400,000 km in 2007 inspecting printshops, visiting trade shows, and doing tests in factory demo rooms (such as two days at Zund headquarters in Switzerland). In 2008, even with it being a recession year, I flew about 300,000 km, including inspecting Gerber headquarters and interviewing their R&D team and all top managers. For 2010 so far we have appointments around the world and will probably top about 250,000 km of getting to the necessary places to do our comparative study.
FLAAR has an inherent long-range interest in flatbed cutters
This web page on the Internet is not the evaluation, but is an announcement that the inspection and comments about Kongsberg X-Y cutters are in the separate FLAAR Reports. This is a long-term project in the sense that there really are no other evaluations on X-Y flatbed cutters. The most you get perhaps are an occasional Success Story or a nice list of all cutters in the better trade magazines.
The reason that FLAAR is doing an evaluation is because we are, ourselves, interested in X-Y cutters. On our website on Maya archaeology we explain why we are interested in learning about flatbed cutters for materials printed with flatbed UV-cured inkjet printers. FLAAR is not a PR agency and we are not a trade magazine. FLAAR is a research institute dedicated to studies of digital imaging hardware, software, and workflow and how UV flatbed printers can assist museums, national parks, botanical gardens, and zoos better prepare and present their exhibits and educational signage.
While we are in the process of studying how printers and cutters can help museums, we then apply our knowledge and experience to all other forms of signage and display, especially POP (point of purchase / point of sale).
Our Evaluations are undertaken at the headquarters and demo rooms of the manufacturer
Trade shows are too crowded, hectic, and we need to see every pertinent booth at the show, so it is not realistic to test XY cutters at a trade show. In addition to inspecting and testing the equipment in the factory demo room, we prefer to have a long range educational project with the manufacturer so we have access to the equipment over at least a one year period (so we can continue our studies of how XY contour cut figures can be utilized to improve museum exhibits).
This page will be updated as we obtain additional information about Kongsberg digital cutters routers and about i-cut vision software. The FLAAR Reports will consist of several different PDFs. The first was issued just before SGIA last year; the others have been issued as our team of Technical Writers does further research and additional training and testing.
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