Finishing Machines

The crucial last step in digital printing.
Tech Review: Finishing Machines

After investing a sizable chunk of change in a flatbed UV printer, the last thing you want to hear is that you need one more thing to get the most out of it. This will really hit you when a customer wants a number of POP displays in the shape of Bugs Bunny. One or two and you can probably hand-trim them. If the order is for 100, then you may have to pass. The solution is the now well-established finishing machine. Just contour-cut the image in your design software, load the board and watch old Bugs get created in all his glory. (Obviously, we simplified this a bit.)

Not so very long ago, you only had a few choices when purchasing a finishing machine, and most of the options involved the tools for various cutting, scoring and creasing functions. Now, you have a wide variety of choices that range from small and simple to industrial and fully automated. So what are some of the trends we’re seeing today?

By now most everyone in the sign industry knows how a finishing machine functions, so we won’t bore you with those details. The more important matter is how you see the role of a finisher in your shop. The first question to ask yourself is how large a table you need. The standard is 4 x 8 ft., but finishers range from 20 x 24 in. all the way up to 126 x 252 in. and beyond. 

Many shops will match the finisher to their printer size, but there are reasons to go bigger. A number of manufacturers offer machines with dual-tool heads and/or dual gantries. These allow you to work two different jobs simultaneously or have tooling installed for one material in one head while the other holds different tooling. Of course, many companies offer automatic tool changers that are software-controlled so that the operator does not need to intervene.

We recently wrote about cutting fabrics with textile finishing machines, and you now have a number of options with those, as well. Many companies use a specific knife for textile cutting while others use lasers that not only cut, but also seal the edges of the piece. A lot of this depends on how textile-centric your shop is.

CUT TO THE CHASE

Probably the most radical changes we are seeing concern media handling. At its simplest, when a board prints, an operator places it on the table and releases the cut job. With a high-speed printer and massive volume, it may require a couple of operators to keep up. To match the increase in print and finishing speeds, many manufacturers are offering optional loaders and stackers that can completely automate the process. Even in simpler situations, we are seeing conveyer-like tables that can advance either rigid or flexible media from a hopper or roll-feed to a finished area at the end of the table.

The final trend we are seeing impacts new methods to register printed media prior to finishing. Traditionally, dots have been printed along with the images for use with an alignment camera. This is done so that when the board is loaded, the finisher can compensate for any mis-registration of the board by the operator. It can take time to read all of the registration dots. One new method uses an overhead camera to provide a bird’s-eye view of the print and to reconcile the alignment dots without ever moving the tool. This can save a lot of time with complex jobs.

The thing about finishing machines is that you know when you need one. With such a wide variety of tools, sizes and automation options, you can pretty much find a solution to any need you have. Look at your specific situation and you will no doubt find a company that can help you with a solution.