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CNC Routers Open New Markets for Signs

Cut a path to channel letters, dimensional signs and much more.

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IF YOU OWN A SIGNSHOP, large or small, what are your main concerns? You might be thinking about reducing costs and increasing production. For a good thought exercise, look at areas where you have bottlenecks in producing and where you have to outsource third-party suppliers to meet customer demands. A good solution to this problem could be a CNC (Computer Numerical Control) router.

For those not familiar, a CNC router resembles a flatbed UV printer. But the CNC router differs mainly as a cutting device using a tool mounted in the gantry via a Z-axis control. So how can this help with increased productivity and cost savings? First you need to look at the processes in your shop. Cutting, weeding and mounting graphics to a board are fairly easy tasks. Preparing the mounting surface can be the real time suck. Do you need to provide a non-standard size? Is the blank cut in an odd shape? Are you buying sign blanks as opposed to preparing them from a standard sheet of plywood or foam? If you answered yes, then a CNC router can really help. It easily cuts shapes in standard-sized boards with exact repeatability time after time. Need a blank that looks like a UFO? Just design it and let the router cut it.

A CNC router opens up several new areas of signmaking, including dimensional signs (shown here) as well as channel letters and more.

A CNC router opens up several new areas of signmaking, including dimensional signs (shown here) as well as channel letters and more.

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Now, what if you have a lot of customers who need dimensional letters? No problem. Instead of ordering them from a wholesaler you can rout most of them yourself. This same thing holds true if you want to produce in-house channel letters. It’s fine to get bending equipment but you still need to cut the faces and backs. The good old CNC is the way to go.

A final area where a router can really help the bottom line is carving, where you will need specific software and someone in the shop who has the skills to work with 3D modeling. If you have the resources then a CNC router will allow you to produce carved signs quickly. The router’s task is repeatable so if a customer has multiple locations, you can produce as many of the same sign as they want.

So, this sounds good and you start doing a web search. You will be inundated with overseas produced machines that are primarily targeted to hobbyists. You need to really determine what you need. What size sheets of material do you want to work with? Sizes can range from 2 x 4 ft. up to custom, to order sizes. You need a stout table that will remain flat and stable. Make sure you accommodate dust collection. Material hold-down is another area to be aware of. Do you want a vacuum table or clamps? The router or spindle is also important and can range from 2.5 to 15 hp. The types of material you want to cut, engrave or carve may help you determine this. Other options like automatic tool changers can greatly increase the productivity of the machine. Most of all, you want an established company that will offer maintenance.

CNC routers can be a vital part of a shop and a proven money maker. You can spend anywhere from $3.5K for a handheld unit capable of engraving, cutting and pocketing up to over six figures for a custom machine with all the bells and whistles. Some machines even combine a CNC router with digital-printed finishing-machine capabilities. You should be able to find something that fits your needs.

PHOTO GALLERY (6 IMAGES)

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