As customers push for ever more complex shapes and faster turnaround on the labels and other cut parts they order, screen shops have begun relying on sophisticated laser cutting systems to meet their clients
By Bill Knotts
With today’s high-end laser cutting systems, screen-printing companies can accelerate prototyping and production of the most intricate labels, decals, overlays, and other graphics- and industrialcutting applications. By educating yourself on the capabilities and limitations of these devices, you’ll be able to logically weigh their performance against your shop’s needs and find the ideal laser cutting system for your operation.
SIDEBAR: Southern Coating Seizes the Laser Cutting Advantage
One only has to picture the way Southern Coating workers used to laboriously wield Exacto knives to pull the dots of webbing away from small, die-cut labels with “a”, “d”, or “o” type letters to get an inkling of why this Little Rock, AR-headquartered screen printer is so keen on its laser cutting system. Bob Osborne, founder and president of 55-employee Southern Coating & Nameplate Inc., says that with its new laser cutting system, his company is now able to get even the most complicated and intricate product completed within 30 minutes of artwork delivery.
“We had a number of jobs that required a tremendous amount of hand labor,” Osborne says. “Now our laser cutting system just burns small webbing out and we don’t have to slow down. The bigger advantage of laser cutting is that there is no delay or expense to create tooling. This makes laser cutting an especially good match for short runs, but we also use it for long runs of both large and small die-cut parts when the intricacy of required cuts cannot be easily accomplished with a band die or flatbed hard tooling.”
“The laser cutter helped eliminate 95% of the hand labor that went into creating transfer labels,” he says. “We use the system with a wide range of materials—Lexan, polyester, mylars, vinyls—and the quality of the cutting on all these substrates is clearly superior.”
Osborne adds, “The powerful software in the laser cutting system made our decision to add digital die-cutting capabilities very straightforward. We have a number of jobs that require intricate cuts, and these had always been difficult. Now we make cuts as small as 210 microns, the spot size of the beam. About a quarter of our jobs require very fast turnaround. Eliminating tooling fabrication helps, but it’s also the software on our laser cutting system that allows us to completely set up a job in only minutes. All we have to do is take the artwork, transfer it electronically to the computer-operated cutting system, and we are off and running only five minutes after receipt of the artwork. The system is fully operated by one worker.”
“Our initial training on the system took 1-1/2 days to get five workers fully conversant on all operational details. In the beginning we also made use of the combination of remote control software, video conferencing, and Internet phones that the manufacturer builds into the system that allow their engineers to make real-time adjustments for particular jobs. It’s very impressive. We held a conference by video, turned the cameras on the system, their engineers made adjustments, and it truly was like they were in the room with us.”
“We invite our customers to see their job run on the laser cutting system, and it leads to discussions of other parts that Southern Coating can make for them. This has brought in new business because people can see with their own eyes how the digital die cutter enables us to do a superior job.”
Bill Knotts is vice president of sales and marketing of Rolling Meadows, IL-based Spartanics (www.spartanics.com), which manufacturers a range of automated laser cutting and die cutting systems, among other technologies used by screen printers and digital printers for high-precision finishing of flat-stock material. The company can be reached at email@example.com or by phone at 847-394-5700.
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