Identify the primary types of sharpening systems and learn about the features and functions available on these devices.
Squeegee cutters are generally more expensive than belt and wheel systems, but the performance they're designed to deliver can offset the price. Peter Herman, manager of sales and marketing for Thieme Corp., says cutting—whether with a hot or cold knife—produces a more precise edge than what can be realized by grinding.
"What type of edge finish are you looking for, in terms of the finish of the print edge, the shape of the edge, and the quality of the print you're trying to achieve for your application? If you're not looking for detail, or if you're in an application where you're laying down a lot of ink or adhesives, of course the belt or wheel will meet your needs," he says. "Sooner or later, they all get the job done, based on the application."
Operator experience weighs heavily on the edge quality produced by a grinding machine, but Ericsson says the level of quality a cutting system can generate depends largely on maintenance. He points out that knives, whether fixed or rotating, must be in perfect shape in order to work as expected.
Squeegee sharpeners are available with analog and digital controls, as well as manually and automatically actuated components. Some units combine manual and automatic processes and functions. A basic machine may simply have an on/off switch and mechanical clamps, while a more advanced unit may offer digital controls, programmable cycles, user-defined material removal, pneumatic clamps, and more.
Digital input allows the user to program the sharpener's operating functions. Number of passes, cutting depth per pass, and cutting speed are some examples of parameters that may be accessible. Rogers says digital controls and readouts are for those who want to cut away a precise amount of material on each pass and not have to rely on a dial indicator. "And some guys want every little gadget they can get," he adds.
Clamping systems eliminate some of the operator intervention in the squeegee-sharpening process. On the mechanical side, you might find levers or knobs as access points to the clamping mechanisms. Pneumatic systems are pretty much hands-off, and Landesman says he finds them to be quicker and more consistent. Regardless of which clamp type you deem most compatible with your needs, Ericsson cautions that the clamps must never squeeze the squeegee blades, which creates the risk of blade distortion and, consequently, an uneven edge.
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