In the sign and display industry, business owners are always on the lookout for new and more cost-efficient ways to produce graphical shapes on a wide variety of materials. They also commonly keep an eye out for ways to produce total aluminum signage as time-efficiently as possible, and other metal products, as these are used more and more to meet their customer’s requirements.
In response to this search for ingenuity, companies that make laser cutters have been hard at work developing new machines and methods for producing parts including total aluminum signage. The advancements they have been making, with new kinds of laser cutting solutions have ended up resulting in higher production capabilities, as well as increased process and system flexibility for those looking for an all metal cutting solution. But, in the grand format market, needs are much more limited and alternative capabilities using a router are both sufficient, and allow for a single system to handle more of the PSP’s workload
Let’s take a deeper look at the process that must be undertaken to perform significant metal cutting with a router cutter vs. a laser.
Programming Your Machine
In both cases, you will need to create a nest of parts and generate a cutting code for the cutting machine so that it “knows” where and what to cut. Many laser manufacturers have software programs that are designed for laser cutters to create programs away from the machine and offline in order to prevent any production disruptions. This is similar to the grand format RIPS which create the cut file at the same time as the print file is developed, or it can be developed for unprinted shapes in programs like Illustrator(R)
Once these are complete, the production plans can be directly sent via a network drive to the machine. With both the laser and the router it’s possible to run the process with one person, and this allows you to ensure the highest quality.
Handling the Materials
Having to manually load and unload your machine and then go on to sort through a massive number of finished parts can eat up a lot of time. When you automate these procedures, it can help to add flexibility and increase your productivity during the manufacturing process. Adding automation to your system will also reduce unnecessary downtime during the metal cutting process. Both lasers and routers can be equipped with such automation to achieve these efficiencies.
The Piercing Process
The piercing process is an often overlooked but very important part of laser cutting. The quality and speed of your part can be affected directly by the process of piercing. The key to getting your processing time as low as possible is to use a machine with the ability to control both perspective and power control. If you need to increase your processing speed, you can also try a technique known as “piercing on the fly.” This is done while cutting materials that are thin gauge when the cutting head is in motion and can be done with both types of solutions.
Programs for Laser Cutting
Both cutter types come with built-in cutting programs which allow even the most basic of laser operators the ability to easily and efficiently process material. A major difference is that for most laser cutting applications no print is prepositioned on the material and only shapes are cut, while in Sign & Display applications, most metal to be cut has pre-printed graphics, requiring a vision system capability to handle “cut to print” accuracies that are required.
Metal cutting technology has been evolving over the past ten years, and it has proven itself to be an extremely cost-effective way of producing parts. As the technology behind laser cutter machines continues to grow and become more complex, one can expect to see continued increases in speed, as well as increased ease of use, as well as a larger capacity. Basically, the buyer will need to properly ascertain what his real metal cutting requirements are for. If it is primarily for cutting thicker materials and/or materials which do not require print, and there is sufficient room in the facility, then a stand-alone laser may be the answer. Typically, though, lasers that have the power for significant metal cutting are not also cost-effective for the cutting of simpler printed metals for signage, nor will they ever take the place of a more general solution, whereby a router, especially one that is equipped with a simple misting system, can allow for significant cutting of both aluminum and steel printed materials with a realistic life for the router bits, as well.
If you know your priorities, it should be simple to determine whether a stand-alone metal cutting laser or a fully automatic “all in one” solution with a high enough powered router along with other cutting and finishing capabilities required of a typical PSP is a better choice.