The basic rule has not changed for decades: to cut you need a guillotine. And every good printer still needs a good guillotine, but it is no longer the only way to cut.
Die cutting platens that have been used in carton converting are within the grasp of commercial print companies, and the latest machines are easier to operate than previously.
Old style platens are being challenged by laser cutting devices, suiting added value applications. And there is new class of flatbed cutting tables, previously restricted to larger display printers, aimed at commercial printers.
Then there are the slitter/cutter/creasing machines which can chop up a digitally printed sheet of business or greetings cards with no supervision.
But printers still need guillotines to handle the day to day work that a company has to cope with. And guillotines are going to come from German suppliers in the main. Margins on the machines are too tight to justify the shipping cost from the far east or the US. Hence while Komori has launched its own brand of guillotine, this is unlikely to be a sales success outside Japan and Asia.
Likewise with few exceptions attempts to bring equipment into Europe from China, have failed. The CE safety certification is a barrier that for many is not worth the pain of achieving. Be very cautious if offered a Chinese machine with this mark, fakes are not unknown.
This leaves the Germans, Baumann, Schneider and Polar as the dominant force for commercial printers and Ideal and EBA offering light weight machines for equally light weight applications. And while the purpose of any guillotine is simple, there is increasing pressure on the cutting station as print runs become shorter, ganged up sheets more complex and turnaround times shorter. Cutting for many companies can become a bottleneck.
The prime challenge is how the bottleneck can be eased without adding extra machines and operators. A secondary challenge is how to ensure consistent quality. With print quality now universally acceptable, finishing inevitably comes in for greater scrutiny.
The answer is to add automated handling systems around the guillotine to lift jog, move and then unload piles of paper. During an eight-hour shift a guillotine operator is likely to lift and move around some six or seven tonnes of paper. His speed in doing so will surely drop towards the end of the shift, precisely when the pressure is on. Tiredness may also affect the accuracy of cutting and increase the risk of mistakes.
Touch screen control on larger monitors simplify the set up process while the programme will be stored for later recall if another job comes with the same imposition template.
Jobs that are downloaded as a JDF file will be shown either as colour blocks on the screen or for even easier use, as an image of the printed sheet to minimise the risks of making mistakes. The same file can be sourced through a barcode printed on the sheet and read by the guillotine operator.
As ganged printing becomes more popular together with shorter runs, such automation earns its keep through speeding makeready and helping avoid the misidentication of the sheet.
All manufacturers can supply handling systems, but few UK printers opt for the full Monty. Sophisticated handling systems are more the norm in the German speaking countries and within the online print businesses where automation is the natural state of things.
Hence Polar names Cimpress and Online-printers among its most sophisticated customers. Likewise Baumann, which covers the Wohlenberg and Polar brands, has supplied highly automated lines to the online print community.
Automation comes in two areas: there is the handling and movement of paper and secondly in terms of programming the cutter to cut makeready. In Denmark one of the country’s largest printers is using robot arms to move, create and jog piles of paper before loading the back table of a guillotine. After initial suspicions, operators are said to have embraced their automated colleague. They no longer need to lift pile after pile of energy-sapping paper.
At the 2012 Drupa a mobile robot was taking sheets from the delivery of a KBA press and taking them to a guillotine where another robot was responsible for running the guillotine. It was very much an eyeball grabbing technology demonstration rather than something with immediate practical value. For most robots are a step too far.
Instead what Polar calls Pace and what Baumann has called Basa represent the limit of automation. These are the lifts, joggers and robotic arms which present the pile to be finished into the correct position for the first cut, according to a file downloaded via JDF from the production management system and verified from a barcode and reader as part of the guillotine.
Heidelberg’s finishing specialist Paul Thomson says: “Pace can help automate the first five cuts, then it’s back to manual operation. There are benefits while those costs are happening, the operator can be jogging the next stack, but cutting remains labour intensive. The aim is about keeping the blade moving up and down.”
Automated programming of the cutting sequence is of greater benefit especially for ganged up sheets using Polar’s Compucut software. This can run next to the guillotines or in the production office. It can take data from prepress via JDF and relay the cutting sequence to the guillotine with clear instructions for the operator to work through.
“We can also show the process on screen with blocks representing the jobs on the sheet, but not everybody goes for that,” says Thomson.
The handling technology runs from the lifts to raise and lower stacks, joggers and its Transomat unit to move the stack around the back table. “You need a lot of work to justify this,” he adds.
Heidelberg is not the only company to sell Polar guillotines. Under the Mohr brand, the German manufacturer has developed a range of machines suited to digital print formats.
In the UK Watkiss Automation is a distributor. “We have been selling three formats of Mohr guillotines, the most popular being the 66cm size. People have previously been using ‘less professional’ cutters and like the Mohr technology because it is a step up and delivers the more consistent quality and ease of operation that is needed. Without exception, our customers love them.”
Stuart Bamford of Friedheim confirms the interest in speeding up the cutting process and in automation. “Printers can link the guillotine to the MIS and load job details from prepress. This has come up a few times already this year as people are trying to get more from a sheet, printing multiple jobs on one sheet.
“There is a real push to automated handling. If they automate the jogging process, the Basa handling system will take sheets from the pallet, jog and then lift the stack to the front or rear of the guillotine. It can push the stack to the front, cut and turn for the first four cuts.
“Automating the connection from prepress to the guillotine works for the shorter runs, with the longer runs, automating the feeding and the cutting process will be of more interest.”
It is a trend that IFS technical sales director Jason Seaber says is evident. The Perfecta guillotines belong to the same Baumann group and share the Basa handling system. “There is a trend for guillotines to be more automated,” he says. “Perfecta has configurations where there are two guillotines acting as one cutting system. The Basa loads the stack to the first guillotine which cuts in one direction into strips which are pushed to the front table and then into the second guillotine which is at 90o to the first. This cuts on the short edge to get to the final product.
“This is for very high volumes.”
Few need such sophistication let alone can afford this. But each piece of handling equipment will have an impact on the efficiency of the cutting system. A stack lift can increase productivity, a down lift will add further incremental improvements, joggers will do likewise until a fully specified handling system can result in a 300% increase in productivity Seaber explains.
The problem is that many printers consider cutting as a cost centre rather than something that can help with profitability. As a consequence spending is kept to a minimum and relatively few have invested in a full Flowline specification.
Buying new is, however, on the agenda. Terry Cooper Services sells the Premier CCM guillotine, one with European control systems added to Asian engineering. It keeps the cost under control while ensuring that the technology is up to speed.
Chris Cooper says that motivation for buying a new machine often comes from the breakdown of the existing machine. “We get the call ‘ we have to get a guillotine tomorrow’. Many want a secondhand Polar but we try to get them into the showroom to show them the CCM as a new machine.”
It is working. The company has sold ten machines this year “which means we have had a fantastic year for guillotines” he says. “And we have machines in blue chip companies like Qualvis and Print and Packaging Solutions.
“The machines have CIP4 interfaces, 25cm touch screens and can come with all the options on joggers and lifts. But unless their guillotine breaks down, people wouldn’t know about this machine nor the handling.”
It may not be necessary to buy new to gain the benefits of automation. A US software developer has created an application called Scissor Hands which creates a cutting sequence programme in the cloud and downloads this as a JDF file to a touch screen added to the guillotine and connector to drive the machine’s own controller.
As print runs become shorter and cutting sequences more complex in order to maximise use of paper, intelligence is going to be needed in a process that has so far been immune.
Guillotines are still an essential item of equipment for all printers, but they are not the only way to cut paper or board. The slitter cutter creaser, the platen and now the laser beam are all offering an alternative to the tungsten coated steel blade.