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Routers: Choosing a CNC hybrid machine

Hybrid CNC machines combine standard router bits and knife cutters.

Operator training
In today’s sign and graphics shops, the range of materials can include vinyl, aluminum, hardwood, polystyrene (PS), all types of plastics, fabrics and even leather.

All of these materials’ finishing requirements have been addressed with CNC hybrid machines, but it is not enough merely to have the equipment on hand. Operator training is also needed.

This is why it is important to work with reputable suppliers, who will provide initial on-site informational visits, subsequent technical updates, prompt phone support, software revisions and/or online training, as necessary.

“Our training took less than two days,” says Bill Stender, owner of SF Landmark Signs in San Francisco, Calif., after investing in a CNC hybrid router with a three-head configuration. “Our employees couldn’t wait to start using this machine. Since then, we have had very few issues and they were quickly resolved.”

A sound business decision?
Many sign shops start out these days with the purchase of an inkjet printer that can place a graphic image onto sign stock, which then must be cut to shape. In a low-volume ‘one-off’ shop, using hand tools for the cutting may prove economical, but once the business starts to expand, there is a need for greater automation, duplication and reliability.

At that point, the question arises as to whether the digital cutting process should be added in-house or outsourced to a specialty subcontractor. The differences between these two options must be weighed not only in terms of time and money, but also with respect to quality control. Anytime a sign is sent somewhere for cutting, after all, there is both a transportation cost and an additional opportunity for damage during shipping. And when timelines are tight, damage to sign stock could result in the loss of a customer. All of these factors need to be considered in the ‘equation.’

In any case, most signmakers decide at some point in the growth of their business to make the leap to in-house digital cutting. The timing is a matter of ensuring there will be a payoff, i.e. when their upfront investment breaks even and then starts to generate profits.

Indeed, adding a CNC router to a sign shop’s finishing department is commonly the final piece in the business puzzle. With that in mind, the decision to invest in CNC hybrid technology should be made with an eye to the future—will the machine still ‘make sense’ for the business in three, five or 10 years’ time?

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