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Back to Basics


Guillotines are a tool that have been used in the printing industry for many years. Carys Evans investigates how these staple machines have developed over time

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The Baumann-Wohlenberg range comes with MIS integration, interactive user interface, cutting programme generator and optimised cutting cycles

Perfecting the cut

When reading the word guillotine, images of massacre, beheadings and the French Revolution may spring to mind. However, despite the technology’s slightly more gruesome start, the guillotine is now considered a staple piece of equipment across the print industry.

Today, a paper guillotine is a mechanical device used to cut or trim large stacks of paper or documents at the same time. First pioneered in the mid-nineteenth century, there are many types, but all feature some form of blade and a flat surface to place the paper on.

In commercial printing, a range of larger, electronic commercial-grade machines for print finishing and production environments are used.

While there are many factors that make each model of guillotine unique – blade size, cut speed, power consumption, safety features and maintenance – the technology itself has developed over the years to provide a number of benefits. These include accuracy and consistency, cut quality, and the benefit of speed which results in a reduction of cost due to a reduction of man-hours needed.

Described by The Printing Charity as one of the most under-rated items in its arsenal, the guillotine is used for almost every job. This feature takes a look at how far this technology has come, and where it is headed.

Safety first

Paper-cutting guillotines are considered by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to be high-risk machines having caused many accidents over the years. Being a category one machine, guillotines also fall under the Printing Industry Advisory Committee (PIAC) safety guidelines. The PIAC was formed in July 1979 to advise the HSE on matters concerning the printing industry.

With this in mind, it’s no surprise that safety is one element of the machinery that is constantly developed and improved on.

Friedheim International is the only approved supplier of BaumannWohlenberg guillotines able to carry out known critical checks. Stuart Bamford, national post-press sales manager at Friedheim explains that BaumannWohlenberg’s machines are regularly updated, including the regular development of its safety systems.
Bamford says: “On a typical BaumannWohlenberg guillotine, the automated safety knife exchange from the front means that the knife-change protective device provides the highest safety standards for the machine operator. The cutting release is activated by a two-hand cut-start so that the down-movement of the knife is immediately stopped when one of the buttons is released.”

Bamford also mentions a self-monitoring light barrier with 50 channels operates fully electronically and is maintenance-free. The mechanical safety bolt is an additional feature against double-cycling of the knife.

Bamford also notes the importance of monitoring the health of operators. This is something BaumannWohlenberg places as a primary concern due to the potential of handling large volumes of paper to cause operator fatigue. Because of this, newer machines have focused more on ease of use.

 “Design has improved so they are more ergonomically attuned to operators,” agrees Dean Stayne, sales manager of Terry Cooper Services (TCS). “This makes operation a nicer experience. In essence, the required action of a guillotine remains the same but recent developments have focused on ease of set up, simple use and ensuring all health and safety measures are met.

“Often a guillotine is run by different operators and the simpler it is to use the better it is to ensure streamlined, error-free production.”


With guillotines often lasting between 15-30 years, the need for refurbishment and upgrades of certain parts is inevitable.

Bryan Godwyn, managing director of Intelligent Finishing Systems (IFS) says: “As guillotines are traditionally one of the longest standing members of any bindery it is vital they produce high quality results from day one. To ensure this they must be 100% reliable throughout their working life.

The Perfecta 115 TS, supplied by Intelligent Finishing Systems

“Once the life-long accuracy is engineered into the machine, printers should consider how technology can benefit the process. Also consider the ongoing technological improvements that means those looking to upgrade an aging system will notice significant difference in performance capabilities of today’s solutions as a result of increased automation.”

Godwyn lists touch-screen programmability, job memory storage, clear operator prompts and fast knife-changes as contributors to increased productivity benefits.

Godwyn adds: “The calculation of optimum cut sequences results in ultimate efficiency. This transforms a skilled and complex job, that requires time and expertise to prepare and input, into a simple exercise. Adding joggers and jogging tables enhances workflow and handles faster and easier throughput and reduced labour costs.”

In some cases, Bamford argues that upgrading a guillotine within an inch of its life may not be the most business-savvy move. “At the end of the day a guillotine simply cuts paper, we have customers with Wohlenberg and Schneider guillotines in their factories that are over 30 years old, and still cutting away.

“This way of thinking is a false economy. Cutting accuracy decreases over time, repairs and maintenance costs increase, technology improves, and customers need to ask themselves – is it enough to spend thousands to replace aging components and degrading parts rather than go for a new guillotine with all the current safety and accuracy features available to them?

Responding to trends

As with anything, market trends shape the development with new products, and the production of guillotines is no different. Although the sole purpose of the machine remains the same, what consumers want from the technology changes as business changes.

Stayne explains: “For many operations we talk to their focus is on how affordable automation and functionality enables them to invest in cost effective systems that are easy to set up and operate. They are under pressure to offer the most popular services in-house while delivering a fast response time and high quality all without increasing head count.

Dean Stayne, sales manager at Terry Cooper Services

“Every system should be developed with these market considerations in mind. As such fast set up times and easy to use touch screen controls are essential. When investing in a new guillotine, printers should also consider speed, fast knife action and quick back gauge positioning.”

Having also experienced this, Godwyn says: “Touch screen operation for quick set ups and a programmable memory enable short-run fast turnaround jobs to be completed more quickly. This is increasingly important for binderies managing shorter runs and tighter deadlines. Saving minutes per job can quickly add up and dramatically increase capacity.”

Godwyn predicts there will always be ongoing development in terms of ease of use and intuitive operation: “We believe ongoing development will continue to focus on the user experience making operation and paper handling as smooth, streamlined and easy as possible – essential when managing short run fast turnaround jobs.

We believe ongoing development will continue to focus on the user experience

“Paper handling remains a labour-intensive process and we see more and more restrictions being put on companies regarding repetitive health and safety considerations. So, any machines that assist the lifting and handling process will become more popular and indeed may be a requirement. Automation of the cutting process will therefore continue to grow as will quality checking systems to prevent operator errors.”

Bamford confirms that as the UK moves towards shorter runs, this has a direct knock-on effect in the finishing department which in turn generates bottlenecks when format sizes need to be taken into account.

Bamford explains: “Smaller print runs force manufacturers to make readies for their machine and operator controls to try and minimise delays between job changes. How quickly you can change over between batches, how efficiently you can operate the machine, and how easily it can be integrated into the overall printing workflow have all become critical factors.

Baumann-Wohlenberg has recently launched its new Baumann Automatic Cutting System (BASS) which can be installed on all its guillotines

“This is why programable set up and MIS integration has become vitally important in recent years – add this to shorter runs and high variety of jobs it’s no wonder BaumannWohlenberg have put so much development into their BASA automatic jogging and the new BASS automatic cutting systems. For large volumes nothing will beat automation and BaumannWohlenberg are leading the way in this field.”

Bluetree connected two guillotines to Baumann-Wohlenberg’s BASA automated jogging system having realised the potential in this level of automation

Bamford also explains that through purchasing the BASA system, companies such as Bluetree (Route1Print) have realised the potential in this level of automation. “Connecting two guillotines to the BASA, the majority of print the company produces is automatically jogged, sorted, cut and distributed by a reduced workforce, so that the company can reutilise them in areas where human skill is essential.

Times are changing

Reflecting on how far the technology has come, Bamford says: “Compared to even a few years ago, the new guillotines from BaumannWohlenberg come with a host of new features, from touch programmable screens to lasers safety guides, double trigger cutting, and integration to workflow including CIP4, but delve even further and the materials themselves have changed.

“With higher grade materials used for modern cutting knives, replacing them has not only become easier, but the accuracy of the cuts are more consistent as well as a longer period between knife changes.”

In terms of what’s in store for the future of guillotines, Bamford points to the use of robots, artificial intelligence and automated cutting, predicting that the future is already here.

“The new Baumann Automatic Cutting System does exactly what the name implies. For all products that have the same cross-sectional layout, the integrated robot takes over the tasks of the operator. Before the cut, the layer is positioned at the back gauge and held in position until the clamping bar fixes the layer.

“After the cut, it takes over the alignment of the layer and then transports it to the next processing machine. This feeding can be done either to the right, left, or in alternation, to the right and left.”

In addition to its range of multi-function devices, Morgana supplies a full range of EBA guillotines right through to the 7260 model, providing a cutting length of 720mm and cutting height up to 80mm.

“Our most popular size of machine has traditionally been the 55cm 5260 unit, however in the last two years we’ve seen many more sales of 66 and 72cm machines,” explains Ray Hillhouse, general manager, UK operations of Plokmatic Group.

“This is a result of the digital print manufacturers moving to larger sheet sizes and promoting long sheet applications.”

It is this digital equipment that Hillhouse believes is contributing to a shift away from the use of traditional guillotines which can sometimes be lacking in areas such as accuracy and safety.

O Factoid: The name ‘guillotine’ dates back to the 1790s and the French Revolution. O

Hillhouse says: “Today, with the availability of cut paper stock coupled with digital printing equipment, products such as Morgana’s range of Uchida AeroCut multi-function finishing units can effectively supplement the role performed by the traditional guillotine, and provide much of the post-print cutting and trimming services that a small, busy print producer might need.

“The Flex mode of the AeroCut products allows users to cut multiple sizes of cars from a page and even add creases. This solution can provide for fast and effective production, and save a considerable amount of space and manpower – and all without a traditional guillotine.”

In addition to the EBA range, Morgana Systems supplies the Mohr range of machines. This range is available in three sizes and can be controlled by a colour 18.5 touch screen which also shows job visualisation, taking the operator trough every step of the job.

The PLUS models can also be equipped with a barcode. Hillhouse explains: “In our showroom we now output jobs on a printer with a barcode. If it’s a short-run, it can go to the AeroCut and be read and processed. If it’s a larger job, the same barcode can be read on the Mohr 66 and the operator is taken through every cut and turn in the work by the visual guide on the screen.

“Both methods lead to greater efficiency for the operator, and significantly less chance of a bad cut being made on the work.”

Having researched the development of this machinery over the years, it is clear to see that guillotines still form the backbone of any finishing department. With features such as automation, safety and artificial intelligence leading the way for future development, it is exciting to think where this staple, once simple technology is heading.

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