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Under the Hood

Duplo PFi Blade digital cutting tables

Brian Sims looks into the short-run and prototype digital flat-bed cutting solutions from Duplo and explores what makes these machines so versatile and affordable

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The Duplo PFi Blade B2+ is the larger machine in the series

A close-cut solution

Traditionally in the finishing process where cutting and creasing is required, the process of having a die prepared can be costly. The product would then typically be completed on a large cut and crease machine.

This has a number of drawbacks, mainly the volume of production needed to make the costs and time required to prepare the die in the first place viable. Complicating the situation further, across the industry, production run sizes are dropping significantly and clients looking for bespoke or one-off products is now becoming the norm.
So, what options are there if you feel you need to have a different solution? One of the new products to market comes from Duplo and its PFi Blade series of digital cutting and creasing machines.

The obvious question is how are these devices so different to the more conventional cutting and creasing machines and what does this change in technology mean?

The main difference is there is no die for the shape of the product needed. Instead, the form of the product is produced by a cutting head that moves across the sheet using various knives, creasing heads and kiss cutting tools to track a line produced from an original PDF or other file.

Two devices with a wide reach

Two machines are available from Duplo’s PFi Blade series: the larger PFi Blade 2+ and the smaller format PFi Blade 3+. The main difference between the two is the thickness of stock. The PFi Blade 2+ can cut up to an impressive 6mm whereas the smaller machine, the PFi Blade 3+ can cut a substrate of 1.3mm.

The PFi Blade 3+ can cut a substrate of 1.3mm thick and is the smaller of the two machines

The other difference between the machines is the size of the sheet that can be held on the table. Again, the PFi Blade 2+ has a larger sheet size of 800 x 600mm and the PFi Blade 3+ a slightly smaller sheet of 600 x 400mm. Both can go as low as a sheet size of 210 x 279mm (A4).

On initial inspection, both machines are of a similar design. They have an auto-feeder with a capacity of up to 100mm, a rotary conveyor system and delivery system which stacks the completed product. Work is produced using a gantry-mounted triple tool knife head which spans the rotary conveyor belt.

Both Duplo PFi Blade cutting solutions have a triple tool head for a seamless transition between cut, score and crease requirements

A series of digitally controlled servo motors move the knife head to a given position on the sheet within a tolerance of +/-0.3mm so a precision profile can be produced. The PFi Blade 2+ has a selection of up to four tools which can be added to the triple tool head. There is a rotating cut and kiss cut knife along with an oscillating knife and finally a creasing wheel. The PFi Blade 3+ has a similar selection comprised of cut through knife, kiss cut knife and scoring wheel tools.

The tools can be easily exchanged in either head with three tool positions available to ensure most jobs can be produced in one pass.

Efficient small volume production

With both machines, software-controlled profiling allows for efficient small volume production. The process starts with the design being processed on the PC controller attached to the machine. Duplo’s PFI Blade Connect Software allows users to easily prepare multi-up production, or the most complex shapes produced via CorelDRAW or similar software.

Both machines can produce the shapes and profiles to produce a range of products

Once processed, the sheet is prepared with the use of four register marks in each corner of the sheet along with a QR code comprising of the information needed for the shape to be produced. The head moves to collect the data from the QR code and then checks each corner with a CCD (charged-coupled device) camera automatically registering the sheet.

With the sheet firmly held on the suction zone of the bed of the machine and the sheet registered, the head then moves swiftly and accurately across the extent of the sheet in the most efficient path possible at speeds of up to 1,200mm per second for the PFi Blade 2+ and 800mm per second for the smaller PFi Blade 3+.

The Duplo PFi Blade B2+ can cut substrates up to 6mm thick at a speed of up to 1200mm per second

At each point on the sheet, the device calls up whichever tool is required at each point for the cutting or creasing process. This means there is no exchange of tooling during the run and also means on one sheet you can select a number of different products in one set up.

The knives follow a line sketched on the cutting file and by doing so it is possible to produce some quite complex sheets between 12 to 45 seconds for an SRA3 sheet on the PFi Blade 2+ and 30 to 45 seconds for a 355mm x 508mm sheet if produced on the PFi Blade 3+.

Once one sheet is completed, the conveyor moves the finished sheet onto the stacking system and the feeder system picks up the next sheet and feeds it onto the table for the next sheet to be registered and the whole process starts again. This can be a repeat of the sheet that has just been finished or due to the integrated software, a different job being produced for the second sheet.

In terms of substrates, both machines can produce the shapes and profiles needed across a number of different materials. This includes paper, laminates, adhesives and synthetic stocks. The cutting tools keep their cutting edges sharp by the nature of the material used to manufacture them. Tungsten steel is used for the tooling which is known for its hard properties and as a result is able to produce an enduring edge resulting in crisp and sharp edges, sheet after sheet.

By adopting a different view on how to produce a cut and creased sheet, Duplo offers a cutting solution for low volume production and bespoke work. The accuracy of the finished solution easily matches that of traditional flat-bed cut and crease machinery but the small footprint of the machines means they would easily fit within the confines of even the smallest printer.

This all leads to Duplo’s PFi Blade cutting table machines being extremely flexible and productive for small and bespoke production.

Brian Sims Principal Consultant, Metis Print Consultancy, www.metis-uk.eu

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