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Routing and Engraving

Routing and Engraving

In the market for a laser cutter?  Why not try a waterjet cutter instead?  A recent workshop hosted by Biesse UK in its Daventry-based facility revealed that its Intermac range could prove to be the most versatile cutting option for signmakers.  Val Hirst reports

Founded in 1992, Biesse UK, a subsidiary of the Italian router manufacturer, the Biesse Group, was originally established to provide support to companies operating within the woodworking, glass and stone industries. However, having recognised that its extensive range of flatbed routing and cutting machines can easily be adapted for use in the sign and display sectors, the company is running a series of workshops designed to highlight different aspects of its product portfolio.

Thus, when I was recently invited to attend a waterjet workshop at the company’s sleekly stylish HQ in Daventry, I was pleasantly surprised to learn just how many advantages the technology can offer signmakers.

Water has been used as a medium for cutting soft materials since the 1930s, but on-going refinements have enabled it to be harnessed for use with a much wider range of substrates, including titanium, steel, aluminium, stone and glass. Intermac waterjets can cut these materials and more in thicknesses up to 250mm. Thus, it makes easy work of the widely used metal, plastic, composite and reflective materials that are commonly used in signmaking.

One of the biggest advantages of waterjet cutting is the fact that it cuts ‘cold’.  In practical terms, this means that it can safely be used with materials that would otherwise burn, melt, crack or otherwise degrade if subjected to the rigours of the thermal methods employed by other forms of cutting technology – and crucially this includes digitally printed output. What’s more, its omni-directional cutting capability, which facilitates a high level of accuracy, also leaves cut surfaces with such a clean edge that further machining or finishing is usually rendered unnecessary.

Waterjet cutting is also an environmentally friendly cutting method, as it doesn’t generate grindings, chips or hazardous gassings. Plus, the use of cutting oils and coolants is also eliminated, while its small kerf or cut width also optimises material usage.

Textiles, elastomers, non-woven materials and thin plastics can be cut using nothing more complex than pure water; for harder materials and here we are talking about metals, stone, toughened safety glass and ceramics, an abrasive compound is added.  In either case, cutting is achieved quickly and, at least when compared to the average router/flatbed cutter, extremely quietly too, providing a much more pleasant working environment.

But the advantages don’t end there.  Huw Davies, Biesse UK’s new Plastics and Advanced Materials Manager, who will be spearheading the company’s move into the sign and display sectors, explained:  “Waterjet cutting can also save sgnmakers a lot of time – and money – as one tool, a jet of water, can be used to cut a multiplicity of different materials up to 250mm thick. In addition, there’s virtually no set up time, no need for clamping the material and no minimum dimension requirement either, which means it’s as economical to process one item as it is to process a large quantity, opening up the possibility of providing bespoke pieces and prototypes.”

Huw adds though, that perhaps the attribute that will most appeal to signmakers is that waterjet can be used to process the most complex designs, quickly and easily.  He says: “As someone who is used to more traditional routing and cutting methods, I was delighted to find that waterjet offers a minimum radius of 0.5mm (AJ) and 0.5mm (WJ), facilitating the high quality production of almost any internal or external profile, together with direct piercing, so when it comes to executing tricky shapes and sizes, there’s nothing to beat it!”

Cost is often the stumbling block when it comes to advanced technologies, but not in this instance.  Waterjet cutters in the Intermac range are more affordable than a laser equivalent and come with a 5 year warranty that also includes annual servicing.

To really appreciate all of this though, waterjet is best seen in action and for signmakers interested in discovering how they can harness its power to their full advantage, Biesse UK is happy to arrange demonstrations, which can be tailored to suit the individual application requirements of different companies.  From what I’ve seen, it will be time well invested!


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