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Routing technology with a future

Routing technology with a future

It’s time for anyone who thinks that computerised routing has advanced to the point where nothing new is possible to think again. The recently introduced Protek line from Complete CNC Solutions challenges this understanding and takes routing into even more application spaces.  A smitten Mark Godden reports

The Protek line of computerised routing systems from Complete CNC Solutions looks like the industrial heavyweight it undeniably is, but it is also turning heads because, familiar though the basic beam-traversing-table format might be, these machines look like they’ve advanced the art. And in this case looks don’t deceive  – according to Complete CNC Solutions, the Protek line is in a class of its own and has a career path clear to the future.

printcut-registrationThe best place to start is with the finish. This is a good test of any routing system, and this one’s no exception, especially when you take a piece of thick, crystal-clear acrylic, which is notoriously candid in disclosing the uglier fingerprints left by chattering cutters and poorly coordinated drives.  However, cut it on the Protek and it comes off the bed with edges that look as though they have been especially finished to disguise the normal by-products of the routing process.

Such an accomplished finish hints at the interplay of the factors that make it possible. Smooth finished edges mean equally smooth and precisely controlled movements, absolute precision and mechanical finesse.

Once the eulogies end though, the real work begins. Is it the same story when the demonstration ends and the system rolls up its sleeves and gets down to the real work? Happily, the good news continues as the Protek line is all about burning down the big workloads that make sense in a digital age – this is definitely not your grandfather’s router!

Protek gets the essentials right. A major influence over quality and productivity is work-holding, The table is zoned and less obviously served by a number of powerful and surprisingly quiet vacuum motors, while the normal maze of large-bore piping you’d expect is notably absent. Protek delivers the negative-pressure via the stiff chassis of the machine. Immaculate welds keep the ambient atmosphere out and even the smallest and most abstract-shape work-piece is securely held until it’s finished.

Another fundamental ability that’s often compromised on lighter machines and especially those targeted at die-less print finishing is waste handling. High-speed routing operations produce prodigious amounts of waste that have to be removed from the tool area during cutting. With the Protek machines the shroud encloses the cutting site and moves sufficient air through it to deal with the chips and shavings from even the toughest materials so that all that’s left behind is a clean kerf. The resultant waste ends up in a wheeled containment system that’s easy to transport to and empty at the disposal or recycling point.

Productivity traces to roots beyond speed and into its intelligent use. The Protek system optimises its rapid traverse times and changes tools quickly. More time cutting means more of the output it is designed to produce. Even slews during set-up are as fast and as simple as touching the bed position desired on the system’s touch screen interface. Tool initialisation is automatic and indexed to bed height, while also accounting for input from one of the system’s sensors. For example, six millimetre thick acrylic, is usually anything but, thanks to local variations in material weight, which means that engraving or cutting to depth is subject to the inherent material error thanks to the traditionally fixed Z depth of the tool performing the cutting operations.

However, Protek has solved this age-old problem by using a sensor that can ride the face of the material and that actually moves the whole spindle assembly, under control of the Z Axis motor, to suit its particular thickness. The result is engraved lines of unvarying uniformity and slots milled to precise depths off the material face.

Routing is but one of the Protek line’s talents but it’s less a system, more a whole production centre that cuts and processes a wide range of materials for an equally expansive range of applications.

According to Complete CNC Solutions, the Protek line is routing technology with a future, as, unlike most routing systems, it is actually designed for use in an age where most of its users also have a digital print production capability on site, and thus a need for elevated standards of print finishing.

The system is equipped with a smart camera so that it can perform co-extensive cutting operations on printed materials and when this facility is combined with exemplary levels of finish, plus the accuracy and versatility of the engineered configuration, it becomes something of a game-changer as it isn’t limited by the restricted power and facility of lightweight die-less cutting systems. It’s genuinely capable on all fronts and can deliver a large fascia production project with the same pace and performance used to contour cut some abstract shaped printed fluted board.

The system is equipped to finish and sports an impressive array of blades, creasing tools and other aids to flat-out-finishing, while intelligently offset toolpaths produce highly accurate cuts with the ease of speed and minimal operator involvement that makes it as relevant for prototyping as it is for relentless production.

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