Hidden Bay Graphics: Growing the Team

July 24, 2015 at 10:45 pm  |   Systems, Travel, Vacuum Table, What you can do with your plotter/cutter,

Hidden Bay Graphics, located in the northern vacation town of Hayward, Wisconsin, makes specialty printed sports apparel. Like many successful small businesses they believe in a simple mantra, “supply our customers with quality products for a fair price while giving them superior customer service.” Unfortunately, the small seasonal town of Hayward only has a consistent population of ~2000, which means it can be very difficult to find good cut-and-sew help to live up to their mandate and growing production volume.

VP Dan Rusch and operator Melinda give s big thumbs-up with their new PT-72" Plotter/Cutter.

VP Dan Rusch and operator Malinda give s big thumbs-up with their new PT-72″ Plotter/Cutter.

In February 2015 we installed our PT-72″ Plotter/Cutter and T-Bar Digitizer to help them automate their patterning, marking, and cutting. Vice President, Dan Rusch, said “a summer intern can run us $20/hr without any experience”. With the Carlson Plotter/Cutter they are “buying the labor [they] can’t find.” A simple, affordable, and reliable cutting solution, that shows up everyday and makes the same great marks and cuts every time.  They are also getting a solution that will pay for itself in the first year!

PT-72" Plotter/Cutter on a 6'x24' Phillocraft Vacuum Table with T-Bar Pattern Digitizer.

PT-72″ Plotter/Cutter on a 6’x24′ Phillocraft Vacuum Table with T-Bar Pattern Digitizer.

Below we explore how Hidden Bay integrated the Carlson PT-72″ Plotter/Cutter and T-Bar Pattern Digitizer into production and the advantages that follow:

  • Cutting single and multi-ply jersey, nylon, lycra, and felt materials
  • Improving their throughput through automation
  • Improving product quality and consistency
  • Turning cutting into an entry level position
  • Building a digital pattern library using our T-Bar Digitizer

 

Hidden Bay Graphics makes a wide variety of sports apparel — including custom, medium and large volume production runs of bike jerseys, race jerseys, hats, beanie bands, throat coats, and more. These items are popularly used in races like the Birkie — a famous international cross country ski race held annually in Hayward. They cut a wide variety of materials and needed a system capable of cutting small and large jobs, out of single-ply and low-ply material stacks.

This is a custom designed "throat coat" typically given out during a winter-time race, like a marathon.

This is a custom designed “throat coat” typically given out during a winter-time race, like a marathon.

Getting Started:

Hidden Bay purchased a complete Carlson Design plotting/cutting and digitizing system. This includes a vacuum table, our Plotmaster software suite, and T-Bar Pattern Digitizer. Before you can begin automating the marking and cutting of your patterns, you need to get them into the computer. Hidden Bay’s standard product lines consist of many different patterns — this includes graded patterns that are made up of many different sizes.

Graded patterns for a standard jersey.

Graded patterns for a standard jersey.

Legacy patterns stored on pattern paper in the back room

Legacy patterns stored on pattern paper in the back room

We trained Malinda, one of their head sewers and pattern makers, to digitize existing paper patterns, and then nest those into single or multiple sets to meet order demand. Malinda has limited CAD experience, so the T-Bar Digitizer is the perfect tool to help her trace existing patterns. Especially complex patterns that would be difficult for even the most expert CAD designer to draw on the computer.

The operator traces a pattern with the T-Bar Digitizer, recording significant nodes. This occurs in real scale and in real time. However, unlike a photo-based digitizing system, the T-Bar allows Malinda to clean up her patterns as she traces them. She can straighten lines, clean up torn corners, and adapt to changes drawn directly on the pattern. Anyone who has a large collection of paper patterns knows how important it is to correctly interpret old patterns.

Video: Malinda Digitizing jersey patterns

The T-Bar Digitizer can hang on the wall when not in use.  It is powered via USB and  runs inside of the same program used to control your plotter/cutter, Plotmaster.

The T-Bar Digitizer can hang on the wall when not in use. It is powered via USB and runs inside of the same program used to control your plotter/cutter, Plotmaster.

Malinda gets the T-Bar off the wall to digitize a new pattern set.

Malinda gets the T-Bar off the wall to digitize a new pattern set.

Digitizing a pattern is as easy as moving your hand and clicking a record button.

Digitizing a pattern is as easy as moving your hand and clicking a record button.

Malinda is Digitizing a hat for an up coming job.

Malinda is digitizing a hat for an up coming job.

When digitizing it is important to correctly and clearly name patterns. Once digitized, Malinda nests the patterns together to maximize material yield. They are using our manual nesting software to quickly layout parts per their job requirements.

Once the pattern is digitized and nested, anyone in the cutting room can quickly cut accurate patterns.

The Carlson Design PT-72″ Plotter/Cutter is capable of cutting up to five ply of certain materials. Hidden Bay works with jersey, nylon, thin meshes, felts, and more. Dan reports, “Lycra we can cut one ply at a time. Jersey fabric is three ply.”  The more ply you cut the faster your blade dulls, and the harder it is to prevent material shift, so it is important that you test each material to determine the number of layers you can cut.

Video: Cutting Multiple Ply of Jersey Mesh

Digitized hat, nested, and cut three ply high.

Digitized hat, nested, and cut three ply high.

Video: Cutting three layers of a digitized hat

The Carlson Design PT-72″ Plotter/Cutter is designed as a fast, single, or low ply Plotter/Cutter. It uses rolling or drag blades to cut material, which, in addition to vacuum table type, fabric type, and the style of the pattern, will dictate the number of layers you can cut at one time. Hidden Bay Graphics is able to cut multiple layers of Jersey, Nylon, and Lycra blends using our High-Lift 28mm steel rolling blade holder, which allows 10mm of exposed blade. Their material is secured during cutting using a thin-mil .0075″ plastic, two 5HP radial vacuum blowers, and material spreading is aided by an existing spreader that rides between our track system.

To cut multiple layers they are using their existing spreader that rides in between our track.

To cut multiple layers they are using their existing spreader that rides alongside our track.

The spreader saves a lot of time when cutting multi-ply.

A spreader saves a lot of time when cutting multi-ply. Hidden Bay Graphics was able to use their existing spreader on their new Carlson Design Plotter/Cutter set-up.

Spread table, ready to cut.

Spread table, ready to cut.

Cutting nest jerseys in one, two, three, and five ply.

Cutting nest jerseys in one, two, three, and five ply.

Layers are cut quickly and accurately, nested in logical pattern sets.

Layers are cut quickly and accurately, nested in logical pattern sets.

Video: Cutting Four Layer Jersey

Thicker materials, like felt, are too “slippery” for multi-ply cutting on the Plotter/Cutter or with their hand-held high ply reciprocating cutter. It is difficult to spread, secure, and cut through more than one layer using a rotary blade cutter. We “vacuum bagged” their felt to cut “Beanie Bands” one ply at a time. This was still considerably faster than hand cutting, and much more accurate.

Video: Cutting Single Ply Felt

bagged head bands

Vacuum bagged, single-ply felt.

They purchased a PT-72″ Plotter/Cutter and mounted it to their existing static (non-vacuum) Phillocraft steel frame table. The original table had non-vacuum tops, which we replaced with Phillocraft vacuum tops. They are using two 5HP rotary vacuum blowers to secure their material during cutting — sometimes with and sometimes without vacuum bagging. To reduce blower noise, they installed them on the other side of the wall and plumbed across.

We were able to utilize their existing Phillocraft steel frame, replacing their static tops for vacuum tops.

We were able to utilize their existing Phillocraft steel frame, replacing their static tops for vacuum tops.

They plumed their 5HP Radial vacuum blowers on the other side of the wall to reduce noise.

They plumed their 5HP Radial vacuum blowers on the other side of the wall to reduce noise.

Rigid plumbing goes through the wall to connect to the table.

Rigid plumbing goes through the wall to connect to the table.

Our Phillocraft vacuum tables are available in endless 4′ long sections. We provided six new vacuum tops for Hidden Bay to drop into their existing frame. This allowed them to keep the cost of implementation down, as well as help them visualize where the Plotter/Cutter would be integrated into their work flow.

PT-72" Plotter/Cutter on a 6'x24' Phillocraft vacuum table with T-Bar pattern digitizer and operator's workstation.   A wonerful looking turn-key setup.

PT-72″ Plotter/Cutter on a 6’x24′ Phillocraft vacuum table with T-Bar pattern digitizer and operator’s workstation. A wonderful looking turnkey setup.

Below, we walk through the steps taken to install and train them on their new Plotter/Cutter.

Install:

Insert tops into the table frame.  Align the edges to create a straight edge on at least one side of the table.  level the table.

Insert tops into the table frame. Align the edges to create a straight edge on at least one side of the table. level the table.

Once the table is level, secure the tops together from below.

Once the table is level, secure the tops together from below.

Attach 4in PVC Plumbing.

Attach 4in PVC Plumbing.

Wrap plumbing joints with stretch wrap to prevent leaks.

Wrap plumbing joints with stretch wrap to prevent leaks.

We used a hole-saw to cut through the wall to connect to the blowers on the opposite side.

We used a hole-saw to cut through the wall to connect to the blowers on the opposite side.

Use as little plumbing as possible to prevent vacuum loss.

Keep plumbing as short and straight as possible to prevent vacuum loss(es).

Connect reducers to blower housing.

Connect reducers to blower housing.

Connect PVC to the reducers.  Wrap with stretch wrap and silicone to prevent leaks.  The blowers will need to be wired by a local electrician.

Connect PVC to the reducers. Silicone joints and wrap with stretch wrap to prevent leaks. The blowers will need to be wired by a local electrician.

Before attaching the track to the table, this is a good time to prepare the track belt by rubbing it down with acetone.

Before attaching the track to the table, prepare the track belt by rubbing it down with acetone.

Attache track side A as straight as possible.

Attach track side A as straight as possible.

Punch, drill a pilot hole, and then hand screw the track to the table.

Punch, drill a pilot hole, and then hand screw the track to the table.

 

Attach the belt to side A.  Start from a known position on the belt -- like the top of a gear and apply with even pressure.

Apply the tape to the groove on the track, then apply the cleaned belt to the tape. Begin on one end of the table, using light and even tension in the belt as you go.

Place the track carriages in side A and B and adjust to the track.

Place the track carriages in side A and B and adjust to the track.

Attached the Plotter/Cutter to the carriages.  Use the gantry as a jig to set side B.  A tape measure run down each side will help you keep the system square.

Attach the Plotter/Cutter to the carriages. Use the gantry as a jig to set side B. A tape measure run down each side will help you keep the system square.

Spread "breather" mesh across the width of the table.  This creates an air channel between the cutting surface and the vacuum top.

Spread “breather” mesh across the width of the table. This creates an air channel between the cutting surface and the vacuum top.

Center the cutting tops on the table.

Center the cutting tops on the table.

Use packing tape to attach the cutting surface to the table top.  Do not glue or screw the cutting surface to the table.  This may cause it to warp and in the future you will need to flip or change the cutting surface as it wears.

Use packing tape to attach the cutting surface to the table top. Do not glue or screw the cutting surface to the table. This may cause it to warp and in the future you will need to flip or change the cutting surface as it wears.

Secure power, air, and control cables together with Zipties spaced every 18".

Secure power, air, and control cables together with zip ties spaced every 18 inches. Take care not to pinch the air hose.

For table shorter than 32' you have the option to mount the cable management system off one side of the table.  Tables longer than 32' should use an overhead cable management system to prevent over-loading one side of the gantry.  Attach your cabling to a pulley every four or five feet along the cable.  Use a turnbuckle to tension.

For tables shorter than 32 feet you have the option to mount the cable management system off one side of the table. Tables longer than 32 feet should use a centerline overhead cable management system to prevent overloading one side of the gantry. Attach your cabling to a pulley every four or five feet along the cable. Use a turnbuckle to tension.

Blower on/off switches are mounted at the front of the table near the operator's workstation.

Blower on/off switches are mounted at the front of the table near the operator’s workstation.

The computer and monitor are mounted to our rolling operator's workstation, with locking box.

The computer and monitor are mounted to our rolling operator’s workstation, with locking box.

What a great looking setup!

What a great looking setup!

Plotting a grid on the table can help with pattern alignment when digitizing.

Plotting a grid on the table can help with pattern alignment when digitizing.

We also used the Plotter to add a tape measure to both edges of the table.

We also used the Plotter to draw a tape measure on both edges of the table.

Video: Plotting a Grid

Once the Plotter/Cutter is installed, slide the X motors into the track belt so they are firmly engaged with minimal backlash.

Once the Plotter/Cutter is installed, slide the X motors into the track belt so they are firmly engaged with minimal backlash.

For best results calibrate and square the Plotter/Cutter before beginning production.

For best results, calibrate and square the Plotter/Cutter before beginning production.

We would like to give a big thank you to Dan and Malinda and the rest of the Hidden bay team for helping make this a fun and successful installation!

We would like to give a big thank you to Dan and Malinda and the rest of the Hidden bay team for helping make this a fun and successful installation!