Deciding to automate your canvas shop can seem like an especially difficult decision if everything you make is custom.
This was particularly true for Len’s Awning in Sioux Falls, SD where owner Len is the first to say he isn’t tech savvy. However, where Len is new to tech, he is old hat with hard work. His old work flow included countless hours spent on weekends and after-six evenings cutting simple projects like upholstery trim strips, speed boat window reinforcement patches, and boat covers for the local dealership. Len wanted a Plotting/Cutting/Patterning solution simple enough to automate these basic, but time consuming jobs TODAY, but advanced enough to allow him to help his business’s future by building a digital pattern library, designing awnings and canvas in CAD, and eventually integrating 3D Digitizing over the course of the next year.
He found his simple and affordable solution with the Carlson Design Pro PT-72″ Plotter/Cutter and T-Bar Pattern Digitizer.
Below we will discuss:
- Calculating the return on investment (ROI) from this system.
- How they started cutting basic patterns, like trim strips.
- How they digitize their existing patterns.
- How everyone in Len’s shop learned to draw an awning in CAD.
- How to digitize and cut a full sized boat cover.
- How we installed a Plotter/Cutter on their home built vacuum table.
RETURN ON INVESTMENT (ROI):
Calculating your return on investment with a CNC Plotter/Cutter and Digitizer is often difficult if everything you cut is custom. But is everything you cut really custom?
Custom canvas work requires a significant time and skill investment from your best people. Even simple jobs like cutting the trim strips pictured above can steal valuable time from you or your best sewer/cutter. Len said, “I’m the fastest at cutting strips and usually cut them in the summer at night starting from 6-8pm, but even I can’t keep up when we get busy.” Len’s head cutter, Woody, further elaborated the problem these simple jobs present — “We don’t really know how long it takes [to cut] because we all get bored and have to go do something else before we finish.”
Many shops think the only way they can afford to automate is by solving their most complicated problems with the most complicated and expensive CNC equipment solutions. If you can’t feed cloth in one side and spit out boat covers on the other, don’t waste my time! Len’s Awning understands the true value of an hour, the time it takes to integrate a new process into their shop, and that the first step toward a return on investment is making the investment. That’s why they began by automating their simplest projects, with a simple, yet scalable system. Over the next year Len will save hundreds of hours cutting basic jobs, digitize hundreds of patterns for more complicated jobs, all while training his staff to understand CAD and digital patterning so they can eventually tackle automating all of their custom canvas work.
Calculating the ROI of bringing automation into a canvas shop is more than just solving the “everything is custom” problem. Some of the real and immediate benefits of installing a Plotter/Cutter and T-Bar Digitizer include:
- Keeping your best people working on your hardest projects.
- Turning marking and cutting basic patterns into an entry level position
- Improving plot/cut quality which speeds up your sewers.
- Building a digital pattern library to speed up re-cuts, recovers, and build company value with a customer pattern database.
- Creating a technological barrier to entry for your local canvas market.
- Saving time and material.
- Allowing you to quote new and larger projects.
CUSTOM CANVAS WORK
Starting simple doesn’t mean you can’t plot/cut complex patterns. Len’s awning has a large collection of paper and cloth patterns spanning over three decades. Using the Carlson T-Bar 2D Pattern Digitizer they can “trace” their physical patterns to create a digital copy that can be nested and plot/cut using their Carlson Plotter/Cutter.
Below are step-by-step instructions for digitizing and then plot/cut a popular reinforcement strip. They spent over 300 hours cutting this particular pattern last summer.
ANYONE CAN DIGITIZE:
The T-Bar Digitizer is so simple to use that anyone in the shop, regardless of their patterning or computer experience, can create a digital plot/cut file. The T-Bar will even help you improve your physical patterns by turning almost straight lines into actual straight lines, fixing missing or rounded corners, and smoothing arcs.
This video is a must see! It takes less than a minute to cut and Jen is all smiles when it’s done. Not to shabby for someone who has never cut or patterned canvas.
BUILDING A PATTERN LIBRARY
Len’s awning does a lot of work for local boat dealers, replacing OEM boat covers or providing new canvas. Every year they update their patterns to accommodate the latest models, which could mean 10-20 new full sized cover patterns. We digitized half of a 20′ boat cover in about 20 minutes. Using software, we were able to flip and cut each half in about 2.5 min — that’s down from over 2 hours.
Food for thought:
In five years they will have between 50-100 different boat models/years from just one dealership digitally stored, ready for any operator – regardless of skill level – to select the pattern file, roll out material, and hit go. Kinda makes you want to start digitizing today!
It will comes as no surprise that Len’s Awning also makes…awnings! The majority their awnings consist of relatively simple domes, triangles, and rectangles. These shapes are ideal to draw using our Free Plugin to Sketchup, a free CAD program originally offered by Google. Sketchup is very easy to use for both beginners and experienced CAD operator’s. It’s a great introduction to the world of Computer Aided Design (CAD) and is a wonderful free tool to allow your operator’s to more quickly transition to more advanced programs like AutoCAD or Rhino if you decide to add a 3D Digitizing component in the future.
Woody drew the above sketch in 20 minutes and we cut it in less than four. He was able to draw a more traditional 36″Hx30P”12’W awning in less than three minutes and cut in less than one. These standard patterns are now stored and ready to quickly cut or modify and then cut. This level of speed and accuracy will allow Woody to bury the sewing department this summer!
- They dramatically reduced the amount of time it takes to cut trim strips.
- They will save hundreds of hours cutting window reinforcements with the Plotter/Cutter.
- Their pattern library is growing and everyone is contributing. It’s that easy.
- They can digitize full size, full scale boat covers. Soon they will have an enormous digital record.
- Awnings are quick and easy to draw in Sketchup. Everyone can start to learn CAD this way.
Now let’s have a look at Len’s Awning’s unique installation.
Like most awning and canvas shops, every corner of Len’s Awning shop is currently being used for something. That’s why they were not thrilled at the prospect of adding a 6’x24′ table for their new Plotter/Cutter. To integrate into their existing space and reduce cost we provided plans for them to build their own vacuum table.
Let’s now look at the specifics for installing the Plotter/Cutter on this home-built table.
We would like to give a big thanks to Len, Woody, Tony, Wes, Jeff, and Jen for all of their help in making this a successful install and a fun first trip to South Dakota. We look forward to following their success with automation!