Taco Metals, a trusted name in marine hardware, also fabricates beautiful marine pedestals, seats, and benches for OEM’s and dealers looking to provide a higher quality end product. For 2014, they decided the only way to meet growing demand from these existing customers, take on new OEMs, and maintain their custom, high quality appeal, was to automate.
They were looking for a simple way to digitize existing physical patterns and then accurately mark and cut with a high level of repeatability. Their system needed to be installed in the front office of their new building and couldn’t take up a lot of space. That’s OK though, because all of their patterns are cut from 54″ and 60″ wide marine vinyl and acrylic and since most of their orders are custom, nested pattern sets would be relatively small. This made the Carlson Design Classic CTx-72″ plotter/cutter and T-Bar Digitizer on a 6’x12′ vacuum table the perfect choice for a small footprint system that was robust enough to handle continuous duty production cutting.
The 6’x12′ Phillocraft vacuum table fits neatly in the corner of their office. These tables come in endless 4′ long sections (12′ long = 3 sections), so it’s easy to expand the table later, if needed. Carlson plotter/cutters are “clean” machines meaning they do not produce shavings, spit oil, or exhaust gasses. Like a big printer, the plotter/cutter is not out of place next to the copy machine and filing cabinet. In fact, it looks great!
To get started, they need to digitize their existing physical pattern library.
The T-Bar Digitizer slides in the same track as the plotter/cutter creating a 65″x130″ digitizing bed. The T-Bar is powered by USB and shows up in our Plotmaster Software suite when connected. When not in use, slide the T-Bar out of your track and hang it on the wall.
The T-Bar is very easy to use and does not require a “skilled” CAD operator. It has two buttons, one for plot lines (blue) and one for cut lines (red). Before digitizing, gather all of the patterns for a single job. If the person digitizing is different from the person that normally cuts and sews these patterns, they should make sure they understand all of the pattern notes, markings, names, quantities, and orientation before they begin.
We trained their manager, Rick. When digitizing patterns, it’s important to establish a technique. This was not Rick’s first experience with digitizing, so it took very little training for him to become proficient with the T-Bar. He observed almost immediately that digitizing on a large flat surface was, “much easier” than a vertical or wall mounted digitizing tablet.
Digitized patterns appear in plotmaster, ready to plot/cut OR available for naming and editing. In the beginning, it’s a good idea to immediately plot/cut your digitized patterns so you can check your technique. Here’s a quick video of cutting and checking a digitized pattern: https://vimeo.com/84489350
Establishing good technique will allow the operator to digitize much faster later, without needing to check every pattern. Digitized patterns are only as accurate as the operator, so it’s a good idea to know your tolerances. If you don’t know, ask the person sewing the patterns.
Here’s a great lesson:
Rick digitized and cut the pattern below. When checking his cut vinyl (black material) with the original paper pattern (white paper), he noticed you could see a little black material sticking past the paper pattern. Digitizing tends to straighten crooked lines and clean up cut corners, especially if a paper pattern is particularly worn. You might also find a rolling blade cuts differently than a pair of scissors. Rick, with a keen eye for detail, was ready to edit or re-digitize the pattern until it was “perfect”. We suggested he first consult the seamstress…
She took one look at the pattern and declared, “This is perfect!” Rick reflected, “maybe I’m a little too critical”. Rick isn’t wrong to be detail oriented, but if you have a large pattern library, understanding your tolerances and technique will go a long way to helping you quickly (and accurately) digitize everything.
Once patterns are digitized they should be named and nested. Organizing nests into small groups, allows the operator to quickly cut the necessary parts to fill an order. Here is a quick video of the CTx-72 cutting a nest for two seat sets: https://vimeo.com/84625316. Total cut time 5 minutes.
Rick can now train a full time or part time operator to digitize or run the plotter/cutter. This turns Taco’s marking and cutting into an entry level position, allowing their experienced trades seamstresses and assemblers to focus on what they do best.
This is a great looking installation and we are excited to help make Taco to continue to make great looking marine upholstery. We want to give a BIG THANK YOU to Rick, Mike, and Bill for helping make this install a success. If you are wondering how to setup a plotter/cutter in your office, please look through the pictures below…
Secure cutting surface with tape to prevent leaks. You will be tempted to secure the cutting surface “permanently” — do not! The cutting surface is a consumable and as it wears you will flip it, swap ends, and eventually replace. If your shop is not climate controlled, the plastic material will expand and contract with the changing temperature. In this case it may be necessary to allow the surface to “float” to prevent warping. You can use a thin strip of foam around the edges to prevent leaks.
Our USB based software runs on any Windows PC. Our larger customers, familiar with purchasing big $$$ CNC equipment often ask why we don’t use PLC’s or on board screens/controllers/etc. We say, “NO WAY!” Using off-the-shelf computers puts reliability back in your hands. If your PC breaks, go to the local office store and get another one.
Use existing office furniture as a workstation for the first month. Once you understand your work flow and needs, get a nice wall mount or stand up workstation or check out our rolling cart workstation.