Ulster PVC, LTD, located in Norther Ireland, manufactures PVC fabric products to cover “just about anything that needs protection from the elements”. They have maintained a competitive edge by quickly delivering quality, custom products. To offer speed and quality at a reasonable price, they MUST use technology and automation.
We asked the owners, Gary and Ian, why they automated their marking and cutting. They both said, “We didn’t calculate an ROI when deciding to buy this machine, we just knew it was something we needed to keep moving forward.”
They purchased a Carlson Design WT-172″ Plotter/Cutter and mounted it on a home-built 172″x58′ long table. This is a HUGE setup, capable of marking and cutting up to 4m wide material.
Our Carlson WT-172 replaces a fifteen year old plotter. They were looking for “a new larger and more advanced system”, so after 3 years of calls, several trade shows, the construction of a mezzanine, and a visit to Tulsa, Oklahoma, Ulster PVC selected Carlson Design to build their new system. “We liked that we were dealing direct with the owners and not some sales guy that might disappear. After meeting you guys, we could tell it was going to be a good fit.” We agree!
After the first week with their WT-172″ Plotter/Cutter they report:
“Machine running good, reckon we’ve saved about 30 man hrs.’ This week alone & were still only playing with it.”
Let’s look at some of their first projects on the plotter/cutter, their design process, and finally the installation of this behemoth Plotter/Cutter. But before that, here’s a few more glamor shots:
We find the most effective training is “real world” kind. Once the system is calibrated it’s time to start designing real patterns for a real job. Our first job at Ulster PVC was for 24 round covers. Each cover consisted of a round top, base, two reinforcement patches, and seven reinforcement strips (11 parts in total). The simple shapes — circles and rectangles — were quickly drawn using the Carlson Design Plugin for Sketchup – a free and easy to use CAD program. The custom patches were designed using “keyboard” Digitizing.
KEYBOARD DIGITIZING – A Carlson advantage: Turn any plotter/cutter into a pattern digitizer. Simply jog the machine using the keyboard’s arrow keys and position the pen over a desired location, and record a point. Jog the machine to your next point. Pro Tip: use a laser pointer in your pen holder for easy sighting.
The main advantage of KeyBoard Digitizing is it gives you a digitizing bed the size of your plot/cut table. This means Ulster PVC can digitize up to 4m wide x 17m long patterns! If you have a lot of physical patterns to digitize, the Carlson Design T-Bar Digitizer is a much easier and faster solution. The T-bar allows you to trace a pattern as quickly as you can move your hand around it.
Once the patterns are designed, they are manually nested in Plotmaster. They store material rolls downstairs and uses a roller/slitter to spool off enough material for each job.
Ulster PVC did not build a vacuum table — they are using the weight of the material to prevent it from shifting during the cutting process. A 1/2″ seam allowance means they do not have to worry about a little shift here-and-there. For fine detail projects they can use a low-tack, repositionable adhesive spray to prevent material shift. The total time to mark and cut these parts was less than 12 minutes. This would have taken a couple of hours by hand.
With the success of our first cut, we nest all of the parts for the 24 covers in this job (264 pieces in total). Using our Autonesting software, we were able to nest 264 pieces in 36 seconds! This reduced material waste by three meters. The total job was nested across 92 meters of material, which meant they would need to run six full tables. It took 20 minutes to plot/cut each table and 2-3 hours to complete the entire job start-to-finish. By hand, they estimated this job would have taken 2-3 days!
If this project gets ordered again, anyone in the shop can pull material, select this nest (or re-run the autonesting), and hit “GO”.
PROJECT 2: Bread and Butter
Ulster PVC’s primary product line is curtain wall tarps for large trucks. Each curtain wall is custom, but shares many components with other curtain walls. We designed a custom curtain wall designer called “Eurotarp” to help Ulster PVC quickly produce their custom patterns.
Some of their curtain walls have too many custom variables or deviate from the standard design enough that they cannot be rendered in our program. These exceptions are roughly designed Eurotarp and then imported into Sketchup for further modification.
The guys are able design their plot/cut files in Sketchup and Eurotarp from the comfort of the front office. They can share these ready-to-cut files over the network to their plotter/cutter computer.
This four piece job was entirely drawn in Sketchup, manually nested in Plotmaster, and then plot/cut in less than 30 minutes. The results are next to zero material waste and very little skilled labor required.
PROJECT 4: Daily work
The Plotter/Cutter is not just for cutting large, repetitive projects. Once you are comfortable drawing plot/cut files, every project can be cut with the WT. Here are two basic projects:
In this second project, they did not have enough cutting pressure on the blade to complete the cut. The plotter/cutter is VERY repeatable, so they simply increased the pressure and ran the cut a second time. This pattern would be relatively simple to cut by hand, however using the plotter/cutter means they have a record of exactly what was cut. This accountability is really helpful when you’re shipping covers around the world.
We were able to install their plotter/cutter in a single day and spend the next 2-3 days training. This would not have been possible without the help of the Ulster PVC team and Gary and Ian’s preparation. Before we arrived, they had their table built, work area clear, and an electrician on-call. Ian worked with us throughout the install, helping his understanding of the equipment AND helping us get setup that-much-faster.
We’d like to give a big thanks to Ian, Gary, Mike, and the rest of the Ulster PVC team for their help in a fantastic setup. We couldn’t have picked two better guys to work with — we look forward to seeing some great projects cut on your Plotter/Cutter!