June '16

For the Business of Apparel Decorating

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70 || P R I N T W E A R J U N E 2 0 1 6 if the order does not require any embroidery but only etching, the operator would not be able to keep up with the speed of the laser, as etching may only take seconds per piece. CHOOSING A LASER In most situations, embroiderers tend to add a laser to their existing machines. When this is the case, you need to be aware that some suppliers offer a machine that only works with a specific brand, and others of- fer a machine that works with any brand of embroidery machine. So, which embroi- dery machines you use may automatically determine which manufacturer you choose. One decision you will need to make when buying a laser bridge is the size of the work- ing field. The left and right sides of the sew- ing area are determined by your embroi- dery machine. The front-to-back will vary depending on which type of laser head you buy. Typical working field sizes range from 8" X 8" to 24" X 24" with the most popular choice being 12" X 12". The types of materials you want to cut will also make a difference. If you know you'll be cutting mostly knits and jersey, a standard power in the 50- to 100-watt range will be sufficient. If you plan on doing dense mate- rials such as leather or heavy canvas, 200 or more watts will be needed. The more power, the more expensive the price tag. Another reason why you might choose a higher wattage laser has to do with the vol- ume of work the laser must do. If you are stretching your laser head over 20 or 30 em- broidery heads, it will work much faster if it has more power. A lower-power laser will take longer to get a job done. ADDING ATTACHMENTS A great way to increase the versatility of a laser bridge and increase its money-making capabilities is to set up stations with attach- ments. One option is a table that can be used to hold an item that you wanted to etch or engrave a logo onto. Another attachment is a roller. This al- lows you to cut fabric on rolls. It unwinds the fabric so it can be cut under the laser and then rewinds it up on the other side. While this has more application to the fash- ion and ready-to-wear markets, it's still of interest to note that this capability exists. Another unusual attachment is a plotter; a motorized table. The table moves front to back while the laser head moves left to right. If, for example, you wanted to etch on a pair of jeans, you could place the jeans flat on the table, and it would move the jeans underneath the laser so you could etch the entire side of both legs. Another option is a camera and software that allows you to do contour cutting. If you are only mounting your bridge over embroidery heads, the machine uses the embroidery frame as its reference point for cutting out appliqué, and nothing else is needed. If you choose to add an attachment, such as a roller, table, or plotter, a camera and companion software provides the point of reference the machine needs to accurately contour cut around graphics and shapes. DELIVERY AND INSTALLATION You do not need a wide opening to take de- livery of a laser bridge. The crates will come in sections that measure approximately 10–13 feet long and not much more than a foot wide. For an installation over approximately 16 heads, plan on about a week. The embroi- dery machines must be moved out of the way while the laser and its bridge are set up. Then, the embroidery machines are moved back into place under the bridge and each embroidery head must be calibrated to the laser. You will need a forklift on-hand to lift the beams of the bridge and mount them on the pillars. You'll also want to have a floor or power jack to help move the embroidery machines. A laser bridge runs on 220 single-phase electricity; however, if your building has three phase, this is more efficient and you will use less electricity. Do note, it is not worth the cost of having three-phase elec- tricity installed if you do not already have it. You will also need a dedicated computer to run the laser software. There are many considerations to think about when deciding whether or not to add a laser bridge to your embroidery operation. While it is a capital investment, it is one that brings big rewards in terms of expand- ing your shop's capabilities and markets. For any embroidery shop that is looking to grow, it makes more sense than adding an entirely new decorating process. This information will be helpful as you do your research and help you be prepared if and when you decide to bring a laser bridge ma- chine into your business. LASER-BRIDGE IMPACT In this photo you can see the bridge is built over two multi-head embroidery machines. The shut- tle carries the head over the entire length of the bridge, and the laser is programmed to stop at each head. A bridge can span up to 120 feet and is built in 40-foot sections. (Image courtesy BITO)

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