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CNC Cutting: An Important Step Towards Automation

Ram Sareen
Head Coach, Tukatech

Computer Numerical Controlled (CNC) cutting or CAM is finally getting acceptability in

Indian garment manufacturing scene. Still at nascent stage of implementation, key data
from actual users are hard to find, thus making investment decision for potential
investors harder.

Basic parameters like ply height, cut area, spreader to cutter ratio etc. are generally
discussed for typical ROI calculation, whereas other crucial technical points often go
unnoticed primarily due to lack of awareness. Also generally CAM features are
considered as too “high tech” to understand and evaluate by common persons thus trust
and peer reference remains only means of decision support system. Here I will try to de-
mystify some crucial parameters for the techno-savvy investors who are serious about
generating value out of the costly investment.

Picture T (Computer Numerical Controlled Cutting) Picture courtesy: Tukatech

Knife & Cutting Speed

Generally there are no different knifes available for different fabrics. However we may
use thicker knifes for densely woven heavy fabrics (e.g. denims) in certain applications.
There are two speeds in a cutter to control, the reciprocal, that is up and down of knife
or the Revolutions Per Minute and the other is the Linear Thrust. The major difference is
the reciprocal speed; density of fabric or the thread count will determine the speed of
the knife. Knits can be cut at an average speed of 2,500 RPM whereas 14 oz. Denim
may require 7,500 RPM to give good results. In Knits Lower RPM and Faster thrust and
absolutely the opposite for heavier and dense fabrics. There are always exceptions; e.g.
for woven fabrics with nylon or polyester content higher than 45%, the linear thrust
should also be higher or faster (to reduce fusing of plies). Interestingly against common
belief silk is the most difficult fabric to cut (not all silks; only the very fine silk with very
high thread count). Some brands even offer cutter that has a liquid silicon system with

Reprinted with permission from StitchWorld March 2003 1

cooling device that is set up at the top of the knife to make sure that the heat is not
generated and if it does the heat never reaches the top of the knife.

Some of you must have noticed that most of the experienced cutting rooms while cutting
with straight knife will lay a wax paper in cutting difficult fabrics to lubricate the knife that
reduces the friction which in turn reduces the heat generation on knife.

Picture Z (Cutting Head in CAM) Picture courtesy: Tukatech

The Bristle Surface

The bristle bed is made of bristle blocks which are anywhere from 2"X2" to 4"X4" and
depending upon the materials elasticity, if they are not able to move away from the knife
at curve they get cut more often and need replacement. Some are changed within 6
months and some take almost 18 months. You do not need to change the entire
surface, but a block can be replaced and sometimes more used blocks are moved to
the edges and less used blocks from edges are moved to center of the bed where
most usage may take place. In any case the user ends up changing the entire
bed eventually. The size of bristle will eventually determine the cost of replacement.
Instead of changing the entire block that may have been cut from one end only, the
smaller block gives better options to change one-quarter block. The 2”X2” block has
approximately 18 lines of 18 bristles. TUKAcut designed and Patented new concept of
Bristle surface where 18 combs of 18 hair or bristles (each looks like a mini comb)
makes one block and it allows the user to change 1/18th of a block which is already
1/4th of Gerber's block thus reducing the cost of consumables to very low.

Reprinted with permission from StitchWorld March 2003 2

(Gerber Bristle) Picture courtesy: Tukatech

(4 F.K. bristles = 1 Gerber Bristle) Picture courtesy: Tukatech

(18 Tuka bristles = 1 F.K. Erna Bristle) Picture courtesy: Tukatech

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Importance of vacuum
There are only TWO requirements one to hold and second to cut, even manually, one
hand is holding and the second is pushing the knife. While vacuum is holding the layers,
the knife plunges from the top, cuts through the plastic and make a contour shape of the
pieces that is where the air starts gushing in, the vacuum loss is through these cut lines
and the resealed covers those cut lines. Depending upon the manufacturer, there are
two types of vacuum systems, one is TUB Vacuum and the other is LOCALIZED
vacuum that is covering the part of the top surface. The conveyor is a continuous
surface that moves from right to left at the top but it is going below the machine and
then after full circle it comes back to the same position on the top surface. If the entire
surface is traveling within a TUB, there is no vacuum loss. But in localized vacuum the
conveyor leaves the vacuum area, goes under without vacuum and when re appears
from the other side it come in contact with vacuum area; that is very inefficient as the
suction is only at top bristle conveyor. As the surface turns the air can go into the sealed
layer from both the ends, though a rubber sealer in between the bristles try to stop
lateral air flow but get cut by knife and needs to be changed at least four times per year.
Loss of air will cause problems in lower capacity of vacuum hold down but it also
creates HIGHER ELECTRICITY consumption and louder noise.

You may notice that the BRAND NEW machine will run much silently than a two months
old as the noise is created by the air rushing in the layers by cuts made on each rubber
seal. In fact the decibel rate can go higher by at least 12 to 20 points.

The Important role of Re-Sealer

The RE-SEALER acts as savior to reinstate vacuum force in already cut parts, but even
in some brand the design is faulty. The re-sealer is attached to the cutting beam at a
particular angle and does not go up or down at the beam, so actually the knits that
requires maximum vacuum are vulnerable as the distance created by the angle (if you
see from the side, the distance from knife to the drop of the re-sealer's plastic) can be
as much as 28" and that is absolutely not acceptable in small parts as they tend to shift
without vacuum. Sometimes people even buy CAM without re-sealer option to save
money. Re-sealer is a must for cutting knits.


(Re-sealer angle from knife point)

Reprinted with permission from StitchWorld March 2003 4

Picture E (re-sealer in CAM) Picture courtesy: Tukatech

The Cutting Conveyor

During cutting the bristle conveyor may be stationery or moving. The moving conveyor
is called continuous cutting option (often hyped as faster productivity), where the
software looks at the entire piece, in cut area and moves fast, slow or stop to finish by
itself. It is most efficient in small pieces but pants and dresses will actually take more
time in this cutting mode. Most cutter offer both options but training is very important. In
bite cutting, the cutter cuts one specific window and advances the cut parts faster but it
is not cutting while it is advancing, In continues cutting mode, it is cutting,
making drill holes etc. while advancing at the same time. It is a
faster way of cutting but in large pieces, it cuts a piece and has to stop
as it may have two or three additional pieces in that window that must be
cut before advancing and as soon as the last piece is cut, it will start moving but very
slowly and after cutting another large piece, it will stop again.

Role Of Marker Making

CAD is the smart one that drives the dumb CAM. The start point of each piece will
determine the utilization of cutter where the machine will not be DRY-HAULING
between each piece, By default, each piece has a starting point same as the first
digitized point. Automatic choice of machine for cutting direction is always clock-wise
but can and should be overridden to speed up the machine and finding the minimum dry
traveling of beam and head. Cutting the mirrored piece half in each direction is the only
way to ensure the exact mirror of shoulders straps or collars or any mirrored piece but it
requires an override in markers.

Reprinted with permission from StitchWorld March 2003 5

(Proper cut direction for yoke)

Cutting order of pieces is another very important factor, a small part between the two
big parts must be cut prior to cutting either of the big parts as there will be no loss of
vacuum created by cut lines therefore a support wall will help get better quality.

Cutting of Knits and Wovens:

In knits, when you cut and the knife is moving forward, depending upon the height or
high number of plies, higher the lay, adverse the effects. As the knife leaves the cut
area the two parts open up and the air rushes in to the cutting bed, if the knit is lofty and
knitted loose the gap created will be bigger in the cut parts.
But on the contrary, if you are cutting wovens and denims or silk, the cut line will try to
come back and close the cut part by squeezing the knife from behind. Higher the thread
count, higher the resistant in cutting and higher the squeeze factor that adds to the
problems of creating friction created at the rear of the knife that creates heat which
actually burns the knife. There really is no solution other than to reduce friction and add
cooling device to the knife.

Cutting Of Small Parts And Knitwear

In bras or any knitted fabrics, you must use an outside notch. It is suicidal to have an
internal notch, since it is difficult to control the depth and sometimes the stretch can
leave a hole in the seam or the fabric can have runs starting at the edge of the slit or
corner of the V. It is also advisable to always use V notch on the outside. So once that
we have established that we need to have an outside V notch, what can be the
MINIMUM size of the notch in manual cutting, Of course the answer is 1/8th of an inch
but I have seen those 1/8th to be as big as 3/8th and you have to put the buffer between
the two pieces as the cutters can not separate the two pieces, specially if those are

Reprinted with permission from StitchWorld March 2003 6

slippery. Anyone who does not have buffers and is trying to cut by maneuvering the
pieces, have the bottom ply check with the top ply and you will know the importance.
You can cut the same by CNC by having a notch, which in BRA and SWIMWEAR
industry is referred as the PIMPLE NOTCH. It is an outside V notch that is 1/32nd of an
inch and the cutter does not have to lift and plunge if the notch parameters were set
right. Most of the people do not know that the cutting machine will not lift and plunge if
the angle of turn is 135 degrees or greater. And to create that, we need to make sure
that the height of the notch is half of the width.

(Pimple Notch in a T Shirt sleeve)

Some brands provide POWER PROCESS SOFTWARE at additional cost to do all that
maneuvering of cut data, whereas in some brand most of the tricks mentioned are
automatic routine with a BUILT-IN INTELLIGENCE by simply clicking the OPTIMIZE
MARKER FOR CUTTING command and yet have the capability overriding to give half
piece to cut in opposite direction.

In bras or any knitted fabrics, you must use an outside notch. It is suicidal to have an
internal notch, and to create that; you need to make sure that the height of the notch is
half of the width.

“Common Line” Cutting In CAM?

Another important function to check is “common line” cutting. This requires again the
power processor to tell the machine which lines are common. The CNC cannot see the
whole marker; it only deals with one piece at a time. In each piece, there is a start point
and the last point is the one closing the contour, It is looking at the points and the
attributes, for example a curve or a grade point and corners but it does not know if there
is an adjoining line or a piece. It will go to the next piece and if it happens to have a
common line, it will cut the line again but as a line section of the piece it is cutting. Since
the piece was cut and if there was very little distance between the two lines, the
machine's knife will jump to the path of least resistance, i.e. the already cut line,
therefore making a bump on the piece being cut. In order to avoid this quality problem,
they generally add a GAP to separate the pieces. NOW THIS CREATES THE DOUBLE
LOSS, loss of Fabric and cutting time, In an average pant marker of six sizes you can
reduce 10% to 12% cutting distance by cutting common lines.

Reprinted with permission from StitchWorld March 2003 7

You can have a very intelligent system (automatic software) of auto detecting the
common lines when you put in the parameters for the software as what should be the
minimum distance two lines before we consider them to be the COMMON line, what is
the MAXIMUM distance in between two lines (generally it is thinner than the thickness
of the knife) and of course, what should be the angle of the two lines before we consider
them to be a common line.

Dual head cutter

There are two beams running at a distance of a bite length, where one beam is cutting
the pieces in first bite and the other in the next bite. It is faster than cutting with one
beam but it is not twice faster as claimed by manufacturer. Imagine the number of
inches to cut in first bite to be less than the next beam, the first will finish cutting and
wait to advance before second beam is finished, It happens in almost all bites, there are
many auto controls developed but most of them are optical illusion. The dual beam
cutters are cost prohibitive, the length or the footprint required is greater than regular
cutter. It also requires having longer spreads or the whole exercise is futile as we will be
changing spreads constantly and lose the dual cutting advantage by loss of set-up time.

Buying CAM at investment worth Rs. Ten million should be looked at more seriously, it
should add value rather a costly liability (may be showpiece). Options available in the
market should be scientifically analyzed and evaluated based on your specific
requirement. It is very important to note that ply-height is one of the most important
features; you can always cut low ply on high ply machine but not the other way. Single
and low ply cutters are different machine designed for different purposes and should not
be mistaken as entry-level machine to computerized cutting.

Reprinted with permission from StitchWorld March 2003 8