My wife and I own a business and recently one of our products that involves a laser-cut insert has recently taken off. While this isn’t a post about the product itself, I thought I’d share how I’ve optimized some aspects of our product/process to make production runs more efficient given the recent success of this particular product and the limitations faced by with GF.
1-Up vs. 2-Up vs. X-Up
Maybe this goes without saying, but if you are running jobs for production then you should be maximizing your print area and printing as many of the same things (or multiple things) as you can. 1-up, 2-up, etc are terms that I think come from the printing industry where they’d print the same page twice on a single sheet of paper.
So, rotate, remove gaps, adjust sizing, etc to fit as many of your items into the material and/or work area as possible. (Wouldn’t it be nice if the GF software could automatically replicate and optimize the design!?!?)
Simplify your designs
Do you need engraved text where an outline will do? Be critical of a design and try to eliminate procedures (e.g. engraving) that can really add to a job’s total print time. Some designs can’t or shouldn’t be altered but some might be just as successful with a different approach.
Optimize your design for production steps that happen AFTER lasering
Our product gets folded just before it goes into the packaging. To eliminate the step of measuring and make the folds perfect 99% of the time, I added score lines to exactly where the folds are. I also experimented with cutouts vs score lines but the scores worked best for our particular application.
Optimize the order of operations
Make sure your layers within the GF interface are ordered such that they minimize the travel of the laser head. Also, ensure that any cuts are ordered made in a way that prevents the scrap from getting in the way of the next design step. Generally speaking, I do scores/engraves, then inner detail cut passes, then the final main object cut passes.
I have not spent the time optimizing cut paths as I think that would be so tedious and not worth my time. Ideally, this is something GF does for users eventually.
Add other pieces to negative spaces
If you have areas where large scrap pieces will be generated think about whether or not you have the opportunity to add other products/pieces into those spaces. While it may extend the overall print time, you eliminate setup and cleanup steps from running the jobs separately.
We have another product that utilizes the largest scrap cutoff for the material. Unfortunately, we can’t run them in the same job because of the camera vs print area but we have optimized the scrap for that secondary product. For us, this looked like making sure our main design is as close to one edge of our material as possible thereby maximizing the size of the offcut. This has the added benefit of making the design placement WAY less finicky on the other product when we go to laser that one.
Use hold-down pins for perfect placement
The less you can do between runs of the same job the better. I use hold-down pins (like these) to position the material in the exact same position every time. This means I just have to clean up the scraps (see below), replace the material, and hit print.
(Note to @dan and team- it would be SO much faster and require fewer server resources if I could hit print on a 2nd, 3rd, or Nth run of the same file without the software processing the designs again.)
Cleanup Optimization (vacuum + switch + design elements)
Our design creates a bunch of little pieces and I was spending a lot of time trying to pick them up in between each job. I decided to buy a mini shop vac to place under my desk and just suck up those pieces. I laser cut a hose/nozzle holder that screws into the underside of my desk and lets me neatly put the hose away.
I also bought a switch that’s attached to an extension cord (make sure it is rated appropriately for your setup) that allows me to leave the vacuum neatly tucked under my desk but have the ability to turn it on/off right at the GF.
The vacuum hose did prove to be a bit small for the size and sharp angles of my scrap pieces so I ended up adding a handful of extra cuts to those scraps so that they can be more easily digested by the vacuum. This only added about 20 seconds to the overall time but saves me more than that as part of the cleanup.
Add a button pusher
This is either lazy as can be or genius but adding a thing that pushes the print button on the GF is super helpful. I originally bought it because it was annoying to hit print on the computer, walk around my desk to the other side of the office, and hit the button just to return to my desk. But at this point, it helps simplify things. The company that makes the pusher also sells a button that connects wirelessly (instead of using a mobile app ) that I have found to add that much more enjoyment to it.
As far as safety goes, I use this because I don’t want to leave my desk while working on other tasks. I’m in the same room, have a fire extinguisher, and I actually bought a mirror so I can see the machine behind me. Don’t leave your machine unattended.
Increase your price
A lot of people discount how much time and effort goes into producing a laser cut/engraved product. Make sure you’re charging enough to make your time worth it. And if you’re getting so many orders that you can barely handle it, start raising your prices slightly. While you may sell less, you will make more per job. This works within reason and likely has a point that is a good balance of revenue vs the number of jobs.
Upgrade your machine
Last but not least, if you’ve done all the above and are seeing continued growth for a given product or products, then it may be time to consider a laser with a larger print bed or a more powerful tube. This will let you do even more pieces in a single job/run.
And this isn’t me hating on the GF, in fact, quite the opposite. We’ve had our GF since launch and have been using it for production ever since. It has more than paid for itself, allowed us to iterate faster, create new products, optimize products, and ultimately is has enabled us to even have the need for and be able to afford our larger laser.
Have questions? Feel free to ask and I’ll answer what I can!