From potential customers we often hear the same question: “If laminators are in fact just two rollers and a motor, why are some of them more expensive than others?” The answer is quite simple: They are just like cars. All of them have four wheels and a motor, but the price difference can be huge.
Everybody recognizes the differences between a Mercedes and a Skoda or a Dacia, although all of these cars will take you from A to B. However, the difference between laminating machines is not visible from the outside, which can make it difficult to pick the right model. Similar to when you are trying to decide, whether you need a van or perhaps a small pick-up truck for your company.
Many of the machines on the market are presented as a “professional tool for an affordable price”. Nevertheless, the expression “professional” has many different meanings, when referring to laminators. Similar to cars: All of the Mercedes-, Skoda- or Dacia vehicles are being manufactured in a professional way, but the differences are big. So how do you pick the right laminating machine for your company? What are the differences? How do you differentiate between marketing spin and recommended features? We believe the following points will help you find the most suitable laminating machine for your business.
First, you should create a list of the applications you would like to process on the future machine. You should specify the needs as much as possible. Then, all these needed applications should be written down in detail, including the specific materials. In addition, non-standard projects should be kept in mind. Every good supplier should be able to explain what is and what is not realistic to the enduser.
The laminating machine is a manually operated instrument, and therefore, even before your purchase, some physical and real presentation is needed. A technical data sheet gives vital information, but without touching the machine, it means nothing. To use the car analogy, the laminator operator does not buy a car based on a brochure alone. A “test drive” is clearly necessary.
THE MOST IMPORTANT PARTS OF A LAMINATOR – WHAT TO FOCUS ON
Rollers are the most important part of the laminator. Their properties and behavior have a crucial influence on the operator’s efficiency and the final product quality. You have to check the diameter. As a general rule: the bigger the better. Rollers with a bigger diameter are often better because they bend less, provide equal pressure and ̶ during operation ̶ apply less tension on the laminating film. Less tension on the laminating film is beneficial, especially when working with cast vinyls or standard laminating films, together with heat assistance.
A laminator with a bigger roller diameter has a positive impact on the possible amount of shrinkage of the over-stretched laminating film at the latter stage. This shrinkage, caused by over-stretching during the laminating process, usually leads to bleed at the end of a graphic, as well as to bending of the laminated boards, lifting corners and edges of the graphic or lifting the graphic from the corrugations (for example when wrapping cars).
Additionally, a bigger diameter of the roller is also better when it comes to laminating onto soft substrates. A bigger roller distributes pressure equally and over a wider area. Therefore, the substrates have less of a tendency to twist.
When considering the roller parameters, check the thickness of the material. Thicker metal will provide better stability than thinner steel, even with the same roller diameter. Stronger and more stable rollers are important for laminating onto harder substrates, for example onto MDF and Glass.
Another good parameter to check is the weight of the roller. Good and reliable rollers have a weight of approximately 40kg. Two rollers in the machine means about 80 kg in total. When you see a laminator datasheet, where the total weight of the machine is 150 kg, including the frame, you know what to expect – a less than robust machine.
The last part of the roller you should focus on is the soft coating. This should be thick enough to resist possible grinding of the coating in the future. The rubber coating should also provide perfect geometry, ideally with a crown shape on one of the two rollers.
The next parameter in your focus should be the heating of the roller. Even for pressure sensitive adhesives, so called “cold” laminating films, we suggest using a machine with a heated top roller. The temperature should be up to 70°C, with the option to make continual adjustments in small steps. Heated rollers allow the adhesive to “flow”. Depending on the materials being used, this can have a big influence on the quality of the lamination results.
Heat helps the adhesive to flow and, therefore, helps to prevent or reduce silvering. Typically, a quite difficult application is laminating onto acrylic sheets. Having heat assistance helps a lot. You will appreciate the higher temperatures above 50°C, either when running thicker laminating films ( for example floor graphic films) or when running the already laminated graphic through the laminator a second time, in order to improve the silvering. During the second run, you can actually afford temperatures much higher than during the first run because the material has already been laminated. Therefore, you can run the material through the machine even faster.
Each material you work with needs a different pressure setup. For laminating cardboards, you will minimize the pressure. For laminating thick floor graphic films, you will need as much pressure as possible. Most of the machines on the market offer a manual pressure setup. This can cause many problems with pressure distribution (not being distributed within the full width) and when laminating longer runs.
Pressure settings and the achieved work results (for most of the machines with a mechanical setup) are very inaccurate. This means, if there is a pressure measurement available, it is not always reliable.
That is why Neschen laminators offer a pneumatic pressure system. A repeatable and exact pressure adjustment is extremely important. The pressure you see on the manometer display is the actual pressure the rollers are delivering to your graphic.
CONTROLS AND ERGONOMICS
The control panel should allow for rotation, changing of speed and direction of the rollers from both sides of the machine. This holds especially true, if only one operator works with the laminator. The machine can be easily operated without having to walk around to the other side to reach parts of the control panel.
COAXIAL AND TORSIONAL STIFFNESS
All of the rollers and axes have to be exactly parallel on a laminator. This, together with high torsion stiffness of the machine chassis, ensures accurate guidance of the material, even for full roll-to-roll jobs at high speed. If you expect your next machine to run full-roll laminating jobs, make sure to test it on your new laminator before making a purchase!
When discussing chassis strength, there are numerous machines on the market, (usually very low-budget machines), which will provide the necessary construction stiffness for the first few months of ownership. In time, the chassis weakens. It is for this reason that Neschen offers machines with a sturdy and robust construction. Keep in mind, a laminator is a tool to enhance your business’ profit. It should never be an “afterthought” to buying a new printer.
To provide a stable, robust and reliable machine construction, Neschen builds our range of laminators with sidewalls made of heavy steel plates instead of a thin metal plate.
UNWINDING AND REELING OF THE MATERIAL
Brakes on the unwind and windup shafts have to be easy to access, easy to handle and be resistant. Inserting the shafts into the machine has to be an easy and smooth process. Consider the weight of the shaft, including the full roll: it is essential that the material slides into the machine quickly.
The measuring scale on each shaft, with the “0” being in the middle of the shaft, is a very helpful tool for setting-up the media and the alignment to the windup shaft.
READY FOR TESTING?
Last but not least, once you are ready for the testing of your laminator, you should focus on the following steps during the demonstration.
a) Use greyscale pictures for the test; let the operator laminate at least 20 linear metres. The more, the better. Ask the operator to stop the machine in the middle of the laminating process and check the line on the graphic afterwards. There should be only a light stripe visible – or better still – nothing visible.
b) For a roll-to-roll full-length test, you can use and laminate standard coloured vinyl, ideally in black.
c) Watch the speed of alignment, accuracy and efficiency of the demonstrated machine
d) Also, test paper together with lamination. Paper is more inclined to wave than self-adhesive vinyl. This effect will disappear during the day (for example silvering), some will occur within a few days later. Take your time to evaluate the laminated material.
e) At the machine with a working width of +- 160 cm, you should test laminating onto sheet materials. Ideally onto PVC foamed boards that are +- 800 mm wide. With these formats, you will realise the advantages of a stiff crown being on the top roller. Otherwise, bubbles may occur on the board, even up to a few days after application. So, again, take your time to evaluate the results.
f) Furthermore, you should check the safety system. Does it work properly? Are the light-bar, the snail mode and foot switch, as well as other features, working in favor of the operator? Keep in mind, the safety system is there to protect the employee and your business.
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Based on an original article from HSW Info company magazine, from HSW Signall, Czech Republic.