Figure 1 – A repeat rip device set for 21⁄2 in. rip cuts a sheet of 3cm material. In this case, the bearing roller is set 21⁄2 in. above the saw blade and locked in place so the blade is always the same distance from the roller thus producing continuous rip cuts of the same dimension. The bearing is mounted on a pivot point and can be moved off the workpiece during a cut operation.
Figure 2 – The black screw is moveable up and down the white rail and can be locked in at common rip cut dimensions (24 in. in this photo). A shop can put as many of these on the rail as needed for all common cut heights. The black knob is held down while the saw head is moved up into position. When the black ball-knob hits the stop, the carriage is locked in and ready to cut at the set dimension.
Figure 3 – The next step up on the evolutionary chain from the vertical panel saw is the automated vertical panel saw, which can be programmed for optimal, repeatable cut results regardless of operator skill.
The majority of the fabrication process for a solid surface countertop, for most companies, is accomplished with the sheet lying horizontally, which utilizes only horizontal space. Considering that, using a vertical panel saw for cutting processes can conserve floor space, making for better efficiency and ultimately helping to maximize performance. Depending on the quality, construction and technical specifications of the saw, many benefits and time-saving operations can also be incorporated to improve the fabrication process.
One quality upon evaluating a panel saw, which is extremely critical, is a solid frame. A one-piece, welded steel frame makes for a good starting point and affects nearly all of the other features and operations of the saw, determining whether you can get a quality cut or not. Choosing a saw with the right frame may be the most important decision when making such a purchase.
Of course, there are many other important features to examine when choosing the right saw for solid surface operations. Among them are adequate dust extraction capability (diameter of the hose, etc.), ability to do repeat cuts, a smooth and well balanced motor carriage and the range of accessories that can be tailored to a shop's individual requirements.
Panel saws that use an adequate horsepower motor and blade diameter have the capability of cutting material up to 3 cm. For example, a motor with a rating of 7½-hp and 300 mm blade diameter is more than adequate. Lower rated horsepower motors and smaller diameter blades are suitable for thinner material such as standard ½-in. sheets.
A saw with a center shelf is also a consideration. The center shelf starts at an average operator's knees, whereas the bottom rollers are down by their feet, making loading and unloading heavy sheets more ergonomic. The center shelf also keeps the workpiece close to eye height, so the sightlines for working are good. Most sheets are 30 to 32 in. tall and 12 ft. long. They're relatively short, but quite heavy, so having a strong center shelf to hold them is important.
In this business, cut quality is extremely important. A good carbide blade or a diamond blade, to reduce change over time, is key to the performance. Combining a well made panel saw with the proper blade allows seaming to take place directly after cutting, which saves time by eliminating the need for routing before seaming.
Another timesaver is the use of the repeat-rip device (see Figure 1). This device makes cutting backsplash and build-up very efficient. A dimension, say 4 in., is locked in and the operator works from the top of the sheet down. After each cut, the saw head is simply lowered for the next cut, and so on and so on. The result is repetitive 4-in. strips. Most machines also come with movable rip-cut stops (see Figure 2). A shop that makes the majority of their tops 25-in. deep should set one of these rip stops at 25 in. permanently. Whenever they need a 25 in. piece, they roll the saw unit until it hits the stop, lock it in and cut.
Another option that solid surface fabricators will want to consider is the v-grooving or cove cutting option, which typically has a changeover time of less than 15 minutes. Using a feature such as this makes building up a front edge or cove backsplash easy. Both cove and v-grooving can be done vertically and horizontally.
The utilization of an automated panel saw offers additional benefits, one of which is about 30 percent more production (see Figure 3). At the touch of a button, the cut process begins. The cut speed can be set for the optimum cut quality and blade life, eliminating variations in quality regardless of the operator. The saw can contain a job counter to track efficiency and can be used to track labor cost if desired. Additionally, pneumatic swiveling, locking and plunging save time and make operations easier, which ultimately saves money. Automatic panel saws can be set to make a cut and remain at the end of the sheet while the material is offloaded and material for the next job is loaded. Again, by the press of a button, the beam returns, the operator sets the dimension, and the next cut can be made.