In this chapter we will discuss some of the more important pieces of equipment that you need to be aware of if you are starting a new engraving operation or looking to expand an existing one.
As with most buying decisions, you have choices. How you determine which engraving system and accessories are right for your business is a matter of first determining what business you're in. For this, we must investigate various applications and which type of equipment best suits the work to be done.
Presented below in greater detail are several recognized markets, types of objects generally engraved, and equipment required. Due to the crossover of markets and range of products, any given shop may do most or all of the items listed. Armed with this knowledge, making a decision about the appropriate engraving machine is much easier.
For flat or limited concave/convex surfaces, any manual or computerized engraver will do. When working with odd-shaped objects such as baby gifts (i.e., rattles, banks, bronze baby shoes), a deep work holding vise is necessary. The biggest challenge is the ability to fixture the object securely for engraving. The slightest movement will result in poor letter quality and may even force you to scrap the item.
Most engravers agree that for the occasional odd-shaped gift item there is no substitute for the manual pantograph. Most of the older machines can accommodate workholding jaws that can be adapted to hold the item. Many times the engraving required is limited to simple names and dates so set-up of the manual machine is minimal. For higher volume production a more sophisticated computerized machine is a must. Job set-ups and change over time can be the death of a shop when you're up against a tight delivery schedule.
The variety of gift items available poses a challenge for most engravers. Although this kind of work can be very profitable, it carries a significant risk. If you supply the merchandise yourself and can afford the occasional scrapped item then the risk may be worth it. If you are open to walk-in trade and are brave enough to attempt a customer's family heirloom, then the profits can be even greater, but the replacement cost of a mis-engraved item can be devastating if not impossible. Beginners would be advised to leave this kind of work to the adventuresome craftsman with plenty of experience.
This is by far the single largest user group of production-oriented engraving equipment. Most "flatbed" (non-vise type work area) computerized engravers will do the job. The key element to deciding on the right machine for your needs is your volume and the demands of repetitive work. A 500-piece trophy order requires a software program of sufficient capability to aid the user in both set-up and data entry of the 500 unique names of the award recipients.
A typical engraving area (bed size) should be large enough to handle your most common work or multiples of it. Most shops can get by with something in the 12" x 12" size but for larger quantity orders a 12" x 24" or greater is required. For shops with even higher volumes of small, like items, a multi-headed engraver (generally with two or three engraving spindles) is warranted. Don't underestimate the production power of these systems. If you have the demand, a machine can pay for itself in one order.
It may also be noted that the size of the engraving bed should be planned to accommodate custom fixturing for the occasional odd job or odd-shaped item.
Most industrial work is high-production and heavy-duty in nature. You can understand the need for a robust and rugged machine that will take the continuous pounding of repetitive work. Many of these machines are customized to fit in a production line environment. They may be outfitted with extra features or accessories for cutting in exotic or difficult-to-cut materials such as stainless steel. When searching for this kind of equipment, care must be taken to select a machine that has the rigidity that will result in good letter or cutting quality. Mass equals rigidity in engraving, and a heavy-duty machine is usually constructed of castings, steel, and heavy extruded aluminum parts. You will also find that larger than average motors are used to drive the heavier mechanisms and spindles.
Institutional users such as hospitals, hotels and schools will look for a long-lasting, multi-purpose machine. Many applications result from the requirements for safety signs, elevator signs, equipment ID tags, inventory property tags, etc. Again, a larger, more substantially built machine is required.
The marking industry may require highly specialized or modified engraving equipment due to the shape or complexity of the engraved item. Many applications include custom fixtures for items such as notary seals. Again, a versatile machine offers more flexibility, and the ability to handle repetitive work is important.
For those who wish to offer simple, general signage or ADA (American's with Disabilities Act) compliant signage, most engraving systems will do. For larger signs and those made of wood or more exotic materials such as thick foams, etc., a large bed engraver or a router system is called for. Routers offer several advantages. Clearance between the cutting head and the work surface allows for thicker materials to be cut. They are designed to have the rigidity to support a larger cutting motor or commercial routers. Several advantages will be discussed later in greater detail.