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Finding the Route to Success: Is adding a router the right move for your business?

Cassie Green is the editor of Awards & Engraving Magazine. She can be reached at cgreen@nbm.com or by phone at 720-566-7278.

Note: This article appears in the April 2017 issue of A&E magazine. To ensure that you can access this and other industry-focused pieces, be sure to subscribe today!

Routers may be off the radar for those who own an awards business. Being much larger than the typical rotary engraving machine, or other equipment typically found in the awards retail environment, routers are often classified as being part of large signage shops or other industrial market businesses. While that may be one of the main roles routers play, they can fulfill a need that awards and engraving businesses all have: the need to expand.

It’s no secret that many businesses are looking for other means of profit in today’s world. If you aren’t sure where your business should go next, adding routing equipment may be the answer. Like any new piece of machinery, there are many considerations to make before doing so.

Many Different Paths

You might be wondering what the main role is for a router or what it is capable of doing. The simple answer to that question is a lot. Generally speaking, these machines are used for larger projects, particularly cutting and creating signage, but that’s not all.

“(Routers are used for) precise shaping and cutting of various substrates, particularly for material types and thicknesses that are not favorable to laser processing,” states Randy Bentley, Engraving Systems Support. He lists sign making, cabinetry, control panels and furniture projects as just a few of the many applications routers can be used for.

As an awards shop, some of those things may not match up with your business plan, although some may help you expand down the road. The good news is, routers can do more according to Chuck Donaldson, Antares Inc. “Routers can be used for a variety of manufacturing (applications) including awards production… I have personally used a single router to produce acrylic award blanks to be sublimated later,” he says. That capability means one thing for the awards retailer: more versatility to add more profit.

What’s Your Destination?

Knowing that routers can and do have a place in an awards shop may peak your interest. But to really grasp this technology, you must have an understanding of equipment size and basic functions. Alongside a few other considerations, these factors will determine if a router has a place in your shop.

According to Donaldson, there are two classes of routers. “Table-top routers range from approximately 16 by 24 inches to 24 by 36 inches, (while) flat-bed routers range in size from approximately 2 by 4 feet up to a massive 10 by 50 feet,” he says.

The variety of sizes available allows routers to process many different substrates, according to Roy Valentine, Techno CNC Systems LLC. “A CNC router can handle any project size that is within the working area of the machine travel process area,” he specifies. “It can serve as an engraving tool but also allows the owner to expand its capabilities, all in one tool.” And the best part is, it works quite nicely in tandem with other equipment most awards retailers already own. “A CNC router can cut geometric shapes in wood, plastic, foam or metal. Once these shapes have been cut, secondary cutting or etching can be done on a laser,” Valentine finishes.

Perhaps the most obvious addition a router brings to the awards retailer is the capability to cut into the signage industry. Bentley states that this is in fact one of the biggest benefits to adding this equipment. “(Routers) allow for deep engraving and cutting of thick rigid materials and are also able to cut inexpensive PVC material that lasers cannot,” he adds.

The larger size is ideal for working with larger substrates, but what about smaller items? “They are suitable for production of pieces as small as name badges, but only if the user is doing large quantities,” Donaldson points out. “Even though a router can do smaller items, it is usually more cost effective to do smaller pieces and detail work on an engraving machine.”

Keeping all this in mind, there is one more thing related to size that awards retailers must consider: will it fit in your shop and can your shop handle the power it takes to run it. “Space requirements can be a challenge especially for smaller shops,” Bentley states. “Many router systems require 220VAC power to run high horsepower router spindles. Some shops may not have 220 service if there is not already equipment there that requires it.”  

And like any equipment, there is a learning curve that comes with routers. “First-time buyers should understand the process of setting up and programming the router,” Valentine emphasizes. “This understanding will result in the success of the purchase, ultimately yielding a return on investment.”

Donaldson elaborates on that point. “There are numerous settings, capabilities and procedures that vary from machine to machine. It is best for a retailer to make sure they get training with the purchase of equipment, plus ensure they have a resource via the salesperson or the machine manufacturer who can provide assistance after the sale,” he believes. Without the proper training, production can falter and instead of profit being made, it can be lost.

Which beckons the point that there are situations in which adding a router is not wise. One factor that can make or break whether a shop should add this equipment is price. “The biggest drawback to a router is the initial cost,” Donaldson states. “The cost of the router, a vacuum pump to hold pieces down, and, possibly, an additional dust/chip removal system can be rather expensive.”

Other drawbacks to this technology include the marketing aspect. “The addition of a CNC router will transition the business from awards into sign making. This is a whole new market segment and if an owner does not want to expand, then (it) may not yield a return on investment,” Valentine points out.

Get Where You’re Going

At the end of the day, routers can help build an awards business when the right steps are taken. “A retailer should add a router if they want to do more than just engrave,” Valentine advises. “A CNC router will allow a shop to expand its business into custom dimensional signage, complimenting their (current) capabilities.”

With the right research and a shop that can handle the size of this equipment, routers are sure to play a beneficial role in an awards retail environment.

Note: This article appears in the April 2017 issue of A&E magazine. To ensure that you can access this and other industry-focused pieces, be sure to subscribe today!