View Full Version : Looking for Help cutting composite material

26-10-2009, 11:14 PM
I am looking to start automating a product I make out of a foil based foam. Its a 5 layer system that constists of: Aluminum Foil - Polyethylene Backing - Closed-Cell Polyethylene Foam - Polyethylene Backing - Aluminum Foil

The product is 5mm (+-0.5mm) thick, and I am currently drawing templates on it and cutting it with a standard razor knife. It comes in 1.2 meters wide rolls by 50 meters long.

I would love to have something like a vinyl sign plotter that rolls the product through it as there are some 20+ pieces that we cut out.

Can anyone make a suggestion on a good product that will work with this material?

27-10-2009, 08:27 AM
Problem is that your material is nothing like the vinyl material used in vinyl cutters.
The material used for vinyl sign cutting has backing sheet and the swivel head cutter is adjusted to only cut the vinyl this is to allow the machine to work. The cutter head on the machine only moves in the x direction the y direction is controlled by moving the whole lot backwards and forwards, this method cannot be used if you want to cut right through the material. You will need some form of gantry machine and the smallest radius cut will be limited, probably best to consider a laser but that will put the price up.


27-10-2009, 11:33 AM
I think you'll need a 4-axis machine if you don't want to go down the laser route as you'll need to turn the blade in the direction of the cut (it might be possible to have a freely rotating swivel blade, but I'm not sure how well that would work). As mentioned, you'll have a limited cutting radius - but then you've probably already got that with your manual cutting.

It might be possible to use a mill-like cutter, but it could get very messy, and the edges may not be as sharp as you'd like.

27-10-2009, 12:27 PM
Here is some food for thought - http://www.carlsondesign.com/

Scroll about half way down, some interesting info on various cutters for cnc machines.

27-10-2009, 07:07 PM
What about a roto-zip type cutter? Would it leave too rough an edge?

28-10-2009, 07:06 PM
A precision edge is not critical here, as long as it looks nice. As far as the radius of the cut, there are not any that a super tight presently. Like I said, we are presently using a standard razor knife to cut this stuff and it works great.

We are cutting several pieces of different shapes and sizes, and making a "kit" for resell. It presently it taking 2+ hours to cut out one kit, by the time we trace the templates out on the material, and then cut with the knife.

The biggest problem is our longest piece is 135cm (~53"). Most of the flat bed stuff that is affordable I am seeing is limited to ~120 cm square...

Can anyone recommend a good cheap laser that has a larger cutting area?

30-10-2009, 07:52 PM

I have a done a little more research, but I am a complete newbie at all of this.

I have determined that a CNC with a router bit that will cut upto 1/2" MDF and a laser attachment will allow me to multi-purpose the machine in the shop. But I really need one with those features, but also has the ability to mount a sharpie to it, so parts can be labeled by the machine as well.

Looking for recommendations by anyone.


01-11-2009, 03:37 PM

I have a done a little more research, but I am a complete newbie at all of this.

I have determined that a CNC with a router bit that will cut upto 1/2" MDF and a laser attachment will allow me to multi-purpose the machine in the shop. But I really need one with those features, but also has the ability to mount a sharpie to it, so parts can be labeled by the machine as well.

Well, cheap just went out of the window for a start.:smile:

Don't think you'll get an off the shelf machine that can do all this, you are looking at a gantry type machine with three heads, all different, all performing different duties. Can be done but forget cheap, cheap(er) if you build it yourself maybe.

I suppose the sharpie could be used in place of a router bit with the appropriate tool offset but unless your material lies very flat you may have issues with keeping the nib in contact.

I think John S has some experience of setting up lasers if I remember correctly, the multi material aspect may legislate against it tho' ask John.

If this machine will be used intensively, as it seems it will be, you really need to be looking at industrial quality machinery, especially if your living depends on it and that means not cheap.:thumbdown:


Robin Hewitt
01-11-2009, 03:50 PM
If there are only 20 shapes could you cut it as you would cut a fancy fold up cardboard box blank using a die and a press? It's practically instant and very repeatable :beer:

Edit: Google for "steel rule die"

02-11-2009, 04:31 AM
Well its 20 pieces per kit. We offer presently 10 different kits, and want to offer more... Each kit is unique to its application

When I say cheap, I would like to keep it around $25,000 USD..

I do not care if we have to manually change the heads out. That is not as big of an issue as finding something that can cut wood, this foil/foam material, and have a sharpie / pen attached to it.

i.e. we run the pen / sharpie first, have it label the parts, then run which every cutting head, based upon the material being used.

Robin Hewitt
02-11-2009, 09:53 AM
Wood? That rather precludes adding a backing sheet so you can use use a vinyl cutter with ink jet. You are now have a flat bed table with either 3 heads or interchangeable. The set width and heads requirement sounds like a bespoke machine.

I think you need an engineer. If I was still young and hungry I'd draw up the table as a kit of parts for laser cutting (needs tube and sheet cutting lasers), estimate the price, double it so I could remake the whole she-bang when I understood the problem and relieve you of the money :beer:

Some thoughts.

If you want to do wood you will need dust extraction.

Make sure it will do the max length you may ever require in the future. Be generous.

When you cut this sheet with a knife, could you do it one handed or would it slide about everywhere? If it slides you will need a vacuum or electrostatic hold down.

Pen plotting text is dismally slow (especially if you add the inertia of a router head) and you will probably want a soft landing for the pen.

Are you really sure this is the way to go? Beware enthusiam :naughty:

Good luck


02-11-2009, 10:26 AM
As an engineer, albeit one with little money and even less time these days, I'd say this was a do-able one-off. Yes it has its complexities, but no more than some of the others we've seen (I recall the one that someone designed to cut large blocks of foam for car body prototyping).

A 2.5m x 1.2m (8' x 4') bed isn't impossible, we've seen bigger ones. It doesn't sound like excessive rigidity would be critical here if MDF and foam/composite is all thats being cut. I'd like to see some trials of cutting the composite with a 3 or 4mm single flute cutter in a high-speed spindle to determine whether that would work (maybe WebDude could send someone with a suitable router setup a sample of the material to see how it cuts - offers anyone). I do have some concerns about workpiece holding and also what the sacrificial layer underneath would be as a through cut is needed. It may be that a laser would be a better solution for this material but again some trials would be needed to confirm this (wasn't it Mike at TechServe that had a big-bed laser cutter or did I imagine reading that? If so, maybe he could offer to trial cut a sample to see how effective it is)

Some ingenuity around the spindle/head is needed. I'm sure a dual-head arrangement with a pen and a cutter could be designed and speed wouldn't be too big an issue if there was relatively little text (again some calculations on total stroke length of the writing and moves needed would give some idea of the time taken). A more sophisticated solution could be based on a hacked ink-jet printer.

An interesting challenge and one I'd love to have a go at. I'd have thought it was do-able for less than $25k if 80-90% 'home' built.

02-11-2009, 07:55 PM
I am not trying to cut the wood and the foil material at the same time nor even within the same day. We just have some other products that we make that if we are going to have to use a CNC to cut the foil material, we can make the other products on it as well.

Have no problem manually changing the heads out, based upon what we are cutting that day.

It will need to cut upto 1/2" MDF, 1/4" and 1/8" ABS plastic, and then the foil material.

As far as dust collection system, we already have that in place on our table saw and router table.

I would be more then happy to send someone a sample piece of the foil material. The material we are using is ProDex Insulation. It is fairly ridged, but still has a flexible property to it. More info on it can be found here:


The Pen / Sharpie is not critical, just trying to keep the guys from having to hand label that parts after being cut. But push come to shove we can still do that if need be.

Robin Hewitt
02-11-2009, 10:34 PM
If you have dust extraction that would do nicely for a vacuum hold down.

Not sure if 1/4" ABS will cut very happily at router speeds, it tends to melt, but I think you will probably want router speeds for the other materials :nope:

If you whack a pen down with a solenoid it tends to dent the surface and deposit a blob of ink. The ink carries on down after the pen has stopped.
If you use a soft landing it takes more time. One speed solution is to use joined up writing :beer:

I used to be a service engineer working with Houston Instrument vinyl cutters, pen plotters etc. Gives you a rather jaded view if you only get to see them when they go wrong :whistling:

02-11-2009, 10:39 PM
I would be happy to test cut some material for you on my machine.

I have a maximum feedrate of 5m/min, a kress high speed spindle that runs between 10,000 - 30,000 rpm and a decent size bed 1000mm x 600mm. I have some 3mm cutters but they are 3 flute carbides which are not ideal, if someone has any single flute cutters or can find some at the price then I would be willing to buy some as they will come in useful for other jobs.

Let me know.

03-11-2009, 12:59 AM
What size sample would work well for you? I do not work at the shop location daily, so I would need to go by and cut you off a piece from the roll.

As I said before, the edge does not have to be precision cut, but I would like it to look nice, as what we have been sending customers is razor knife cut.

03-11-2009, 09:45 AM
Any size will do, just cut a few smaller pieces to a size that wont cost a fortune to post.

Where abouts in the country are you?

03-11-2009, 05:40 PM
Actually I am in the US, but this board has been much more helpful then any of those I have found over here.

I can still ship something to you. Would a 60 cm square piece work? or would you like something bigger? I really wouldnt need the sample returned, just if you could take a picture of the edge and post it, that would be great.

03-11-2009, 07:23 PM
60cm square will be plenty. Do you have any example profiles that I could cut with typical corners etc? If so then send me the drawings.

I will pm you my address.

Do you have any preference on the cutters that you want me to try cutting it with? Like I said before I have some 3mm carbides with 3 flutes but I am finding that you have to run these at very fast feedrates to get anything like the correct chip load. I am sure 1 or 2 flutes would be much better.

04-11-2009, 09:40 AM
Actually I am in the US, but this board has been much more helpful then any of those I have found over here.

The old british 'can do' attitude :beer::clap:

Whereabouts in US? IP address suggests Atlanta, or at least southern states...

Intrigued about these 'kits'... kits for what?

04-11-2009, 08:59 PM
I am actually just outside of Nashville, TN.

We cut the kits to go under the carpet in sport cars. This ProDex material is pretty amazing, it not only reduces the heat load from the exhaust into the passenger area, it reduces road noise.

This is why the edges are not critical, as they are not seen after installation. But they do need to look nice.