What is a vacuum table?
In almost all cases, when you are cutting with automated cutting systems, the fabric is held down using vacuum. Technically the correct thing to say is that the fabric is held down by lowering the pressure in a plenum in the cutting table and the pressure differential between this and the atmosphere applies a strong and even force to the material on the table. In fact, the pressure differential only needs to be small to give a very high hold-down force.
The vacuum stops the fabric moving while it is being cut, and makes sure the cut pieces stay in place while the rest of the job is being cut. With porous fabric, you cover the fabric with a layer of sacrificial plastic film so the vacuum works properly.
Do I need a vacuum table?
The short answer is that you are very well advised to have a good vacuum table when cutting!
99% of automated cutting systems use a vacuum table. However there are a number of types of fabric which can be cut without any vacuum hold down. An example of this might be shade mesh. The fabric is cheap and very porous. It does not need to be cut with a great degree of accuracy so a small amount of movement while cutting will not ruin a job. The rotary blade tends to roll across fabric and does not cause much movement.
In this case, the choices are to use sacrificial plastic film to make sure the vacuum works, to use small pieces of waste plastic film to hold down local areas of the laid out fabric to stabilise it, or not to use any vacuum at all.
Some fabric is sticky. In some cases you can get away with a system where you have underlay of sacrificial PVC on the the cutting table, and the material being cut will stick to this.
There are very few people who use no vacuum when cutting who would not prefer a vacuum table!
How much vacuum do I need?
This really does depend on the work you do, the size of your patterns and the fabrics being cut. If the material is not too porous (most materials like PVC are actually fairly porous) and lies relatively flat on the table, then you would need less vacuum than when cutting woven and relatively porous fabric with a tendency to curl.
Excessive capacity in the vacuum system is a waste of money to buy and a waste of money to run. Estimating the correct sizing of a vacuum system is made more difficult by the fact that different customers have a different expectation of what vacuum hold down is capable of.
Aeronaut or an Aeronaut distributor can advise you on correctly sizing a vacuum system of a particular size of cutting table, fabric type and pattern size.
Since it normally is an easy matter to add more vacuum pumps to a system, you may choose to to fit the recommended minimum system and add another pump or two at a later stage.
What if we move factories?
No problem. All Aeronaut vacuum tables are modular and easy to assemble. Tables are shipped flat packed, and assembled on your site. So it is fairly easy to move cutting systems and something which happens quite regularly.
Can we convert an existing cutting table into a vacuum table?
This is possible, but not really advisable. Automated cutters weight a bit, and move fairly fast. Most cutting tables are not made for these loads. Many cutting tables are timber and steel construction. Aeronaut cutters are almost all aluminium. The expansion rates of these different materials may conflict and cause problems. Finally, converting an existing cutting table into a vacuum table can be a big job.
Can I fit one of your cutters to our existing vacuum table?
It is possible to fit some models of Aeronaut automated cutters onto other manufacturer's cutting tables. Over the years, Aeronaut has replaced many machines from other manufacturers and fitted the new machine onto the old vacuum table using special Aeronaut extrusions or fabricated components. You will need to speak to the factory about the details of this, and send drawings and pictures of your vacuum table.
Can we build our own vacuum table?
Some models of Aeronaut cutter can be fitted to a self-made vacuum table. In fact Aeronaut can supply full plans and drawings to enable you to do this.
So is a DIY vacuum table a good idea?
When you buy an Aeronaut cutter on an Aeronaut vacuum table, you have a warranty on the entire kit. We have been building vacuum tables for almost 20 years and have made hundreds and hundreds of them and we know a few of the pitfalls and problems.
The biggest problem is that most DIY tables are going to be made with a steel frame and a timber table top. The steel as very different properties from the wood and particularly the wood can move around a lot in different weather while the cutter remains relatively stable. The biggest enemy is almost certainly humidity affecting the wood rather than temperature.
If you want to build a DIY vacuum table, contact the factory and we'll send you the vacuum table design notes and you can read them and make up your own mind.