How do I square my Apollo Multi Substrate Cutter?

Without doubt, the most common question I have encountered in my 30 year involvement in the manufacturing of cutting machinery is how do you square the machine .

Unfortunately the cutting machine is part of the finishing department and as the name of the department suggests it is likely to be the final operation to be carried out. That is usually when someone discovers that the finished product is not square and guess what, the blame is usually attributed to the cutting equipment.

Let’s start with the limitations of the Apollo Cutter. The Apollo cutter consists of only two aluminium extrusions that influence the squarness of the machine. The vertical section which the cutting head runs on (the slideway) and the horizontal section which the material stands on (the squaring arm). A third extrusion which the slideway is attached to at the top and bottom. This is known as the spine section and although it plays no role in the squarness of the machine it can be used as a guide to the machines accuracy. All of the extrusions we buy are designed for our machines and they are guaranteed straight to plus or minus 1mm over the length. That means that the Apollo will cut a straight line with an accuracy of plus or minus 1mm.

We now have to make that straight line 90 degrees to the squaring arm.

  1. For this method, make sure that all fastenings on the machine are only finger tight. Make sure that the squaring arm supports do not in any way foul the squaring arm. There is a squaring arm support fitted to the RH leg on the 165 and 210 models and two fitted to the 250 model, one on the RH leg and one on the LH leg. At this point, the squaring arm should be free to pivot on the LH bolt that holds it to the spine. Take a large builders square and sit it on the RH side of the squaring arm. Line the Vertical edge up with the RH edge of the spine section. If it lines up at the bottom but is 1cm to the right at the top you need to push down on the LH side of the squaring arm. If it touches at the top of the builders square but is 1 cm to the right at the bottom you need to push down on the RH side of the squaring arm. The aim is to get the builders square to line up with the edge of the spine section so that you know that the spine is at 90 degrees to the squaring arm.
  2. This next method is the most accurate way to square the machine. Position the squaring arm where you think it is at 90 degrees to the spine and tighten the bolts that hold it in place. I generally find that I only need to tighten the two bolts that fix the squaring arm to the legs. Take the longest board you have (the longer, the more accurate the results). 3mm PVC or foamcore is perfect for this. Push the board through from the left to the right so that the RH edge bridges the opening in the squaring arm. Clamp the material and block both edges with the production stops. Make a cut down the full length of the board and the turn the board like the page in a book ie the right and edge facing out becomes the left hand edge facing back. The Top and bottom remain as the top and bottom. Clamp the material and block both edges with the production stops. Make a cut down the full length of the board. Measure the width of the board at the top and at the bottom. Any difference is twice the error. If the top is 10mm wide at the top than the bottom. It means that the machine is 5mm out of square. In this instance you would need to loosen the bolts that you tightened and raise the RH edge of the squaring arm slightly. I often use the RH squaring support to do this, make sure it is supporting the squaring arm before you make the first two cuts and then turn it to raise the RH edge of the squaring arm. It is a matter of repeating the process until the width at the top and bottom are the same. If they are your machine is square.

You now have a machine that will cut a straight line (within plus or minus 1mm) at 90 degrees to the squaring arm.

So now you would imagine that you could take an 2440mm x 1220mm board, set the RH production stop to 610mm, clamp the material and block the LH edge with the other production stop. You then measure the distance at the top and at the bottom and they are different. What is more, you put another board in and repeat the process only to find that the top and bottom are again different but by different amounts to the first board.

The reason for this is that your boards are not square to start with. Your board supplier will tell you that their boards are always square but this is not the case. Check the board specification online and you will find that tolerances exist for flatness, height, width and diagonal dimensions. A typical premium quality ACM panel has a top to bottom tolerance of 3mm a side to side tolerance of 2mm and a diagonal tolerance of 5mm

So how do I cut an 2440mm x 1220mm board down the middle. The solution is to put a crop mark in the centre of the board, top and bottom and line the blade up with these. To do this you will probably need to tilt the board slightly. I tend to use a double glazing wedge to do this, some people will use blades or coins.

When working on a trade show, we are often asked to cut a sheet of tiled prints for give aways by printer manufacturers. Not only are we working with boards which are not square, we are working with printers which do not always print parallel to the edge of the boards.

Always remember everything has a tolerance and that final cut that you make may well not be where you expect it to be, but it is unlikely to be the fault of the cutter.