The end of the school year is a good time for reflection and a precious time for planning before heading off for the summer break.There was a time that August was quiet for us at TechSoft. Schools wouldn’t be ringing for advice, we could clear the ‘guilt-piles’ of interesting but non-urgent reading (we’ve all got them) and spend time developing project ideas that had been buzzing around for a while. We could even close the office for a couple of weeks and head-off ourselves. Not so these days. Since starting our Project Management Services, August is now more about hard-hats and hi-viz than buckets and spades. An empty school is prime-time for installation work and, of course, it all has to be up and running by the start of September. With this in mind, I’m doing my reflecting early this year.
A Bumper Year for New Products
2011/2012 has been busier than ever for us and a bumper year for new products including two ground-breaking machines from our friends at Roland. We launched the VersaStudio BN-20 and iModela at the November 2011 D&T Show, we knew they would be popular and the buzz (and sales) have built from there.
iModela – The first carry-out CNC Mill
It didn’t take long to realise just how strong the potential of the baby iModela was going to be for education. This fully featured 3-axis milling machine packs into its own carry case - just sling a laptop over your shoulder and you can go anywhere and do proper CNC machining. Commercial sales are aimed at the model-making, jewellery and hobby market and the machine is a first as an affordable ‘in-house’ resource. iModela’s own web-presence means (already) files and ideas are being shared by like-minded enthusiasts around the world. The bonus for education though is that iModela works in exactly the same way as its bigger brothers and uses exactly the same software. In a training environment this means that iModela can be an individual resource for learning. You don’t need banks of heavy machines with all the cost, space and supervision issues this brings. Basic CNC technique can be taught in a ‘regular’ classroom and we have even discussed take-home sets of iModelas for higher education. iModela will happily machine lighter modelling materials into 2D profiles, and 3D forms from .stl files, so is completely compatible with SolidWorks and all the mainstream 3D modelling packages that export in this format. It would also be ideal for producing individual isolation-engraved PCBs. The simple but highly capable Roland Stika machines have always been a popular and affordable option for a first step into CAD/CAM for primary schools. iModela now opens the way for affordable CNC milling capability too!
Print Big – and Cut!
In many ways, this is the machine that we have been waiting for and meets a clear demand from D&T departments. The Roland GX24 and its predecessor CAMM 1 machines remain incredibly popular for all manner of applied graphics work and for cutting printed packaging nets. The introduction of Optical Print Alignment took this to a new level some years ago and the quality of work we see now being produced by students is astonishing. To take this further, we have long recognised the demand for a machine that prints and cuts in one operation. The VersaCAMM range of machines can do this but (to date) suitable card to accept advanced Eco-Sol print technology has not been available. Only a relatively small number of schools have been able to meet the price tag of a VersaCAMM for large-format printing of banners and print-and-cut vinyl alone. VersaStudio BN-20 addresses both these issues. Using the same print technology as VersaCAMM machines, the BN-20 produces superb print quality (including metallic effects) for banners, posters or printed vinyls. Print capacity is small enough to produce a desktop machine but, we reckon, large enough to cope with the large format print aspirations of most schools and colleges. We are delighted now to be able to supply suitable card for Eco-Sol print technology in a grade that scores and cuts cleanly for stiff, professional quality packaging and ‘card-engineering’ projects.
The BN-20 has received the ‘TechSoft Treatment’ so it now works direct from 2D Design in a familiar way but the biggest breakthrough is, perhaps, the price. For around the same investment, the BN-20 goes beyond the capabilities of a ‘regular’ large-format printer – something for the wish-list?