Kerala Startup Mission's fablab invests in Zund digital cutting system

The fabrication laboratory (fablab) situated at the Kerala Startup Mission's Kochi unit will utilise the Zund G3 L 2500 digital cutter to help start-ups, including packaging converters, to build their own technology using the technical prototyping platform.

28 Aug 2020 | By Aultrin Vijay

The fablab team with their latest investment, a Zund digital cutting system

Kochi-based Kerala Startup Mission's (KSUM) fablab has installed a fully-loaded Zund G3 L 2500 cutting system capable of cutting a variety of substrates. The machine is said to be beneficial for start-ups, including packaging converters, for prototyping designs. 

Led by Saji Gopinath, ex-deen IIM Calicut, vice chancellor, Kerala University of Digital Science Innovation and Technology, KSUM is the central agency of the Government of Kerala for entrepreneurship development and incubation activities in Kerala. It has around 50 staff in total including a team of seven at the Kochi fablab.

The digital fabrication laboratory or fablab is built in collaboration with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and is spread across an area of 10,000 sqft. It is also said to be a replica of the facility present in MIT and all the machines are recommended by the MIT team.

The fablab is equipped with machines for additive and subtractive manufacturing including 3D printers, water-jet cutter, CNC lathe, laser cutter, wire EDM and so on, with Zund digital cutting being the latest addition.

The lab was inaugurated by chief minister of Kerala Pinarayi Vijayan at Integrated Startup Complex, Kochi, which is said to be the only such facility outside the US. KSUM operates all over Kerala and the infrastructure facilities includes 22 fablabs, 223 innovation and entrepreneurship centres,  a 13-acre campus at Kochi, and supports 24 incubators across the state.

Currently, the lab has added services for digital cutting (fabrics and soft materials) and packaging applications with the latest Zund investment.

Commenting on the ease of use of the machine, Yadu Sharon, technical officer at the fablab, said, "It is one of the most easy-to-use machines in the lab compared to other large CNC machines we have."

In conversation with PrintWeek, Sharon said his team is happy with the Zund G3 L 2500 cutting system. "The best thing to be considered is its speed, precision and the ease of use."

He said that the pandemic and the triple lockdown imposed in Kerala immediately after the machine was installed, made it difficult for them to put the machine through its paces. However, the fablab team and start-ups registered under KSUM were able to make use of the machine.

Sharon is especially proud of producing parts for masks and ventilators for Covid projects, and parts in Delrin for custom CNC machines using the Zund system.

He also said the prototyping service comes at a price, albeit nominal, to sustain the initiative. "The charges are different for different processes. As this is a government organisation, our charges are to meet the maintenance and HR costs, not for profit."

However, the Covid-19 crisis did not spare this government organisation as well. "Obviously, the financial problems the government is facing have also affected us. Yet we are supporting various projects related to Covid-19," he added. "Our objective is always technically supporting various start-ups and trying various research projects in the field of digital fabrication."

Machine specifications
The machine can cut a variety of substrates ranging from soft materials such as paper, plastics, paperboards to composite fabric materials such as glass fibre, carbon fibre, and aramid fibre, to hard substrates such as MDF, wood, acrylic, ACP and aluminium.

It has a linear speed of 84m/min and a cutting area of 1,800mm x 2,500mm, which is conveyorised. It also comes with an automatic router bit changer.

Speaking about the investment at KSUM, Prasanna Venkatesh, managing director at Zund India, told PrintWeek, "This is a start-up unit and all that they required is a machine, which is most versatile and can cut almost all the substrates possible such that they do not have to limit their business model to some specifics. This way Zund fit the bill aptly. With Zund, they did not have to look any further. It was like the machine was precisely made to suit the requirement."

Meanwhile, Sharon said once the machine was decided everything else was easy. "The machine was delivered and within a week’s time it was installed up and running, not to mention that even our operators were trained on the machine within this period."

Commenting on other digital machines available in the market, Sharon added, "There are many digital cutters in the market, but hardly any like Zund, which would fit in the requirement. The objective was to have as versatile a machine as possible, since the substrates to cut were not fixed due to the very model of our business. This being a company aiding start-ups, we did not want to limit ourselves when it came to cutting variety of substrates."

Also, the Zund kit is said to be an easy-to-use machine with various functions to make cutting a breeze. "One does not have to spend hours preparing the job especially with the intuitive Zund Cut Centre Software. It is as simple as having the right design, put it on the table and start cutting. Various features on the machine ensure that the whole cutting process is so quick and easy, requiring very less power with the least manual intervention and top notch cut quality. What more can anyone ask for?" he explained.

According to Venkatesh, speed, cut quality, versatility and modularity were the top deciding factors while KSUM chose the machine. Also, choosing a machine has been made much more easier with the Zund Experience Centre set up in Bengaluru.

"Here, in addition to stocking consumables and spares, we also have machines for our prospects and customers to visit and have a firsthand experience of Zund solutions on offer," Venkatesh concluded.

What are fablabs?
A fablab is a technical prototyping platform where people can design and build their own technology. It began as an outreach programme from MIT‘s Center for Bits and Atoms (CBA). Fablabs aims to provide stimulus for local entrepreneurship and serves as a platform for learning and innovation.

It is an open, creative community of fabricators, artists, scientists, engineers, educators, students, amateurs, professionals, of all ages located in more than 78 countries in approximately 1,600 fablabs.

Fablabs are designed in a way that people with minimal training can come and work on developing their own technology for personal or commercial use. It also becomes a medium for connecting to a global community of learners, educators, technologists, researchers and innovators – essentially becoming a self-sustaining global knowledge sharing network.

It consists of digital fabrication tools such as 3D printers, laser cutters, CNC routers, electronics workbench, PCB milling machine, vinyl cutter and many more, allowing anyone to express their ideas through technology using the machines.

With the support of the Government of Kerala, Kerala Startup Mission has set up fablabs in association with the CBA and MIT at Technopark, Thiruvananthapuram and Kerala Technology Innovation Zone in Kochi.

Machines at KSUM

  1. Laser Cutter
  2. Large scale CNC mill: Shopbot
  3. 3D printers: Dimension SST 3D printer and Ultimaker 2
  4. High resolution mini NC mill: Modela
  5. Vinyl plotter
  6. Sand blaster
  7. Electronic components and tools
  8. Moulding and casting
  9. Electronics test equipments
  10. Zund digital cutter