Purchasing tips from the pros with up-to-date specs on 50 models.
Some feel that it’s smart to buy at least one step up from your current needs—and even more, if you can afford it and have space. “Most people don’t understand that flashes and cooling stations take up heads and reduce the number of colors you can print,” Winters explains. “Specialty applications or simulated process jobs also eat up heads.”
Frames/print area Similarly, it’s wise to consider the maximum size you want to be able to print. “You’ll want to check out the type of frames the machine requires and how it grips them to see if your existing screens will work and how your setup techniques may have to change,” says Atkinson. If you’re considering doing larger prints, look beyond the frame’s outer dimension, he advises. “The size of the platen, the frame holders, and frame locking systems also factor into the screen size the press will accommodate, as does the positioning of the press arms. You need to look at whether you can quickly fit in a bigger screen and a bigger platen so you’ll have minimal downtime for changeovers.”
Speed Printers typically buy automatics because they want to print faster. “It’s important to look not only at how fast the press will go, but also at features that can help minimize downtime for setup and changeovers—especially given today’s trend toward shorter runs,” says Taublieb. “Enhanced registration systems; quick-release systems for platens, floodbars, and screens; job storage systems; and more are available.”
Service/support A press only makes money when it’s running. That makes service, parts, warranties, dealer network, and reputation as important as the machine itself, notes Winters. “Get manufacturer references. Talk with shops similar in volume to your own that have purchased from the company. Note whether sales personnel are as interested in your needs as in selling their product. All automatics break at some point, and it’s critical to know what type of service is available and when, what’s warranted and for how long, and how quickly you can get parts, including electronics,” he stresses.
Return on investment
Buying a press is a lot like buying a car. It’s a major investment with a wide range of choices. One model does not fit all. You’ll also have to make the payments, whether the machine is working for you or not.
“Your ROI on an automatic is about how much you can produce,” states Coudray. “But it’s about more than output; it’s also as much about smart planning. When I bought my first automatic, we had enough work in the shop to keep our two manuals running 12 hours a day, seven days a week for 12 weeks. Three weeks after installing the automatic, we were out of work. We had also converted all our cash flow into accounts receivable. It almost put us out of business. So working with an accountant to develop a really good cash plan that factors in an automatic or additional automatic is essential to maximizing your return.”
“Achieving a solid return on your investment in an automatic is about managing almost everything but the press,” asserts Atkinson. “The press is going to do what it does, and if it’s spinning, you’re going to get your money back tenfold. But regardless of what you purchase, if you don’t manage everything up to it, then it can eat you alive.”
On a final note, as with a car, part of smart buying is determining beforehand what the resale value of the press is likely to be and whether there will be a market for it. “Take a look at what similar used presses are going for, how well they’ve held their value, and how many are out there,” advises Coudray. “That way, you’ll have an idea what position you’ll be in when you’re ready to shop for your next press.”
“The bottom line is that you have to define what is important to you and choose your press accordingly,” says Winters.
Barbara Montgomery is a freelance writer who has covered the textile screen printing industry for more than 25 years. She has visited printers throughout the US and abroad, spoken at numerous trade gatherings, and been a judge for industry competitions.
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