Job’s Done. Now What?
How to streamline your post-production process.
“Last piece is coming down!
Alright, the print job is done. Let’s get the press torn down and set up the
next job. That job was a rush; let’s get counts finalized, boxed up, and ready for shipping labels. The next job is a rush, as well. Let’s move!
“Oh crap. We are short two mediums and an XL; this job had to ship complete! Didn’t we check the counts when we staged the shirts? Why are we short now? Shoot, the job is already torn down. Oh boy…this is not good.”
Every single one of us has had this scenario, or something similar, happen. It’s the production killer. Setting that job back up again for three pieces just wasted an hour of your production time.
I’m sure you’re wondering how production issues are a topic for post-production processes. Every step of our workflow directly ties into how efficiently we progress through each job. If the first step is not done correctly, the next step is a stumble. And that’s exactly what happened with the missed counts. In this scenario, the shop stumbled and skinned their knee.
We’re going to look at how production transitions from finishing the print job to properly shipping, efficiently breaking down the press, and then processing the screens and ink – making sure no knee scraping happens again.
End of the Dryer
For most small to mid-sized shops, those at the end of the dryer are the last set of eyes safeguarding the quality of the job. They’re the last people to touch and fold the shirts your customer will first see upon receiving and opening their product. They have multiple responsibilities, including spotting any errors in the final product.
When shirts are caught, inspect for flaws like:
• Holes in the garment
• Lint or threads in the print
• Inconsistent and incorrect print placement
• Crooked and/or compromised designs
• Wrong ink colors
While doing all of this quality control, the end-of-the dryer employee also needs to be counting in increments of dozens so they can have final garment counts confirming the job is complete. Now, while not all jobs (mostly contract) need 100-percent complete counts (there’s usually an over/under percentage allowed) they do still need to fall within that plus/minus count range. So, making sure the counts are within what’s needed for the job is essential in good production flow. Following these steps and communicating with both the lead press operator and the floor manager, if there are any inconsistencies, ensures a smooth progression in getting everything fixed.
There are several shop management software packages available that help to make communication between shop sections easier. They allow tracking of all parts of the job order, from art through shipping, often in real time. These tools help immensely in keeping everyone on the same page and aware of where things are at any given time. But remember, all data is still entered by people and these tools should not be taken as a substitute for proper and clear communication.
Depending on the size of the print shop, they may have a second person handling the garments and actually boxing them up. If not, the person at the end of the dryer is responsible for this. The smaller the print shop gets, the more you see employees taking on multiple job duties. Typically, you see either an office worker or the printer themselves handling the end of dryer duties. Because of this, it’s important that every person involved is well aware of the steps to take and can communicate well with everyone. If the communication chain breaks down, everything breaks down and money is lost.
As a side note, in talking with multiple print shops, they’ve all expressed that finding and keeping quality people in this position is difficult as the majority of employees at the end of the dryer feel they’re underpaid for the work they do. These employees do a lot of thankless tasks and are the first to be blamed if something goes wrong. Often, this is not due to a fault in their work, but a flaw in the shop’s workflow.
Boxing and Shipping
So, the job is now complete and garment counts are good. How do we create an error-proof series of steps to send the boxes out to our customers? The following steps create not only a clear chain of understanding, but also a premier presentation for your customer.
While boxing the garments, if you’re going to ship the job, it’s essential to know the box dimensions and record the weight of the box. Many shops go the extra step of creating labels for each box used. These labels indicate the garment type, garment size, and quantity within that box, as well as how many boxes are in the order. When it comes time to ship the job, or for the customer to pick it up, this information is essential in confirming with your customer they’re receiving everything they ordered. For label creation, we want to have a computer hooked up to two printers, one for creating shipping labels and the other for box labels. I look at this as a three-step process:
• Give each box a sequential number. Write this number small and in a location you will cover up in a later step.
• If using an electronic workflow or a paper trail, write or type the box contents onto each box. If shipping, also record the weight of the box. If using irregular boxes, make sure to get the box dimensions.
• Go to your label template and enter in garment type, garment size, and quantity of each size. It’s pretty easy to use a template to make this go quickly. If shipping, also create shipping labels. If shipping different weights and box sizes, pair up each shipping label with the contents label and box number. This makes it very easy to track down a box if it ends up missing.
Of course, you don’t need to go the extra step of recording the contents of each box, but it does assist in creating a clear paper trail and a quick visual understanding of what’s available and in each box. If a box goes missing, you know exactly what was in it and can clearly communicate that with both the customer and the insurance company.
As for making shipping easier, there are options available, from creating documents you can batch upload into your UPS or FedEx shipping account, to private companies that create an easy-to-use interface that streamlines the process. I called on a couple of industry friends to share how they handle this. Every single one of them said they’re highly frustrated with shipping companies and the processes to ship. They’ve all found something that works for them (their solutions are all different), but they’re universally not content.
When done with labels, move all boxes into either a designated shipping or customer pick up location and stack the boxes so each label is clear and readable. We don’t want shipping and pick up to be in the same space as it can lead to potential confusion. This makes it easy for your shipping guy to grab and scan the boxes, or for your customer service people to easily find and bring out the boxes to your customer. When your customer sees everything clearly labeled, they feel confident they picked the right print shop.
Breaking Down the Press
Thanks to our awesome employee(s) at the end of the dryer, within a few minutes of the print job being done, we know the counts are complete and we can begin taking out the inks, squeegees, and screens from the press. There are couple ways to do this, each one more efficient than the last. Many of us have seen videos of “10-minute press change overs” so this is not a new subject, but let’s walk through it anyway.
We’ll want to start with a screen cart: Take the squeegee and flood bar out and rest them on an end of the screen so most of the weight is against the screen frame. Then pull the screen out without taking out the ink. Place this within the screen cart. Grab the ink containers and place them on top of the screen cart. Continue until all screens are done. This cuts your tear down time by more than 50 percent compared to taking ink out of the screen during the press tear down. We will now roll the cart over to a dedicated and well-ventilated screen cleaning location. If you are printing with HSA or water-based inks, you’ll want your screen tech to jump on cleaning the screens out before the ink dries in. I know it sounds lackluster, but that’s it, that’s all they should be doing. Your press techs should not spend any time cleaning screens or messing with inks. Their job is to 100 percent focus on getting the next job set up and ready to print.
While the press ops are now setting up the next job, our screen tech or another dedicated individual will begin the cleaning process. There are two distinct parts:
1. We will want to quickly scrape ink off the tools and screens. Then, we’ll set all inks either on the ink shelf or in a specific location for the ink tech to take care of. All tools (squeegee, flood bar, ink knives, etc.) will go to a dedicated cleaning sink as will all cleaning tools used to remove the ink. These are typically part of a washing station. You can purchase from companies like Safety Clean or directly from a manufacturer (my personal suggestion). This way you can choose the exact chemicals you want to use and how “green” and safety compliant you want your shop to be.
2. For ease of cleaning your screens, place your screen on a flat surface. Have a dedicated table (a metal surface is ideal) and use an ink degradant that has the ability to lift and remove pigment from within the mesh. There are several products like this on the market that take the hassle out of using haze remover during reclaim. The majority of all “haze” and stain issues are created by ink color left in the screen. That issue is specifically caused by pigment particles being caught in the knuckles of the mesh. This is exacerbated with water-based pigments, which are a finer particulate. There are a few cleaners on the market that deal with this extremely well, with some products excelling at both.
So, we have a dedicated employee who has cleaned the squeegees and flood bars, cleaned the screens, and is now staging the screens for proper reclaim. Wherever it is within your reclaim space, you’ll want to dedicate enough space to staging the screens by mesh counts. Have a dedicated space for your mesh counts like 150s, 230s, 305s, etc. This makes it easy and painless to grab what’s needed for the upcoming two to three days of production, ensuring you don’t run out of the specific mesh counts needed.
In summation, you can see I’m a big believer in communication. Proper communication not only saves time, but it can often create comradery between employees in different areas of the company who normally wouldn’t engage with each other. I also believe in everything having a proper place. This keeps the shop running smoothly as everyone knows their role and what they need to do each day.
Obviously, not every print shop will have the manpower or the square footage to accomplish what I have written. My hope is that I’ve given you, the shop owner, the shop manager, the printer, the screen tech, the one-man-show who just started their business enough info to better understand how everything in your shop is directly tied together. Like an orchestra or the human body, everything has to work together or it falls apart in chaos.
Watch Danny Gruninger, Founder of Denver Print House, Complete a Press Tear Down