Planning for Your First Automatic, Part 1

Making the move from a manual to automatic garment press can be a daunting task. Davis draws from his own experiences to ease the transition when the time comes for your shop to upgrade.

One of the greatest decisions garment screen printers have to make in the growth of their companies is when to make the jump from a manual to an automatic press. Many printers make this decision when the average run size outgrows the general capabilities of their manual press or presses. Others do so when they find that their technical printing capabilities need to grow to keep pace with customer demands for more color and finer detail. In this installment, we’ll review the planning requirements for moving production to an automated press.

Planning ahead

Take a look at the growth of your average run size, your color requirements, and demand for turnaround time when you review the status of your printing facility. What will you need to do to meet the level of production that will keep your shop competitive? For some, it’s as simple as adding a manual press and an extra employee. But depending on your rate of growth, the situation may require the purchase of an automatic press.

Many printers determine that the time to consider an automatic press is when they start to contract a number of large runs to bigger screen shops. The decision to pursue an automatic must include a lot of planning. You need to consider the impact that bringing an automatic to the production floor will have on your entire operation. Issues to consider in press selection include investment cost, plant layout, dryer capacity, power requirements, supply needs, and staffing.

Current capabilities

That fact that you’re now considering an automated piece of equipment that will far outpace your manual press means you also have to evaluate the capabilities of your dryer. Most small garment-printing businesses do not start out with a dryer that is capable of handling the output of an automated press, which means you’ll most likely need to acquire a new dryer along with the automatic. This is yet another major aspect to consider from the financial perspective. Keep in mind that you are not only looking for a dryer that can accommodate the automatic press, but also the additional output of your manual equipment.

The next step in the planning phase is to look at the space available in your facility and the effect that the acquisition of the additional equipment will have on your floor space. Most garment screen printers who use manual equipment lack an abundance of available space and thus may be forced to relocate to a larger facility to meet the square-footage requirements of the new equipment. By now, you should see the huge financial responsibility you’re taking on with the decision to automate. But don’t worry, it gets worse.

Press selection

Printers who have a few years in the garment-printing industry typically have an idea of what presses they like. Those who don’t should ask the opinions of other printers who have already made the conversion to an automatic. They also should attend trade shows whenever possible to see their potential investments in action. Additionally, it’s important to research the track record of each manufacturer for quality, performance, and service.

Press size is the next decision you’ll make. The types of garment graphics you print and the numbers of colors you require should guide you to an effective choice. Printers who are heavily involved with photographic or simulated-photo reproduction need to shop for a 10- to 14-color press. If your primary client base is sports or promotional and recreational apparel, you may get by with a smaller press that supports fewer colors. The primary impact the number of colors will have is on the diameter of the press and the square footage of floor space it will take up in your facility. More colors also mean a greater financial impact.

After researching, I determined that a six-color automatic was more than sufficient for my needs. My client base is primarily based on schools and sports teams. I may have as few as three six-color jobs a year. But as my client base and graphics needs grow, my next press will most likely be in the range of 10 to 14 colors.

Another aspect to consider when selecting an automatic is the features that come along with a particular model. The objective of purchasing an automatic is to increase your productivity and profitability and achieving that goal with as few issues as possible.

Larger automatic-press manufacturers offer numerous features that either come standard or as options. Know these features and understand the influence they can have on making your automated production runs as trouble free as possible. Some of these include programmable sequencing of the printing cycle, shirt detectors that shut down individual printing heads should you miss the loading of a platen, adjustable offcontact for the entire press, and built-in memory that allows you to save and recall press settings.

You’ll also need to consider a new flash unit. Don’t assume that the flash unit on your manual press will work for your automatic. Odds are good that it will not be nearly powerful enough to allow for flashing at the speeds at which you’ll wish to run the automatic. Here again, there are a number of different flash units available for automatics. Plan to tack that critical accessory onto your shopping list. You may need two flash units should you be shopping for a press that prints ten or more colors.

The options from press to press and manufacturer to manufacturer can be overwhelming. Take your time in sorting out which ones will best suit your facility and budget.

New vs. used

Another option to consider is whether to purchase a new or used press. I recommend the purchase of a new unit for most manual printers who are buying their first automatic. You must have an extensive amount of experience with automatics to know what to look for in a used press. Otherwise, you can end up buying someone else’s problems. If you still want to look at a used press, consider the following:

• Was the press properly maintained since its original purchase?

• Was the press properly checked and reregistered on a regular basis?

• How many total impressions has the press produced to date?

• Are all of the adjustments (squeegee, flood bar, off-contact, etc.) totally functional?

• In what condition are the platens,

squeegees, and floodbars?

• Which platens come with the press?

In my case, I purchased a used press that was six years old and had printed only 100,000 impressions. Spray adhesive had never been used on the machine, so it appeared as if it were brand new. The seller also kept the press completely connected and operational for my inspection prior to disassembling and packaging the unit for the move. I believe that this situation is more often the exception than the rule, and I count myself as lucky to have found such a unit and a cooperative seller.

Another option is to look into manufacturer-rebuilt equipment. This is usually the best way to go when buying a used press, as you have the manufacturer standing behind the press’s performance. Your next order of business is to determine the additional costs that will come with the addition of an automatic press. We’ll discuss some of those costs in the second part of this series.

Rick Davis is the president of Synergy Screen Printing in Orlando, FL. A 27-year veteran of the textile-printing industry, Davis is a member of the Academy of Screenprinting Technology and has a background that spans production management, artwork engineering, application testing, and industry consulting. He is a frequent contributor to trade publications and a speaker at industry trade events.

 

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