Planning for Your First Automatic, Part 2
The author's diccussion about upgrading to an automatic garment press continues with an examination of additional costs you'll incur as a direct result of the new machine.
In the first installment of this column, we reviewed the basic considerations in purchasing your first automatic. They included press selection and deciding between a new or used machine. This month, we’ll cover some more points to think about during the acquisition of the press and the supplies that are required to go with it.
Many first-time buyers of automatic presses are surprised by how many small details they need to address when they upgrade their equipment. One of the primary issues to keep in mind here is that you’re not only buying an automated piece of equipment, but also the additional supplies that support it. The quantity of some of the items that you’ll need for day-today production will double, so do your best to plan for a dramatic increase in spending in these areas. The initial financial impact can be a real shock.
One of the most obvious increases you’ll experience is in screen inventory. You’ll need to purchase additional frames to supply the press. I firmly believe that if you intend to spend thousands of dollars for your first automatic, you shouldn’t take shortcuts on the accessories that go along with it. Some manual printers may believe that buying the automatic press will drastically increase the quality of their printing, but they’re surprised to find the quality of the finished product is basically the same—only more consistent. This is a common scenario when working with wooden frames. Although the press will deliver a consistent image from print to print, the finished print is only as good as the screens with which it was printed. It’s the old philosophy of quality in, quality out.
If you do not have quality screens, you’ll not get a quality print. To what degree you wish to hold this belief is strictly based on your own commitment to quality. In my case, I was able to buy 30 retensionable frames with the purchase of an automatic press. Although they’re not enough to keep an automated machine going full time, they will enable you to get up and running. Retensionable frames are considerably more expensive than static wood or tubular aluminum ones. But the payoff is in the quality of the finished product, and the retensionables can pay for themselves quickly.
The purchase of additional frames is among the first big buys you’ll make, but you also have to consider the additional aspects of the process that are associated with the use of those new frames. First and foremost, you will need a new (larger) screen-drying cabinet for freshly coated screens. Your options are either to buy a unit or build your own. In either case, plan to have the cabinet in place before you start up the press; otherwise, you’ll have no means of properly drying your screens.
Your mesh inventory is another financial consideration you’ll have to plan out. Your mesh consumption will easily double, especially because your frame sizes are likely to be twice what they were on your manual screen-printing equipment. While we’re on the subject, you may also want to introduce additional mesh counts to your stock now that you have a press that does the printing for you. In many cases, you can slightly increase the mesh counts, which allows you to achieve the same print quality but uses a lot less ink per job. Additionally, you need to plan for an increase in emulsion consumption, reclaiming chemicals, etc.
Besides all of this, keep in mind that your exposure unit/ vacuum table must be of sufficient size to accommodate your larger screen formats. If your current unit will handle the larger screens, you’re good to go. Otherwise, it’s time to get a new exposure unit.
Because I started with a single six-color manual press, I was content to use a mild screen cleaner to treat my screens on press. But when my screen size doubled, my screen-cleaning requirements grew as well. This is the time to think about investing in a screen-cleaning tank. Wiping the screens by hand on the press is not efficient when working in the larger, automated format. A screen-cleaning, or parts-cleaning, tank is a much greater time saver with larger screens, squeegees, and lloodbars.
Starting my company with manual equipment and dealing with many smaller sized runs made it easy for me to work with small cups of ink when I needed to match a Pantone color. Even though your ink consumption per garment may remain the same, a cup of ink in a screen that’s on an automated press won’t even be enough to flood the screen for a single print. Plan to purchase larger ink containers, because a great deal more ink is required for the automated screen-printing process to run unattended for any period of time.
Quart containers work well for small runs, and if you were previously purchasing quart quantities of mixing colors for PMS matches, you can now plan on purchasing mixing colors by the gallon. While you’re at it, you can now also buy five-gallon containers of black, white, and your more popular colors. Your ink consumption will increase with larger run sizes, but you should see an additional discount from your suppliers for buying larger quantities.
One of the most important aspects of going automatic is making sure you have ample access to electricity. You must evaluate and determine the power requirements for your new press, as well as the requirements of the additional pieces of equipment we reviewed earlier.
Many manual screen-printing facilities can run a small infrared dryer on 220-volt, single-phase electricity and a flash unit on a 110-volt line. The facility I used previously would have required an investment on my part of more than $6000 to bring in three-phase power. Needless to say, I found a new facility that has more floor space and meets the power requirements to accommodate the additional equipment. In the end, buying the new press necessitated the purchase of additional supplies and pieces of equipment, as well as relocation of my entire facility to meet all of the demands that resulted from the press upgrade.
Buying an automatic press is more than an investment in a single piece of machinery. It’s a complex undertaking that requires you to rethink procedures, buy additional supplies, and incur additional expenses. You must be able to justify the entire investment based on your company’s current level of business, income, and rate of growth. You can easily spend all of your operational capital to find that you do not have the required volume of business to sustain the costs that come with the upgrade. The entire process may seem overwhelming, but careful analysis and planning before the big purchase will make your new commitment one that is satisfying and rewarding.
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.