Staging Garment-Printing Jobs

Staging is the key to proper production planning for garment screen printers. This primer will help you start staging your garment jobs effectively.

Staging is the gathering of required tools and materials in a physical location in readiness for the succeeding steps of the production process. Staging a garment-printing run involves an assembly of screens, inks, substrates, and press accessories in a designated area. Staging a garment job allows you to move bottlenecks, point out capacity shortfalls, check job components for process control, plan rather than react, shorten press-changeover times, and destage.

It may sound crazy, but having a bottleneck isn’t necessarily a bad thing when you can choose where it occurs. There will always be a bottleneck in any workflow. It’s the step in the process that limits the amount of finished product—in this case, printed garments—that can be manufactured in a given time frame.

The press is usually the most critical piece of equipment for screen printers, and this is where you want to have a bottleneck. For example, if you have a prepress department that can produce more than enough finished screens for your presses, then the bottlenecks is at the press. The press is the one piece of equipment in the shop that produces decorated garments that can be shipped and invoiced. If the press runs at full capacity, you will make more money than if the press runs only part of the time. None of the other departments can claim to produce finished goods that immediately available to increase cash flow.
There are different approaches to moving and controlling a bottleneck. Sometimes, adding a shift to a particular department will suffice. Other times, additional personnel, equipment, space, or all three become necessary. The decision is based on the amount of additional capacity you need and how long you need it.

A staging system, when properly carried out, allows one production run to leapfrog another in a set time schedule without an impact on press downtime. It keeps the presses running when a screen breaks or other unscheduled interruptions occur.

Capacity shortfalls
A working staging system is the only way to obtain efficiency when there is production imbalance between departments. It smoothes the production peaks and valleys of the supporting organizations and ensures the opportunity to use each press to its fullest capacity at all times.

Each department must respond to production planning according to its capability and the production requirements. What happens when a department can’t keep up with other departments or the printing press? If you’re staging at the press, it is immediately apparent which component is missing. In essence, you now have a capacity shortfall—a bottleneck—where you don’t want one. You must address this shortfall immediately; otherwise, the remaining materials in staging will have no value.

Checking for process control
As soon as an order is entered into the system, each department should be aware of the order and what is involved in filling it. Each should also know when its component products are expected at the staging location. Here’s a list of some of the necessary information for each job that specific departments need to know.

• Garment inventory: the kind of garment, fabric content, number of pieces, and size ranges

• Art/film: the size of the design, number of colors, any special placement of the design on the garment, and, possibly, size-range patterns

• Ink: the color-matching information, run length, specialty inks that may be involved, and sample fabric for testing

• Screenmaking: the number of colors, size of the design, run length, substrate (for mesh count and frame size), and projected dates for art completion and print production

• Printing: all the information that the other departments require so that a press, squeegees, platens, etc., may be selected for the print run.

Once the order is written, a copy needs to go to each department simultaneously with the pertinent information for each. Each department is then responsible for producing its component product is a specific time frame. Each department should have its own staging procedures, designed specifically for that department’s process, as well as quality-control checks.
Plan rather than react

You can’t separate staging from planning. The production plan is crucial to production staging, and staging enables the success of the plan. To keep the presses running, the various departments must produce the art, films, screens, and inks, and supply the garments and press accessories to support each run for which the printing presses are scheduled. For this to work well, each department must know the sequence of planned production runs (order), production requirements of each run (units), estimated length of each run (duration), and the planned start of each run (date and time).

Minimizing press-changeover time
Staging saves the time usually spent on gathering or assembling all of the pieces of the job necessary for setup. If there is a problem, then the press crew can move immediately to the next job in line. In addition to staging with the art, ink, screen, and garment-inventory departments, you need to have a production person who is responsible for assembling the accessory components for the press (Figure 1). This includes the correct squeegee and floodbar for each color, as well as the right platens for the job.

Finding this information depends on knowing all of the information for the previous departments listed. If the information is accessible by computer, that’s even better. However, even with computer access, the person responsible for the press accessories needs to see the film positives and screen-mesh designations to know what squeegee width and floodbar type to use.

The more items that you stage ahead of time for the press crew, the faster they will be able to set up the press. Staging should be at least a half a shift ahead of production. If the screenmaking and inkroom employees end their day at 4:00 p.m., then they must produce all that will be required from their departments through noon of the following day before they go home.

You have four acceptable ways to accumulate staged items at the staging area: staging carts designed for this specific purpose, general-purpose carts that can house staged items, pallets that you can user to carry and support staged items, or tables in the staging area that can support all of the staged items. Placing assembled components directly on the floor is unacceptable.

A form, such as the one shown in Figure 2, will help the stager or expediter work from department to department and bring together all of the materials, equipment, and goods needed for a specific job. The expediter assembles the job components and verifies their existence.

When a job is complete and the press is ready for changeover, the expediter should be at the press with another cart to take away the remains of the ink, screens, and press accessories. That said, the destaging process involves more than just taking screens to be cleaned and stored or reclaimed, disposing of ink, etc. The expediter is the ideal statistician and should note and record the following information: time the run ended, number of impressions, weight of remaining ink for each color, number of off-quality pieces, and number of damaged screens.

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