Automation can improve the quality, consistency, and productivity with high-volume, multicolor pad-printing jobs. This article explores parts-handling devices and other accessories that can improve accuracy and efficiency in your shop.
Every pad-printing business must, at some point, rise to the next level of difficulty by taking on jobs that demand technical expertise beyond the single-color, manual-load comfort zone. The risks are significant, but the benefits to your customers and your bottom line can be substantial. You’d like to be considered for those high-volume, automated projects that come along—especially multicolor ones. But how can you conquer the technical pitfalls, be competitive with other decorating methods, and still earn a decent profit?
Choosing by numbers
Choosing between a fully automated pad-printing system, a semiautomatic, or even a manual one, all depends on your customers’ applications and goals. If the order volume is high enough and speed is critical, full automation may be in order. You definitely don’t want a manual setup when production runs climb into the hundreds of thousands or millions of units with tight turnaround times.
In part, the choice comes down to numbers: total run size multiplied by cost per unit equals your production budget. The number of such jobs you expect to produce and the anticipated return on your equipment investment also enter into the calculations. And don’t forget the time factor. You may find a way to produce the job with equal quality and less expense, but if you blow your deadline, the result won’t be acceptable to your customer.
When is a manual-loaded machine perfect and when is it just too slow? Before moving forward, consider carefully whether you should you stick with a manual operation instead of moving up to an automated pad-printing system with a mechanized parts-handling system. If the part is too large or irregular to be sorted and oriented by a feeder bowl or conveyor, or if a pick-and-place robot cannot easily grasp the part, then human hands and eyes may be the only solution for part loading and unloading.
Operator fatigue and repetitive physical stress are other considerations with pad printing larger parts that are continually lifted and pushed into a fixtures. These ergonomics questions also may impact your decision to keep a manual load and unload situation instead of seeking an automated alternative. Finally, the key factor is speed. If your production goal is beyond what can be humanly achieved under normal working conditions, it may be time to look into adding some form of mechanical device to boost up that piece rate to a more profitable level.
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