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Developing Standard Operating Procedures, Part 3: The Production Department

(May 2004) posted on Tue Jun 15, 2004

Davis examines the benefits of adhering to standard operating procedures in the production department.


By Rick Davis

In many screen-printing facilities, especially those that may have recently opened, job turnaround is a simple matter of seeing how fast the printing crew can tear down the press and get the next production run up and ready. Most textile-printing businesses do not understand the need for standard operating procedures until they experience teardowns and setups that take as much as half a day. In this month's installment, we move from the screen room to the production floor in search of standard operating procedures needed for proper and timely press teardown and setup between jobs.

Where to start

Since the actual turnaround process starts at the end of a production run, we will review the steps needed for the operating procedures beginning at that point. Once you've completed a job and confirmed the proper garment count at the end of the dryer, the printing crew should move into a teardown procedure that has been coordinated to minimize the overall downtime. Each person's responsibilities can be organized in various ways. One example is shown in Table 1.

Many facilities employ a utility person who handles some of the tasks shown in the table. If this is the case, the utility person can take care of retrieving the screens and inks for the next run, keeping the loading table full, removing the completed run, and directing it to packaging. This workflow obviously would require a different list than the one presented here. You also should base the standard operating procedures for your facility on the number of production employees you have available for the required tasks.


Table 1: Production Task List
Press operator Assistant press operator Dryer technician
Confirm and sign off on final paperwork Begin removing ink and screens from press Complete paperwork and move completed run to packaging
Retrieve paperwork for next production run Return used inks and screens to respective departments Retrieve next run of goods to be printed
Confirm that goods, inks, and screens are correct Retrieve next set of screens Double-check paperwork for errors
Begin registering press Retrieve inks for next run Set up goods on loading table
Ink screens Strip/clean platens Fill out paperwork for upcoming run
Check registration and begin printing Assist in any remaining setup procedures Assist in any remaining setup procedures

The task list you create will likely be unique because no two facilities are the same. But each business shares the same primary goal: Establish the procedures in a way that enables the production staff to simultaneously carry out all of the jobs on the list. Performing these duties all at once can ultimately shorten the downtime between production runs. However, successful completion of these jobs not only requires detailed layouts and explanations of each task involved, but also training to ensure that the procedures are understood and closely followed by each employee.

Facilities that lack standard operating procedures waste countless hours and production dollars when job-setup tasks are executed one at a time. The objective is to spend the least amount of time possible on the teardown and setup work, while ensuring that all details relating to the organization of the facility, its paperwork, and processes, are adhered to.

Another way you can save time is to use a high-quality pin-registration system in screen setup. Although the pin-registration systems available today are better than ever, you may still have a difficult time fine-tuning the print once the screens are inked and the first print has passed. However, the closer you are to accurate registration when you drop the screens into the press, the less time you will need to fine tune the print before approval.

There are cases where additional time is required to set up production runs for specialty jobs. Some examples include decorating oversized garments and preparing to print high-density or special-effect decorations. However, I believe it's reasonable to say that most automatic garment presses can be set up within a 45-minute window. If you find yourself spending 90 minutes or more to get the press up and running, you may need to stop and reengineer the job--or even tear the job down entirely and get the press moving on another order that requires less time from your production team.

Who does what and when?

Once the production run is approved and underway, there are additional guidelines that your staff must follow in order to ensure consistent and ongoing quality. As the job moves along, each member of the crew will have functions for which he or she is responsible. These functions must all be part of your standard operating procedures. Here are some examples:

The press operator will primarily concentrate on loading the goods onto the press. He or she can take a quick look on press from time to time to make sure that the prints are consistent with the production sample. Other than this, the press will hopefully be running at a cycle speed that is fast enough to keep the operator occupied on a continual basis.

The assistant press operator's primary responsibility, besides unloading the press, is to carefully inspect each print and guarantee that every print that comes off the press has the exact same quality as the garment that was approved at the beginning of the run. Although this can be a repetitive and tedious function, it is the company's first line of defense against sub-standard quality. The assistant operator should immediately catch any irregularities in the garment decorations at this station--not at the end of the dryer.

Your standard operating procedures need to include details that describe what the assistant operator should look for when inspecting printed garments, and you should continually enforce these guidelines. Additional responsibilities for the assistant operator could include checking the ink in the screens during production or the end of a break to ensure that enough ink is left to continue the run. If you don't have a utility person on staff, the assistant operator also can keep the loading table full during press stops.

The dryer technician, in addition to keeping the correct count of the goods coming through the dryer, also should check for any irregularities in the prints or on the garments as a backup "insurance policy" to the assistant operator's garment and print inspection. Including minute details and step-by-step explanations of each process and each employee's responsibilities will encourage consistent follow through on everyone's part and will ensure that the system works.

Setting up for success

Although establishing and implementing standard operating procedures within your screen-printing business can help maximize quality, streamline the workflow, and enhance productivity, the procedures are only as good as the crew's dedication to making them work. Once you implement your procedures and make them a standard part of your daily production routine, you should immediately begin to see the benefits.

About the author

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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