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Digital vs. Screen and the Dilemma of Process Improvement

(June 2012) posted on Tue Jun 26, 2012

How will screen printers can take a leadership role in improving quality and integrating into a more digital-oriented advertising world?

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By Mark A. Coudray

In the February/March issue of Screen Printing, I talked about what’s really driving the relentless contraction of run length. For those that missed it, the quick difference is that the old graphic-communication model was based on mass production of printed units. To get the cost per unit low enough to justify a campaign, the run length was increased to lower the proportional cost of the prepress and set-up.

To remain economically viable, screen has been focusing on reduced setup times and heightened production efficiencies. This has been the way we’ve always handled it—we simply look for ways to reduce non-billable or non-value-add time within the overall transaction. We aren’t alone here. Every other analog printing method has looked to this model as well.

Back in the early 1990s, Total Quality Management (TQM) sought to create flexible manufacturing cells capable of producing very small lots. This was extended in Lean Manufacturing as a method to eliminate all waste. This includes any time that‘s not directly buidable into the value of the final product.
Like TQM, Lean aims to create an economic value unit of one. This is consistent with the convergence we see with the digital model. So far, so good. We’re all on the same page when it comes to getting rid of waste. So why won’t this work moving forward for screen printing?

The real issue is the total cost of operation. There are two components here, the first being the material cost of set-up. This includes all the prepress costs: image prep, ripping, film (if not direct), screens, and screen prep labor. It also includes the labor to set up the press and the associated run-up costs of getting the press sheet dialed in for color and fit.

We can’t do much about the prepress costs other than skipping the film portion and going direct to screen. The screen and mesh amortization, emulsion, and imaging costs are limited. We might be able to save some exposure time by using pure photopolymers, but this is a relatively low savings.


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