Screen prep is often a thankless job. This month, Roberts addresses the importance of the screenmaking department and sets the stage for a series of columns in which he'll discuss ways to improve quality and efficiency in this critical area.
With this attitude, the screen-prep people know that there is a possibility that they might even make it home at night to see their loved ones before they are all tucked in bed. Then it happens, as it always does, at the worst moment. You forget to check the squeegee pressure on the first stroke, and the screen rips. Now it’s time for the prep person to start grumbling at you, but it makes no difference because the meticulously planned screen-prep day, which was looking like it might actually work out, has just gone out the window and everything has to stop while your screen is remade. Meanwhile, the screens from your previous job have found their way to the reclaim area. They are the screens that you didn’t have time to clean last night before you left, so they are a little on the sticky side, and the ghost image has hardened up nicely in the mesh. Don’t worry, the nice man from the chemical company stopped by a few weeks ago and demonstrated a wonderful product that will removed the ghost image in a moment.
Let’s pause here for a second for another small dose of reality. Whatever the guys from the chemical company do when they visit and demo their products is a mystery because the remarkable results they achieve with their magical potion bottles full of cleaner, degreaser, and most importantly, dehazer, never reproduce those results when they are brought to bear on screen mesh. Of course, we realize this only after the 55-gal drums of magical potion have been ordered and dragged into position. Nevertheless, the poor screen-prep person in charge of reclaiming is expected to get rid of the haze in the same manner, and more often than not, has to resort to using a fiery-colored sludge that eats through his gloves and pops more screens than it saves. The screenprep person then places the screen in another drying chamber, where it will rip, apparently for no reason. And of course, the screen-prep person will be blamed.
This brings us back to the beginning of this never-ending roundabout of screens. Easy enough to fix, you might say. Now take all of the above scenarios and multiply by the number of screens your shop prints every day. Then multiply that by at least two so that you can always be at least a day ahead, and you will start to see how things work. All I’ve done here is skim the surface. Each one of these procedures takes a lot of time and experience to master, and most of these processes need to be thoroughly learned before they can be practiced. Think of all the possible permutations and the possibilities for things to go wrong, and you’ll soon realize that it takes a very special person to take on the responsibilities described in this column.
In my next few installments, I’ll help you figure out ways to make life a little more bearable in the screen room. But for now, why don’t you walk back to the screen department in your shop and tell your staff that you appreciate what they do. You might even initiate a group hug or something. Well, maybe you should skip the hug. Your staff probably can’t spare the time for that.
Gordon Roberts has a history in screen-printing production management that spans more than 25 years. He has held supervisory positions in shops that represent a broad spectrum of application areas and markets, including printed electronics, apparel, signage, and retail graphics. Roberts has presented training courses on the basics of screen-printing production and on shop management for the Screentech Institute and is presently a consultant for the screen industry. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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