Leaders in the field reveal what they think about the challenges ahead for the industry.
“In North America, the majority of printers and most of the public still view it as “silk screening,” some hand method used to make T-shirts and art prints. Solar cells or touch screens or fuel cells? They don’t have a clue that these are screen-printed products,” MacDougall says.
He believes that expanding into industrial applications and 3D product printing will present opportunities for screen printers willing and able to make the investment into new technologies.
As with many industries, screen printers will continue to compete with cheap labor overseas. Automation and communication will allow domestic operators to compete on price, but MacDougall cautions against chasing big orders by getting into bidding wars that often result in razor-thin margins, along with the very real possibility of getting undercut on subsequent jobs, no matter the quality of service provided.
“A customer that forces you to do that will drop you in the end because they don’t respect you. The landscape is littered with companies, and not just screen printing ones, which play this game. Screen printing as a commodity should be dead,” he says.
Remaining viable in the future may require diversification into different market segments. MacDougall says the opportunities exist, but aren’t always recognizable to printers who lack vision or the proper training to move beyond their current market and operational parameters.
“Screen printing has always been a specialized process, a hybrid of printing, decoration, and manufacturing. If you are in one area, look into others. For example, one of my equipment clients is a monster big freezer/cooler door manufacturer. They use screen printing to apply electrical heaters, and to apply black mask to hide the edges—basic industrial screen printing. Nobody thinks about it, but everybody sees it every day. With slight modification, they could be adding a custom logo to the glass, or adding other decorative touches or art. This would set their product apart from their competitors, and help their supermarket door customers enhance the in-store experience and push their brand. It also adds another profit source for the screen printer,” he says.
As for his own business, MacDougall will continue down the path he set out on when he decided to branch out into both equipment sales and consulting. The Internet has allowed him to reach an international customer base from his rural location where he spreads the word on how to be a successful screen printer.
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