Shop Talk: Screen Printers Defy the Odds

The numbers are in, and the verdict is: 'We're kicking ass.'

I’m the last person who should be trying to extrapolate meaning from statistics. Half the time, I don’t believe people could be as stupid as the polling shows; the other 60 percent of the time, I get fixated on the numbers and how things just don’t seem to add up.

The most recent industry poll by SGIA on the state of the textile business suggested to me that there was a slowdown in the incursion of digital, and growth in analog printing. That reflects the reality I run into, with small(er) shops and startups all wanting to screen print, and a real demand at the local level for screen-printed garments and various otherproducts your ATP (average textile printer) can make. A number of hand printers in my circle graduated to automatics in the last two years to deal with increases in business. The strongest ones don’t do outside work – they print mostly their own designs on their own clothing lines. Our little studio, which does absolutely no advertising, gains a couple of new customers each week. There seems to be a lot of demand out there for water-based, locally
made products.

The other cool thing, and this was also reflected in SGIA’s 2016 benchmarking reports, is that we, as an industry, are generally kicking ass. Only 12 percent of participating graphics companies reported zero or negative growth. That means 88 percent of them beat the rest of the North American economy, with approximately 13 percent growing anywhere from 30 percent to more than double their previous year’s sales.

Industrial printers showed flat or negative growth among one third of reporting companies. That’s the bad news; the good news is the other two thirds are growing. Some of the biggest opportunities are healthcare and electronics, and as long as we keep getting older and sicker, and need a new cellphone every half-year, there will continue to be new markets to expand into. Couple that with manufacturing decline in China, and both Trump and Clinton promising to increase American manufacturing (and being politicians, of course, we can believe everything they say), things look good for all the members of the specialty graphics family.

Speaking of which, many of us will soon be at our annual family reunion, otherwise known as the SGIA Expo. The membrane switch/electronic/industrial cousins are in town early; hopefully they don’t cause too much trouble or get thrown out of the casinos before the main contingent shows up. Beginning on Wednesday, we can look forward to three days of craziness when everyone else arrives, although the boothies, and especially the technicians, will be running on fumes after a few days of frantic setup.

I’m always in awe of how companies manage to ship gigantic machines from halfway around the world and get them up and running in a few days. As you walk the aisles, give a thought to the small army of people who worked like dogs, some of them all night for a few days, and others for months in advance doing the logistics and planning, in order to get everything in place for the start of the show.

Back when I was young and stupid, building equipment and bringing it to the show, we ran into a problem at SGIA that only a Canadian would understand. After sealing up the crates and sending them off, we arrived at the show only to discover that we forgot to bring a Robertson bit so we could open the crates to get to the tool kit inside. The square-head Robertson driver, invented during World War II as a production tool to replace slotted screws or mushy Phillips heads, is unique to Canada. And so are the bits. We use them on decks, drywall, metal, and anything wood, including crates – just about (“aboot”) everything. Apparently, much to my dismay, Americans don’t. Did you know it’s almost impossible to find a hardware store in the downtown of a large US convention city?

But that was then, this is now. The only screwdrivers I might need in Vegas this year have vodka in them, and that is in plentiful supply. Speaking of vodka, one of my fellow Academy of Screen and Digital Printing Technology members, Artem Nadirashvili, runs Midi Print, Russia’s largest screen- and specialty printing company. A lifelong musician and art lover, he recently combined his two interests into a gallery in Las Vegas, and if you are looking for something that doesn’t involve losing large amounts of money, drop in and check it out. They feature originals and prints, all with musical themes at the Gallery of Music & Art, located on the third level of The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace.

If any of you would like to say hi during the show, you can find me at booth 3851, surrounded by a bunch of screen-printing machines. Just don’t look for me anywhere near the machines that go ding-ding-ding.

Explore the rest of our August/September 2016 issue or read more "Shop Talk" from Andy MacDougall.
 

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