There are some tasks for which a machine may truly be the best man for the job.
By Johnny Shell
Automatic Screen Cleaning
Advancements in screen cleaning systems have prompted many shops to consider looking beyond post-press cleaning of the screens. These systems come in a wide range of options from simple washing systems for post-exposure stencil development to more complex units that not only develop the stencil, but can also degrease the screen prior to coating and remove the stencil when you want to use the screen for another job. They also come in a variety of sizes from standalone units to modular systems with independent stations for each process (decoating, degreasing, etc.).
As with most of the equipment described here, many automatic screen cleaning systems are programmable, allowing for easy operation and a multitude of options. Screens are loaded into standalone units one at a time and processed individually, whereas on modular systems, screens are transported automatically via a conveyor through each station. The operator loads screens at one end and collects the finished screens at the other.
Keep in mind that several of your vendors are stakeholders when you look into incorporating an automatic screen cleaning system, and not just the company that builds the machine. The companies that make your screen cleaning chemistry and inks are also interested parties, to name just a few, not to mention your providers of electricity, water pressure, drainage, etc. It’s important that all parties be involved in the decision making process and communicate with one another before you make a hefty investment.
Is Automation Right for You?
Advantages of automation include the simple fact that machines can be used for repetitive and boring work, producing more goods in less time with fewer materials and waste, all at a higher quality level. Automation also saves money, which is important for shops facing tighter margins. Automating a process is cost-effective and profitable, if done correctly. It allows a company to employ less staff. Machines don’t need benefits or holiday pay, and they don’t call in sick or ask for personal leave so they can follow their favorite band around the country.
On the other hand, automation usually replaces jobs instead of creating them, and it alters the balance between skilled and unskilled workers. Let’s say you have five people working in a busy screenroom and you determine that automating the processes would only require one operator/technician. You’ll need a more skilled worker, so you’re essentially trading one set of skills for another while employing fewer people. And machines will break down, usually at the most inopportune time. It’s a good idea to keep spare parts on hand for those occasions. You’ll never know when a printhead for your CTS system will break down.
So the first question to ask is, “Can it be automated?” If so, then ask yourself whether the process you’re thinking of automating – cleaning a frame, stretching mesh, coating or reclaiming, etc. – suffers or benefits from human involvement. Take the time to study each process and task at the level of detail needed to quantifiably evaluate the potential application and benefit of automation. All of the equipment discussed here will bring you clear benefits in quality, speed, and improved productivity.
And what about the job cuts that could follow automating your screenroom and the associated damage to your reputation that could follow? Many business owners look for other useful functions their staff could support. If job loss is inevitable, then give as much forewarning as possible to those who will be affected. It’s never an easy decision, but as a business owner, your business is the priority. Keeping it profitable will sometimes mean making tough decisions.
The Automation Issue, Steve Duccilli
Killing Your Top 5 Time Wasters, Mike Ruff
Going Digital: Automating Sales and Marketing, Mark Coudray
5 Steps to Take Control of Your Printroom, Marshall Atkinson
MIS: Whipping Your Data into Shape, Eileen Fritsch
An Automation Wish List for Your Printroom, Marshall Atkinson
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