The author explains how automation and flexibility make web technology a competitive option.
After promising sales in the 1980s, many of us thought that web screen printing would enjoy much greater success. Dozens of single and multicolor web lines and in- or off-line web finishing units were sold to the flexible-circuit, membrane-switch, graphic-overlay, and, to some extent, nameplate and label industries. The textile industry, whether for short, medium, or long production requirements, has strongly embraced this technology since the 1950s and '60s. Multicolor web lines with ten or 20 screen-printing heads using either flatbed or rotary screens are still being manufactured for that market segment.
Industries requiring long production runs or companies involved in "high-tech" screen-printing applications realized the many advantages of this technology early on. These companies often enjoyed resources that included manufacturing and production engineering--a very important supporting element for influencing management decisions and gaining the subsequent funding necessary for adding web technology. The ability to justify the investment--based on process-control improvements, productivity increases, overall quality enhancements, and manufacturing flexibility--allowed these companies to make significant purchases of capital equipment for web processing.
Web screen printing still triggers an erroneous feeling that this technology can only be utilized for long production runs. This is not the case. It is true, however, that you must have enough short or medium production runs to keep a web screen-printing line busy at all times, without production interruptions and with the least equipment downtime. Easier said than done. Success of web screen printing
For more than ten years, several screen-printing companies in the US and Europe have operated two and three multicolor web screen-printing lines with production requirements not exceeding 300-2000 images per job. Often, these companies employ only 40-70 employees (and sometimes fewer), depending on the products manufactured. Here are some important factors that have made all of these companies successful:
1. Standardization-- Standardization applied to any form of automation is the key to success. For single-color or multicolor web-line configurations, not more than two or three different web widths should be used. This way, only two or three different squeegee and floodbar sets are required, and the time needed for setting up the web guide systems and adjusting other equipment settings is automatically shortened. This approach also simplifies the preparation of diecutting and other finishing tools, allowing printers to standardize the purchase of web materials.
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