High-output, quick turnaround client expectations mean that garment decorators must take steps to eliminate wasted time.
By Rich Hoffman
The most important issue facing screen printing companies today is the labor force. Labor costs in the American textile industry are substantially higher than in most countries. Factor in the low unemployment rate in the US, which minimizes the availability of good employees, and it’s pretty much the perfect storm. And it will only get worse, because working in a hot shop for minimum wage is not most people’s desire. Add to that the immense pressure being put on contractors to do much shorter runs, at lower costs, with higher expenses for their utilities and supplies. These problems can only be addressed with better systems that incorporate automation wherever possible.
The number one thing printers should be looking to automate is their prepress. Today, it is possible to do very fast job changes with the right systems in place. Done properly, a printer should be able to set up screens and be ready for the first strike-off in no more than three minutes per color. Yes, there are variables like squeegee pressure, angle, and speed, but a good printer already knows how to dial those in for success. At M&R, we once did a demonstration of one person coating, imaging, exposing, and washing out the image on 400 screens in eight hours. We even made it more realistic by letting him talk on his cell phone. It’s all possible when you concentrate on putting the right systems in place.
(Never) Stop the Presses
It doesn’t matter whether you’re an equipment manufacturer or a screen printer – you cannot let the production line stop. At M&R, we purchased over $50 million in parts annually. Of course, we couldn’t afford to carry a huge inventory of those things, but we also couldn’t afford to have any stoppages, so we had to keep our eye on the minimum stock. For instance, if we had run out of a 9/16-inch nut, it might have stopped the whole line. If you’ve ever figured out halfway through a job that you don’t have enough small T-shirts in stock to complete the order, you know the danger. You have to put systems in place so that once a minimum inventory level is hit, someone in management is notified immediately and gets the requisition out to keep that part above the minimum.
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