Automatic presses and when to take the plunge

Every successful fledgling screen printing business will inevitably arrive at a crossroads where automating their processes becomes a serious consideration. Here, Colin Goode, sales manager (Asia Pacific) at Adelco, provides a few points to contemplate when thinking of taking the next step.

Order volumes

As businesses grow, word of mouth spreads and orders can increase at an alarming rate. However, customers can occasionally become quite demanding regarding turnaround times and will look elsewhere should you not be able to produce within their timeframe.

If your company is losing orders on a regular basis due to these events, automation (and the increase in production capacity that brings) becomes of paramount importance.

Quality and consistency of product

Even the most experienced manual screen printer can suffer from operator fatigue during a gruelling day of dragging a squeegee.

This can result in variations of consistency of print which in turn, will be reflected in the overall quality of the end product.

A huge, often overlooked advantage of automatic equipment is the role that a good, electrically driven print head can play.

With a geared motor supplying the power to the squeegee, this has a number of advantages over a manual operation.

An electric print head will never tire and the print quality and consistency will remain the same regardless of amount of prints produced. Additionally, the huge increase in power generated in the print head results in the ability to use much higher screen mesh counts as there is considerably more strength in the squeegee to push ink through the finer mesh, consequently resulting in less ink used (Ink savings alone could be as high as 30%) finer detail produced and a much softer hand feel.

Additionally, on a human level, manual printing, if performed in excessive levels, can produce long lasting repetitive strain injuries and this should also be a consideration for yourself or your staff.

Cost to produce

Everyone has their own opinions when it comes to print speeds, both manual and automatic. However, as a general rule and averaging out most parameters, it would be generally accepted that production speeds for a manual process would range between 50-100 pieces per hour and an automatic set up should yield between 500-800 pieces per hour.

Of course, actual print speeds only provide a part of the whole story and there are many other factors to consider. Screen set-up times, ink mixing and preparation, flash times, etc, all of which level the playing field somewhat. However, there is one indisputable area where automation maintains a clear speed advantage over manual equipment and that is the field of multi-colour prints.

The main difference being that manual machines require a single operator to print each screen in turn, whereby an automatic machine will print all colours simultaneously. The more colours, the greater the discrepancy. A simple calculation would illustrate that performing a six-colour design for example, would require six individual prints by the operator; an automatic press would produce the same six colours in a single cycle.

To give a more balanced approach, there are fewer running costs involved in running manual presses as generally there are no air or electrical requirements, however, other processes such as flash curing and drying require electrical supplies, regardless of a manual or automatic set-up.

All these facts would have a profound effect on the cost to produce the final print and all should be considered when debating the merits of both systems.

In most cases. companies instinctively know when automation becomes the next obvious step to increase their growth.

If a business is able to cope with their current workload, they remain financially viable, don’t lose orders as a result of long production times and have little prospect of picking up additional orders should they move into a faster, automated process, then a manual operation is probably their best option.

However, if a company has been established for a little while, is struggling to cope with their current volume of orders, is in danger of losing work as a result of long lead times, sees a growth in both volume of work and increase in multi-colour designs and wish to grow their business accordingly, then automation becomes a proven means to achieve their ambitions.

A final thought, to put things in perspective would be this:

It is undeniable that automatic machinery increases production speeds, improves efficiencies and maintains the consistency and quality of the finished product. When you consider the huge impact these factors can make on the fortunes of a company and further consider that many entry level automatic machines can cost less than a mid-range family car, if a company wishes to grow and aim to future proof their success, this can be achieved at a relatively modest cost.

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