Monday, May 2, 2016

FireFly is production proven

So the FireFly™ is amazing new tech, but can it really keep up?

The FireFly continues to turn heads and raise eyebrows at shows and on forums.  Potential customers and industry pundits are amazed and skeptical at our claims of what this machine does and how little space it requires.  

For those new to the details of the FireFly, this machine has some features that are not available on any other curing system.
  • temperature monitoring of each individual garment
  • temperature control of each individual garment
  • independent curing parameters for each individual garment
  • thermal imaging camera system with flat screen temperature monitors
  • Linx Integration System for bar code item control
This is really cool tech.  However, the specs that cause skepticism is the minimal space required to achieve cure and, hence, high volume production.   The engineering design is all about heat control.  In a gas oven, there is substantial time needed to raise the temperature of a garment to a level to allow the ink to cure.  This is why many gas ovens include an IR bump.  However, in the FireFly, the heat energy applied to the garment is higher and more direct so the cure of the ink can happen sooner.  And, because of the imaging technology, the FireFly can control the garment temperature so that it does not exceed manufacturer's parameters.

So what does all this mean?  It means volume production in a small space.  

Typically, high volume shops run gas ovens that are 20' or longer in length.  They will often run 2 or more of these and each one is set to cure one particular type of garment.  Most of these ovens are 48" to 60" wide.  They usually have an IR bump that requires 3Ø power in addition to the gas feed.

The FireFly, in comparison, requires a much shorter cure chamber.  The curing system in the video above has 2 belts that are 36" wide and 90" of heat.  The total length on the system is 15 feet.  The cure rates show in the video happen all day long.  This was typical production in the facility.  

Also, if needed, the FireFly can change parameters for each garment run on the same belt.  It alters heat energy applied to the garment to match the specifications programmed.  This feature allows a shop to use a FireFly for multiple job runs simultaneously.  

So, to answer all the skeptics, yes it is cool tech.  And yes, the FireFly will produce high volumes of individually cured garments in a smaller space.  

Contact us for additional information on how this system can fit into your production system.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Which production numbers really matter?

When talking to potential machine buyers, one of the questions that is often asked is, "How fast will this print?"  We know that they are referring to the cycle per hour count that many manufacturers like to boast about.  As sales people we can quote those cycle count numbers but as a service to our customers we believe those numbers are misleading.

True production numbers are what is important, not how fast can a machine cycle.

What are true production numbers?

Production numbers are the real count of what product shipped out and your profits are based on how many hours you spent finishing those goods.  So if the machine can cycle 1000 prints per hour, but your jobs are only 100 pieces in length, then you have to factor in the job change time into your productivity.  If your oven only cures 400 per hour, then it does not matter if the printer can cycle faster.

What matters is increasing your production numbers based on real life problems and finding the issues in your shop that influence those numbers.

Where are the common problems?  Today, look in the screen room.

Many production managers we work with direct us the screen room as having the biggest affect on shop time.  This can be both positive and negative.  When all of the details are followed through in the screen preparation area, the printing process moves faster.  What are these details?  Well, there are too many to cover in one blog.  But there are some basics and some tips that will pay off for increasing productivity in the print room.

  • First, clean up your space.  One of the biggest issues in the screen room is dust.  Dust on the glass of the exposure unit, dust in the drying chamber, and dirt on the artwork.  All of this dust causes pin holes in the stencil and will cause breakdown on press.  Any screen issues on press will reduce productivity.

  • Throw out anything you haven't used in 6-8 months.  The products used in this department are time sensitive.  Dried up block out, emulsion and haze remover only take up space and are dust magnets.

  • Slow down.  The screen room is where time should be taken to get it right.  That applies to all things you do, especially coating the screen.  If you use liquid emulsion, the speed of your coat affects both the stencil thickness and pinholes.  Too thin of a coat and the stencil will be weak and break down on press.  When coating too quickly, a thinner deposit is laid on the screen.  Coating too quickly will also increase the air bubbles that are created within the coater.  These bubbles pop under pressure and will cause additional pin holes.  These pin holes can appear during stencil processing or during the print process.  

  • Extend your dry time.  This means that the dry time before exposing a screen should be checked.  Just because a coated screen feels dry to the touch does not mean that the inside is ready.  Think about a cake.  The outside looks really yummy, but if you don't bake it all the way, the inside is mush.  A little longer in the screen dryer will save a lot of time on press.  If you do not have a heated screen dryer, invest in a dehumidifier and leave the screens 24 hours.  Make sure the dehumidifier is emptied and maintained.

  • Not every job will use the same emulsion.  It is very common for a shop to get used to one emulsion product and use it for every job.  That is great if all of your jobs are the same length and use the same ink.   Keep in mind that most polymer emulsions were designed for shorter runs and rapid screen processing.  This is great for most community print jobs of a few hundred.  However, they were not designed for thousands of impressions.  Also, if you are adding discharge, water base or any other specialty print then you will need to find an emulsion to stand up to those inks.  Consider a dual-cure for these tougher jobs and keep an eye on their shelf life.
We understand that some of these suggestions take a bit of long term planning and maybe some small financial investment.  However, if you print shirts faster then you turn profits faster.  Capital investment is far cheaper than print shop labor.

A Tip From Our Printmaster Installer

When a new container of emulsion arrives, DO NOT COMBINE IT WITH YOUR OLD BUCKET.  Yes, we understand that you want to use every last drop.  We will get to how to do that in a moment.  However, we want to control the quality of the stencil heading for the print shop.  The best way to do this is the keep the products for this pure and uncontaminated.  If you examine the last 10% of any container of emulsion you will notice an accumulation of crud.  Yup, that is a technical term.  

That crud is partially dried bits of emulsion, accumulated dust and dirt, and any other assortment of debris that may have floated into the container over it's life span.  These particulates will affect the quality of the stencil by causing pin holes, streaks and uneven thickness.  So, open the new container and leave the old stuff for another use.

And what use can there be?  Well, the options are many.
  • Block out is our first choice.  Pour the old emulsion into a small squeeze bottle that has a cap.  Use the cap, it will keep the emulsion from drying out.  This emulsion is perfect for pin hole touch up.  No matter how clean the room, pin holes will happen.  Whether it is from dust or bubbles in the emulsion a press operator should not be the one to cover them when in production.  Take a minute for each screen and use this bottle to fill the little holes.

  • Our second quick tip is to extend the stencil.  The area between the stencil and the frame edge is open mesh.  This area is prone to ink leaks on press and can cause print rejects and press down time.  After processing the stencil, use the emulsion in the squirt bottle and a card or scraper and fill this area with emulsion.  Let it dry.  It won't need additional exposure time because it is not affected by the squeegee stroke and it will stay solid until washed with water.

  • Finally, tape off the screen.  Yes, the screen guys will whine.  However, the press operator is not producing shirts when he has to do any prep.  Having screens delivered to the press ready to load will only cause a small delay in the screen room but it will vastly speed up the print department.  

So when you are shopping for your next production expansion, instead of asking how fast can this thing go, ask how it can improve your shop.  Set up, tear down and maintenance have a stronger influence on a shops production time than does cycle capacity.  Remember, the goal in what we all do is to produce quality product at the right price for both the customer and for our bottom line.  Owning the fastest sports car when you can only drive 65 looks great, but it doesn't pay the bills.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Spring means athletic numbering. Are you ready?

March Madness is soon upon us and the brackets are already conversation topics.  These game bring excitement and spectacle but also they remind us that athletics are an ongoing business potential.  The    merchandise items that are produced for the tournament turn net profits in the millions of dollars for the NCAA and the teams involved.  For those of you who have licensing contracts, you know this is great business.

What March Madness also means that spring sports are coming.  Local baseball, soccer, lacrosse and many more begin their season as soon as the snow melts.  First games in the northern sections of the country are usually in mid-April.  This is where more profit potential is.  But a shop must have the tools to capitalize on the opportunity.  

The first thought from many shops is that they own a heat press so they will just use transfer numbers.  That sounds simple enough.   And we might agree if a shop only had a few teams.  However, that is not how you make money.  

Lets do the numbers.  Recreational leagues are the typical job for a community printer.  These are low margin jobs so your best bet is that you can sell the shirt for $5.  Dark t-shirts cost $1.79 each.  Heat seal numbers cost $0.25 each.  And you print the team and league sponsors on the front for $0.25.  Total cost, not including labor or shop time is $2.54.  So you make about $2.50 per shirt.  For one or two teams, that margin is acceptable.  

What happens when you get an entire league?  That changes everything.  We are now talking about 70 teams of 15 people each.  With coaches and add-ons this is an order of over 1000 shirts that are all custom.  Many shops will skip the opportunity.  It does require a lot of handling and special organization.  However, those that take it seriously see benefits in their bottom line.  So here are the numbers again.
  • shirts $1.79 x 1000= $1,790
  • numbers $0.25 x 2000 (remember these are double digits)=$500
  • front print $0.25x1000=$250
  • Net sale $5 x 1000=$5000
  • Profit about $2500 on the job.
Let's add it up.
  • shirts $1.79 x 1000= $1,790
  • numbers $0.10 x 1000 (remember these are double digits)=$100
  • front print $0.25x1000=$250
  • Net sale $5 x 1000=$5000
  • Profit about $3000 on the job.  

Exactly what you need to pay for a machine.  The first job pays off the investment in new machinery.  Cool, don't you think?

The labor for heat seal and direct print are presumed the same.  Shops will defend either version as being faster.  We are not going to make that part of the debate.  But, don't you think that if your profit went up by $500 for every job of 1000 pieces that would be a good idea?  

So, put me in coach.  I'm ready to play.  But let's play with a real equipment to hit a home run with this opportunity.  Enjoy the Sweet 16 and the Final 4, but be ready because soon the phrase will be "Play Ball".  

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Make every inch be a profit center

I took a service call the other day that very quickly turned into a productivity conversation.  The customer had a large oven that was not functioning as it should and they wanted to repair it.  The oven needed a few parts and it would run as it was designed.  That repair bill totaled about $750.  However, the conversation with that customer quickly changed once he explained more about his business.  He bought the oven at a bargain.  He only ran one automatic and one manual and the oven at full capacity was more than he needed and took up most of his shop.  That got the two of us running through some numbers.

Square footage costs
Large ovens are for
high production volume

Any business owner can tell you that square footage cost is a major expense in their monthly budget.  In certain sections of the country the cost per square foot is so prohibitive that each item placed in the space is calculated for its ROI.

ROI should be analyzed for every item on a shop floor.

Let's take a look at the shop that I mentioned earlier.  That customer was in Los Angeles and he was in a lesser expensive industrial park.  His cost per square foot was $11.50. 
  • Automatic 12'x12' $1,656 per month
  • Manual 8' x 8' $736 per month
  • Current oven  $1,035 per month
If he changed to an oven that was appropriate for his production his space usage cost would drop to $621 per month. A payout of $4,968 per year.

Match your volume with
your production but give your shop
a little growth room.

Power consumption

I understand that this customer was not going to move and that ROI on the space was not his concern.  However, I also mentioned the power consumption of a machine that is not producing goods to its full capacity.

  • Current oven  480V, 85A  with the presumption that the power cycles 50% of the time, his cost per hour to run the oven is approximately $5.  For a full year, his cost is approximately $9,800
Now let's say he installs an oven that is production appropriate.  
  • New oven  240V, 85A  with the presumption that the power cycles 50% of the time, his cost per hour to run the oven is approximately $2.5.  For a full year, his cost is approximately $5,000
His annual power savings on the oven is $4,800.

Potential lost production
Numbering systems are
just one of many ways
to increase revenue

So it was agreed that this customer was not moving, so he could not understand the lost ROI on the floor space.  He did concede the power issue and that he could pay for a new oven in 1.5 years.  

We did get back to his floor space ROI when he mentioned that he was missing out on the opportunity of producing athletic jerseys.  I suggested that the floor space that the current oven was using could be converted to a number printing location, then he understood the ROI on that space.

Athletic numbers offer a value per unit of about $2.50.  He was currently not producing any because he did not have the space or the equipment.  With either a transfer machine or a small numbering system, the floor space would then produce goods instead of costing him space.  
  • Transfers cost $1.50 per jersey
  • Net increased potential revenue of $1.00 per jersey.
  • Potential production of 30 per hour equals a potential ROI of $30 per hour.  A yearly potential ROI of $60,000.

When to switch?

Every shop has a "good enough" item.  In this case, the oven was good enough when the customer purchased it.  However, should he fix it?  I do not think so.  There is too much potential income and too much wasted costs with the unit he has.

Every shop should look at how their floor space is allocated.  It is producing revenue or costing the shop profits.  

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

New and renew for 2015

2015 was a great ride.

That is a heading that all businesses hope to post at the end of each year.  We can say that every year, however, 2015 has been unusual and especially exciting.  We expanded product lines, client demographics and industries affected.  We learned new technologies, new customer requirements and new industrial applications.  All of this is refreshing and inspiring us for 2016.

Expanded and enhanced products.

FY2x27-45 curing system
FireFly™ Curing Systems.

These units continue to excite the industry with their innovation and applications into multiple curing situations.  These machines are unique in their design because they are the only curing system using thermal imaging camera to constantly monitor the substrate to maintain perfect surface temperature.  These units offer proprietary software technology for immediate regulation of temperature and time calculations for optimal cure.  Amazing patent pending technology.

LED2931SD exposure unit

LED Exposure systems.

What excites our sales staff is that our engineers did not just accept off-the-shelf LED bulbs and build an exposure system.  They spent time analyzing bulb spectrum, distances and optimal designs so that our LED exposure unit offers the optimal light usage for our industrial requirements.  LED bulbs create perfect exposures with no heat, no bulb fade and years of consistency.  These have changed the time spent in prepress and moved this industry forward.


NP611LL with NPQ1218 
The NumberPrinter has been a patented mainstay of our business for over 25 years.  This is the premium numbering system in the industry.  Brown has enhanced this product with the addition of Sniper LazerLoad™ technology.  The operator now has laser registration lines on the platen for quicker load of all garments.  These laser can be adjusted to accommodate all numbering spacing specifications.  

New customers.

The FireFly has allowed us to connect with companies that produce other products besides screen printed garments. With the features of this software, other curing applications have been presented as challenges in industrial settings.  These have been fun and interesting puzzles to solve and we look forward to what the future will bring.

New products.

The Vega™ was presented at SGIA.  Shown was a prototype UV curing system using LED bulb technology.  This unit is still in the development stage however the customer interest is very high.  Entering the UV curing market has our engineering staff excited to learn more and design new.  We look forward to where this product line will lead us in 2016.

2016, so what's next.

We are please to say that our sales and engineering staff is full of creative people who want to design new products and expand into new industries.  So keep watch for the new and interesting.

What will not change is our commitment to our customers.  Brown Mfg was built on its relationship with community printers.  We value our past customers with the same enthusiasm as we look forward to new connections.   We look forward to serving all of our customer's needs and expectations in 2016 and in the coming years.  

We wish the same success that we have enjoyed for all of our customers and look forward to discussing how Brown can help your business innovate, expand and grow.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

SGIA Product of the Year and Product introduction

SGIA Expo is going on as I write.  It is the largest show in the United States for specialty graphics.  This show is very diverse in its offerings and its reach.  It features printing for circuit boards, shirts, signage and many other challenging substrates.  The attendees that walk the floor are international and can have much of this product diversity within their own production environment.  It is often where new products are introduced and changing technologies are discussed.

Vega™ LEDuv curing system

This is our first venture into UV curing systems.  With the advent of LED technology and our FireFly software we have taken our 30+ years of printing experience into a new realm.  UV printing is an untouched area of decoration for our machinery line.  
However, many of our staff have years of understand of printing and ink systems.  Combining this knowledge of UV inks and our engineers LED light technology Brown Manufacturing Group has developed the Vega line of LEDuv curing systems.  This is a first offering of this product and details are to follow.  However, this is an exciting expansion of the Brown product line and we look forward to meeting new customers within this industry.

SGIA Product of the Year

Also at this expo, SGIA offers Product of the Year categories.  The awards have been presented to an impressive array of products.  The FireFly™ and the Linx™ products were contenders in their respective competitions and we think that their money and time saving technology should have placed them near the top.

FireFly Product of the Year presentation
Linx Product of the Year presentation

These product lines have presented exciting challenges and new adventures to the Brown staff.  Our years of printing experience have aided in our understanding of constant change curing requirements within a production environment.  Our engineer's thorough understanding of curing technology is shown in all aspects of the design of the FireFly.

Our 2015 show season closes on a high note with the SGIA experience.  We look forward to the months ahead where we can expand our understanding of the UV production environment and the special needs that those curing systems require.  Our FireFly technology will continue to advance as we deliver new units and new curing challenges are presented.  We look forward to the show season of 2016 and to showing the customers from those regional markets all of the new possibilities that Brown has to offer.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Employee training to reduce down time

An installers view

Our technicians and our sales people travel the globe installing machinery into screen printing shops that are both large and small.  While we are securing the machinery for proper operation we train the users on the operation and maintenance of their new purchases.  We often suggest some changes to the shop flow and to the tools that the operators have on hand.

As a rule of good customer service, we will stop back into the customer's location some time after the initial installation.  We do this to answer questions that will come up after they have been running for awhile.  These questions are typically about unusual jobs and how to print them.  Sometimes we will need to review maintenance so that the machines run to the optimal level.

What happens next is when this gets interesting.

Brown Manufacturing Group offers unlimited phone support.  This can be to the main office or to a cell phone.  Sales people and technicians take calls 24/7 in an effort to keep our customers on time for job deliveries.  The questions we hear are, very often, not related to the machinery that we installed.  

As an example, a call came in yesterday concerning the cure of a job.  A customer had a very short production run returned with under cured ink issues.  Every shop has been in that situation and it is one that you want to solve immediately.  After confirming that the oven was operating correctly, the conversation turned to understanding curing of plastisol inks.  Many times we are talking to a shop owner and this information stays with the shop but often it is with a production person.  

How much information does or should a shop employee have?

Studies suggest that employees need in-depth training to stay interested and involved in what they do.  Also, they should be encouraged to gather additional information that is beneficial and stay current on  new technology.  So, we have conversations with shop employees about curing or screen processing or any other facet of shop production.  

In a recent shop visit, a customer was having trouble with screen exposure.  This shop employee repeated, often, "I have been doing it like this since I started.  This is how I was trained."  Well, that initial training was great.  What was never taught was that bulbs fade, emulsion is temperamental to humidity and mesh counts make a difference.  So, productivity was down for more than a week while additional information was taught and the machinery was updated.  If this employee had been given technical information as they continued to stay on the job, then much of the interruption would have been avoided.

So what do you do?

Technical information and shop maintenance are a full shop necessity.  If employees and shop owners understand how things process then they will have a stronger link to keeping it moving.  Good places to expand knowledge are trade shows.  

At each of these, these are classes taught on all aspects of production.  Also, part of walking the floor of a show is to talk to experts.  Stop in a booth and ask questions and learn about how the process works.  This should only take a day.  Employees should be assigned tasks of what information they are to gather.  Don't just wander in without a plan.  That is like sending a group of middle school kids to a museum without an assignment.  They wander around, too shy to talk to people, and randomly grab literature while playing on their phones.  When everyone returns to the shop, a quick walk through of what people learned would then spread the information to all.  

Yes, this sounds expensive and maybe wasteful of a day's production.  But in the long term it is beneficial for many reasons.
  • empowerment -- yes a buzz word.  But really, informed employees are usually interested employees
  • Problem prevention -- new information will allow the employees to look at what they do with a deeper understanding and they may be able to fix issues before they impact production
  • Respect -- if your employees think you are willing to invest in their education, then they may invest more into your shop
All of this is a win-win.  

And remember, after all of this effort.  Brown is still available for 24/7 support to keep your shop running smooth and productive.