Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Save money by saving time.

What many of our customers fail to remember is that time is more valuable than products.  And if a shop wants to save money, they have to save time.

Most often, that wasted time is from trying to use low quality tools for any job.  In this case we are discussing screen frames.

Tips from our Print Master installer

Screen frames have more influence on how well and how profitable job are produced.  Yes, we are sure you have heard all the hype and looked at all the articles.  Yes, we know that screen frames seem expensive and they appear to last forever.  Yes, we know you can print through anything.  Been there, done that.

However.  The real expense is hidden.

Wood frames are the least expensive.  They are typically dipped in varnish to help to seal them.  However, even new ones, warp.  Yes, sure you can push down a corner when you are printing.  Yes, sure you can put them in the side clamps and they will flatten.  However, they do not hold register once they warp.  If you can lay a frame on a flat surface and they rock from corner to corner then they are warped.  They should be used at your next bonfire.

Once, a frames has warped, the movement of the mesh is inconsistent from when the screen is exposed to when the when the squeegee presses the mesh to the product.  This makes the set up time on press longer.  Hence, a time waste for your press operator.

Rigid aluminum frames are dimensionally more stable than wooden frames.  They also have their issues.  They are more expensive as an initial investment.  However, they are also considered equipment and can be depreciated.  Wood frames are considered consumable.

One of the biggest time wasters is due to the cleanliness of the frames.  Dirty hand means dirty shirts.  
Aluminum frames do not absorb ink or cleaning solvents.  These items stay on the surface of the frame.  The aluminum frame needs to be wiped down after each use to keep the press operator's hands clean.  

Both of these frame styles have one HUGE issue that needs to be addressed on a regular basis in every shop.  Mesh tension.  Yes, we went there.  We are not talking about high newton measurement but we are saying that if you can see a job have on the mesh from 5 years ago, chances are the mesh tension is too low.  Well, non-existent.  This causes problems with registration because of mesh shifting during the print.  The image is exposed onto the mesh when there is no pressure against it.  However, in order to get ink to clear, you have to apply high level squeegee pressure.  How can a job register when it has been stretched out of position?  

These static mesh screens can be remeshed at reasonable prices.  $10-$15 per frame and new mesh at a tolerable tension can be glued to your existing frames.  That is certainly less expensive than the amount of time your press operator spends attempting to make these jobs hold register on press.

We are going to take a side trip down the merry lane of retensionable screens.   Yes, we are a distributor, so we are happy to have them installed with any of our machinery.  However, our goal is to product high quality prints on our ElectraPrint and MasterPrinter presses.  These can increase the quality of the print and reduce the press operators set-up time.

Being profitable and producing high quality work takes some investment.

We try to have our assembly staff use good tools when they build equipment.  They move faster and get better results when the tools are high quality.  Our installers each have a brand of tools they prefer but they are very picky about which ones are in their bags.  And everyone knows that cutting a tomato with a dull knife is a mess.  So our suggestion to you is to take a look at what is in your shop. A small investment could save you time, which is the best way to save money.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Flash cure options. Which is right for your production?

A must-have

One essential machine for any textile printing production line is a flash or spot cure unit.  These machines are essentially heaters on a stand that gel under layers of ink so that additional layers can be printed on top.  This process is necessary for white inks to pop and specialty inks to shine.  However, the technology, sizing, features and price tag can vary from unit to unit.  So which one is best for your production?

Cal-rod or Firebrick style

These are the type of unit that the majority of print shops own and use every day.  They have a stable heat source that stays hot continually and is durable and reliable.  The temperature is typically controlled by adjusting the distance from the garment and the length of time heat is applied to the print.  

One factor in the intensity of the heat is the size of the heat area in relation to the power supplied.  Many community print shops like machines that only require 120V power.  So, to provide the best unit at that power level we designed the FF-1616.  This unit has a heating area of 16" x 16".  Some of our competitors offer a similar unit with a heat area of 18" x 18".  The 120V power distribution through a larger space can cause a cooler overall surface area.  

For 208V-240V power supply, the heating area can get larger.  The Brown FF-2020 is a 20" x 20" heating area.  Again, there are some that are 24" x 24" but the heat intensity may reduce with that large of a surface area.

This style flash units often have limited controls and features.  Since these heaters are not quick to respond but hold heat well, simple temperature controls are best suited.  The Brown FastFlash comes equipped with rheostat style controls and also wheels for easy relocation on the production floor.

There are some units are available with motorized heads that will rotate the heater on and off the platen for a set amount of time.  This reduces the possibility of garment or platen scorch and offers a more consistent gel of ink.

The biggest feature of this style flash unit is the price.  Because of the heater style and limited controls, these units are the most inexpensive type.  They ship UPS or FedX because they are light weight and they last for years.  

Quartz style flash units

videoOriginally designed to mount on automatic t-shirt printers, these are rapidly becoming the standard for both manual and automatic production lines.  They are instant on/off and are quickly react for temperature adjustment.  They are very hot but, since they are quartz bulbs, they are not as reliable as the cal-rod style.  

These type units will typically come with temperature controls.  The type of controls affects the final cost of the unit.  They also will vary with the number of bulbs and how tightly they are mounted.  The more bulbs in a smaller space the hotter the unit.  But also, the more bulbs, the higher the power requirements.

Distance from the garment is still a factor.  The heaters are very intense and the heat distribution uses reflectors and the distance to the garment will balance the intensity.

The QuartzAir Flash from Brown balances the heat requirements with reasonable power supply needs.  They can be connected with an ElectraPrint machine or as a stand alone unit for any manual printer.  The units equipped to print on manual machines come with a timer that is activated by a foot switch or a laser sensor.  

The price tag is the final issue.  These units start 3x than the price of a cal-rod style.  However, they are hotter, faster and give a more reliable result.  This is a worthwhile investment when printing higher volume or temperature sensitive garments.  

Anaconda™.  Wait!  What's that?

With the advent of direct to garment printing, the look of the finished garment has changed.  Also, digital print heads are now incorporated into automatic textile screen printers.  This has changed the base requirements for a flash unit.  

The Anaconda is a flat heater encased in teflon that a roller presses onto a print.  The goal is to fold the fibers into the base coat and gel the ink.  This process is done manually on DTG machines and it creates a cleaner finished print.  Now that look and process is demanded on automatic presses.  The Anaconda will mount onto any manufacturer's press and a roller is substituted for the squeegee.  The shirt is flashed and pressed for the next layer of ink.
These units are highly controlled, offer quick reaction to temperature regulation and give the crisp print desired in the latest fashion market.  What is amazing is the price.  These units are similarly prices as the QuartzAir units.  

So what is right for your shop?

That is the real question.  The factors of production speed needs, power availability, finished look requirements and bottom line budget are what drives this decision.  For today, we still see most community printers with cal-rod flashes being the mainstay of the production floor.  The quartz style rule the automatics today and are edging in on the manuals but the Anaconda flash has an interesting future.

If you are not sure and want a bit of personal guidance, give us a call.  616-249-0200

Thursday, August 25, 2016

New technology coming to SGIA

SGIA is approaching fast and our engineering staff is working on new and innovative technology for introduction at this event.  With advancement in curing, lighting and software, there is a whirr of activity surrounding the entire department.  So what new items will you see?

Beginning at the manual machinery, the Set-N-Go™ preregistration system for the MasterPrinter™ now comes equipped with the LED pinpoint lighting system that has been an integral part of the system on the ElectraPrint™ automatic textile printers  These LED indicators light up when the screen is in the proper position, giving confirmation to the operator that the screen is ready to secure.  Speed, simplicity and accuracy are the keys to this great product.

Also in the manual printing line, Brown has re-issued the ShortStop™ athletic numbering system.  This is an attachment for a MasterPrinter or for any rear clamping carousel press.  This system prints 2-color digits of 4", 6", 8" 10" and 12" numbers with the speed typical of rotary load presses.  Set up a team name, and print numbers in one shirt load using a standard flash.  If you need to print athletic numbers, Brown has the solutions to fit your shop.

In the automatic printing category, the Anaconda™ is a new and unique product.  This is a completely new concept in flash curing.  It combines the compression heat of a transfer press with the speed of automatic printing.  Imagine a flash cure that flattens the fibers into the underbase and flashes in just a few seconds. It gives the print a crisp look without sacrificing production speed.  This is the Anaconda.  Revolutionary.

Lastly, the curing world is ever changing.  With the development of the FireFly™ we have learned much about curing situations around the globe.  The advancements in LED lighting technology allowed the development of the Vega™.  Similar to the FireFly in its versatility, the Vega is a LED curing system for UV ink systems.  This system can be purchased for pre-existing curing lines, combined with a FireFly or installed as an independent system.  LED is the forefront of UV curing solutions and the Vega with Linx™ Integration Software is the leader in innovation.

SGIA is the event for presentation of new and innovative products.  We are excited to introduce all of these and give hand-on demonstrations of our full line of machinery in booth 2147.  See you in Las Vegas!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Numbering machine options

Adding a numbering printer to your production floor can be a confusing process.  There are so many options of customizing an athletic jersey that the research itself can be intimidating.  At Brown, we understand that you have a work flow that you would like machinery to fit into.  You do not want to change your methods to match a new machine.  So, in that thinking, we offer many ways for you to expand into the world of profitable jersey customization.

What are the options and why are they offered?

Athletic numbering is all about product quality with reasonable speed.  There are different job types in this niche market and each of these have their own production issues.  Let's start with the job types.

Recreational league or team printing.

If your or a friend has a team that needs a few numbers, that is a simple job that transfers are perfect for.  Fifteen to twenty shirts that need a front logo and numbers are a great reason to order in custom numbers from companies such as Transfer Express.  First, with this one job you did not plan on a high profit margin.  Second, this is a small run that will disrupt your shop.

However, if you are connected with the Athletic Director or the head of the Recreation Department, you need to consider this a profit center and find a fast, simple way to produce these shirts.  Many of these jobs are 700 - 1000 shirts and each one is custom.  We do not recommend occupying your carousel to print this job.  If you do, then your money making machine is tied up on a low margin job.  Find a better way.

Local sports teams starting in the middle schools and up to the older players.

These are higher end uniforms with very specific customization.  Even the youth club soccer and volleyball teams are offering the option for player to choose their own number.  These players often have multiple jerseys and matching shorts and accessories.  These consumers are paying extra money for these uniforms and are looking for high quality printing.  

This is NOT a transfer job.  These need to be direct printed or sublimated.  As manufacturers of screen printing machinery, we are not big fans of sublimation.  So we will let you research that option on your own.  

So, what are the options, anyway?

Let's go through the list of machine options that Brown offers and their price points.  Once you read through the product line, the best plan for your shop should be more clear.

Slider Carousel Kit.  $895

We are starting at the lowest price.  This is a master frame that mounts on rear clamping presses.  It allows for frame to pin into position.  These frames can have 4", 6", 8" or 10" numbers exposed on them and they will print in 1 or 2 colors.  This is less expensive than transfers and is easily stored and attached to your press.  

The benefits include:
  • low investment
  • 2 color numbers
  • team or sponsor name can be printed in the same shirt load
  • in-house flexibility of what you offer
  • high quality final product
  • low cost final product
The issues with this include:
  • Slow printing.  Only one number can be mounted into the master screen at any time.
  • Ties up the carousel
  • lots of screens to clean

Slider™ Athletic printing system.  $3,295

The next level takes the Carousel Kit and makes it a stand alone press.  This gives all the flexibility
but removes the required attachment to your press.  These frames can have 4", 6", 8" or 10" numbers exposed on them and they will print in 1 or 2 colors.

  • reasonable investment
  • 2 color numbers
  • team or sponsor name can be printed in the same shirt load
  • in-house flexibility of what you offer
  • high quality final product
  • low cost final product
  • stand alone unit that uses only 2' x 4' of space and 120V, 15A
Issues include:
  • Floor space during the athletic season is required
  • lots of screens to clean
  • Still slow because the operator has to wait for the flash and cool time on the garment and only one garment can print at a time

ShortStop™ Athletic printing system.  $3,695

The next level takes the Carousel Kit and makes it faster.  This gives all the flexibility and adds speed to the flash and load of the garments.  These frames can have 4", 6", 8" or 10" numbers exposed on them and they will print in 1 or 2 colors.

  • reasonable investment
  • 2 color numbers
  • team or sponsor name can be printed in the same shirt load
  • in-house flexibility of what you offer
  • high quality final product
  • low cost final product
  • utilizes the rotary load on the carousel for faster shirt processing
Issues include:
  • set-up of the attachment on the carousel
  • lots of screens to clean
  • ties up the carousel so that multi color jobs cannot be printed until the numbering jobs are done

NumberPrinter™ Athletic printing system with Sniper LazerLoad.  Starting at $3,995

We believe that this is the premium numbering system in the industry.  This is a stand alone machine that prints 1" to 12" 2-color numbers.  It requires only 4 screens per size and font.  It features the LazerLoad positioning system and a stainless steel indexing system for accuracy.  

  • 1" - 12" numbers
  • 2 color numbers
  • expandable to multiple platens and flashes to increase operator speed
  • only 4 screens to clean per job
  • high quality final product
  • low cost final product
  • stand alone unit that uses only 2' x 4' of space and 120V, 15A
Issues include:
  • Floor space 
  • higher initial investment than other systems

So, what should you do?  

This is still a lot of information.  However, the machinery that suits your shop should be determined by athletic printing volume, job complication, floor space availability, job flow and budget.  We suggest that teams be sorted only one time, at the beginning of the job, so that they can be boxed for delivery as they come off the dryer.  So, look at how many jobs you may have coming and how much space you have available.  If you see that one person could print numbers all day during the numbering season, then invest in a machine that will make that operator the most productive.  If you see that athletic printing season comes and goes quickly for your shop, then invest in a system that is portable.  Either one that is an attachment or one that is on wheels and can move out of the way when the season has ended.

Don't shy away from this profit center if the orders are available to you.  Invest in your business and growth will come.  However, do not take the athletic printing growth without being prepared with the right tools.  

For additional information check out our www.brownmfg.net/numberprinters and research the specifications of each machine.  Or give us a call and we can help you decide which machine is right for your production.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Spring cleaning is a good use of downtime

It is that time again.  Time to clean house.

We are talking about machine maintenance.  Not cleaning out the break room fridge or laying off employees.  Though, those might need to happen as well.  That is up to you.

Every spring, as the weather heats up, our service calls increase.  This increase can usually be linked to maintenance being postponed or operators making adjustments.  So, when you have a slow time there needs to be a to-do list that will keep your machinery in proper working order.

What should be on this list?

Every machine on your production floor has items that regularly need cleaning, changing or adjusting.  These items should be listed and this list should be kept for reference.  A log of when the maintenance was performed is a great idea.  This is a sample maintenance log for a vehicle but the idea is the same as printing equipment.  A list of required items is on one side with the dates of completion.  A list of unscheduled repairs in on the other.  

Each machine would have a different list and all of these logs should be kept together.

Conveyor ovens
TRX Conveyor Oven

  • Clean all fan filters
  • Clean and check all fan blades
  • Clean lint from all surfaces
  • Clean lint from inside the control panel
  • Clean and oil the drive system.  Adjust the chain tension if necessary
  • If the oven uses quartz heaters, check with the manufacturer for cleaning instructions and schedule 
  • Test all the cal-rod heaters
  • Clean the conveyor belt

Automatic printers

  • Clean all surfaces
  • Clean all platens
  • Check platen rubber for wear.  Replace rubber if necessary
  • Grease all moving parts
  • If this is an air machine, clean the lines and confirm the air connections
  • If this is an air machine, maintain the compressor
  • Clean all fan filters
  • Clean all fan blades
  • Clean lint from the control panel
  • Clean lasers 
  • Clean skippy sensors
  • Check the chain tension on each print head
  • Check carriage stiffness for each print head
  • Grease all knobs and replace any that are stripped
  • Lubricate the registration gates

Manual printers

  • Clean all surfaces
  • Grease all knob threads
  • Replace any broken or stripped knobs
  • Grease any open bearings
  • Lubricate registration gates
  • Check springs for wear and replace suspect springs
  • Check gas lifters for leaks.  Replace any leaking lifters
  • Confirm platen leveling to the print head.  Check with the press manufacturer for guidelines on this procedure

Screen room
LED Exposure System

  • Clean all glass with glass cleaner
  • Clean all surfaces
  • Clean all fan filters
  • Clean all fan blades
  • Replace any non-functioning fans
  • Replace any non-LED bulbs that are more than 2 years old
  • Clean vacuum rubber and replace if torn or worn
  • Clean washout sink.  Remove any built up emulsion

Notice a trend?

Yes, CLEAN is the main word here.  Most textile printing machinery will last for years with simple cleaning and maintenance.  We find that lint build up on fans and filters will cause early failure of electronic parts.  Also, unclean registration gates and pivot points will affect the registration of a press.  

While we appreciate all of the parts orders that we receive.  We know that your costs of downtime and spare parts are higher than your cost of preventative maintenance.  Every manufacturer will have a maintenance suggestion for their machinery.  If this schedule is followed in your facility, then the life span of your investment will be extended.

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.