Monday, March 11, 2019

Being prepared is a profitable idea

Dreaded downtime

Downtime due to machinery break down is a killer for the bottom line.  Not only do products not ship, employees are not productive.  This translates into an increased cost of goods and a decrease in revenue.  This is a big problem for both large and small producers.  Small producers, even if they are paying themselves and do not track labor costs have a decrease in revenue and a potential loss of a customer.  Larger companies track worker productivity as it relates to job costs and overhead.  As the ratio changes due to machinery downtime, profits suffer.

The solution for much of this is simple.  First, all production facilities need someone that has an understanding of the maintenance required for all of the machinery on the production floor.  This includes the simple items such as cleaning, lubrication and calibration.  Additionally this person should be handy with tools.  In most cases, these are difficult tools.  Simple wrenches, screwdrivers, wire cutters and a crimping tool, and possibly a multi-meter will do the trick.  

 Additionally, there are always a few items on all machinery that are essential for them to operate and cannot be bypassed.  If your production is reliant on any machine, then having these items in stock is a wise investment.  How much does this cost?  You would be surprised at how little, especially compared to the cost of downtime.

Midline Printer

LED Exposure System
As a suggestion, a manual printer will operate without any inventory readily available.  If they use a gas strut to support a print head, keep in mind that these have a limited life and having them available after about 2 years is a good idea.  These items are about $50 so this is minor.  An exposure unit will need a bulb at the 2 year mark.  So be prepared.  This can cost between $70 and $300 depending on the bulb.  New LED style units will not have this issue.  But a vacuum motor and timer are another part of that unit is essential.  If your exposure unit goes down, are you prepared to not process screens for 3 days?  The entire package of parts should cost less than $350.  

AirPony Dryer
Conveyor ovens are another issue.  If your shop only has one oven, your production hinges on the function of this machine.  Most systems in a conveyor oven can be bypassed to get a production floor moving.  However, the drive system cannot.  So, a drive motor and a motor control would be excellent items to have on hand for any over over 2 years old.  Again, the cost is minimal compared to the impact of zero production.  If you print garments that have a rigid temperature requirement, then stocking temperature controls is also a wise investment.
As for automatic printers, this is all dependent upon which type you are running.  For the ElectraPrint, we recommend a few minor items.  Photo eyes are handy, but typically the press can run with exchanging parts between heads.  With air machines, extra air cylinders are a wise choice.  Though, again, you can borrow from one head to another, having a set of cylinders is smart decision.

All machinery will have wear parts.  Just like a car, oil changes will keep a car going for many miles, but at some point, things need replacing.  Plan ahead, stock a few things and be prepared.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Firefly curing systems for screen printing

Though the FireFly is often paired with our Synergy for DTG production, the system was originally designed for screen print applications.  At the time the product was developed, the athletic printing world was challenged with an influx of polyester garments that had a high level of bleed issues using standard curing technology.  Additionally, water base and discharge printing was on the rise and typical electric ovens did not offer enough air flow to cure these inks effectively.  The FireFly offers unheard of solutions to both of these issues.

Ink manufacturers have developed dyno-gray inks to block dye migration in the polyester garments.  These are pricey and add one more color to many designs.  We have seen one job that appeared to be 2 colors actually be 3, but needed to be printed on an 18 head press to get the best results.  The Firefly allowed for the removal of the dyno-gray because the system is in full control and is responsive of garment temperature throughout the curing chamber.

How does the FireFly do this?  Thermal imaging cameras monitor the temperature of the ink and the garment with constant feedback to the software.  This feedback directs the controls of the quartz heaters to constantly modify their heat to keep the shirt within required parameters.  This control keeps the shirt below the dye migration temperature.

Also, the water based inks and discharge inks require large amounts of air for each garment as well as the solid control of garment temperature.  Air flow within the chamber is specified to each garment and is separate from the heat directed on the garment.  This allows for rapid evacuation of water vapor as well a quick cure of the ink.

Brown is thrilled with the connection of the FireFly in the DTG world.  But we are equally pleased with the long term reliability and curing diversity that the unit has provided our screen print customers.  Multi-variate printing is the mainstay of this system.  And that is the screen print world.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Some maintenance required

As with reading the instruction manual, scheduled maintenance is often overlooked.  We get notifications from our car dealers that things are due.  And, to be honest, who hasn't pushed that oil change a little farther out than recommended.   However, all machinery needs to be properly maintained for optimal and profitable production.  Also, keeping with the car analogy, the ones with crank windows and no AC have fewer systems that need maintaining, right.  So the higher level the machine, the more diligence is required.

Screen print machine maintenance

As an example of basic machinery, like the crank window on a car, manual screen printing presses only need to be clean.   Clean machines mean clean shirts for he end customer.  The use of spray adhesive is the biggest factor in a screen print shop.  The spray sticks to the machines, and the lint from the garments stick to the spray.  Dirt, dust and ink stick to the mess as well.  Some shops think this is "charming", like a cotton candy coating.  But, no, it's not.  The best solution, long term is to switch to platen glue that is spread on.  It lasts longer on press and it doesn't travel and stick anywhere it is not supposed to.

The spray adhesive also affects conveyor ovens.  The spray can mist into the drive system and the control panels.  Dirt on the drive train and the belt can easily be transferred to the final garments.  Spray adhesive and lint will stick to the fans of the control panel and reduce or eliminate air flow to the electrical components causing them to overheat and fail.  As the complexity of electronic components increases, the chance of overheat is higher.  This can cause drive train system failure, heat control system failure and complete machine shut down.  So, again, get rid of the spray and clean the machine.  Easy solutions to potentially big problems.

Automatic printers are higher level machines and require more maintenance.  The Brown ElectraPrint has a suggested maintenance that is listed in it's manual.  These items begin, like all others, with cleaning filters and chains.  The biggest part of this machine is the grease.  There are grease locations in each head and in the base. For air driven machines, the maintenance increases due to the air compressor equipment and the cylinders.  Check your manual for the full list and you will probably see "cleaning" at the top.

DTG auxiliary machine maintenance

BrownDigital, with the development of the Synergy and FireFly systems, is heavily involved in the DTG production market.  While this segment of the industry has different challenges, the solutions are often the same.  Additionally, these machines are higher level and required more scheduled maintenance items with more diligence.  

The FireFly is similar to conventional curing systems.  Drive train systems, fans and motors need to be kept clean.  Filter systems and belts for the exhaust scrubbers do have a maintenance schedule, just like the filters on your car.  And if these are not followed, those will fail.  These ovens cure with quartz style heating, so stocking spare bulbs in-house is a good plan to reduce down time.  These also use thermal imaging cameras and touch screen displays.  Higher level parts need additional monitoring for continued reliable production.

For pretreat systems, the complication increases.  There are a lot of moving parts, motors and filters.  Pretreat fluid is sticky and everything it touches needs to be flushed with water or replaced on a regular basis.  There are nozzles, pumps, valves and hosing that water flush cycles need to be run.  There are filter systems for the fluid and for air flow that need regular changing or cleaning.  There is a belting system that needs cleaning due to overspray.  None of this maintenance is difficult, but it is necessary and, in the case of the Synergy, can be preprogrammed to automatically run.  Also, task reminders can be set for any other maintenance item needed.

Final notes

Maintenance is often a low level priority for small businesses.  Run everything until there is an issue and then scramble until things are repaired.  For some items, that is okay.  However, like a restaurant that needs to wash everything every day, a production facility needs to be cleaned.  

Today a long standing customer stopped in for a part for a machine from the late 1980s.  Yes, the 1980s.  It was spotless.  And, since we build a similar unit today, he still runs this one.  We did laugh that he was not a profit center for us, since he never needs to buy anything but he pointed out that this is what makes his business profitable.  Isn't that what you are in this for?

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

What an amazing year of innovation and learning

2018 has been an amazing year for Brown and BrownDigital.  It is difficult to list all of the changes that have occurred because it is not often that a company is cascaded with growth, innovation and industry accolades.    Our product lines continue develop and reach into new business sectors that originate within the garment decorating world but now sector off into many new specialties.  Our traditional Brown line has combined with the newer BrownDigital catalog to connect us with new people and our existing customer base with new advancements.

Since the screen printing sector of the industry remains strong, our ElectraPrint remains a solid base for our Brown product line.  The easy to maintain design, simple operation and durable construction  continue to make them a product of choice in the industry. It is always a pleasure to have a customer return to add another machine to their production line.

Many of these traditional printers are now expanding into the digital printing world and BrownDigital is there with solutions to these production issues as well.  The patented FireFly system is the technological leader for curing of both DTG and screen print inks.  The thermal imaging camera innovation sets this product apart from any other in its category.  This product saves space, time and energy while providing flexible curing for any garment at any time.   Combining the FireFly with the Synergy pretreat module adds another level of production control and  flexibility to any direct to garment printing operation.  This complete system is the reason for the expansive growth and reach of new markets that we have enjoyed in 2018.

The pinnacle of this is the SGIA's prestigious Product of the Year awards.  Brown Manufacturing Group is honored to have earned these award for 2 years running.  We show distinction in curing, pretreat and combination systems that cover an array of production variables.  What is still more exciting is that our engineers have more innovations ready for to present for this award next year and still more to come.  The buzz of ingenuity in our office is energizing.

So thank you to our loyal customers for their continued support of the Brown screen printing product line.  We see this part of the garment decorating industry to remain an elemental part of our business for years to come.  And, to our new DTG customers, welcome to the Brown family.  We look forward to continued success and connections within all sectors of our industry in years to come.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Our industry is unique, and challenging

I met a friend for cocktails this weekend and we discussed our careers and the industries that we are in.  This person had a recent job change and was describing the differences in the two markets.  While chatting, the question came up, "Why is printing on a t-shirt so hard?"  It occurred to me then that what we do is truly unique.  In most industries the production variables are limited and consistent.  The "how to" is measured and analyzed with tolerances defined and universal industry standards measured.  Well, anyone who has printed garments knows that most of this does not apply to us.

Sure we have defined cure temperatures for ink.  Sure we have PMS color matching.  And, of course, we have production rate requirements.  But even all of this is loosely followed.  Ink cure temperatures rates vary by brand and type.  PMS colors are borrowed from other print industries and are loosely applied to color cards from ink companies, though many shops do have custom ink mixing in house.   As for production rates, we are all trying to produce a profit.  And that need drives everything.

So my companion currently sells high end cars and used to sell real estate.  Market and economy fluctuations are what drives these industries.  In the metal fabrication business, metal is systematically measured and variables in quality are based on the human factor.  The inkjet, laser and DTG printers that surround my desk are all assembly line production items as is the laptop I am writing with.  So I explained all of the options within production and sales of printed garments and I mystified myself with questions of how we do it all.

Let's go over the list.

  • Every garment type is different:
    • color
    • fabric
    • weight
    • pile
    • construction
  • Every individual garment may be different:
    • size
  • Every ink type has a different cure temperature and that is influenced by:
    • thickness of the ink film
    • thickness of the garment
    • number of layers of ink film
    • time in the chamber
    • temperature of the chamber
    • air flow of the heat chamber
  • Each artwork file has it's own printing parameters
    • size
    • number of colors
    • type of separation
    • what color it is to print onto
  • Type of printing influences or is influenced by all of the above
    • Manual screen
    • Automatic screen
    • DTG
    • Sublimation
  • DTG variables include
    • pretreat type
    • pretreat density
    • pretreat cure
I have only scratched the surface of what can happen in a day.  So what do you do?

You can go old school.  And it works.  

Log books, spread sheets, paper pick tickets with instructions, even sharpie marker notes on the machinery can help limit issues.  As an example, a pick ticket should include order information, cure settings, pretreat requirement, ink colors and color order.  This is a solid system that works most of the time and is historically reliable.  

Now let's move that to today's technology.  

Digital resources make it possible to put every piece of information in one storage location and link all that together by all the variables.  This can all be put on a mobile device at each production unit that can reference the information by scanning a barcode.  This technology is used in most production industries today and, because of all of our variables, should have been in garment decorating years ago.

A previous blog was written on our Linx software.  This system manages the information on all of the variable that are listed above.  Once information about a type of garment are input into the data base then that information is linked to any order that needs that garment.  It stores artwork files and connects them to orders.  It controls curing and pretreat parameters in the Synergy and FireFly.  It can track orders through production and connect them to ShipStation.  This tool helps to contain the chaos that is elemental to garment decoration.

So, though the cocktail and conversation was a wonderful way to catch up, my companion decided that what I do is crazy talk and selling Porsche and Bentley are a better fit.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Award winners from SGIA 2018

BrownDigital earns Product Of The Year in 2 categories

FireFly Curing System 
U.S. Patent No. 10,011,136


What an honor.  Our patented FireFly eared the SGIA Screen Printing Drying Equipment Product of the Year.  This system is unique to the industry in its design and function.  Thermal imaging cameras monitor the temperature of the substrate and adjust the amount of energy applied to ensure perfect cure for each item. Paired with our proprietary software that connects to our Linx Control System software, this is a product designed to cure any decorated garment, whether screen or digitally printed.

Synergy Pretreat Module


And double the accolades.  The Synergy pretreat module earned the SGIA Pre-press (Sprayers/Dryers) Product Of The Year.  The Synergy combines with the FireFly to pretreat goods for direct to garment printing. Configured to spray two different pretreat solutions, and to mix them from concentrated form, the Synergy system is a large scale solution to a production bottle neck.  Simple to operate and easy to clean, this unit features software scheduled maintenance of the nozzle heads with built in flow sensors.  

Additionally, this system connects to our Linx Control System software to provide complete control of any product in your on-demand production floor.

See these and our full line of products at the SGIA show in Las Vegas on October 18, 19 and 20.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Linx production management software overview

Does your business offer an online store?

No, we do not have an apparel store.  However, most of our customers do and they look something like this.

Having an online presence is essential.  However, managing the orders from those stores can get complicated.  Knowing where each order is in your production process can get tricky and confirming that each order is shipped correctly is challenging.  This can mean a lot of paper, or hoping that your accounting package or CRM can handle work flow.

A better plan is to implement production management software.  There are many of these available on the market that will help manage inventory, shipping and billing.  These will read in orders and give you a paperless system.   However, there is only one that drives the actual production of the machines themselves.  That is Linx.

Pulling directly from your store, whether that is a custom designed web site or a Shopify site, Linx captures order data including art files and product information and it directs those orders to their production stations.  Orders can be sorted by purchase requirement, delivery requirements, production requirements of dozens of other ways.  So Linx is used for purchasing, quality control and shipping.

This image is way easier to read in real time.  However, each row is an order and each column contains information as to the status of the order.

Now I know you are saying that you can do all of this on the system you already have.  That is true. 

What else can Linx do?

The list is pretty long so here is a quick overview:
  • Map artwork from order to output.  Meaning it links the art file location to the order and scales and places it in the final print position.
  • Bar code tag all orders for scanner access at each production station
  • Convert PNG files to formats required for output devices.  (AR3, ARX4, KSF, many more)
  • Control print parameters specific for each art file, each product and each output device
  • Position and scale artwork to any location on the product
  • Set pretreat and curing parameters for each product and art file so that the Synergy and FireFly treat each item for their specific requirements
  • Pull orders directly from your web site and send orders directly to ShipStation

These are items that are NOT done by the spreadsheet that you currently use.

When a barcode prints for an order, it has all information specific to the product and the order.  That barcode is scanned at the Synergy and pretreat is applied and cured based on preset rules.  At the DTG machine, the barcode is scanned and the printer accesses the order and the parameters required and prints.  The FireFly uses the same barcode for curing parameters.

At the QC and shipping station, barcodes will specify if the order is ready to ship or if other products are needed to complete the order.  If more products are still in production, Linx will notify the shipper that the order is not complete and will assign a bin for holding until all items become available.  Once the order is fulfilled, the system will notify the shipping station that it is ready.  

What else is cool?  The Rules Engine

The greatest part of all of this is that the rules and requirements for each order and each product are completely under your control.  If one garment SKU requires different pretreat than another, that information is set by you and is set into the barcode.  If one product needs to ship with another, the first is held in a bin until the other becomes available, then it can ship together.  If the artwork requires an white underlay on some garments but not on others, that is decided by you and stored within the parameters of the art.

All your control and all stored within Linx.  How cool is that?

What production areas are affected?

Originally designed for direct to garment printing, the Linx Production Management Software is now used for laser engravers, tattoo printers, screen printers, and very soon, embroiderers.  Open API communication is all that is needed to connect Linx to a production department.  

So, will this break the bank?

Of course not.  There is a connection fee for each station.  And their is a minimal monthly license fee.  However, since the system does the conversion to the DTG art requirements and it tracks your shipping and inventory, the fees that you are already paying another source will go away.  

Contact our sales department for additional information on the Linx Production Management software.