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.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Reconditioned equipment might be right for you

On a regular basis we take machinery in on trade.  Many customers want new machines because they outgrow or are expanding.  Many, like new car owners, prefer not to spend time on repairs.  The opportunity this presents to others is the availability of quality merchandise at lower prices.  Some of the machines we receive are in perfect condition, like the one in the photo.  Many are pretty rough.  However, all of them are checked over by our staff and are fully functional.

What does fully functional mean?  

For ovens we make sure that all the heaters, motors, fans and electronics work as they were designed.  If there is a part not functioning, new parts are installed.  Many ovens come to us with outdated temperature controls.  We install newer style electronics in most conveyors so that future parts replacement is easier for the buyer.  Also, this gives tighter regulation to the heat in the chamber and makes these a reliable unit for any production shop.
For printers, registration is the key.  We repair any registration issues with the print heads and registration gates.  We make sure that any micro registration on the press is moving freely and holds firm in the final location.  We replace any damaged parts such as platens and knobs and we grease all the moving parts for ease of use.  

What do we not do?

We do not spend much time cleaning machines.  We knock off dirt and rub off much of the ugly stuff.  We make sure that the essential parts of he machinery are clean and functioning.  However, shines and new they are not.  We believe that you do not want to pay for the time it would take our people to wipe down and buff an machine.  Cost of the machine is as important as functionality.  

So what do we have?

The inventory of reconditioned machinery is very fluid.  We receive items every time our trucks go on installations and we sell items every day.  Our web site is updated on a regular basis when new items arrive.  Check out the list.  If you see something interesting, give us a a call.

Monday, May 14, 2018

The rise of the DTG force

Screen printers across the country are sensing a tremor in the force (sorry for  the bad analogy to non-Star Wars fans). It is hard to put a finger on this new DTG revolution as DTG printing has existed a while, however in the last year or so the force have been getting stronger and stronger from our customer base .

Existing DTG Market

DTG as been around for many years, however with minimal industry changing effects. From our perspective, this is due to two reasons.
  1. Small businesses bought one DTG with the intent of doing 6 shirts for walk ins, and does not affect the screen print shop's core business.  
  2. Large Businesses bought DTGs to do one-offs for the online business, but this has not affected the screen print core business.

Emerging Market

For the first time, large corporations who do not screen print are investing in large scale DTG production as well as outsourcing to traditional screen print contract shops.  In addition, they are starting to look, online and offline, for screen printing core business orders that range from 30-500 pieces. Some shops have DTG machines capable of over 500 pieces an hour.  We foresee this eventually affecting the industry in three ways.
  1. Creates a market where water-base prints or a flat feel on a shirt becomes the industry standard for non-athletic wear.
  2. Creates a standard that a 6-color to full color prints are priced similar to 2 color prints.
  3. Creates an artistic style that is full color and those jobs are prices similar to 2 color prints.
  4. Creates a market where consumers are able to order their shirts online at any time of day with immediate or minimal lead time shipping.

So now what? If this is the future, what do you do?

If you are foretelling the future, like a Jedi knight, where do you see the best investment for your business? Will your current customer base shift and do you need to adjust? Will you expand your customer base so that you need options? Maybe a crystal ball would help. 

One man's crystal ball leans toward screen printing with a side of digital.

With screen printing as the primary production source, a single direct to garment machine gives some flexibility. This is one option for community printers.

  1. True screen printing is not going away in the foreseeable future. There are polyesters and other materials that can not be printed digitally, as of now.  Those items need traditional printing inks for adhesion.
  2. DTG ink costs substantially more per garment and on long run jobs it impacts the profitability of the run.
  3. Your website will take online orders that are single piece or low quantity. Advertising to your customer base that DTG is available is imperative.   As a note, this does not mean competing with Amazon, but having the ability for your customers to order online and at low volume increases the use of the DTG option.  

Another Man's Crystal Ball leans toward digital printing.

So, instead of screen printing, what are the positives for printing with DTG only? As a rule, the process looks cleaner. There are fewer consumables involved and there is less training required. For people who are more comfortable with touch screens and button clicking, this fits their style. Additional benefits include:

  1. Eliminates the screen processing and ink clean up steps of the process.
  2. Eliminates skilled labor for art and screen registration.
  3. Makes it easier to recruit/train new help.
  4. Some believe that final quality is more consistent.
  5. Allows unlimited colors with a flatter feel.
  6. Opens new markets in one-off designs and online stores.
  7. The dryer that is a large cost in the DTG system can also apply to future screen printing expansion.
  8. Keeps a project in-house for businesses that do not wish to be in the screen print decorating business.

The Lucky 8-ball is another view. Skip DTG completely.

So you are hands-on people. You cost out each job to determine the profit margin. You prints runs that are typically 100 or more. So you really don't want another style of printing in the building. There are some really good reasons for that:

  1. Larger runs of less colors are more cost effective with screen printing.
  2. Certain fabrics and certain customer bases require plastisol based inks. DTG cannot print these jobs.
  3. DTG machine require maintenance just as much as any other industrial equipment. 
  4. DTG ink costs substantially more per garment.
  5. Replacements parts for the printers may be pricier.
  6. DTG required the same footprint for production.  
  7. The core of your business is screen printing, and your expected expansion in low run markets is minimal.

So what do the Jedi Masters suggest?

We see the logic and financial breakeven of a DTG venture.  There is an expanding market that needs addressing and this is the best tool to capitalize on what is coming.  However, eliminating screen printing at this moment, appears to be moving too fast with the potential loss of a market that is already established.

Like everything else in business, there are success stories from all combinations of these processes. The DTG movement is something to be seriously considered. Just make sure that profits are the reason for the choice of direction and that your marketing plan agrees.


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Everyday conversations with our customers

We are a bit old school.   When you call Brown Manufacturing Group you get people.   No voice mail.  No phone extensions.  No "press 1" commands.  It isn't because we are living in 1970, but because we prefer human interaction.  Customer connection is a priority for us.  We are a family business and we want to know our customers, not just take an order and move on.

This direct contact comes with both positives and negatives. One negative is that, sometimes, we are a bit overloaded.  Our apology if you have been on hold or caught us juggling a few conversations at the same time.

It is those conversations that are the positive.  

AP-67J ElectraPrint Junior

As an example, today, a customer called to order a sleeve platen for his manual Masterprinter.  I had the opportunity to chat with him about the job he was printing and learned that he needed to print 200 shirts in 3 locations by Friday.  Well, as a sales person, this was an opportunity for me.  But is was also a learning conversation for him.  He had not looked at our ElectraPrint machines and did not know their capabilities or how reasonably priced they could be.  Though he ordered his sleeve attachment and will be printing 600 prints by hand, he is now armed with information on how to improve his business and that he can afford the upgrade.  No online order system can do that for a customer.

Additionally, if he had taken the time to peruse our web site, this kind of machinery can be confusing to configure to your shop.  A little bit of casual conversation and we determined the right number of heads and features that fit his shop and his production needs.  And it was in his price range.

As a sales professional, I can always wish for a sale.  But most sales people know that business is build upon relationships and need fulfillment.  Did I expect a sale?  Only for the original sleeve platen.  Do I look forward to future conversations with this customer about expanding his business?  Absolutely.

We prefer you call us and ask questions.  Send us an email, if you prefer.  Our family likes to meet yours.  We believe it is better service.  And, for the record, that sleeve platen will ship today.