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?