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.