December '16

For the Business of Apparel Decorating

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64 || P R I N T W E A R D E C E M B E R 2 0 1 6 Automatic Results B Y J O H N M U R R A Y I f you've recently expanded your op- eration, you're probably aware of the many recent high-tech advances in screen printing: faster, more sophis- ticated presses at lower prices; direct-to- garment printing; LED exposure systems; advances in preregistration systems; and more. Even if you haven't added any new equipment in the last decade, it would be hard not to notice the headlong drive to automate. Screen-making existed in a backwater until the advent of computer-to-screen im- aging and exposure systems. At first, screen printers were hesitant to adopt the technol- ogy, but once the benefits became apparent the rush was on. Like screen-making before it, screen cleaning continues to exist in a backwater, both figuratively and literally. There are clear and quantifiable advantages to automating those processes—as well as some not-so-ob- vious advantages—but many shop owners give little thought to this out-of-sight, out- of-mind aspect of screen printing. But, really, is there anything wrong with the manual process of reclaiming screens? Well, not if you like a corner of your shop decorated with ink-spattered walls, soothed by the sound of power sprayers, punctuated by runaway humidity, and tinged with a strong chemical odor. There's a reason shop owners don't show off their screen-cleaning operations. At this point, you're probably thinking, "Sure, it's messy, noisy, and a little unpleas- ant, but why would I want to invest in au- tomation when I have a couple of low-wage employees getting the job done?" Well, they may be getting a job done, but it's unlikely they're getting the job done, unless quality, speed, and efficiency aren't important to your operation. The quality of your prints starts with the quality of your screens, and ev- eryone who touches those screens plays a role in what you ship to your customers. The people who work with your screens play a role in the longevity of those screens, and screens treated with care last longer and perform better. As computer-to-screen imaging and exposure systems with their ability to quickly create new screens become the norm, the tendency to hold and store imaged screens for future repeat jobs is likely to diminish. The upside is an op- eration that requires fewer screens, less stor- age space, and less labor spent storing and retrieving them. The potential downside is that the mesh on a screen will likely see more use over a given period. However, the issue of wear and tear can be significantly mitigated by careful screen cleaning and handling. THE ADVANTAGES OF AUTOMATED SCREEN CLEANING Automated processes reduce labor costs. This also frees up the employee operating the machine to perform other tasks during the clean/rinse cycles. Direct digital control of volume, pres- sure, and duration yields consistent results whereas manually-cleaned screens often require follow-up rinsing or scrubbing be- cause of incomplete or inadequate process- ing due to operator fatigue, boredom, or in- sufficient training. Processing can also vary from one operator to the next. The balanced pressure and even application provided by simultaneous sprays from both sides of the screen clean consistently and help maintain screen tension and an extended screen life. Consistency is further improved with user- programmed sequences that can be called up for various screen-cleaning scenarios, en- abling operators to quickly and consistently clean any screen, emulsion, or ink in one simple step. Automated systems also arguably reduce the environmental impact from recirculat- ing screen-cleaning chemicals, as well as lower these operating costs. The precise application of cleaning chemicals instead enhances the cleaning process and reduces overall chemical usage. Going along with this is the reduction in water consumption from applying the precise amount of water necessary to clean screens. Automated screen cleaning can reduce water use by as much as 50 percent, while some systems reportedly reduce costs further by recycling water used in the wash cycle. The fully-enclosed screen- cleaning chambers also keep the area clean while minimizing noise, humidity, and ex- posure to screen-cleaning chemicals improv- ing workers' experiences as well. THE PROCESS There are four basic steps in the screen- cleaning process: 1. Ink removal 2. Emulsion removal 3. Removal of haze, strains, and ghost im- ages 4. Degreasing Only when all four of these steps have been performed successfully can a screen be considered clean. Automatic Screen- Cleaning Equipment John Murray joined M&R as a product manager earlier this year. From 2004 to 2009, he was a consultant and regional sales manager at M&R. John has also headed several companies and has a wide range of experience both inside and outside the garment-decoration field. He can be reached at: 630-390-4147 or

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