Dave Roper, managing director of screen printing specialist Dave Roper Ltd, explains how to decide if it’s time for you to shift from a manual screen printing press to an automatic, and which one to choose

There is no magic formula that accurately pinpoints the precise moment at which a print shop should upgrade from a manual press to an automatic. But the decision isn’t as difficult as you might think. The time to automate usually comes when one manual is not enough to handle the workload. If that’s the situation you currently find yourself in, and you’re considering adding another manual press in order to keep up with production, it’s time to think about moving to an automatic. There are probably a number of factors that have pushed you into thinking about the need to upgrade:

  • Your arms are longer than your body! You can only do so many manual prints a day before fatigue hits
  • Letting customers down on delivery times
  • Customer base has grown
  • Need for a quicker turnaround
  • Want more output for less input, especially when thinking about space and wages
  • Need a more consistent print throughout jobs and for repeat business

There are clear advantages to going automatic. Your business will appeal to a bigger market as you’ll be easily able to handle larger orders, jobs will be faster to set up and you’ll be able to provide a quicker turnaround thanks to the ability to print faster. Registration will be reliably spot on and the last print will be the same as the first – consistency is key.

You’ll also be able to print larger areas and it will free up more time for other jobs, such as marketing your business, all of which leads to increased turnover, and therefore increased value of your business.

Time is money

The following timings and prices have been arrived at using our team’s years of experience and knowledge. They are estimates based on a print shop running at its maximum capacity, where a typical job of 100 white T-shirts with a three-colour print is, in this example, priced at £415. As you can see, there is a considerable amount of profit gained from printing on an automatic.

Colour, print size and costs

Once you decide an automatic textile press is for you, you’ll need to decide on the number of colours and the print area of your new automatic.

I recommend you plan for the future by using the 80/20 rule, where it is recommended to purchase a press that will accommodate at least 80% of the work you are currently printing. For example, if only 5-10% of your business is large format, a larger press might not be cost effective.

The cost of an automatic press is generally nomore than that of hiring an additional employee to print on a new manual, although youmay also have to factor in some additional costs for ancillary equipment and upgrades to your shop to get the most out of the new auto – see below. The return on investment from an automatic, however, is much greater – you can expect between three to eight times more production with an automatic press compared with a manual, and it won’t call in sick. The time saved, as well as the extra production capabilities, will allow you to build the business at a much faster pace.

The M&R Diamondback S automatic carousel

You need to decide whether to go for a second-hand machine or new. Second-hand clearly will cost less, but this is offset by older technology and potentially not being able to find spare parts as easily – a press generates profit only while it is up and running. Warranty will be limited, plus you may not know its maintenance history. For newmachines, financing is more likely to be available.

Whether you go for new or secondhand, finding a reputable supplier is paramount. Check they have a good parts ordering service, quality after-sales and customer service, experience in technical support, training options and a buy-back or part-exchange option for when you want to upgrade. If I could, I would recommend opting for a team headed up by a bald and blue-eyed bloke, but I won’t, in case I get accused of bias.

The manual Kruzer press from M&R

Final considerations

There are a number of other things you need to consider before taking the plunge, and you may need to consider making some other strategic investments to avoid creating a bottleneck in other departments in your print shop.

  • Do you have enough space not only to house the press, but also to operate it efficiently?
  • Does your current exposure unit have room for more than one screen?
  • What power source do you have? A three-phase electricity supply is generally needed for the flash dryer because of the speed needed, heat given and the bigger area covered
  • A compressor will also be needed with dried, chilled air
  • You’ll want to consider a larger dryer to cope with the auto’s increased output
  • If you’re going to use larger screens (23” x 31”), is your current screen room capable? And is it up to scratch?

As well as checking you have enough space for the new machinery, you’ll also need to consider extra storage space for the larger number of garments you’ll be printing during each shift. Will you need folding and bagging machinery and, if so, do you have room for that as well?

Research, along with a pragmatic approach and a thorough understanding of your business’s figures, will ensure you make the right decision. Once you’ve bought the machine, it’ll be up to you to make it work to the best of its abilities, so you need to know you’ve got everything in place for an automatic leap into greater profitability.