Peter Walsh, vice president of sales at The M&R Companies, discusses how presses have changed over the past 30 years and what to consider before buying one

Peter Walsh

What are the key trends in screen printing presses at the moment?
Most press manufacturers are focusing a lot of attention on design enhancements to improve set-up speed. Examples include integrated screen pre-registration systems, and the ability to store and recall press printing parameters, and/or flash-cure settings as recipes that can be recalled for future jobs. Greater uptime equals increased profit

Tell us a bit about the development process at M&R
At M&R, new press development is a continuous and an on-going process for our engineering team. We rely heavily on customer feedback in calibrating the direction of our design and development process to meet customer and market requirements. A recent example is the development of high performance oval format presses to support the transition of the major activewear brands from plastisol inks to non-PVC inks. While plastisol inks support wet-on-wet printing of eight or more colours, the new high solids acrylic water-based and PVC-free inks generally require a greater number of intermediate flash curing stations. This requirement has been a driving force in the resurgence of oval format automatic presses.

How have presses changed since M&R started out?
The amazing thing about automatic press design over the past 30 years M&R has been in business is that everything has changed except the price. A new press buyer will pay almost the same amount to purchase a 10-station/ eight-colour Sportsman EX carousel automatic press in 2017 as they would have paid back in 1987 when the M&R Challenger series presses were first introduced. The difference with today’s generation of presses is that they come equipped with a colour touchscreen interface, servo indexer, AC print head drive, pneumatic screen-locks, squeegee, and floodbar air locks and pressure regulators, along with a host of standard features that were either options or just not available back in the day.

Has the demand for automatic presses versus manual presses changed?
The opportunity to put a full manual screen printing shop together with a six-colour/four-station press, flash cure unit, conveyor dryer, exposure unit, film output device, screens, inks and related supplies for a relatively modest financial investment supports a continued flow of new companies entering the screen printing industry to serve niche garment decorating applications. Ten years ago when a company’s production requirements outgrew its manual print capacity, it was quite common to hire additional employees and to add a second or third manual press to the operation. With today’s higher labour costs and the difficulty of hiring skilled employees, it’s much more common for companies to go directly from a single manual press to a first automatic press.

What should people consider before purchasing a press?
Take the time to learn about the market segment you will be serving to determine the format size, number of colours, fabric types and ink chemistries that are required. Use this information to establish a ‘request for proposal’ to communicate a common set of requirements with the different equipment manufacturers under consideration. Hold the manufacturer accountable to providing a solution that meets the requirements without being overkill.

What is the main mistake people make when using an automatic press, and how could they avoid it?
While most people work hard to select the correct press for their needs, they often fail to complete a business process analysis to confirm that the other parts of the production process support the increased capacity of an automatic press. I’ve seen too many cases where a business owner was unable to enjoy the full benefit of their new automatic because of bottlenecks in pre-press, dryer capacity, or a lack of space to store blank and printed garments.

What one piece of advice would you give to garment decorators to help them get more out of their presses?
I’d encourage all ‘equipment owners’ to invest the time to get to know how to operate their press, and not leave this knowledge totally in the hands of their employees. As a business owner, it’s important to know what your equipment is capable of and to take steps to ensure that it is consistently operated to maximum effectiveness.