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Almanac: Five keys to successful pad printing

June 1, 2005

5 Min Read
Almanac: Five keys to successful pad printing

If you’ve spent hours or days getting the part to mold just right, why would you short-change the process when it comes to decoration?

If you were to ask most injection molders with in-house pad printing capability what they think of the pad printing process, you would likely hear negative answers. Chances are those molders failed to observe one or more of the following five keys to successfully launching any pad printing operation.

1. Assign responsibility. Often no one is in charge of dealing with a pad printing project from cradle to grave. It is imperative that someone coordinate the implementation of each phase of the project.

Someone has to have all the pieces of the puzzle at hand and the ability to document where they all are at any given time. Without a project coordinator, things fall through the cracks and the project ends up taking more time and costing more money than it would have otherwise.

2. Create a timeline. A reasonable timeline for completion of the project’s phases is eight to 10 weeks. A breakdown of a practical timeline is in the box opposite.

Fully automated systems that require extensive parts handing and/or pre- and post-treatment steps can easily take 15 to 20 weeks. Much of this time is spent engineering, procuring, building, and testing all of the nonstandard mechanisms involved.

If you’re trapped in a “never enough time to do it right, but always enough time to do it over” environment, I suggest you initiate a paradigm shift. If you don’t have enough time to do it right you shouldn’t expect it to be right.

3. Invest in technology. Pad printing has experienced significant technological growth in recent years. The pad printing equipment introduced in this millennium is stepper-motor driven and CNC. It is faster and, because it has the capability to drive numerous external accessories and store programs, it can easily be reconfigured to become application specific.

Additionally, it makes sense to look at other features the supplier might offer. For example, is your system upgradeable? Can you easily replace your two-position linear indexer with a rotary table when demand increases? Are the system’s units truly integrated, or is your supplier using stock components from other manufacturers?

Finally, how programmable are the units—can you adjust speeds, distance of travel, or the number of stations? Based on your specific needs, all these questions will help you decide which system is best for you.

Buying used equipment or obsolete pneumatic machines at rock-bottom prices only serves to make you the technological equivalent of that molder down the street that just went bankrupt. In pad printing you get what you pay for, so make sure the solution you buy into is really cost effective, not just cheap.

Your supplier should be able to prove the viability of the solutions it offers in the form of a thorough production cost analysis, or at least be available to assist your project coordinator in identifying hidden costs with its proposals.

Some of these hidden costs include the following:

  • Ink.

  • Plates (and plate-making labor, if the supplier is making its own).

  • Pads.

  • Spare parts.

  • Setup and cleanup time estimates (a labor cost).

  • Utilities.

  • Other supplies.

4. Invest in training and service. Pad printing is a process that can be scientifically controlled. To control it effectively you need to learn not only what the variables are, but also how to correctly identify each of their nuances.

If your application is automated and fairly complex, send your key people out to train at the equipment supplier’s facility in conjunction with final acceptance of the machine. If your application is pretty straightforward, have your supplier include the costs for a technician to travel to your facility to conduct operator training.

If you don’t think training is worth the money, think again. Training is always less expensive than the lost man- and/or machine-hours that result from on-the-job training.

Some of the best pad printing solutions don’t come in a box. It pays to keep that in mind when you’re reviewing quotes, because “cheap” and “inexpensive” are two different things. If two solutions appear to be identical, yet one costs significantly less, it is probably because that supplier didn’t include any costs for service in the price.

Service should be your most important consideration, because good service can save you from yourself. No matter how organized you are, there are going to be emergencies. When emergencies happen you’ll want to be confident that your supplier will be there to bail you out.

5. Invest in personnel. If your decorating department has a revolving door, you’re going to have problems, especially if your project coordinator is detached after the machine is installed and the operators have received only their initial training. A skilled pad printing technician is just as important to the success of your business as a skilled injection molding technician is.

A skilled pad printing technician is a person who can identify a problem, determine the root cause of a problem, and adjust the process as necessary to correct it. He or she needs to be trained well initially and then kept current with recurring training. The more he or she knows, the more efficient and, therefore, productive he or she becomes.

That doesn’t mean that you have to dedicate a person to oversee the pad printing process 24/7. But it does mean that you need to have at least one person (preferably one person/shift) who has a strong working relationship with your supplier’s technical personnel, and the power to implement the supplier’s recommendations about how to make the process as efficient as possible.

Pad printing brings in opportunities for more business and provides an avenue to increased margins. If you observe these five keys to successful pad printing, the process can be almost seamlessly integrated into your business and it will grow to become its own profit center.

John Kaverman is national sales manager for Innovative Marking Systems (Lowell, MA), the exclusive U.S. distributor of pad printing equipment from Tosh, an Italian machinery manufacturer. Kaverman, who holds a degree in printing from Ferris State University, has authored two books on the pad printing process. You can contact him at [email protected], or at (978) 459-6533.

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