By Dara Syrkin
Operating efficient, effective shops resembles putting together a gigantic jigsaw puzzle: every piece is integral. Your assets—people, equipment and a vision for the future—play vital roles. How will your staff shape the future of your shop? How do you make the most of the equipment you own? Where do risk and progress meet? Valerie Cuchna of Fabric Images (Elgin, Ill.) talks about that decision-making process.
Q: What types of new equipment are available? What performance and benefits do these offer; what are their best uses compared to “traditional” printing/cutting/finishing equipment?
Cuchna: We are focusing on using existing equipment in new and innovative ways. For example, newly engineered inks and fabrics can be incorporated into the existing printers to reproduce colors more vibrantly or for direct dye sublimation printing. Precision cutters can be used for more than cutting out standard textiles to provide broader solutions.
Q: What guidelines should EPMs use to determine the correct equipment for their operation and market segment; what cautions need be observed?
Cuchna: While there are a lot of advantages to being the first to adopt a new technology, you need to make sure you have a skilled technician onsite to properly run the equipment. Not only do you need machine operators, you also need the technical support and computer expertise on staff to correctly execute project designs.
Q: What tough questions need to be asked to help EPMs make informed decisions on equipment choices?
Cuchna: Will this investment in technology take the company in a desired direction and open up new markets with potential? What will this equipment do for the productivity of the employees and how will it change the skill sets that are needed for employees? Are current employees or applicants already trained to work with this or will we need to heavily invest in proper training? Finding the correct skill sets
in manufacturing is not always an easy task.
Q: What resources do EPMs have to verify manufacturer claims? How will this affect their own claims to clients and messages in marketing their services?
Cuchna: A strong relationship with qualified vendors is the best asset we have when gathering data on substrates. We have a great network of suppliers who have already completed a number of tests on materials. With our typical turnaround on projects being one to three weeks, we do not have a long enough time frame to replicate many of these trials. However, we can partner with material manufacturers and gather a plethora of necessary information including certifications from nationally recognized labs.
Q: What can users expect in the near future with regard to improvements and/or new trends within digital printing equipment and sustainability issues?
Cuchna: Sustainability continues to be a filter we use to help make equipment-purchasing decisions. Instead of being a buzz word, we have found that sustainability efforts are simply expected. As we look at new materials and inks to use with our process we have to secure ways to recycle or preserve the raw materials. Not only is this a responsibility, it can also greatly reduce costs. After purchasing a baler a few years ago, we found our disposal volume went down dramatically since the scrap material can be baled, stored and then sent in for recycling. Even though the baler is not something seen by our customers, it is reflected in reduced cost estimates and greater efficiency.