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New keys to successful printing environments: Efficiency and sustainability

In the RMG sector of Bangladesh there is an awakening in progress. For some, the awakening was not soon enough. According to industry figures more than 200 SME factories, affecting 62,582 workers, closed their doors in the previous 12 months primarily due to higher production costs. It has now become apparent that the low cost of labor and certain resources are no longer sufficient for maintaining a competitive advantage and profitability.


In the current environment, as costs have risen the need for more efficiency has become paramount. Just as important, sustainability in all of its forms has become a key focus. For many of the international fashion brands it has become a marketing priority as well as a basic requirement for their suppliers.

As a practical matter for the manufacturers, the result of increased sustainability can mean a reduction in costs. Fortunately, a respectable effort is being made by many forward-thinking companies to address the issues of efficiency and sustainability. Unfortunately, in most operations, this effort is being focused on every department except printing. The result of this lack of focus on the printing department is a potential bottleneck at this important link of the production chain.

The benefits of efficiency

According to the Asian Productivity Organization (APO), Bangladesh’s per hour productivity was valued at $3.4 compared to $4.1 and $4.7 for Myanmar and Vietnam. Sri Lanka leads the region at $15.9, a 460% higher efficiency rate than Bangladesh. That’s a pretty dramatic spread. Within a printing department efficiency is measured primarily by 2 variables which ultimately yield an output per labor hour.

  • Capacity – the practical, potential output of equipment and labor.
  • Net Production – actual pieces completed within a given time period. Hourly, daily, weekly, or monthly.

Look at the efficiency/revenue chart below to see the potential increases in revenue that are possible when you address the ‘Efficiency Factor’. Imagine the net positive effect this could have in your printing operation.


Local industry observers rate overall output efficiency at approximately 40% for the entire manufacturing process. For the sake of this discussion regarding the printing department, let’s assume a low-end efficiency rate of 50%, though it is probably below 40% in the BD market. In the above example, we will assume 2 automatic presses working a single 10-hour shift with a selling price of $2.00 per dozen for printing. An increase in efficiency from 50% to 70% would yield an additional $96,000 in annual revenue.

At a salary level of $1500 annually, this increase would cover the labor cost for 64 of your current workers. As well, this additional revenue could be used for more capital purchases, further increasing capacity. Keep in mind this is 2 machines/1 shift. The numbers at 5 machines/2 shifts. $480,000 in additional annual revenue. This could be your results with a change of focus. Said another way, a change of focus from increasing capacity to increase efficiency would result in dramatic increases in your output per labor hour.

These levels of increase are only possible with a proper balance of effective management, the right equipment and standard procedures (systems). At the end of the day, it is your ability to identify opportunities for minimizing friction in your workflow and reducing machine downtime that will yield the greatest returns.

After 5 years of close observation in dozens of local printing operations, I have concluded that the typical solution for increasing output has been to increase capacity. This approach requires a minimal level of analysis or development of systems that address the core reasons for low output.

The results of this approach are now becoming painfully obvious. A better solution is to effectively utilize available technology and develop SOPs that promote efficiency and minimize downtime. From screen room to printing press it is the introduction and utilization of technology within an integrated system that will have the greatest impact on your overall output. It is within this context that we will examine some of the available tools that can help to increase efficiency and positively impact sustainability.

When evaluating opportunities for improvement in these 2 key areas we need to consider the entire process and its individual elements. In the printing department labor, energy and chemicals are the highest cost centers and ultimately have a direct impact on sustainability. In addition, there are many other less significant variables that also have an effect. For now, we will start in the screen room.

Screen stretching

  • Screen mesh: What is the average life of a screen? How often is it re-stretched? How is the used fabric disposed of? Proper stretching and gluing of the quality mesh can significantly increase the working life of a screen and is only possible with the proper equipment, techniques and documentation procedures in practice. The traditional approach in the BD market is the practice of stretch, print and discard. There are 2 major problems with this approach. Increased costs because of waste and the negative impact on sustainability because of the excess amounts of material going to landfills. The most fabric on the market is polyester and is biologically non-degradable. At the very least there should be a practice of reusing stretched screens as many times as possible before discarding. This practice alone could reduce the environmental impact of this element by a minimum of 50% with the right approach.

Screen coating

  • The primary benefits of an automatic coating system such as the M&R Uni-Kote, are the ability to control costs, increase efficiency because of a hands-free process and realize consistent gains in quality because of automation and the ability to document and repeat a standard process.

DTS (direct to screen) imaging

  • A machine such as the M&R I-Image creates a direct pipeline for artwork from the designer’s desk to the screen room and completely eliminates the need for film as well as being a nearly hands-free operation. In addition, LED exposure creates huge savings in energy consumption for this part of the process. A 1-year study in Australia based on 100 screens per day demonstrated the elimination of 12,000 meters of film annually that would typically be destined for a landfill. An additional powerful benefit is its compatibility with a screen room to Auto Press Pre-Registration System that has the potential to reduce a typical 1 to 2-hour setup time (downtime) down to 30 minutes or less when proper procedures are put into practice. Consider the 5-machine scenario above with 2 setups per machine per day. That is an average of 15 machine hours per day reduced to 5 hours. A net gain of 10 machine hours/day X 350 pcs/hr X 6 days/wk. Based on 48 weeks/year, this could yield an additional 1,000,000 prints or $166,666 using the same $2 selling price. This is only 2 setups-1 shifts. Calculate the numbers for yourself based on your reality. The potential gains are astronomical!

Automatic screen image washout:

  • The same 1-year study referenced above with an average production of 100 screens per day concluded that 120,000 liters of water was consumed using a traditional image washout process. An automatic image washout unit such as the M&R Eco-Rinse reduced this water consumption to 3600 liters, a 97% reduction. Again, the hands-free operation maximizes efficiency and creates the ability to document and repeat a standard process.
  • Ink and chemicals: Proper management of your color room should be a high priority. The mixing, distribution and in-screen maintenance of your mixed color require a high level of detailed management to minimize cost and reduce waste. What are the quantities and values of mixed color in your storage area? There is a high probability that no one knows the answer to this question and after a certain amount of time, 100% of this inventory will become waste due to the absence of a comprehensive ink/color management system. What is the method of disposal? What is the true cost of this waste? How does this waste affect your cost per printed unit? Within the context of this discussion, what is your color room’s impact on profitability and sustainability.
  • Energy consumption: The largest consumers of this resources are:

Curing dryers. How efficient are yours? Low-cost dryers are typically very inefficient with regards to heat loss and their ability to properly cure water-based inks. In addition, they contribute to the elevated temperatures in the working area.

Flash curing units. How efficient are yours? A locally conducted comparison study documented a 40% the difference in energy consumption.

In a market of this size, the cumulative effect of every producer reducing their environmental impact is substantial. Beginning with sampling and development – documentation, detailed management and handling practices should be closely analyzed and appropriate SOPs developed that promote efficiency, minimize waste and address sustainability.

These are just a few areas in your printing departments where opportunities for improvements in Efficiency and Sustainability can surely be identified. Finally, we’ll take a brief look at the latest technology that promises the single largest positive impact on the history of the process. This latest advancement is poised to revolutionize the textile printing world in a dramatic way.

Impact of digital technology

From screen production to finished garments the digital revolution is having a substantial impact. With the incorporation of digital into the printing process, a minimum number of screens are required for producing high-quality prints that are out of the reach of 98% of printers in the world.

  • High quality, complex prints are possible with as few as 3 screens as opposed to 10 to 15 screens. This does not even consider the number of screens necessary for sampling and development.
  • The need for custom mixed colors is eliminated, minimizing the necessity of large inventories of products typically necessary for conventional printing.
  • Mixed color inventory is nearly eliminated, reducing the possibility of large amounts of waste and lowering the actual cost of printed units.
  • Reducing the number of screens automatically reduces the number of flash stations necessary for high-quality print production. This has a direct impact on energy consumption.
  • Reducing the number of screens reduces the consumption of water for screen processing.
  • Reducing the total number of screens automatically lowers the cost of screen fabric.

The final result? Consistent, production-friendly quality and more importantly, a substantial reduction in resources, consumables and labor. In other words, efficient, sustainable productivity.

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