Installing Your First Automatic

Mike McEvoy, who had his own print shop for many years, started screen printing in 1979 at the age of 14. In 1994, he co-founded Workhorse Products, a screen-print-equipment manufacturing company, and has co-developed dozens of screen-printing machines for the industry. He is currently director of sales and marketing at Workhorse and may be contacted via e-mail:

You’ve put a lot of thought—and money—into buying your first automatic press: You’ve identified your needs, checked out your options, and negotiated a good deal. Now all that’s left is setting it up, flipping the switch, and you can start cranking out garments with the big boys, right? Not quite. Purchasing is only the first step in successfully adding automation to a shop. The second, which often doesn’t get enough attention, is installing it.

If you want to get off to the best possible start with your new piece of equipment, it’s going to require time and effort. Your manufacturer will provide you a complete list of things that need to be in place before the technician arrives. Being unprepared may not only delay installation, but can result in unexpected and unnecessary additional costs. 

As with the purchase of an automatic press (see “Buying Your First Automatic Press,” Printwear, Sep. ’06, p.62), preparation is key to a successful installation. An important part of preparation is communication. Via communication, you must determine in advance:

  • what the installation service includes and what the technical rep’s responsibilities are; and
  • what issues you must address prior to press installation that will enable said tech rep to provide the best possible service.

It is critical that everyone understand the tasks that need to be done and who will perform them. The job of the tech rep during installation is to get the machine working and make sure the customer understands its functions and correct operation. If the buyer expects this rep to also provide training in screen making, printing and so on, or is simply not prepared for installation, in one way or another, it ends up costing.

The buyer may have to pay for extra hours or days of the rep’s (expensive) time. Or, if there is a flat rate for installation in a stated amount of time, the time the rep must spend on things such as getting the power hooked up or setting up the air compressor may cause the customer to lose training time on the machine. It’s also important to be clear about how the manufacturer charges for and schedules installation, and what expenses (food, lodging and the like) are included.

Three to get ready

Just because you’ve ordered your press doesn’t mean your homework is finished. Just as researching your needs and the options for meeting them helps ensure a wise buy, delving into the issues surrounding the installation of an automatic press can help the process go faster and more smoothly. Good sources of information include trade publications, seminars, and other printers. The manufacturer also may have materials available with tips and guidelines for preparing for the new arrival.

Like the purchase of an automatic, preparing for its installation raises considerations in a number of areas, both in-house and external. If you did your pre-purchasing homework, you’ve already determined you have room for the press, the personnel to operate it, and the ancillary equipment to support it. Now you need to focus on the details of integrating it into your shop layout and how you’re going to get it where it’s going. The following guidelines can help.

Up-front logistics

Clear span: The typical six-color machine requires at a minimum a 10-foot-diameter circle within which there are no obstructions (structural columns, for example). Ideally, there should be two to three feet of walking/working space all the way around the machine. You might save a little space by putting one point of the press’s circumference close to a wall, but doing so will force you to walk part way around the machine in each direction when setting up a job.

Floor: A concrete floor is preferred. Wood floors may require extra support or other modifications to distribute the weight of the equipment, so you should discuss this with the manufacturer prior to installation.

Power: First off, you have to make sure you have the proper power for your new automatic, in the area where you’re installing it. Your electrician will need to know the machine’s specifications—how many amps it draws, whether it is three-phase, 220 and so forth—taking into account any features or attachments that affect its power requirements.

The machine specs will determine whether a power cord can be dropped from the ceiling. If so, the cord should be long enough to reach the floor. (Extra wire can be cable-tied out of the way during installation.) It is important to have the specs of any attachments available as well. If your press has a flash dryer, you’ll probably need to allow for it to run off a 220-volt dedicated 20-amp circuit. A single-phase 20-amp flash, for example, may dictate a heavy-duty twist-lock plug as well as a cord that reaches the floor and a slightly lower-gauge (heavier, fatter) wire than is typically called for, as such a flash draws 100 percent load when operating.

Air compressor: The air compressor is a particularly important consideration; running power to it should be your first priority. You will need at least a 7.5 horsepower compressor, for a small press, which requires a 30-amp, 220 breaker. A service contract is usually available with the purchase of an air compressor; buying one is a smart, proactive thing to do, in that the dealer takes care of all routine maintenance such as changing fluid and filters, translating into one less thing the printer must think about to keep the press running and making money.

If you are installing a refrigerated air dryer (chiller) as well, you again need to know the voltage and amperage specs. A 230-volt single-phase unit drawing 34 amps will need to be hard-wired into the compressor, while a 115-volt 15-amp chiller has a standard three-prong plug, so simply needs an outlet nearby.

The buyer is also expected to supply the air compressor hose and fittings. A one-inch (diameter) rubber air hose with swivel connections on both ends is a good choice, although a three-quarter-inch hose will suffice for runs of shorter than 50 feet. Air hoses generally are available at larger local hardware stores, or can be ordered from industrial supply houses such as Grainger.

The best approach is to run the hose up the wall to the ceiling, across the intervening space, then dropped down to the middle of the press. If the machine has a hollow center shaft, the hose will run right through it and the final connection can be made under the machine. Be sure to properly secure all air hoses by clamping them down at least every 36 inches, as an air hose broken under pressure can cause bodily injury if it whips around and hits personnel.

Related upgrades: If you haven’t evaluated and modified your other equipment in anticipation of automating, you need to before installing the press. Remember, you’re probably going to move up to larger screens (23 X 31 inch), which may call for a larger exposure unit and processing sinks. Depending on your projected output, you also may need to consider purchasing a new dryer.

People upgrades: Finally, there is the matter of personnel. For optimal production, you’re going to need at least a shirt loader, an unloader and someone working the dryer. In addition, it helps to have a “press tender” to scrape and maintain the ink levels and continuously replenish the supply of blank goods.

Bringing it home

Once you’ve addressed these issues in your plant relating to preparing for the new press, you need to think about actually getting it there. This involves both working with your dealer and shipper, and taking a look at a few other things in your plant.

Moving it: An automatic press is a big piece of equipment. The delivery truck is going to pull up and open its back door. At that point, unloading the press is your responsibility. A hand pallet jack and a forklift are typically all you need to get the press into your facility. My company recommends a 5,000-pound capacity forklift with six-foot blades, although extended blades may provide an extra margin of assurance.

If possible, it’s a good idea to “test-drive” the forklift you plan to use to make sure it can handle the size and weight of the press (the manufacturer can provide necessary information), and that there is sufficient room for maneuvering on your loading dock or in your delivery area. Once the press is off the truck, you will usually be able to move the printer base (the heaviest part) with just the pallet jack; this tool also comes in handy jockeying the press into its exact working position.

Clearance: You must also make sure the doors and passageways of your facility are high and wide enough to allow the press to pass through. A smaller automatic typically requires a minimum clearance of 84 inches; larger machines, however, will require additional clearance so it’s smart to get exact measurements from the manufacturer if your space is tight.

Shipment scheduling: Each freight company has different policies regarding notification of delivery, with some charging extra for calling you in advance or scheduling delivery within a specified time frame. Freight companies generally don’t guarantee delivery on a certain date; however, there are some things you can do to narrow the delivery window a little so you can better target your forklift rental, personnel and the like. Getting the tracking number of the shipment is key. Generally, the best thing to do is call the delivering terminal a few days before the shipment is expected to arrive and see if they can give you an anticipated delivery range.

Installation and training

The actual installation of an automatic press typically takes 12 to 16 working hours. The tech rep will require the assistance of one of your employees for about an hour to install the print and platen arms.

As for training your operator(s), it’s a good idea to have a couple multi-color jobs stenciled on 23 X 31 inch screens, ready to go. Make sure the images are exposed in the correct position (generally, 6.5 inches down for a full-front print). You have only about one inch of vertical and two inches of horizontal adjustment on press. Expose your “tallest” film positive 6.5 inches down from the top, inside edge of the screen closest to the operator. Make a note of how far down and over from the inside of the screen one of the registration marks is. When you expose the rest of the screens, make sure that same registration mark is down and over the same distance as on the first screen.

If you purchased a flash-cure unit, it’s a good idea to run one of your practice jobs on dark garments so you learn how to operate the flashing features.

The technician should go over all the operating features of the press as well as any required maintenance. If you have done your job properly in preparing for your new press—including obtaining the requisite working knowledge of screen printing—the tech rep will be able to give his full attention to doing what he does best: getting your plant up to speed and producing on your new automatic press.