Screen Printing - June/July 2019 - 32
THE NATURE OF THE BEAST
With modern print comes modern dilemmas.
ANDY MACDOUGALL, ASDPT
took a call recently from a guy with a large electronics/
avionics manufacturer who found himself responsible for a plant
that makes ceramic capacitors. "I know that's what we make, but
the reality is, we're screen printers. We have seven presses. We
run three shifts. We don't really know what we're doing."
If I know one thing, it's when I'm in over my head. I understood their problem, but didn't have the specialized experience to
help. However, I had a friend who did; he did an assessment and
initiated training. It all seemed A-OK - until their plant engineer,
who had been overseeing the changes, had to leave.
I got another call: "We're looking for an engineer who
knows screen printing and can run our electronics-printing
operation." An inquiry to some of my Academy friends working
in the high-tech sector brought forth the suggestion that I was
looking for a unicorn...
It's hard telling a modern-day, corporate CEO that what
he is looking for may be mythical. I don't know of too many
screen printers with horns sticking out of their foreheads.
Or engineering degrees in their back pockets.
But they must exist. Who runs the solar-cell plants? Who
makes the membrane switches for electronics? Who prints the
capacitors, the flexible circuits, the RFID tags, the credit cards?
There are a few operations in North America creating these
things. Looking at the sheer mass of consumer and industry
products that use functional print (and screen printing!) and
are imported to North America tells me there may be unicorns
in countries outside the US and Canada.
As we approach our first Printing United show in Dallas (and
SGIA shifts focus once again away from screen printing and into
an even broader embrace of digital and other print processes), it
seems to me that, along with a lack of unicorns, we have some
other fictional-animal-related problems. How fitting that Dallas,
always associated with cattle, may provide a venue to explore
these issues. Print, in all its faded glory and future promises, has
us sitting uncomfortably on the horns of a dilemma.
Unlike unicorns, dilemmas are found everywhere. Most
people have a number in their lives, and like rabbits or rats,
they seem to multiply and appear when you least expect them.
Let's look at some of the catch-22s we face in printing.
1. If print is dead, why is our company experiencing growth?
This predicament has tortured screen printers and commercial
printers since the late '90s. The government has determined,
using outdated metrics and definitions, that printing has
become statistically irrelevant. I guess if your only definition
of print is a newspaper printed on an offset or letterpress
machine, you might have a point. On the other hand, if we look
at SGIA's benchmark surveys or the reports on printing ink
sales, our sector is consistently exceeding many other areas of
the economy in growth year over year.
This begs the question: Do we cash in and escape this
supposedly dead trade? Or do we go with the evidence in front
of us? Print is not dead - the classic definitions are. Certain
products we used to rely on may be dead, but they've been
replaced by others that didn't exist 15 years ago. The dilemma
is not how to escape, but what direction(s) to grow.
2. Analog or digital?
Digital processing and printing have revolutionized the entire
print industry - but they haven't killed analog. Screen printers
were early adopters. Like it or not, our specialty graphics
industry and the SGIA show grew (while others faltered) in
part because the wide-format digital print industry glommed
onto our show and organization.
The dilemma here has way more than two horns. Most
of them have to do with asking "When do I jump in?" to
processes like CTS. DTG has been knocking, but we don't
see the displacement in textile that has eroded the offset
industry, or the display market in graphics screen printing.
3D printing? Sure, but again, it's in addition to, not a
replacement for - at least for the time being.
3. Buy it cheap from China, or make it here?
This is becoming the defining dilemma of our times and it reaches
far beyond print. North Americans may be many things, but
our overriding characteristic is that we are consumers. China
and other Asian countries need us buying and then throwing
things away to sustain their economies. Yet that thrill of finding
a great bargain at the local Walmart is tempered by the flow of
money out of the community. Long-term economic stability is
achieved by creating products and services at a local level, and
then selling them outside a particular community; this is what
brings in money. Importing goods and selling them locally only
drains money out of the local economy. So, let's learn how to
do modern manufacturing and start producing quality, durable
goods. Then again, do we really care, as long as it's cheap and
we can have it now? Always a dilemma.
As printers, the thing we don't want to become is a onetrick pony. We're lucky dogs, in that we sit in the middle of
production. So if we're looking for areas to expand into,
there's prepress, design, and marketing. And after print,
there's finishing, packaging, and fulfillment. If we're bored,
we can always automate.
As of press time, I haven't heard if my CEO friend has
found his unicorn yet. Let's hope.
Have a great summer, print pals. See you in Dallas.
Andy MacDougall is a screen printing trainer and consultant based on
Vancouver Island in Canada and a member of the Academy of Screen
& Digital Printing Technology. If you have production problems you'd
like to see him address in "Shop Talk," email your comments and
questions to email@example.com.
Screen Printing - June/July 2019
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