America has a throughput problem. How to stick over 600 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine into arms as quickly as possible?
We have written in the past about the logistical challenges of administering the COVID-19 vaccine to the US population—the challenges of manufacturing the vaccines and distributing them. This is a classic throughput problem, so let’s take the same approach to the problem as we do when trying to shave seconds off of a print cycle. (See “Seconds Matter.”) Simply put: find the bottleneck.
On Friday, February 12, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found and removed one such bottleneck in the supply-chain for the COVID-19 vaccine. In this instance, the bottleneck was quite literally the bottle, or rather, the number of doses per vial. The FDA granted approval for Moderna to package 14 doses of its COVID-19 vaccine into each vial instead of ten. Since Moderna supplies half of all vaccines in the US, this simple ruling increased the national vaccine supply by 20 percent, without requiring any changes at any stage of the supply chain. No new lines were added; no new tooling was required to accommodate larger vials.
The objective in bottleneck-hunting is increased efficiency, as one could easily double throughput by doubling inputs, from raw materials to labor and machinery. But this also doubles cost, and companies like the rest of us live in a world of constraints, whether they be financial or simply factory floor space. Finding and removing the bottleneck should initially result in increased output using the same level of inputs.
This is the goal of our Sales Engineers whenever a customer brings a direct-to-shape printing challenge to us and asks, “How can I do this faster?” Frequently, as we have seen, precious seconds can be found in upstream activities such as part-loading. (See one such solution here.) Alternatively, perhaps it is the pretreatment subroutine. Part-unloading activities may also be the bottleneck.
With our single pass inkjet printers and automated pad printers, we sell machines that can mark thousands of parts per hour. Generally the bottleneck lies elsewhere. That’s why we are so much more than a manufacturer of industrial printers. We also offer a complete line of ancillary products such as inline pretreatment, mechanical aggregators such as waterfall hoppers and racetrack feeders, servo-controlled fixtures, and robotic load/unload.
Have you got a throughput problem? Drop us a line today, and one of our Sales Engineers would be happy to discuss it with you. At Engineered Printing Solutions, we have helped companies in industries as diverse as automotive, medical device and drinkware find and create value and develop new products. Let us do the same for you.
For over 100 years, Hodges Badge Company has been a family-owned and operated business selling awards, ribbons, and rosettes for every occasion, from dog shows to academic and sporting events to corporate awards. Recently, the company approached Engineered Printing Solutions about making the leap from hot-foil stamping production to cold-foil printing. We designed and built a machine for the company, and they haven’t looked back since.
We have written in the past about the advantages of cold-foil printing over hot-foil stamping, but Rick Hodges, president of the company, summarized the benefits in a recent phone call. “With no dies to make, our lead times went from two days to two hours”. In addition, the quality of their designs went up, as the company was able to produce finer lines than they could with hot-stamping, which sometimes produces “bridging” between two lines when excess foil is applied. This is not a problem with cold-foil printing, said Hodges. Hodges also cited the cost-savings of not having to warehouse dies for future use as an additional benefit of going the cold-foil printing route.
Converting from traditional production methods to cutting-edge cold-foil printing is not without its challenges however, warned Hodges. “There is a bit of a learning curve, as digital inkjet printing requires a completely different skillset than traditional tool-and-die manufacturing,” he noted. Hodges credited EPS’ after-sales service and support for getting the badge company up to speed.
And speed is what attracted Hodges to the idea of cold-foil printing in the first place. The speed-to-market advantage of cold-foil printed products over conventionally-produced products means that there are whole new markets that Hodges Badge Company can serve that simply aren’t economically feasible using conventional methods with their tooling costs. Variable-data products and runs-of-one become viable options using cold-foil printing.
Hodges intends to hold on to its first-mover advantage when it comes to cold-foil printing. “None of my competition can match the quality, variety, and speed-to-market of our products,” he said, and he doesn’t foresee that changing any time soon.
Do you need award ribbons, medals, trophies, or other memorabilia? Contact Hodges Badge Company today. And to learn more about cold-foil printing, drop us a line!
Although making the leap into digital inkjet product decoration can be a daunting challenge, there are many reasons for doing so. Despite having a higher upfront capital cost, on average, as compared to traditional analog methods of product decoration, industrial inkjet printers offer many advantages over other methods. Below are six of the top reasons for converting to digital.
1. Industrial Inkjet Printers Offer “Contact-less” Printing For Delicate Substrates
Analog methods of product-decoration such as pad printing press the ink onto the part. Delicate parts such as light bulbs or Christmas ornaments do not lend themselves to such methods. With digital inkjet printers, there is no actual contact with the part, as the ink is jetted from as much as 10 mm away. In addition, all of our industrial inkjet printers use UV-curable inks. After receiving the ink, the part passes under an LED lamp and is instantly cured by UV light, without heat.
2. Industrial Inkjet Printers Enable Quick Changeovers
To set up a pad print job, you must first create a cliché with the image to be transferred to the part. Additionally, pad print machines use spot colors, so the ink must be mixed and loaded into the ink cup.
With industrial inkjet machines, there is no cliché, as ink is jetted direct-to-object. In most cases, there is no ink to change out as industrial inkjet machinery uses the process colors of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black.
3. Industrial inkjet Printers Enable Variable Data
Because the image is digital and there are no clichés, industrial inkjet printers are ideal for printing sequential serial numbers on otherwise-static artwork. So, for example, you could print a 10,000-unit run with identical branding and product information but with each one having a unique serial number.
This leads to perhaps the single-biggest reason to convert to industrial inkjet printers for product decoration…
4. Industrial Inkjet Printers Make Short Runs Economical
Any time a machine is not running, it is costing its owner money. With analog methods of product decoration, the way to maximize overall equipment effectiveness is through minimizing changeovers and make-ready work generally, and maximizing run lengths.
With industrial inkjet printers, once the artfile has been stored in the printer, it can be recalled with a touch of a button, and there are no clichés, inks, or pads to change out. One-off production becomes a possibility. And with no ink or clichés to change out…
5. There Is Less Waste With Industrial Inkjet Printers
With pad print machinery, any unused ink in the ink cup is simply wasted. With industrial inkjet printers, the ink is constantly recirculated, and most parts can be decorated in high-resolution CMYK for mere pennies, depending on the size and complexity of the art to be printed.
6. Industrial inkjet Printers Facilitate Leaner Inventories
When printing direct-to-object with an industrial inkjet printer, there are no labels to keep in inventory. This saves precious floor-space in a factory. In addition, because short runs can be economical when using industrial inkjet machinery, many parts can be left in an unfinished state and decorated on-demand in just-in-time fashion. This can reduce the need to warehouse finished goods, again saving a company money.
There are many factors to consider when contemplating converting from analog to digital methods of product-decoration. (You can download our White Paper on the subject here: Investing In Digital Printing: 5 Factors To Evaluate) Industrial inkjet printers are not the solution for every print job or for every company. But despite a typically higher initial CapEx than with analog methods of product-decoration, inkjet printers can start saving money in myriad ways. We hope you enjoyed the six we’ve listed here.
Want to find out more about industrial inkjet printers? Drop us a line!
As we’ve noted before, many of our customers have been deemed “essential” in the fight against COVID-19. Last week, one reached out to us to say that they had been contacted by the White House COVID-19 Task Force about dramatically ramping up production of medical devices in anticipation of enormous demand. They wanted to know, could we deliver a catheter printing machine in two to three weeks?
EPS has built medical product printing machines for many customers, so the technical challenges were slight. The greater challenges were logistical in the “new normal” of physical distancing. How would we conduct the Factory Acceptance Test (FAT)? How would we perform the standard installation, which usually involves sending a technician to the customer’s facility for onsite installation and training?
The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted every aspect of the global economy, but perhaps nowhere more so than in the manufacturing sector, where working from home just isn’t a possibility. We’ve written in the past about our efforts to “flatten the curve” and keep our employees safe and healthy, and we are continuing to follow CDC and state guidelines as they evolve. Our sales department is working from home but continuing to communicate with customers. Our software engineers are also working remotely. Additionally, EPS is investigating opportunities under the CARES Act, passed by Congress to encourage companies to retain workers during the COVID-19 crisis, in order to ensure that we can continue to offer our full range of goods and services, from industrial inkjet printers and pad print machines to custom pad print pads and laser-engraved pad print clichés. We have not reduced our workforce. Our capabilities remain undiminished, and we will do everything we can to keep our team intact.
Our assembly department is also adopting best practices to discourage the spread of the virus. Our production floor is large, as are our machines, so physical distancing has always been the case for us. Similarly, nitrile gloves have always been standard equipment, since ink can be messy. Isopropyl alcohol is a standard item found on every work bench. Masks are available for any who wish to wear one. In addition, we have adopted flex-time schedules, with some of our employees coming in to work in the evenings and on weekends.
Our curve-flattening measures seem to be paying off. To date, not a single employee of EPS has tested positive for the coronavirus, and we have been able to provide an uninterrupted supply of print consumables. We are also taking new machine orders and fulfilling existing orders.
In short, we are able to provide the full range of products and services that we always provide. We will deliver the medical device-marking machine to our customer in the time-frame allotted, along with providing clichés with their artwork. We have begun conducting FATs by video, and we have had the ability to remotely diagnose and service machines for years, so we continue to provide the after-sales service we pride ourselves on.
Life may never go back to as before, but some things won’t change. Engineered Printing Solutions will still offer a complete range of industrial inkjet printers, pad print machines, ancillary equipment such as pretreatment systems, part-loading and –unloading automation, dryers, laser cliché makers, and other optional devices, as well as custom pad print pads, inks, and printing plates for your direct-to-object part-decoration needs.
Got a part-decorating challenge? Drop us a line—let’s start a conversation!
At EPS, we design and build custom inkjet part-marking solutions that integrate with your production line. Since every application is different, no two machines are alike. The upstream parts conveyor might be unique, or the print head array may have extended gamut colors like orange, green, and violet. Perhaps the substrate material requires pretreatment for adhesion. After the part is printed and cured, there may be some offloading requirements or secondary operation such as assembly or packaging.
In order to solve your part-marking challenge, we have to maintain a deep bench of talent—software engineers, electrical engineers, CAD/CAM specialists, ink specialists, and integration specialists all of whom work in concert to provide the solution that is right for you.
Building a bespoke industrial inkjet machine is a little like baking a cake from scratch. Once the project parameters have been agreed upon and the design has been finalized, CAD drawings are sent to our welding facility where the basic frame you see above is welded and powdercoated. Next, the control panels and electrical boxes are installed. Part-loading and -unloading assemblies are added next, followed by the print engine. Finally, the computer is installed.
Once the machine is assembled, extensive testing begins to ensure that the part-marking inkjet printer meets the project brief in terms of image quality, throughput, and unit cost. Usually, our customer will visit our facility to witness the machine in operation in what is known as an FAT, or Factory Acceptance Test. Only after our customer has signed off on the FAT does their machine leave our facility.
The end result is a machine that integrates perfectly with your production line in terms of throughput speed and upstream and downstream part-handling requirements. Whether you are marking automotive parts, medical parts, caps and closures, or promotional items, Engineered Printing Solutions has designed a direct-to-object product-decorating solution for your industry.
We know what it takes to successfully integrate a product-marking solution into existing production lines. Let us design a bespoke system for your company. Contact one of our Sales Engineers today!
What to find our more about our bespoke product-decoration solutions? Drop us a line!