Never Overschedule Your Screen-Printing Press Again

A well-honed production system will keep you on time and under budget.

A well-honed production system will keep you on time and under budget.

Terry Keeven is the owner of St. Louis Print Co. (asi/700623). He has been in the screen-printing industry for more than 16 years, starting his company by himself out of his basement and now occupying 15,000 square feet with 35 employees.

I get asked from time to time how we keep track and schedule all of the orders that come in each day. I thought that I would share how we keep on schedule here at St. Louis Print Company (asi/700623). There are many different ways to go about this – some may work in one shop but will not work in others. Please keep in mind that we are running six autos and five manuals – the system we have works for us, but your requirements will be greatly different if you are running, for example, one manual and one auto. Still, there are some basic fundamentals that all shops should follow.

We start off by receiving a purchase order from our clients. On that P.O., we ask that the clients include all pertinent information for us to schedule the job: the total amount of garments, the style, the color, how and when we are to receive the garments, print location, color count of the design and when the product is to leave our facility once printed. All that information is essential because it allows us to print quickly and efficiently without delays. Once we have the P.O., we transfer the information onto one of our internal work orders. Every customer P.O. is slightly different, so we found that transferring information onto one of our work orders is easier for all of our staff to understand.

Once we have the order written up, we schedule the job on a huge dry-erase board that is located in our main office for all of our employees to see. This way every staff member knows exactly what the workload is in real time. Now, we would not want to run a 20-piece, two-color order on a 12-color automatic, or a 500-piece, four-color order on a manual press. So we have a key for our customer service people to easily look up how long and on which press to schedule a particular order based on quantity and color count. Take a look at a part of our manual press key above.

As you can see from our key, a 20-piece, two-color order with no flashing should take half an hour from setup to completion (add 15 minutes for flashing a single color). If we have a 500-piece, four-color order scheduled for our automatic, it should take us 1:45 to complete. We schedule each of our presses with 6:30 hours of production each day. This allows us an hour and a half for mishaps such as bad screens or a trickier than normal setup. Scheduling this way allows our company to capture the margins that we are looking for without overexhausting our printers.

1 TO 11 15 MIN 30 MIN 30 MIN 45 MIN
12 TO 23 15 MIN 30 MIN 45 MIN 1 HOUR
24 TO 37 30 MIN 1 HOUR 1 HOUR 15 MIN 1 HOUR 30 MIN
37 TO 48 30 MIN 1 HOUR 1 HOUR 30 MIN 1 HOUR 45 MIN

Once the order is scheduled, the work order gets handed off to one of our artists. A digital proof is created and sent to the client a day or two before the order is scheduled to print. After approval, the separations get printed out and put into a file corresponding with the day that the order is to be printed, and the work order gets put into a folder for our production manager.

Because we are a large shop with 11 presses, we use an app to track our orders in production. Our production manager plugs the orders into this app, while also passing the hard copy work order to our receiving manager.  The receiving manager matches up the work order with the product and passes both the work order and the garments to our layout manager. The product is laid out on one of our staging tables, and next, the print supervisor hands out the product, work order and screens to the printer scheduled to handle the order. (If you’re a smaller shop you are likely doing all of this yourself.)

Within each step of this process, from printing to sending the order out the door, the app is updated to let every manager know exactly where a particular order is in our facility. This system has been modified a dozen or so times throughout the years to better service our customers and employees alike as we grow.

Of course there is more that happens after printing, but at least once the order is printed, the ball’s in your court. Prior to that, one of the hardest things to deal with and manage is your customers’ lack of organization. If they drop the ball and ask you to turn an order in a day or two and your schedule is already booked, how do you accommodate them without incurring additional cost? The answer is, you usually can’t. We all want to make our customers happy, but you have to remember that this is your business, with real production and real overhead. If you allow your customers to regularly push orders through your production outside of normal turn times, without them eating the additional cost, you can quickly go from the black to the red.