RPM's Article Resource Center For Screen Printing, Buying, Tips and How-to Articles for the Screen Printing Industry. These screen printing articles have been featured in major screen printing industry publications and are authored by Rick Fuqua owner of Real Performance machinery. Read about Rick Fuqua's Background in the screen printing industry at his bio page on our site.
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From 30 to 50 feet or more in length, and equipped with such exotic items as lasers and microprocessors, belt printers are screen printing's most versatile automatic tools, able to spot- or bleed-print odd-shaped, either small or extremely large substrates with relatively high speed and a high degree of repeatability.
Belt printers are no recent development; the first were built almost 40 years ago. Originally, belt printers serviced piece- and yard-goods printers along with the cut-and-sew market. In 1983, however, several West Coast garment printers experimented, printing all-over on finished garments, sparking a trend (see OZ, pg. 20) that's fired new interest in the machines.
But they're not cheap. The belts alone can cost $10,000, making the belt printer anything but an impulse buy. With that in mind, Printwear presents the following survey of equipment available in the U.S. Whether you’re seriously looking to buy, or just window shopping, here’s how they stack up, side by side.
Advance American Equipment Co. built and sold its own belt printer to a small list of clients a decade ago, but for some years left the technology to others.
" We had thought about starting a project to develop a new machine, but at the time we were covered up with other projects" says Advance's Rick Fuqua. Instead, the company opted to import a top European model. Subsequently , at the 1988 SPAI show, Advance introduced the Full Print, manufactured by Stamperia Emliana in Parma, Italy.
The Advance distinctions? Accuracy and flexibility, says Fuqua. Because the Full Print was designed for graphics as well as textile applications, he says garment printers will find them extremely accurate. While most domestic textile belt printers are fixed-repeat infinitely variable both for belt travel and print head position.
At belt level, Full Print features electromechanical drive, indexed by DC motor rather than by hydraulic or pneumatic cylinders. Index distance can be set for repeats up to 49".
The print heads are not mounted in a horizontal lift configuration, but are lifted together in "clam shell" format, reducing the screen/substrate vacuum effect during screen lift. Yet, because they are clamped individually in the lift axis, heads can be “unlocked” from the clam shell configuration and repositioned. Each yields a standard 39" X 39” print area (maximum 46" X 56" frame) for six-color operation, but maybe repositioned to accommodate buyer specifications up to 60" X 72". A microprocessor control panel allows individual print head control for unlimited stroke adjustment (with or without flood stroke), fully variable carriage speed, squeegee/flood bar angle, and also performs troubleshooting/ maintenance self-diagnostics. Nine separate squeegee/flood bar cycles may be programmed in for automatic recall from the control panel.
Also programmable is working-head lift height. The all-over T-shirt printer needs a high lift to insure disengagement from the shirt before the machine indexes. But head travel may be reduced to extremely low lift to speed processing of flat or piece goods which do not “hop” on the belt. According to Fuqua, Full Print is the only domestically available belt printer which combines the flexibility of movable heads and adjustable print head travel with clamshell-type operation. "Most people can only print a couple of colors before the shirt shifts so much that they can't really print anymore," says Fuqua. "We can slide a head off the machine in a matter of minutes, so I can take a six-color machine, take one head off, and make a five-color with a dead spot in the middle." The gap becomes a mid-run re straightening station, affording the all-over finished garment printer extra color potential.
In addition, all programmed functions can be reprogrammed to account for unforeseen future production requirements.
The above-mentioned performance package, says Fuqua,- assures maximum registration accuracy, color to color. Additionally, all Full Print machines can be fitted with an in feed device that will allow continuous-fabric printing. The variable repeat/adjustable head features afford the flat screen printer the same flexibility enjoyed by the rotary screen printer. Therefore, those desiring to enter the roll fabric field can do so with any Full Print model, without having to invest in unfamiliar screen technology. More importantly for the garment printer, any head can be removed and replaced with a flash cure unit for complete art design and print flexibility.
The belt is cleaned by a pneumatically supported washing unit of stainless steel construction. Three rotary brushes scrub adhesive and ink from the belt while an aft-mounted dryer prepares the belt for new adhesive.
Full Print also comes standard with a continuous adhesive applicator that can be adjusted to print-area size, and may be used with permanent or temporary adhesive systems.
The belt is supported by rust-resistant teflon rollers and can be set for repeat indexing or continuous operation with the flip of a switch.
Substrate placement on the belt is aided by overhead projection. Loaders set garments to selected points on a projected grid. But Full Print easily accepts either opaque projector or laser-type locators.
The Advance Full Print offers standard features designed to generate edge-to-edge prints on the widest possible range of substrates, without extensive retooling.
The new kid on the belt printing block is M & R Printing Equipment's Predator. Premiered in Orlando in mid-March of this year, the standard Predator comes in four-, six-, and eight-color configurations with 66" belt width as standard.
The vital statistics? The Predator's clamshell print head mainframe accepts maximum 54" X 71" X 2" O.D. screens, allowing a full 44" X 58 1/2" print area for each. Belt travel is powered electrically via high-speed brush less D.C. servo motor. Indexing is variable and, according to M & R, the belt may be double-indexed for simultaneous runs of two separate jobs.
Microprocessor controlled, the machine has an easy-to-use control panel which can interface with a PC or Modem. The Predator has a special control-panel self-diagnostic feature. A numeric indicator system alerts the operator to operational problems, reducing the need for trial-and-error troubleshooting and resultant downtime.
Control features include single/double stroke operation, print start/stop sequencing and a special test-print mode. Also set from the control panel are independent squeegee and flood bar speed (from 6 to 29 inches per second), stroke length and head-lift height (five to ten inches in print mode, and to 21-1/2" for cleaning and inspection.)
Print heads are equipped with dual, rod less air cylinders for print- and flood-stroke consistency. Three-axis micro-registration, rear-adjusting frame holders, pneumatic screen clamps and a side-loading feature cut setup time. Unique to Predator is automatic peel: heads begin lift during the print stroke, minimizing the squeegee/substrate contact area and preventing finished garment shift.
Loading is facilitated by a standard four-point laser system, with more spotting points available as an option. The in feed area on all models is 81" in length - suitable for two-stage loader/straightener garment placement - the outfeed is 67”.
Substrates are tacked firmly to the belt by means of Predator’s continuous-application adhesive system. It’s blade-and-roller-series design, says M & R’s Joe Clarke, applies the thinnest possible coating of a recommended water-based, high-solid acrylic adhesive.
The be is kept free of lint and bleed-print ink by the M & R's Hydro Jet Belt Washer. Spray nozzles on each side of nylon brushes remove lint, glue, and residual ink from the belt, backed up by a squeegee wiper and vacuum brush. The washer withdraws from under the belt by means of a track-and-caster system for easy cleaning and maintenance. The entire belt-washing system rides on air cylinders for positive belt contact and lowers away from the belt when not in use, to extend brush life.
Real Performance Machinery L.L.C.
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