By Elizabeth Quirk
If a print provider is printing to fabric, they may need to consider investing in a sewing machine or another alternative like a no-sew welder for finishing purposes. Today, there are a lot of options available, and it’s important to conduct the appropriate research before diving into a textile-based project or committing to a machine.
Above: The Matic Cronos Sewing System is equipped with a lockstitch sewing head that makes a straight seam.
When deciding on a device, print service providers (PSPs) should always start by asking themselves, “what is the goal, what kind of work do I plan to get done, and in what volume?” This guides all decisions about the kind of machine to buy—or even whether it makes sense to buy at all. Since there is a machine for every price range with varying levels of quality, reliability, speed, and automation, PSPs should be sure to consider these four factors and how they fit into their business model.
Because there is some overlap with equipment manufacturers, it is also important to consider the relationship with the distributor, the experience with your salesperson, and the quality of the support team. If a distributor offers training and advanced knowledge, it saves the PSP months of testing for setup and allows for a faster jump into true production.
“What is important for any printer to consider is the amount of desired output. Often times we ask key questions like type of printers; typical output on a day, week, or month. These types of questions help place the correct welder or finishing solution for customers,” says Jeff Sponseller, EVP, Miller Weldmaster Corp.
For sewing machines, print providers should look for lockstitch, needle-feed machines for sewing heavier duty, slippery materials. Also automatic thread trimming and large bobbins for long sewing runs are other factors to note.
Sewing machines are specialized based on the kind of stitch they make—lockstitch that won’t run when pulled out; or chain stitch that can be pulled out, but is better suited for long, continuous runs. Sewing machines are specialized based on the task they perform, such as straight stitching, serging, hemming, or the very specific task of silicone edge graphic (SEG) keder sewing.
Each of these tasks require special attachments and operation modes. Another level of distinction, according to Andy Cianciola, e-market manager, E.L. Hatton Sales Co., is heavy versus light duty or in simpler terms—home versus industrial use. Obviously, the former is not appropriate for commercial environments.
Print providers should also look at current and future output and decide if automation or a more manual solution is best for them. If all they do is a lot of SEG graphics for example, then maybe dedicating one or two machines for that application only would make sense. Alternatively, multi-tasking automated sewing systems that can do everything from hems to Velcro and SEG are available.
“We have extensive experience providing sewing equipment to graphics and printing companies who want to sew banners, large format graphics panels, and SEG panels. The machine we recommend for sewing banners that can also sew SEG panels is our SK-Highlead GC20518-PUL,” says Steven L. Kaplan, president, S. Kaplan Sewing Machine Co., Inc.
This is a double-needle machine, producing two parallel lines of stitching, with a built-in puller. A puller consists of driven rollers that are synchronized to the motion of the sewing machine, allowing for sewing long seams without puckering or waviness.
This machine can be equipped with different attachments, or guides that sew specific hem sizes and finishes on a banner. Examples of this would be a downturn 1.25-inch hem, a cord or rope hem, a four-inch pole pocket, or a Velcro feed attachment. All can be done on the same machine using different attachments.
An additional attachment allows the SK-Highlead GC20518-PUL to be used as a single-needle sewing machine that attaches the silicone edge to the material. “We also offer a single-needle machine complete with the required guides for feeding and sewing a silicone edge onto printed material,” adds Kaplan.
On a Different Note
As an alternative to sewing machines, there are no-sew systems available, including different types of welders. “One of the biggest struggles in our industry and many others is the fact that there are not enough qualified people who know how to sew. Sewing is a mainstay, but has its drawbacks,” admits Sponseller.
He provides an example of a customer requiring a high-profile graphic mismatch thread causing wrinkles along the seams, which is not desirable. Welding is an excellent alternative.
Welding solutions fall into several categories including radio frequency (RF) and ultrasonic. Polyesters and non-wovens are popular candidates for ultrasonic welding. Alternatively, RF welding technologies are used on PVC and coated materials.
Usually PSPs print on a variety of materials, both coated and uncoated. Depending on the mix for their particular business, a digital printer may want to consider welding both materials with one type of machine—using seaming tape on the non-coated materials.
Another option is a machine that uses a special welding tape that melts and bonds the two surfaces together. “There are a limited number of non-sewing methods for SEG finishing,” explains Cianciola. One of these options is the E.L. Hatton Banner Ups KederTape.
“The benefit of welding textiles versus sewing is that the skill level required is a lot lower than industrial sewers, and the finished look can produce a virtually invisible seam, with no possibility of daylight shining through the image as with sewn seams,” expresses Traci Evling, managing director, JTE Machines. The seams are typically much flatter—with no puckering—compared to sewn seams. In addition, welders with moving heads reduce cost and increase accuracy and efficiency.
Christina Lefebvre, area sales manager – North America, Matic S.A., recommends welding when overlaps and hem pockets are involved. The welded seam is much stronger than a sewn seam, even on fabric. “On tensile strength tests, welded seams prove to be resistant and the fabric or banner itself will break before the welded seam.”
A common question asked is if the type of application being finished determines which type of machine is required—for example, soft signage versus apparel or home décor. And the answer is yes.
“Absolutely, soft signage, constructed of slippery materials or canvas would require needle feed or walking foot sewing devices whereas apparel would require a machine to handle light to medium weight fabrics. Depending on home décor items to be sewn, either type of machine could be used,” says Dorothy Fullam, HR manager/ISM marketing manager, Juki America, Inc.
There is no one-size-fits-all machine for finishing fabric. If you have multiple needs, you want to look for a machine that has the flexibility and attachments to complete current and future jobs. “But there are limits. SEG sewing requires a pretty specialized design in order to properly feed and accurately align the keder. The more advanced machines are really systems that include an automated feed table,” shares Cianciola.
According to Kaplan, SEG panels are generally sewn on a single-needle machine, and most banner finishing is done on a double-needle machine. “We have developed a guide system that uses a double-needle machine and properly positions and sews the silicone edge onto the fabric using a single needle,” he adds.
Different seams are required in different industries. In the printing industry, for instance, the most common type of stitching is lockstitch, which are used for flags, banners, and SEG. “Our Cronos Sewing System is equipped with a lockstitch sewing head that makes a straight seam and every stitch has a knot preventing the seam from ripping apart if the thread breaks,” shares Lefebvre.
Furthermore, hemming, panel joining, and such trim options as pole pockets can all be sewn on the same machine using different attachments or guides. Therefore, one machine can be used for both banners and SEG products, although some users prefer a separate single-needle machine for the SEG products, leaving their double-needle machine for banner finishing.
As mentioned previously, there are a lot of solutions at different price ranges available. It is best to consider expected print volume as well as level of automation prior to investment. What may be the best solution for miles of soft signage per day is not ideal for a couple of apparel orders.
Cianciola argues it is always better to err on the side of heavy duty—at least from a quality standpoint. No one ever said, “gee, wish I bought a worse quality machine!”
A sewing machine for banner and SEG finishing must be heavier than a common garment weight machine, but not too heavy duty. Many sewing equipment dealers do not understand the requirements that banner and SEG panels must conform to, specifically flat, even stitching with no puckering or waviness. “We find many customers are mistakenly guided to purchasing a walking foot machine, which is a heavy-duty machine for sewing canvas and vinyl,” shares Kaplan.
The more automated the machine, the more rigid or heavy duty the frame has to be, especially with grand format products. Integrated tables need to be extremely level in order to produce a consistent invisible seam.
“The more advanced controls and human machine interface color touch screens require a superior designed machine as well. Welders are usually a much longer term investment than sewing machines, with the life expectancy of an RF welder typically exceeding 15 years,” admits Evling.
“If the only need is to weld textiles in a variety of formats including curves, the JTE Rotary Sonic Sew-n-Cut is a versatile no-sew welder. Almost anyone who can work with material on a continuous basis can use this machine. It is digitally controlled so no experience is necessary,” comments Evling.
Lefebvre says that the choice depends on print volume and type of material. If sewing all day, in three shifts, it is preferable to choose automation with an industrial sewing head.
“I would also recommend an industrial solution for heavier banners or coated fabrics. These machines are often equipped with needle cooling, which prevents the thread from breaking if the needle becomes too hot,” offers Lefebvre.
Training and Preparing
If you are performing time-critical work, a backup plan may be necessary if a breakdown occurs. That could mean either additional machines, spare parts, or fast access to skilled service.
If the finishing work is critical to your business, more than one trained operator is helpful. Even if the system is highly automated, multiple employees trained on setup and how to handle minor maintenance are important.
Sewing machines are high precision machines. They can and do break down. If you will be conducting high volumes of stitching, running products through the device every day of the week, you almost certainly need to have at least two machines.
Leslie Herrmann, technical services manager, Global Imaging, Inc., argues that whenever space and funding allows, duplicate machines are best as it allows for downtime on one machine while not disrupting production. When there is time for maintenance and training, having two machines enables only planned disruptions to production. Two identical pieces of equipment also provides less overhead inventory as parts and supplies may be shared between them. And of course, as production volumes increase on the printer there may be a need for more sewing equipment.
Ultimately, the number of devices depend on the output needed, or on the workflow decided by the PSP. If each sewing system has one application to do, then multiple machines will be needed—one per application. If multi-tasking machines are preferred, then one device might be enough depending on the output.
Important to Know
Buying sewing or welding equipment is a big investment of capital, machinery, and training. It can easily range from $3,000 to $30,000 to get the right machine for the job—but that is the inexpensive part. Even more investment is required in regards to the manpower to operate, maintain, and repair the equipment.
“30 years ago, it was easy to find sewing machine repair persons in every moderate to large city. Now that is nearly impossible due to the offshoring of the sewing and garment industry. So, you need to have the skills in house to maintain and repair the equipment,” explains Cianciola.
He continues his explanation with a focus based on company size. “Some large companies have the resources and it is worth it for them. For many more, finding a non-equipment-based solution allows them to get into the textile sign market immediately at a low cost with a quick and easy-to-learn method,” advises Cianciola.
In conclusion, it all comes down to what kind of finished quality the print provider needs, skill level of the intended operators, and type of application produced in order to decide which and how many finishing devices—sew or no-sew—are required.
Jul2019, Digital Output