By Lisa Guerriero
Sewing has long played a role in sign shops. Hemming continues to be an important step for banner-type signage. However, sewing is no longer just for vinyl. With advancements in digital technology, fabric printing is now an option for wide format print providers.
Digitally printed textiles are in high demand for displays, signage, and apparel. Welding is a viable option for finishing fabric applications like banners. For some print providers, however, there are benefits to finishing textile graphics with sewing.
In particular, the advent of new framing systems puts greater emphasis on sewing. Silicone edge graphics (SEG), also known as tension display systems, typically require this finishing technique.
“The ability to have this skill in house, and complete an order without relying on an outside vendor, is often a significant factor in the decision to purchase a sewing machine,” suggests Steven L. Kaplan, president, S. Kaplan Sewing Machine Co., Inc.
Traditional sewing machines, which require an operator be seated at the device, are suitable for many professionals. However, others may benefit from using automated solutions. These systems utilize pullers and conveyor belts to guide fabric through the sewing process, reducing the need for highly skilled staff.
Here we compare the benefits of manual and automated sewing systems, and the factors that determine whether to outsource or sew in house. We also spotlight equipment options that are appropriate for print providers.
The Pros and Cons
Manual and automatic solutions each offer advantages. Price is one of the main factors. Automated systems require a larger upfront investment, from $20,000 and up. Manual, industrial sewing machines start at about $800, increasing to about $10,000, depending on the device.
The decision is not as straightforward as the price tag. The value of an automated system is partly efficiency. It operates at high speeds for repetitive jobs. For some print professionals, this could mean a higher job completion rate. In addition, automated systems require minimal manpower.
“The cost of an automated system is certainly greater from an initial investment but is easily made up with reduction of labor costs,” observes Greg Lamb, CEO, Global Imaging, Inc.
Manual machines tend to be user friendly and require minimal training, which is helpful for many print providers unfamiliar with the sewing process. “Most of our customers find that they can be hemming banners within an hour of receiving the equipment,” notes Kaplan.
Traditional, manual machines are also well suited to changing applications, observes Rick Frye, director of sales and engineering, industrial products division, Brother International Corporation. “Many sewn products feature a 3D shape that requires the manipulation of the fabric while guiding it through the sewing process and often this can only be done using a manual machine,” he explains.
In contrast, automated systems are ideal for performing a specific sewing process repeatedly and at a high volume. “They generally perform the sewing operation at a very high rate of speed while being precise, consistent, and repeatable,” notes Frye. “Automatic machines are ideal for high-volume, pattern-specific operations.”
Lamb agrees on the efficiency of these systems. “From our customer feedback, an automated sewing machine can do the work of two to three manual machines depending on complexity of the finished product,” he says.
“Automated sewing systems can dramatically improve productivity when compared to manual sewing machines. Typically, they are equipped with a conveyor system that is synchronized to the speed of the sewing machine. The conveyor eliminates the need to manually pull fabric along as it is being sewn,” shares Keith Faulkner, president, Splash of Color.
Automated systems often have features that are useful for graphic arts professionals. For example, Matic’s Cronos models offer a cutting and feeding system designed for a flat profile, as well as programmable software. These are ideal for sewing the keder systems used with SEGs, notes David Rodriguez, VP sales, USA, Matic, which is distributed by Media One Digital Imaging Solutions, LLC.
The automated Impulsa line—distributed by Global Imaging—is programmable, allowing the operator to shift easily from SEG to double hemming as needed, points out Lamb.
Regardless of the sewing method, vendors recommend using a double needle to ensure a quality finished product. “Many people make the mistake of using a single-needle, walking-foot machine because it is often a suggested economical solution that can be sourced locally. However, if the sewing equipment provider really understands what is involved in sewing graphics and banners, they will know that a double-needle, needle-feed machine produces far superior results,” explains Kaplan.
To Sew or Not to Sew
There are many reasons for print providers to bring sewing services in house, including control of cost and completion time. For those handling a substantial volume of textile printing, or planning to in the future, stitching may provide a more efficient way of finishing.
“We work with our clients to determine their ROI. How much they outsource on a monthly basis, the transport to and from the outsource facility, and the potential rework because of communication issues are contributing factors in determining the correct technology and timeline for bringing sewing in house,” explains Lamb.
Often, the decision comes down to the price of the sewing equipment and how many orders the shop receives on a regular basis to necessitate use. “It depends on the amount of volume being done on the fabric end of the business,” observes Rodriguez.
Several vendors agree there are fewer skilled contract sewing shops. That makes it harder to outsource work effectively. “It’s never a one-size-fits-all situation. Some sewing contractors specialize in specific-type sewing products like jeans, outwear, or knitwear,” notes Frye.
For print shops that choose outsourcing, Kaplan recommends confirming that the sewing shop has the correct equipment for graphics. A shop that handles custom awnings is usually a good fit, he adds, as they use double-needle machines.
Faulkner says most local sewing shops are well equipped for hemming, it is when creating SEG that it may be challenging to find the right person to outsource to. “When creating SEG, it is much more critical that the keder silicone strip and velcro is precisely sewn to ensure the fabric graphics are tight when installed in an extrusion-based frame. Having automated equipment that feeds the keder and velcro is quite helpful in accomplishing this,” he continues.
Options for Sewing Equipment
There are numerous industrial sewing machines, both manual and automatic, that are suitable for print providers.
Brother manufactures both manual and automatic solutions. Its products start with the basic single-needle lockstitch machines, like the SL-1110A model, and expand to fully programmable electronic pattern sewing machines. “Brother’s electronic pattern sewing machines are ideal for high volumes of repetitive tacking operations or attaching labels,” suggests Frye.
Brother’s S-7200C series of single-needle lockstitch sewing machines feature direct drive with needle position, full lubrication, an automatic thread trimmer, and foot lift. It also offers automatic reverse—back tack—with speeds up to 5,000 stitches per minute.
Global Imaging, with the Impulsa line, offers synchronized sewing solutions. A conveyor belt is synchronized with the sewing head. “The faster you stitch, the faster the conveyor transports your material through. This offers the finest seam quality, as the material is not distressed as it enters the sewing zone,” explains Lamb. Users have the option of single- or double-needle operations, lockstitch or chain stitch.
Customers choose which sewing machine they want integrated into the Impulsa system—options include Brother, Dürkopp Adler America, Inc., Juki America, Inc., or Pfaff, a brand of SVP Worldwide. Impulsa solutions handle light fabrics to PVC. They hold a menu of sewing parameters to facilitate changing between applications. Conveyors are offered in varying sizes, lengths, and configurations.
Media One distributes the Matic Cronos line of sewing systems. The Cronos Plus and Cronos Ultimate machines “can operate in three different modes—manual, semi-automatic, and automatic—allowing an experienced or non-experienced operator to increase the production workload by 300 percent,” says Rodriguez.
The Cronos line handles a variety of materials, including stretch fabrics, oxfords, vinyl, and PVC. The machines feature a double-needle Dürkopp Adler sewing machine head that allows for stitching with two needles or one. Automation features include bi-directional conveyor belts, and the Cronos Ultimate includes a sensor that stops the machine automatically when it detects the end of the fabric.
Splash of Color also offers the Matic Cronos line of automated sewing solutions. According to Faulkner, each system can be operated in manual, semi-automatic, or automatic mode depending on the particular operation that is being performed.
S. Kaplan Sewing Machine provides two manual machines that are popular for print and graphics professionals, the Highlead GC 20518-PUL and the Typical L300U205. Both are double-needle, needle-feed machines, producing two parallel lines of stitching. Built-in pullers, rollers synchronized to the motion of the sewing machine, are also part of the devices.
It costs about $3,000 to $ 3,500 to introduce these machines to a business, and the price includes on-site training. Two threads are required for each row of stitching, and the two machines are differentiated by how they accomplish it. The Typical L300U205 is a chain-stitch machine, producing a seam that looks different on the back. The Highlead GC 20518-PUL is for lock stitching, which produces an identical seam on both sides. It feeds the lower threads off two small bobbins that are inserted into the sewing machine.
SVP Worldwide is home to three iconic sewing brands—Husqvarna Viking, Pfaff, and Singer. The offerings range from $150 to $2,000 for sewing machines, and $3,500 to $10,000 for embroidery machines. “We have machines for seamstresses of all levels. From a beginner just starting out or the seasoned professional, we have a model and price range to fit any designer,” says Vanessa Parrish, director of brand communications, SVP Worldwide.
The company offers industrial-grade sewing machines through its Singer brand. The Singer 4452 Heavy Duty sewing machine produces 1,100 stitches per minute. It features an automatic needle threader and a top-loading bobbin for easy access. The machine’s three needle positions provide options for topstitching or piping. Stitch length and width are also adjustable by dial. According to the company, users can complete projects 30 percent faster with the Singer 4452 Heavy Duty.
Automated and manual sewing equipment offer different solutions for different needs. A smaller shop may prefer the modest cost of a traditional machine, while a larger operation may benefit from the high-speed, high-volume capability of automation. Both options give print providers control over finishing fabric.
Jul2015, Digital Output