September '21

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G R A P H I C S - P R O. C O M 2 0 2 1 S E P T E M B E R G R A P H I C S P R O 5 7 quite as crisp lines as a photo- resist mask does, but they elim- inate the develop and washout steps. Over the past few years, laser masks have become popu- lar due to many shops already using CO 2 lasers. In simple terms, the abra- sive etching process involves four basic steps. If color-fill is required after etching, one more step is needed. When a laser mask is used, it requires another step, but eliminates the step of having to produce a photoresist mask. Overall, we have ei- ther four or five processes to plan for. These steps are shown in Figure 1. BEFORE YOU BEGIN … We will address each of these processes in more detail later in this article, but first we need to bring into play the single most important question in the planning pro- cess. How many awards are you planning to etch and ship on average, each day? 10 pieces a day? 100? 1,000? During my 30 years in the glass and crystal award industry, I visited and toured hundreds of facilities that utilize abrasive etching. These visits have includ- ed small mom-and-pop shops, medium- sized shops, and several large-scale facili- ties capable of etching and shipping well over 1,000 pieces every day. A thousand pieces during an eight-hour day is one piece every 2.1 minutes, or 125 pieces every hour. Experience has shown that up to approximately 100 pieces a day can be handled in batches and moved through the production steps manually, but when you start to exceed this, a well-thought-out production line with a continuous or cellular flow should be considered. At 1,000 or more pieces a day, the pro- cess steps need to be interconnected with conveyers and baskets so that material flow is smooth, consistent, and not in- terrupted. It also requires premium-level industrial equipment that is reliable and can be automated as much as possible. These large abrasive etching operations cannot afford downtime due to equip- ment failures. The majority of smaller and medium- sized trophy and award shops I have vis- ited process on average between 10 and 50 pieces a day. These shops make up about 80% of trophy and awards busi- nesses. The other 20% are the larger operations, which process about 80% of the overall abrasive etched industry volume. The largest of these operations have well-thought-out process flows with excellent material handling. I am not focusing on these large pro- ducers. This article targets the smaller trophy and award shops that make up the 80% of businesses in our industry, and for any shop planning to add abra- sive etching for the first time, these tips will help. WHAT YOU NEED It is important to understand some of the advantages (and disadvantages) of the abrasive etching process itself and the equipment that is available. The equip- ment on the market today has come a long way from when I entered the indus- try back in the early 1990's. Equipment is now considerably quieter, more efficient, and significantly cleaner, as the units are much better sealed and self-contained. Having said this, glass dust particulate created by the abrasive Figure 1. (Chart courtesy Barry Slee) Sandcarving Systems SR3000 TM Self Stick Photoresist Film 800-729-9478 3 Easy Steps Automatic Washout Systems

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