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  • Mark Curtin, Transition Automation

    mark-curtain

    Transition automation manufacture a range of squeegee blades and holders to fit virtually any printer in industry. President & CEO, Mark Curtin discusses the upgrades made to their slim line tool-free squeegee holder, which features a magnetic blade.

    The last time we spoke, you introduced a very novel new product, which was a magnetic blade for the squeegee. I believe you’ve made basically some upgrades to it. Can you talk us through what your experience has been with the magnetic blades since you launched them and what improvements you’ve made?

    Sure. Trevor, we call this product the Slim Line Tool-free Squeegee Holder, and the idea was to try to get away from having to use a tool to change your blades. We also wanted to remove the clamping structure that was in front of the blade because that’s an obstruction during printing. So that was the two-part goal. Our holders have always performed very well, but we thought, “why not try to go one step further and make it better?” And also with the finer particle sizes, cleaning is a big issue, so having a clamp bar represents another area that needs cleaning. So in the first generation, we incorporated round magnets and everybody knows these neodymium magnets are very strong and they’re getting more widely used. They actually were too strong when we started to do longer versions of this holder. The blades were hard to remove. I thought that was a bit of a safety problem because if somebody jerked on it and it went the wrong way, they could be injured. So it was a safety matter and a general ergonomics matter, so we upgraded the system. This is the new version right here. It requires only the loosening of three thumb screws
    You loosen those thumb screws, these little chucks release the blade and then you can just pull it out. We added a little magnetic distribution plate that softens the magnetic force and also provides a nice smooth surface for the blade to go on.

    It just snaps in and you simply push it up. It clicks against two reference points so the operator knows it’s in the right position. And then you just tighten up the thumb screws.

    It really takes like 10 seconds to change a blade. Now you might wonder, why do we need to change it so fast when the blade lasts a long time? Well, people like to keep the process clean, so they might disassemble it, even though the blade’s good. It’s not for replacing the blade. They’ll take it out for cleaning.

    And I think there’s seems to be less material up at the top here for paste to get trapped under?

    Exactly.

    It looks like a cleaner process.

    It is a cleaner process, with a smooth face. When you’re done with the job, you can take a spatula and one stroke gets 90% of the paste off, so you can also save on paste. It’s bad when you got paste that ends up getting washed away. It’s very expensive, of course. And one of the feature is the paste retainers have a lot of geometry to them, and they’re also very hard to clean. When you loosen this thumb screw, you can take the whole paste retainer assembly off and remove it for cleaning.

    One important factor about the paste retainer is it’s just one piece. It’s not coming off in multiple pieces. Making it an easy thing to clean?

    And stay together too.

    So where would you wash that? Would you put that in the stencil washer?

    Most stencil cleaners are fitted with a basket to put miscellaneous things into. This paste retainer would go in the basket, and then the squeegee holder. We also have a facility for racking it and then putting it in the stencil cleaner or other customers put it in a basket too and clean it. So this version is a lot more ergonomic. It’s a nice upgrade from the first generation. And we have about eight of them recently sold to put into testing for possible prove out, and then we expect some bigger orders after that.

    Excellent. What different sizes does it come in?

    We basically manufacture these to any length the customer requires. It’s a unique process. We start with long lengths and we cut them to size so we don’t have to stock a lot of inventory. We just stock the long lengths and chop ‘em up as to the length desired.

    And presumably these squeegee blades fit any printer?

    Exactly. We need to move where the market is for the printer platform. So whether it’s a DEK or MPM or EKRA. There’s also a lot of newer brands coming in like GKG and also ESE from Korea. There are lots of excellent innovations in the printer platforms, and it’s a big market. There’s room for a lot of people, but for us as a squeegee supplier, we need to accommodate all printer platforms.

    Well, you’re always innovating. It seems to be your specific niche that you have really dialed into, so I guess you must be the world expert on it.

    Yeah, it’s a very small part of the overall business, but it’s quite vital. And I tell the customers, if you buy Squeegees from us, you’re getting a full-time engineer, ready at your beck and call, 24/7 to help answer questions and solve problems. But most of the time we have no issues. There are a lot of R and D projects going on with bumped step stencils. We have a new squeegee coming out for step stencils.

    Step stencils is one of the industry’s big challenges. But the other thing that mentioned is an increased interest in these blades because of the finer pastes that we’re going down to. So why are people more interested in these squeegee blades because of finer pastes?

    Well, finer paste, finer apertures mean that a little ding is now a mountain, something that might’ve been allowed to pass is now causing defects. As geometries get finer, everything needs to be tightened up. And so people that may have gotten along fine with a lesser quality, a softer metal, stainless steel blade, realize we got to top out everything. We got to go to the max on our squeegee. We got to make sure the repeatability of the cameras is better. I think it’s just a general increased pressure towards greater cleanliness and accuracy.

    A lot of the OEM blades are just laser cut. It’s okay, but the heat from the laser, aneals, the edge of the blade making it softer and it’s also a little bit wiggly, even though it looks good to the naked eye. We grind our blades to be mirror flat first, and then we buff them. If there were any natural burrs or voids, we’re pretty much just taking them off. I think that’s driving the market to reconsider higher end blades. We’ve always occupied the high-end segment, but today, everything is high end.

    Well, you always do a great job, Mark and it’s impressive to see you continuously developing your product. Thank you for sharing that with us today.

    Thank you, Trevor.
    –TREVOR GALBRAITH

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