By The Metric Maven
Dan Svec runs Pyrographics in Des Moines Iowa. They specialize in printing mugs and cups. I had the pleasure of speaking with Dan about his business and his use of metric. Dan does precision screen printing of mugs. In order to obtain the best registration of images possible he needed to design his own screen printing press from first principles. In his past work in graphic arts he had encountered considerable confusion with 11/16ths and 13/16ths of an inch. It struck him that the use of millimeters could eliminate this problem. He had earlier read an article in a trade magazine which explained how using metric measurement in graphic arts could save money. The new screen printing press design allows for highly accurate image registration, which in turn allows Dan to print high resolution four color process, color images on mugs and glasses.
A screen printer for mugs has the screen move along with the mug. The squeegee, which transfers the ink through the open screen image, remains stationary. The setup distance is distinctly marked as 27 mm. The diameters of mugs to be printed will vary, which in turn can affect the printing quality. A sample of the diameters of the cups is taken and an estimate of the median value is computed. The diameter in millimeters is used to set the screen printer values. When I asked Dan how much off-contact was used between the mug and the screen, he picked up a small wooden object and said “one Popsicle stick thickness.” This is certainly not an accepted SI unit but does appear to work well for Dan.
Dan could not help but revert to thousandths of an inch when discussing other aspects of printing. He also pointed out that he “has to interface with the outside world” for the graphics which are printed on to the cups, so in general they have no choice but to work in inches with customers.
Because Dan has been trying to introduce as much metric as is possible into his business, I gave him one of my 600 mm millimeter-only metric rulers. As he looked at the ruler, Dan mentioned to a pair of his staff members that it is very hard to find a metric ruler with millimeter markings instead of centimeters in the US. I told them “centimeters are a pseudo-inch that just get in the way.” Dan said “it’s like feet and inches.”
I’ve run into a few businesses which have tried to resist the use of Olde English Units, but often this usage follows the business into the grave. The Baldwin Locomotive Works was pro-metric and used it as much as possible, but when they went bankrupt, metric usage in locomotive design perished with them. It is very difficult for a tiny metric small business ecosystem to exist within an entrenched and massive Olde English one, and not be overwhelmed and perish at some point. I have seen it asserted by person’s who have practiced a trade for many years that because of their longevity they know it must the best way to do things. Often, they have obtained a single year of experience, and utilized the least amount of information to practice their trade over many years. Because they remain in business within a flawed measurement ecosystem, they argue that there is no need to change–because everyone does it that way.
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