Whether you’re at the beginning stages of launching a startup embroidery business, or debating on buying a second machine, it’s always a good idea to brush up on your definitions and the key differences between consumer and commercial embroidery machines.
In essence, a commercial embroidery machine is designed for heavy, continuous operation and can be used on a three-shift production schedule. They are sometimes also referred to as industrial. A consumer machine, on the other hand, was designed and built with parts and components that easily withstand only moderate to occasional use. Consumer machines can also be referred to as domestic or home.
These two categories exist to meet different demands and provide a price point that is commensurate with these features. If an embroidery production facility is running an embroidery machine for eight hours a day, several days a week, a commercial machine is your best choice. The commercial machine provides larger sewing fields, faster speeds and flexible framing options for doing a wider range of products.
A consumer machine may fall short on many of these options but, most importantly, it was not designed with the beefed-up components to withstand heavy production. For example, a sportswear retailer who provides personalization on some of their products may only require a consumer machine because they only run the machine a couple of hours a day. Of course, this retailer may also have other needs such as large field size to do jacket backs and cap frames that may necessitate purchasing a commercial machine.
Let’s explore some of the individual differences between these two categories of embroidery machines:
1) Available Needles – A consumer machine usually has anywhere from 1 to 4 needles available for the embroiderer. A commercial machine can have as many as 16 needles available. Only one of these needles can sew at any moment so the extra available needles allows us to have multiple colors on the machine to provide quick color changes. In addition, these needle positions can be utilized for different needles, different fabrics or applications. That way you can have a variety of colors and needles at your disposal with rapid change available to you.
2) Frames – The type of frames available as well as the field sizes provide options for the embroiderer. Usually consumer machines have field sizes that can only accommodate up to 7.8” x 9.5”. Commercial machines can accommodate up to 15” x 16”. When doing large embroideries such as full jacket backs a large field is a must.
3) Machine Speed – This is an important factor since it determines how quickly the design finishes sewing. Not only can you produce more units in a single day, you have the potential to shrink some of your pricing margin and become more competitive, if need be. Many consumer machines can only run up to 800 stitches per minute (spm). A commercial machine, on the other hand, can run as much as 1,250 to 1,500 spm. That’s almost double the output!
4) Machine components – Commercial machines are built with top grade sewing heads, stepper motors, electronics and frame rail systems. If properly lubricated this ensures the machine owner of years of dependable service in light to heavy production schedules. Consumer machines, on the other hand, are designed to save money and build a less expensive product by trimming as much of the cost as possible. To do this, less expensive steppers, electronics and frame rail systems are built. This machine runs very well for light to moderate production only. If pressed to do heavy production, the parts reach their end life sooner due to heavy production demand.
5) Plastic components – Manufacturers of all products incorporate as many plastic components as possible into the designs of their products. This is not a bad thing. Incorporating plastic components can reduce weight and sound, dissipate heat, and increase overall speed and performance of their products. When I hear a sales person from a competing embroidery manufacturer talk about cheap plastic parts used by their competition I am amused. This person is obviously trying to take advantage of the general public’s limited knowledge of industrial plastics. Today’s plastics are much different than 50 years ago. For example, today we have a wide range of engineered plastics. Some are very hard and very durable. An example is polycarbonates that are used to make CDs, eyeglass lenses and bulletproof glass.
Using the right plastics to manufacture machine parts provides several production benefits:
a) Sound reduction – plastic gears and cams moving against other gears and followers produce very little noise. They still need proper lubrication so they don’t fail prematurely — but so do metal parts.
b) Lightweight – consume less energy and create fewer harmonic balance issues.
c) Potential for higher speeds – lighter weight, less energy consuming and heat dissipating components can easily reach higher speeds than their metal counterparts.
d) Controlled failure point – electrical circuit breakers in your home’s electrical panel are designed to disconnect before the wiring in your walls overheats and catches fire. Using this same principle, if your machine were to crash it's better to lose one easy to reach part than have to remove, examine and replace several metal parts. Think of it as a sacrificial part. Also, keep in mind that this part is not designed to break easily and may withstand several crashes. As a machine technician for over 40 years, I can testify that this is the least expensive way to approach machine maintenance and repair.
When choosing between a consumer and a commercial embroidery machine there are a lot of factors to consider. If you want to optimize your investment dollar and bring the best return on investment (ROI), it might be better to consider factors like production demand (light vs. heavy), number of heads, field size, speed, frame types and software before getting hung up on price. If the net result of this exercise finds a machine that is outside of your budget there is also the new vs. used machine market to consider. Most importantly, keep in mind that you usually “get what you pay for”.