Industrial Printing – Customer Needs & Challenges!

In this edition of EPS Weekly, I caught up with Dan Leiter, sales engineer here at Engineered Printing Solutions. Dan has been in the printing industry for 25 years, with the last 10 years of it providing industrial printing solutions to clients via both pad printing and inkjet technology. We had an interesting conversation that touched upon a number of things related to the dynamics of the customer relationship. This ranged from the inception of the EPS/Client relationship to ongoing support and maintenance of a solution that has already been designed and delivered.

What do you think is the most critical consideration when beginning to work with a client toward the custom design of an industrial printing machine, be it a pad or inkjet printing solution?

The qualification process of defining the customer’s needs and delivering a solution or product that meets those needs is by far the most critical part of the process. It can be a difficult job, because a lot of our larger customers often have the involvement of numerous people from various departments such as engineering, operations, and marketing. The project might start out with a very simple process for a company, but as more players get involved, more requirements get brought in to the mix that have to be met.

As a result, we have worked hard over the years to establish and confirm expectations as early in the project as possible. We have achieved this through extensive specifying of needs with our customers to minimize unnecessary research and development costs, as well as keep projects on schedule.”

Do you feel that taking this ‘deeper dive’ with specifying needs early on with the customer has been successful in defining what the customer is truly looking for and needs?

“Yes. It has allowed us to define things, so that invariably when a customer approaches us later in the process regarding a specific functionality (or feature) that was requested, we can in turn reassure them that they will be getting exactly what was detailed in the design documentation.

On the other hand, if the customer is requesting additional features and/or functionalities after an entire process and procedure has been documented, that’s something different. Yes, we are always going to go above and beyond to make our customers extremely satisfied with the end product. However, add-ons and change requests in the middle of a machines design inevitably result in more project hours and thus additional costs.

The pre-build specification process places a milestone in the path, which protects both the customer and EPS by minimizing the probability of unforeseen costs and completion delays. So ultimately, it’s about getting as granular as possible when establishing expectations, and keeping everybody on task.”

As a sales engineer, what are some of the things that you find most gratifying (as well as challenging) when you’re working toward a custom, industrial printing solution for a customer?

“I’ve been in the graphic arts industry my entire adult life. We all claim to have ‘ink in our veins’. As a result, I have a natural inclination toward the entire printing process, including direct-to-shape, which I’ve been doing here at EPS over the last 10 years.

What makes it challenging is that we often have to reinvent the wheel to meet our customer’s specific needs. Every job can be an entirely different product – every job can comes with an entirely different set of requirements. You have to ‘define’ all of these requirements and then develop a solution that is going to ‘address’ all of them…each and every time.

I would say what makes it gratifying is taking a complex set of requirements (that are unique in nature) and exceeding the customer’s expectations in the end. A lot of what we do here is about helping our customers bring an innovation and/or invention to life. We are playing an active part in making entrepreneurial visions a reality. This is why we refer to our customers as partners. It’s a reference that is used all too often, but is completely fitting in our business.”

Tell me more about the customization side in all of this. What do you mean when you say “every job is different”? Can you give some examples?

“There is almost always a difference and/or variation when it comes to the automation that we customize for a client. This ranges from the type, size and shape of the product that they’re looking to decorate on, to the way in which they are looking to decorate on it. Product examples as simple as a tape measure, a glass bottle, a flashcard (to name a few), still have specific print areas that the customer wants to decorate.  This in and of itself creates the need for a custom fixture, and that makes it unique to that particular customer. Even with similar shaped products, it’s different from customer to customer. Customers manufacturing the same type of product can have different processes in which our equipment needs to fit.

They’re all trying to create new processes to improve their quality and efficiencies. It’s exciting, but at the same time challenging. That being said, we love being part of it!”

Can you think of a specific industrial printing solution (pad or inkjet) that stands out as far as size and scope?

“A project that comes to mind is a printing services company that was looking for a digital inkjet machine that would exclusively work on their direct mail campaign. The machine needed to offer heavy personalization, short run capability and high throughput. In addition, the client wanted a solution that would print onto a pen 180 degrees (around the circumference of the pen barrel), in two different colors, and onto a dozen different pen styles.

These requirements required a digital inkjet printer that was highly customized from both an automation and software standpoint. When you’re working with a number of variables that require specific robotic features and heavy software programming, you’re now looking at a fairly complex and sophisticated machine. You are also looking at a significant investment.

In the end our mechanical and software engineers worked together to deliver a heavily customized XD070 Industrial Inkjet Printer. (Click link for more information on standard configuration). The machine met all the demands that the client requested and we’ve been providing ongoing training and field support since it was deployed to their manufacturing environment last year.”

What do you think the future landscape of industrial printing looks like, and do you see it changing how you work with your customers?

“In terms of the direction that the industry is going, digital is clearly driving the bus now. Digital is still in its relative infancy as far as a decorating technology. Where digital needs to go to achieve broad market acceptance primarily involves pretreatment and ink adhesion.

Getting the ink to stick to the product and meet customer durability standards is paramount. Most of our customers are not printing on ‘throwaway’ items and have stringent requirements when it comes to this. The image needs to be able to maintain its quality while being exposed to various degrees of wear and tear, cleaning and expected life of the product.

It is my belief that new methods of pretreatment will be entering the market and gaining acceptance. Currently we use various methods; a chemical wipe, a flame, corona, and plasma treatments.  Although they all have their strengths, ink adhesion with glass, metal and ceramics come with challenges. It is the new pretreatments that are expected to largely address these challenges, allowing greater ink adhesion and durability.

As far as how we are going to be working with our customers towards solutions, it will still be a lot of customization based on customer needs, and probably more. This is because customers (particularly large ones) will be looking for an all in one machine specific to their product line. A company that wants to print on 18 different products (all of various shapes, sizes and substrate types), and wants a single machine to accomplish is what you’re looking at here. That’s where we come in, because that’s what we do at EPS. That’s what we’ve already been doing for quite some time.”

For more information about Engineered Printing Solutions custom solutions, such as standard pad printers, industrial inkjet, consumables and auxiliary equipment, visit www.epsvt.com, email info@epsvt.com or call 1-800-272-7764.

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