Equipped to print

Posted on 11 Aug 2009 by The Manufacturer

Graphics and printing is a notoriously fluid business requiring constant innovation. GSM Graphic Arts general manager Rudy Pearce explains to Tim Brown how the company’s continued development and careful understanding of the market has allowed it to develop its reputation as an industry problem solver.

GSM Group’s – the parent company of GSM Graphic Arts – consolidation of numerous graphic and printing companies under one banner has allowed the essentially independent companies to now work in more defined market places.

Through acquisition the group has moved from an original single site to now having six. As a result, collectively GSM Group has been able to enter into significantly more markets including white goods, automotive, aerospace and military.

According to Pearce: “If there’s graphics involved, we’re probably involved as well.” As one component of the GSM Group, GSM Graphic Arts in North Yorkshire focuses mainly on printing for industrial companies and produces a wide variety of products that are continually expanding and improving. “Primarily we were a label and name plate manufacturer, such as sticky labels on the backs of machines or metal labels for rating plates,” says Pearce.

“That is where we’ve come from but we’ve moved in to designing and manufacturing a huge range of niche products. We got in to that through investment in technology.” Over the last five years, the company has moved its printing production away from traditional silk screen printing to utilise several different digital processes. Specifically this investment has allowed GSM Graphic Arts to produce innovative new products for commercial applications. Such new processes have included Primodise, which involves digitally printing onto anodised aluminium. Similarly, the company spent four years researching graphic overlays. Pearce says the company finally felt confident in the available technology to make an investment last year and is now able to produce a new range of previously inaccessible products.

“The new range that we’re able to produce has opened up new markets and we’ve also invested in laser cutting so the customer can have reduced origination costs.”

Innovation spurs machine development
In total, GSM Graphic Arts has invested over £600,000 in the last four years on lasers, a new computer system and five new digital printers with various capabilities. The output that GSM is now able to achieve has truly impressed clients and set the tongues of the machine’s manufacturers wagging. “Some of these machines are so new that there was no existing colour management systems,” says Pearce. “We worked with the Manufacturing Advisory Service and Leeds University and created our own colour management system. It was so good that I was talking to the machine manufacturer about packaging it and selling it back to them. One of the machine manufacturers has also asked us to help develop the next generation of the machine because we’ve done so much with the current one; more than any of their other customers.”

The versatility of products now available due to the range of different processes in use at GSM Graphic Arts has allowed it to more easily satisfy customer requests, no matter how obscure their nature. Consistently creating bespoke solutions to commercial industries is now an attribute that Pearce says not only sets them apart from their competitors but also provides the opportunity to trial new innovations and potentially incorporate them into their product range. “If a customer phones up with a problem, that’s great for us,” says Pearce, “ that’s what we want to hear because we’re all about fixing problems for people and that attribute has created its own niches.”

Data matrix cracks the code
Another advancement that has been made possible by the shift to digital is GSM Graphic Arts’ ability to produce a revolutionary new bar code. This new innovation has generated a lot of interest within industry and defence sectors and GSM has already received much interest in this new product. “What we’ve been able to do is move into new areas and one of them is data matrix coding…It took us two years to develop but we can now produce data matrix coding to the highest standard.

“Everybody is familiar with the standard bar code. Data matrix coding is a series of dots formed into a square and what it does is allow so much more information to be held in a smaller area. For example, you can now have a product with not just a price on it but also information about where it was manufactured, where it is stored and when it should be sold by. It can hold a huge amount of data. We’ve done considerable work with the Ministry of Defence and Nato but we’re also seeing commercial benefits as well, such as for industrial rating plates or automotive plates.” Knock-on effects of its digital investment have included environmental improvements which Pearce says have become an essential consideration for the company.

Now able to now get 15% average waste reduction, GSM Graphic Arts plans to continue to invest in hardware that permits such saving opportunities. “A lot of these savings come from our interaction with the suppliers. We work with them where we can with feedback from the machines and the processors to try and make things more environmentally friendly.”

Team ethic
Aside from investment, other aspects of GSM Graphic Arts’ business management have continued to play an important role in the company’s success. A deliberate effort to maintain employee morale as well as streamlining its expenditure have generated considerable returns. “We’ve always concentrated on developing a team ethic and we work using flat management and team structures,” says Pearce. “We also invest a lot in internal training using skills matrices and we’ve done lots of cross-training and re-training to cope with the influx of the digital area.” During a visit from Nissan a number of years ago, GSM was introduced to the kaizen philosophy. The main element of kaizen is that any expenditure which does not generate value for the end customer is wasteful. GSM’s considerable investment in improving its capabilities for the benefit of its customers is a demonstration of the incorporation of this philosophy.

With a solid base of infrastructure being utilised by GSM Graphic Arts, its capability as a key player in the digital printing industry has been fortified. Innovations within its product range are now naturally occurring thanks to the improved capabilities of recent investments in – and in-house development of – the latest technology. Considering this, the continuation of their current operational trajectory is certain and, notwithstanding falls in demand, uninterrupted innovations and developments are likely to follow.