It's no longer a case of whether success in the global machine builder market is key to a machine OEM's long-term future. It applies to pretty much everyone.
Over time, we've seen understanding of the many rules and standards — those critical details that can open or bar the entrance to international markets — get a little better, and there clearly are more avenues of opportunity. However, when designing, selling and delivering machines to new users worldwide, it's more important than ever to have a good guide along for the ride. Helpful companions and partners are particularly crucial as the economic world shrinks, old trade barriers fall, and safety and other standards harmonize. This is because builders must seize opportunities and make decisions faster than ever to serve new markets full of new customers, who all want the same products as consumers in developed industrial markets.
In fact, these economic demands are so strong that they can push manufacturers and their machine builders to not just develop new equipment, but to reorganize and establish entirely new companies — and do it repeatedly as needs evolve and capabilities wax and wane across national boundaries.
Builders Trade Roles
Pad Print Machinery of Vermont (PPMOVT) in East Dorset, Vt., started out more than 20 years ago distributing pad printing machines from an Italy-based machine builder. Over the years, PPMOVT added increasing levels of automation and servomotors to its pad printers, and more recently developed industrial inkjet technology to meet users' requirements. Pad printers typically print on irregular surfaces and different materials, including ceramics, textiles and plastics.
Now, PPMOVT uses the Italian OEM's printing heads to build machines with added automation fertures for complete printing systems. For example, Pad Print's KP06 ink-print, pad-printing machine retains the OEM's frame and mechanicals, but Pad Print revamps and can customize them with its own auto-loading and unloading, pretreating, rotating parts tables and other devices (Figure 1). Pad Print's machines and servos integrate PC-based controls and PLCs from several controls manufacturers to control process graphics data, oversee the printer heads, and manage I/O components. They also use servomotors and drives to run conveyors and printer heads, and incorporate large and smaller robots for other tasks.
"We began R&D on inkjets, branched out, and started our inkjet division eight years ago because industrial inkjets mean pretty much instant setup of 10-20 seconds for our users, who are mostly printing on medical devices," says Julian Joffe, Pad Print's CEO. "We were one of the first companies to print without the usual plates, but setup was still about two minutes without color and up to 90 minutes or more for multicolor pad printing. Inkjets are all-digital with no analog controls or plates, which eliminates most of the former setup time, and enables automatic loading and running of product. We're even doing inkjet printing on bottlecaps and cylinders, which used to be the most difficult to print on. And, we're using more sophisticated inks, which have better adhesion on more surfaces, and we're curing them with better-focused LED lights that are more reliable and use less power."
Ironically, all of Pad Print's inkjet and related innovations have even inspired the Italian OEM to reverse its traditional supply chain, and begin selling Pad Print's inkjet machines to its clients in Europe. "Making the switch from just pad printing to adding inkjets was a big opportunity that took lots of vision, but now others are following into a market that's a lot bigger for all of us," Joffe explains. "Doing inkjets was too big a blow to some builders' egos, but we've always been pretty hungry. We knew we'd be left behind if we didn't change, and we decided we'd rather get there first and compete with ourselves instead of competing with someone else."
When in Rome — Follow the Rules
No doubt the first rule of international machine marketing and sales is: find out what the local regulations and standards are, and follow them as closely as possible.
"Providing machines globally means complying with many different codes, especially in Europe," says Joel Weiss, tradeshow manager at Haas Automation. Haas builds its CNC machining centers in Oxnard, Calif., but sells and services them via 170 independently owned and operated Haas Factory Outlets (HFOs) worldwide, including 110 outside the U.S. "Besides operating regulations, there are rules about taxes, importing and customs, and we have to understand and work with all of them."