Stuart Beeson of Sandon Global on Building Business and Boosting Productivity
Stuart Beeson, global distribution manager at Sandon Global, oversees non-UK sales activity for the internationally focused anilox roll manufacturer. He travels extensively, recently jetting between the Czech Republic, US, Scandinavia and back again. Along the way, he noted similar challenges, opportunities, operating strategies and thirst for additional knowledge common to flexographers in all countries.
In the following interview with FLEXO Magazine, this FTA member elaborates on similarities, differences and tried-and-true approaches to building business and boosting productivity, all while improving quality and consistency of printed product. A member of the FORUM 2020 Committee, Beeson is set to co-chair one of nine technical sessions associated with FTA’s signature event. Its focus: new and emerging technologies.
FLEXO Magazine: From a global perspective, how does a flexographic print supplier work to bridge the gap between different international markets, say the US vs. the UK?
Stuart Beeson: Good suppliers should firstly understand the market they operate in and secondly demonstrate their knowledge effectively. In today’s global market, there are more factors to consider than product performance, such as the environment, legislation, logistics and for us at home, political factors in the shape of Brexit. In other words, a successful international flexographic print supplier takes a holistic approach and makes a point of understanding the customer’s client’s market drivers.
In our experience the added value, points of differentiation and resulting competitive advantage can be shared. To achieve this, suppliers must employ and partner with knowledgeable people in the market who can contribute directly to prospective customers.
FLEXO: What do you see as strong similarities between the two markets?
Beeson: Sandon Global believes there are more similarities than differences in the UK and US markets. In addition to the cultural and historic comparisons, the mirror-like conditions in the commercial world on both sides of the pond are clear to see and well established.
UK and North American B2B customers and consumers alike appreciate service, quality of product and innovation driving change, particularly in our industry. A successful supplier is constantly developing service and product offerings. Communicating, and in some cases educating customers and partners with specific and common goals in mind, is critical at all times. Lose focus, and undoubtedly you will lose out. Deliver on your promise and never become complacent. In my experience, that’s the secret to maintaining strong relationships.
FLEXO: What are the clear distinctions?
Beeson: At this point in time, the UK flexo market is stable but not growing. Brexit is a challenge and end users are thinking twice before they invest.
The US, however, appears open for business. Our belief is that there is real positivity around the US market and this is something that we can really support. My instinct is that suppliers in the US market can raise their game further in terms of the support offered to the customer base. Our hope is to help bridge this gap.
Beeson: Quite simply, effective knowledge transfer travels well. We have a strong reputation in the European market validated by six consecutive “Supplier of the Year” European Flexographic Industry Association (EFIA) Awards. We have achieved and maintained this level (which is across all categories of flexo supply, I must add) by training people on the ground to get the very best from our anilox solutions. We take a partnership approach which has two-way benefits in that the constant dialogue and on-the-ground support helps feed our continuous improvement program and leads to more innovation and solution-driven products that push the boundaries of flexographic print.
FLEXO: What can US printers learn from UK printers and vice versa?
Beeson: Communication is key. Flexo, globally, is on the same journey. Everyone faces the same challenges, however, everyone overcomes them differently. If we share innovations on a technical level, there will be massive benefit.
To answer your question, FTA forms the perfect bridge to help ideas transfer between the US and UK.
FLEXO: How do you believe that serving as a FORUM 2020 session chair can assist in bridging the gap? What do you hope to get out of the experience? What subject matter do you want to delve deeper into?
Beeson: Learning experience is key. In the North America, you do flexo really well. The opportunity to co-chair and talk with so many technical contacts, as well as others on the committee, will offer new, broader perspectives. That experience will let me take ideas back and bring ideas forward as well. As previously mentioned, we are passionate about encouraging two-way dialogue. It’s the fuel to product development and ultimately business growth.
First and foremost, on subject matter that interests me, I want to be exposed to briefings on where new technologies lie, developments in the process and advancements in the plate world.
Anilox technology touches everything. It drives the need to know more about ink. Connecting with flexographers in North America exposes me to a bigger market, to more technology than we are aware of. That’s always a good thing to share.
At FORUM 2020, I want to look at problems, talk from experience, and take advantage of the setting where more than one organization works together to tackle issues and develop new solutions. FORUM promotes thinking up and downstream. It calls attention to new things “out-there” to be aware of. It encourages manufacturers to look to build better products and work in correlation with peers and partners. To a degree, this fortifies the lifeblood in the next steps that we do.
FLEXO: What common challenges do they face?
Beeson: Education of printers and operators comes immediately to mind. For instance, common questions include: “Why are anilox rollers damaged so easily?” “How do you avoid damage?” “When should I clean an anilox?” “Why should I volume check my anilox inventory?” The net result in answering such questions is increased efficiency and therefore net income.
For example, high definition print is becoming the norm in the wide web world, so we have developed an engraving solution for this purpose to support both narrow web and wide web printers. A 61-degree engraving (also known as Xpro) is ideal for both process and vignette print. Used typically with high-resolution plates, robust cell peaks and channeled cell walls offer a range of benefits, including reducing scoring, maximizing the lifespan of an anilox and improving press efficiency.
Digital print is also a major challenge to narrow web in the medium term, and corrugated and wide web in the long term. For this reason, quality, efficiency, speed and productivity become ever more important.
FLEXO: What top priorities do they share?
Beeson: The real driver in both markets is quality. Customers want a stable platform from which they can control L*a*b* values and optical density. It is important we work on innovative products that can support the printer in terms of HD-quality print. We must never lose sight, however, of what is critical to a flexo printer—that is stability and repeatability of the anilox product. From the manufacture of the sleeve base to the operational processes that help us to guarantee volumetric consistency over time.
Consistency of product is what all suppliers should aim for. Our customers are in an increasingly competitive market. Their ambition is to print more work at gravure standard and in essence keep flexo, as a whole, productive over the next 20 years.
It’s also extremely important to look at machine efficiency. Everybody is challenged and on the exact same journey—China, US, Malaysia, UK, etc. Quality is up. Jobs run faster and faster. The trend is universal and is in no way exclusive to the UK, Scandinavia or Canada. Printing-by-the-numbers is no longer a dark concept. Today, it is widely seen as the next critical step in stabilizing the flexo process and driving improvement across the globe.
Printing is now seen as a science. “Measure, measure, measure,” is its mantra. If we measure, we can control things. A great percentage of our industry has signed on to the thought. Others need to. Standardization—industrialization—of print is a good thing! It achieves the outcome we understand. If you get the outcome you understand, you can run those difficult jobs on any shift.
FLEXO: How can printers/converters and their suppliers on both continents work together to advance flexo on a global level?
Beeson: It would be great to see if we can increase collaboration between the technical associations. This type of conversation that we are engaging in today is what it is all about.
From Sandon Global’s perspective, our business ethic is not to look at the North American market and see what we can get out of it in the short term, but to look to invest in the foundations to deliver sustained support to the market, now and in the future. Therefore, first we must build relationships with printers and agents.
FLEXO: How can FTA, and international organizations like it, assist printers/converters and their suppliers in carrying flexo forward and maintaining its position as packaging’s print process of choice?
Beeson: Technical papers (white papers) are great at covering issues customers see on a daily basis. Sandon Global is a strategic partner of EFIA, providing its members with a technical training module on the subject of anilox rollers. Delivered both on-site and via the online EFIA Academy, the aim is to improve the knowledge and skill level of employees.
Similarly, FTA’s Flexographic Image Reproduction Specifications & Tolerances (FIRST) training curriculum is designed to sharpen skill levels and indoctrinate operators and prepress technicians into the print-to-the-numbers culture. It turns them into advocates of flexography’s transition from craft to science. It builds quality, consistency, repeatability and confidence.