Note: This article appears in the January 2017 edition of A&E magazine. To ensure that you can access this and other industry-focused pieces, be sure to subscribe today!
There are some hard truths in any business, including the laser engraving business. One of these truths, regardless of how well your business operates, is that you are going to eventually lose clients. In business terminology, this is known as attrition. Attrition can be a direct result of your company offering poor quality, inadequate services, having high prices, having a poor location, or a wide variety of other reasons.
With companies amalgamating all the time, you can simply lose a client just because the new buyer feels more comfortable with their previous vendor and not because of how you have performed in the past. You can lose a client because they cease to operate and go out of business. The economic climate may have your clients cutting back their purchases. But for the purpose of this article, I want to share a story of a customer whom we lost for a totally different reason.
WHEN THE CUSTOMER RETURNS
This particular customer was an industrial client for whom we had done a small amount of work over the last three to four years. The majority of their orders involved us laser marking their own stainless steel cylinder parts with a serial number. In most cases, we would complete these orders within two to three days after the receipt of the product, so there was no obvious reason to explain why they had left us. Therefore, it was a real pleasure seeing them walk into our office after a four-year hiatus.
The client asked us perform the same type of laser marking services on their stainless steel cylinders that we had done in the past. The only issue was that the client needed an extremely quick turnaround time to meet their deadline. Of course, I told the client we would do everything possible to have this project completed as quickly as possible.
Along with the fast approaching deadline, we also needed to match pre-existing serial numbers that had already been laser marked on these items. Naturally, the question asked was, “Why do you need an identical serial number engraved again?” Our client’s response provided the reason why we had not seen them for over four years. After their amalgamation, our client become more involved with the manufacturing of industrial cables and now needed the ability to produce plastic and metal tags for identification purposes. Hence, they chose to buy their own CO2 laser and perform these services themselves.
After hearing this information, I inquired why they did not simply laser mark these stainless steel parts themselves. Our client quickly replied, “We did, but it didn’t work.” Apparently, they were using Cermark on the cylinders and the laser marked graphics were easily wiping off with a rag. Any laser engraver knows that Cermark is an excellent product for most metals—this problem could be a result of operator error, incorrect laser settings, improper application of Cermark, laser focal issues, or even an un-clean surface.
The client expressed that they did not want to attempt engraving these cylinders once again using their own laser. The client realized that a fair amount of time was required to dis-assemble the parts, apply the Cermark, laser mark, and then reassemble. They were hoping to have these cylinders completed the next day, which I felt comfortable with for two reasons. First, we would not be using a rotary attachment, which would slow down the production. Second, we would be using our galvo head Nd:YAG laser instead, which would provide speed and some depth to the engraving.
The laser marking stage was rather simple, but it was the behind-the-scenes logistics that were going to make or break it. Each box contained 10 cylinders with a consecutive sequence, but within each box the parts were mixed. We thought we could unpack all the boxes and lay out all 400 parts from the smallest to the largest serial number. This was a valid option, but it would take a fair amount of space to accommodate this.
Another option was to laser mark each cylinder and reset the laser for each part. While this method would be functional, it would drastically slow down the production process. Thus, we decided to come up with a better solution to expedite the completion of this task.
The commonality of each part was that all the parts contained CX-8 followed by a four-digit serial number. We were able to set up a program using ProLase software, which automatically prompted the laser operator to simply enter the start of that four-digit serial number sequence. After pressing Enter, the laser would consequently laser mark 10 parts with an increment of one. The laser would also laser mark CX-8 before the four-digit serial number, making it look like a single alphanumerical serial number. Additionally, the laser would stop after marking 10 pieces and prompt the operator to enter the new starting serial number.
Before we laser marked anything, we had to ensure the alignment of the two main components of the serial number (CX-8 and four-digit serial number). In essence, we were aligning the two parts to look like one continuous line of text. We knew that the CX-8 block of text remained unchanged and its location would stay intact. But the four-digit changing serial number had the risk of shifting due to the possible change in the overall width. To combat this potential problem, we set the four-digit serial to be anchored to the top left of that text block. This resulted in the appearance of a continuous line of text.
While we could have easily had the operator enter a five-digit serial number, we tried to minimize the amount of data entry. Remember that the more data entry you get your staff to do, the greater the risk of human error. Strangely enough, it is easier to remember a four-digit number than a five-digit number, which also helped increase throughput of the product.
While this type of custom programming is not present in CorelDraw, you could potentially create a macro program to help improve your production efficiency. Macros are small programs which can operate in conjunction with CorelDraw to help you stream line repetitive steps. (See my column in the April 2016 issue of A&E.)
To aid with placing the cylinders in sequence, we took a scrap piece of plastic and laid it on the surface of the table. Using a marker, we then drew a simple grid pattern, creating multiple regions. Each region represented the last digit found on the existing serial number. Remember that each box contained 10 parts and the last digit in each serial number sequence ended with an eight.
To increase the visibility, we took some scrap orange vinyl and wrote the number on it and placed it strategically on the table. By doing so, the operator could quickly and easily place the cylinders in the proper order. This grid pattern was extremely useful as the laser operator could engrave any random box as long as he entered the correct starting serial number. We tweaked the laser settings to obtain some depth along with a visibly dark mark. All the laser operator had to do was wipe off any residue left over from the laser marking process and then place the re-engraved part back into the respective box.
Over time, you will gain some clients and you will eventually lose some clients. It can be the result of numerous reasons, but if you perform quickly using a variety of production techniques, you just might have a client say to you, “Next month, we will bring over another 400 parts for you to engrave. Will that be okay?” It certainly is.