Preventive or Reactive Ceramic Printer Maintenance? – Part 2

Conversations with unhappy customers are never pleasant. It reminds me of all the scolding’s I got as a kid. The silver lining now is that I no longer have to worry about my father taking his belt off, and I also know that unhappy customers make us better. I suppose that was the purpose of the size 36 piece of leather my father wielded with such skill. But I never understood that at the time. I’m happy to say that even with hundreds of customers out there, conversations like I recently had are extraordinarily rare. But this one motivated me to a write Part 2 on this subject. I also hope it makes us better.

In the case of this recent conversation, I learned that there is confusion around how problems with ceramic printing get resolved. But, before we launch into this please go to the blog page on our website and read two blogs. The first was sent in January of 2013 titled “Crisis Management. It Happens to Everyone” and the second, Part 1 on this subject, was sent in April of 2013. In this Part 2 I will try hard to include only advice that adds to or emphasizes points in the other two related blogs.

How do you get help with your ceramic printer? Simple, call us. That is step 1. We are “Tier 1” tech support and we handle essentially 70% of all customer problems (free of charge unless parts are needed). That is because the overwhelming majority of problems relate to color and various other issues that are unique to printing with a very strange chemistry – little jagged colored rocks otherwise known as ceramic pigments. But the support doesn’t end with us. It just starts with us. Your printer, which is a sophisticated piece of electro-mechanical digital equipment, is going to break. All equipment breaks. How you prepare for that is the subject of the two 2013 Blogs mentioned above. Preparing for that inevitable situation means having a plan for it. That plan is vital to your production up-time. So, read the blogs.

Step 2 is to call the Ricoh toll free (and cost free) 800 support line. That number is in the plastic documentation packet that came with your printer, and when we are stumped that is where we will send you. It is where we go when we have equipment problems. The Ricoh 800 line is “Tier 2” tech support. Any significant part failure in the printer will require trained Ricoh service technicians. We know ceramic printing, and after 13 years of using the technology in our own manufacturing, we have learned a few things. But no one at Enduring Images is a trained Ricoh service tech. All of the folks on the toll free line are. There are numerous problems they can solve for you over the phone that we cannot. However, they can’t solve all of them either. When they are stumped or when they know you need to replace a non-user serviceable part, they will dispatch a Ricoh Service Technician. The Ricoh on-site Field Service Organization is “Tier 3” support. When it gets to that point let us know because here is where it can get complicated.

Enduring Images is an authorized Ricoh re-seller. We are authorized to sell Ricoh equipment, and when we sell it the standard Ricoh Warranty (with an exception detailed below) comes with it. We are well known to the folks at very high levels in the Ricoh Sales and Service organizations because we sell a lot of equipment. But, Ricoh will not make nationwide references about their re-sellers because if they do it for one they must do it for all. As a consequence of that, we are not that well known to every single one of the hundreds of field service offices and field service techs located around the country. And, standard Ricoh policy is they will not service any Ricoh device with non-Ricoh parts. The intention is to keep counterfeiters from screwing up their printers with non-Ricoh parts. But unfortunately we get caught in that trap too, even though we are a well respected member of the Ricoh distribution channel.

Here is the official Ricoh policy on servicing Enduring Images ceramic printers:

“The full Ricoh warranty can be found on the Ricoh web site at www.ricoh-usa.com. In summary, Ricoh printers include a standard one year Ricoh warranty including parts and labor. There are 2 exceptions. The Photoconductor Units (PCUs) and the Intermediate Transfer Unit (ITU) are limited to 90 days. For Ricoh printers sold by Enduring Images, the standard Ricoh warranty applies except that there is no warranty at all on the PCUs and ITU. So, within the first year of ownership, Enduring Images customers can expect full warranty repairs on the printer except for any failure of the PCUs and ITU. Those devices will be replaced at the customers expense, or covered by Enduring Images, but there is no Ricoh Warranty of any kind on those components in an Enduring Images ceramic printing system.

After the expiration of the one year warranty period, any Ricoh service office or 3rd party Ricoh Authorized Service Provider can repair Enduring Images printers on a T&M basis (at standard rates). Because they are not modified in any way (except the toner) all standard Ricoh repair procedures are applicable.” Sounds simple. The underlying premise is that any part of the printer that contacts ceramic toner cannot be warranted because the result of that contact has not been studied and is unpredictable.

For reference, the components that contact the toner are: toner cylinders, toner feed system, photoconductor units (PCUs), image transfer unit (ITU), and fuser assembly. The PCUs and the ITU only get a 90 day warranty from Ricoh, so they are essentially exempt from Ricoh’s warranty too. This is because statistically those are the components that break. But there are some techs and field service offices that will simply walk away from making any repairs if they learn ceramic toner and not Ricoh toner is in the device. Again, rare but call us if this happens. You can minimize any delay in repair if you have an authorized 3rd party service provider near you. They don’t care so much about policy but want to provide good service so that you call them next time and not Ricoh. Find one. They can be your best friend at the worst time.

Problems occur when your Ricoh tech has never heard of Enduring Images. If you can avoid discussing ceramic toner then do so, because this will prevent confusion on the part of the service tech. If it never comes up, the service tech will fix the printer like any printer. But if it does come up, and it will if the part is covered in ceramic pigment, you should be prepared to give the tech the statement above. If they have any questions about it have them call us. It is rare that a service tech will care about the toner in the printer unless it is in contact with the component suspected of causing the problem. If the tech deems that the toner is causing the problem, then they can charge for repairs that otherwise would be covered by the one year warranty. After the one year, it no longer matters since all repairs are T&M and why would they care. T&M work is a good gig. So this issue is primarily relevant during the warranty period. Again, call us if it surfaces after the warranty and a tech decides they don’t want to repair a ceramic printer. This is contrary to policy but does happen, and it can take several weeks to resolve the misunderstanding.

We generally cover all of this during training, but it looks like we have missed it for a number of customers. We’ll do better in the future and will make sure it is part of training videos. I hope this blog helps everyone else.

In summary, read Crisis Management and Part 1 of this series on our website blog page. When you have a problem call us first. We are Tier 1 support. If the usual solutions don’t work, we will advise you to call the Ricoh tech support line. They are Tier 2 support. If they can’t fix it they will dispatch a Ricoh tech. The field service organization is Tier 3 support. Remember that you have more options than Ricoh. There is a large network of Ricoh trained and authorized 3rd party service providers. Find them. Bottom line – all equipment breaks. Have a plan for when yours does.

Can you REALLY print a full color ceramic decal with a LASER printer??

Until Michael Zimmer invented digital ceramic printing (first patent in 1993, numerous patents since), all ceramic decorating was a fairly messy, analog and environmentally challenging liquid process. Liquid glazes and liquid ceramic cover coats using acetone, MEK, Naphtha and other organic solvents were used for essentially all ceramic decorating. The processes for applying the liquid glazes and cover coats included screen printing (try cleaning one of those screens sometime), pad printing, flood coating, hand painting and a variety of variations of these. Even at this moment, most of the millions of people who work in ceramics have no idea that a simple computer-to-print press of a mouse click can result in a photographic resolution ceramic decal of their original art, a photograph, or any of millions of images available for download on their computer. It comes as a great surprise to most people who work in ceramics. But for those who are already using digital ceramic printing they can enjoy all the benefits that are typical of digital processes.

Back to Michael Zimmer. 10 years of hard, expensive, frustrating work, overcoming countless technical problems and spending countless amounts of money and hours. The technology of printing ceramic pigments (toner) on a LASER printer is the result of Michael’s persistence, determination, creativity and hard work. At the end of it he gave the world the highest quality, most flexible, productive, environmentally cleanest, safest, least toxic and least hazardous ceramic decorating process available. He simplified the reproduction of a ceramic decoratin to a mouse click, de-bottlenecked production for ceramic artists that use it, significantly increased the earnings potential of many artists and along the way eliminated all hazardous materials from the process – no naphtha, no MEK no acetone no VOC or flux particle laden sprays. In fact, no liquids of any kind except water. A pretty amazing accomplishment.

The cleanliness that results from the dry application of ceramic cover coat (another of Michael’s amazing ideas) eliminates hazards to the operator and hazards to the environment and reduces the drying time of a decal to 0 seconds. It is always dry – until you dip it water. Screen printed ceramic cover coats take hours to dry. Many who use digital ceramic printing in their business will never have the experience of smelling the noxious fumes associated with ceramic cover coats. Thanks to Michael.

But as the old Wendy’s commercial says – “Where’s the beef?” You can see small sampling at

https://www.pinterest.com/enduringimage/

Yes you REALLY can print a full color ceramic decal with a LASER printer.

Who Do You Trust?

I think it’s hard to know who you can trust, especially in the small business world. After 30 years at DuPont I have great respect for the long term value of operating honestly. That principle is drilled into everyone who works there from the first day you start. I think too many small business people learn how to do business by watching “Mad Men” on TV.

About a month ago a real nice guy came into our shop with a formal looking uniform and told us it was time to have our fire extinguishers inspected. Sounded like a good idea to me so off he goes inspecting and leaves with one of them to be hydro tested. He brings it back the next day with a bill and all seems fine. Two weeks later another guy comes into the shop telling us it’s time to have our fire extinguishers inspected. We told him we already had it done. But he tells me there is no charge because it is covered by our lease agreement and no one else should be in here doing this because no one else is approved by our landlord. It turns out the guy that came in the first time is unlicensed, never hydro tested the extinguisher and “works” (I use that term broadly!) out of his home. Nice guy though. Fun to talk to. And dishonest.

So I trusted a really nice guy that turned out to be a crook. I’m pretty sure none of us have the time to fully investigate all of the companies or people we work with so how do you decide who to work with? It’s a difficult question and one that frustrates me as a supplier just like it frustrates me as a purchaser. If anyone out there has the answer I’d love to hear it.

Form the supplier side of things – I was speaking with a long time customer the other day and was reminded again just how difficult this is for all of us. It has been a while since I have spoken to him and it was really nice reconnecting. He has had his ceramic printing system for 4 years or so and I have come to really admire how he runs his business and who he is as a person. It took quite a long time from our first conversation until he made the decision to buy. He makes memorial portraits and he told me that he had no idea how much impact the purchase of a portrait production system would have on his business. I asked him what I could have said during the pre-sale conversations that would have convinced him of the benefits. He said there is no way he would have believed me had I told him.

That is one of the great mysteries for all of us as buyers and sellers. How do we find the truth and how do we communicate the truth in a way that is believable?

I would love to finish this with some ground breaking wisdom but I don’t have any. In the end, all we can try to do is learn as much as possible about the folks we do we business with. In this age of information overload it seems everything we do (and sometimes things we don’t do!) is available anytime and to everyone. I didn’t use that resource for the fire extinguisher guy. But the internet probably makes it even more important now to follow the old DuPont practice – always do the right thing. Maybe next time I’ll be smarter when somebody walks into our shop. Hope springs eternal … Or a someone once said – For every reason there is to lie, there is a better reason to tell the truth.

Ordinary riches can be stolen; real riches cannot

I’m no lawyer but I think your lawyer would agree with this.  Ask them.  See what they say.

Suppose you are in front of your bank and you see a guy in a ski mask carrying a shot gun enter your bank.  A few moments later you hear gun shots, people screaming, and out he runs carrying a bag of money and holding the smoking gun.   He gets into a car and speeds away.  Here is the question – is that guy a bank robber?

It may seem like an easy question.  Of course he’s a bank robber.  He just robbed a bank.   But here’s where it gets weird.  Although he may have robbed a bank, he isn’t a bank robber.  How can that be you ask?  It is a fundamental principle in our country that everyone is innocent until found guilty in court.

The “innocent until proven guilty” underpinning of our legal system is a powerful principle.  The primary intent of that legal principle is to minimize punishing innocent people.  Our founding fathers believed that it is better to let some criminals go free than to punish someone for a crime they didn’t commit.

In some countries you are guilty until you can prove that you are innocent.   This means that a lot of innocent people at the wrong place and time end up in prison, or worse.  I like our system better but It is certainly true that it emboldens those with compromised ethics.  Those people are willing to use the system because it increases their chance of getting away with the crime.  Of course, getting away with it doesn’t make it right. But there are people out there who believe if they can get away with it then the heck with everyone else.  I’m pretty sure their parents didn’t intentionally raise them that way and I certainly hope their children don’t follow their example.

I’m rambling a bit but stick with me here.  I used to live in Delaware.  Small state with some beautiful Atlantic coast.  Something of a Norman Rockwell kind of place even though it’s just 30 minutes from Philadelphia and 60 from Baltimore and D.C.  There was a famous incident some years ago in which the police caught a person who had been driving without a license for 27 years.  It was sensationalized by the media and the police department took quite a bruising because of it.  In his own defense the guy simply said he didn’t think he’d get caught.    He almost made it.

Anytime we don’t have the license to operate the equipment we buy, or drive a car, etc. etc., there are people who get hurt.  In the case of this driver, the rest of the Delaware residents paid a little more in taxes, a little more in insurance and were a little more vulnerable to a catastrophe.  Suppose this driver had been involved in an accident.  Or maybe killed someone on the highway?

Regarding the Zimmer Patents on ceramic printing, there are companies who tell their customers, and potential customers, that the Zimmer patents are unenforceable.  An interesting position considering the US Patent Office, and most of the patent offices in countries around the world, have validated the patents and made them the law of the land.  But some people have no problem taking what rightfully belongs to someone else and living off of their hard work and talent on the belief they will never get caught.  They hide behind the tenant of “innocent until proven guilty”.  There are always people who are hurt by those who try to “get away with it”.  In some ways we all get hurt.  For certain, the best way to know what to do if tempted to operate on the edge is to take 5 minutes and ask an expert – your attorney.  Their job is to keep you out of trouble.  Follow their advice.

And if you are considering doing business with a company who’s ethics are reflected in this kind of behavior, ask yourself what you can expect from them in the long term.  If they are willing to violate the (Patent) law and simply take the work of another person, do you really think they will give a second thought to how they treat you after they have your money? Sure, taking someone else’s idea enables them to sell a little cheaper.  And maybe you save a few bucks at the start.  But will you really be ahead in the end?  That is unlikely.

One last thought.  Some of you reading this note have first hand experience with companies who operate on the “it’s OK if I don’t get caught” ethic.   Feel free to post a comment (anonymously or otherwise) on our blog site if you would like to tell your story.  We can all learn from your experience.

And from the archives of the anonymous –

“Ordinary riches can be stolen; real riches cannot.  In your soul are infinitely precious things that cannot be taken from you.  Only you can give them away.”

20% Discount On Select Porcelain Inventory

We are pursuing further improvements in our porcelain inventory.   Beginning in June, we will place monthly replenishment orders to take inventory to a two month quantity.  The plan is to have one to two months of inventory at all times.  Please send in all orders for your porcelain requirements by the 23th of each month.  If we have the items, we will ship them.  If we don’t, they will be included on the next order we place around the end of that month for receipt mid to late the following month.  If you miss the 23rd cutoff we’ll do the best we can but if we stock out it will have to wait until the next order the following month.  That may sound scary but we usually have what you need.  Just to be sure though, plan ahead and keep track of your inventory.  We all run out of stuff so, in the words of Jerry McGuire, help us help you.  Plan ahead and hopefully none of us will ever run out.  As we have been looking at this particular issue we find in our current inventory an abundance of  –

OC-1a,  4 x 6 cm ovals

RT-2,  18 x 24 cm rectangles (about 7 by 9.5 inches) and

ST-1,  10 x 10 cm (4 x 4 inch) squares.

These parts are now priced at a 20% discount (that’s about $6/part on the RT-2’s).  Get ‘em while they last!  First come first served!  Send us an email and we’ll get them out in a hurry.

And – we also have 300 extra A3 sheets of standard flux lamination paper.  If you need some we will ship from our inventory at $2.70/sheet plus freight to you.  This saves about 15% in handling, freight from Germany and import fees.

The seasons are finally changing and winter is behind us.  The ski resorts in the Rockies are closing one by one (except Loveland and A-Basin which will be open through May) and my skis are put away for the season.   As we enjoy season change, here is one from my daughter –

Spring has sprung.  Fall has fell.   Here comes Summer, hot as … ever.

Health and happiness to all …

Ron Manwiller
303-278-8868

Preventive or Reactive Ceramic Printer Maintenance?

I went on a diet last month.   I think I’m too old to go on a diet.  But, among other things, one consequence of aging (I really hate that word!!)  has been living the slow down of my metabolism and the increase of my waist line.  Normal I guess but certainly no fun.   My wife is more or less constantly offering her advice and encouragement for how to prevent it from getting out of control – which it already is.  I think I’m beyond the point of prevention.

Ceramic printers don’t have to worry about an increase in their waist line but they do get old and you do need a plan for the normal consequence of an aging printer.   The first question to be answered is, do you perform preventive maintenance or just wait until it breaks?  For that one, you’ll have to decide.   Industry consensus is that it’s cheaper and less disruptive to perform  planned, schedule preventive maintenance but this decision is up to you.   Here are some things to consider as your printer gets older.

Color Calibration –  It can take a lot of work to create that perfect artistic tile or the porcelain portrait that is so beautiful it will make the customer cry.   There isn’t much that a good ICC profile can do for you that can’t also be done in Photoshop.  But it can make it easier.  At Enduring Images we calibrate our production printers several times per year.  That isn’t necessary in all cases but over time you might find that it takes longer to get the decal colors right than it did when your printer was new.  That could signal the need for recalibration.  If you don’t mind the extra Photoshop work, no worries.  It has been more than 5 years for some of you who have never recalibrated your printer.  And that’s perfectly fine.  But if you would like to see your colors as true as when your printer was new, recalibration can help.

Somewhere around 4000 print cycles you might start fighting a loss of color density.  Your developer mixture begins to get old around that time and it is likely time for a replacement, like changing the oil in your car.  New developers will do wonders for your colors.

About the same time (around 3000 to 4000 prints) you may (or may not!) notice a decline in the image resolution of your prints.  The Photoconductor Units (PCU’s) are the primary wear component in a LASER printer and that is why LASER printer manufacturers, including Ricoh, only offer a 90 day warranty on those parts (likewise on the Image Transfer Belt).  As they approach the 4000 print age they are no longer capable of holding the same resolution as when they were new.  We just replaced all four on our magenta printer and it made a significant improvement in our image quality.  Here is the trick.  The image change over time is slow and probably imperceptible.  We wouldn’t have noticed it if we hadn’t been preparing for a trade show and had an old wall mural tile sample next to one we just printed.  Side by side the difference jumped off the tile.  But otherwise we wouldn’t have seen it.  If you primarily print artistic tiles or mosaic tiles that don’t require a lot of resolution then you and your customers may be happy, so don’t worry about it.  But if you are making wall murals from a photograph for a tile back splash or porcelain portraits for a cemetery marker and you are in the range of 4000 prints on your PCU’s, you may find a new set of PCU’s will make a marked improvement in your image quality.

When was the last time you watched your training DVD?  Most people can remember only about 20% of what they hear in a lecture.  Of course, experience and the “school of hard knocks” are the most effective teachers but we cover a lot of stuff in the time we spend together during training.  There just might be a small kernel of Photoshop knowledge in there that could help.  And if not, it’s a sure fire cure for insomnia!   We make the video of your training day for a number of reasons and it is a good resource.  Why not take advantage of it?

You are in the manufacturing business.  You rely on your printer for your livelihood.  Worth taking a little time to keep it healthy and fit.

Health and happiness to all …

Ron Manwiller

303-278-8868

The Devil is in the details

The Devil is in the details –One of the greatest resources to the US consumer is Consumers Union, the publishers of Consumers Report. Consumers Report puts Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) data into the hands of the consumer. I’ve been a life long reader and recommend it highly. They are a non profit organization that accepts no advertising – a one of a kind. They collect enormous amounts of objective comparison data on a wide array of products. Over time, one of the many things I have learned from the data they collect is that, in fact, it is simply a fallacy to believe low price saves money.A Lexus will likely cost substantially less over it’s life than the Volvo which has a purchase price $4000 less. Maybe it doesn’t matter that an $80 pair of running shoes will last 3 times longer than a $35 pair of running shoes. But I bet it really does matter to a lot of people who just never give it a second thought and simply buy that “low price all the time.

”One of the greatest feats of marketing that I have witnessed in my lifetime is Walmart’s success at convincing the US consumer that low price is the most important thing. As millions of US consumers bought into that and as Walmart moved their purchasing headquarters to Shanghai, millions of US jobs went with it to China. Walmart lead this charge and survival dictated that many other US companies do the same thing with devastating effects on the US economy and peoples lives. What is so ironic about this is that the very people who bought into the simplicity of “buy cheap” participated in eliminating their own jobs. Why do so many people believe that buying low price is the most important thing? If they simply stopped, looked at the economy and gave it a little thought the consequences would be apparent. As Mark Felt said “Follow the money.” But the loss of American jobs isn’t the only penalty to be paid, as devastating as that penalty has been.

Purchases for personal use are one thing but what about the purchase of manufacturing equipment for your business? Is purchasing based on lowest price the smart thing to do? In fact, lots of industry data confirms that, in general, it is not the smart thing to do. There is a great deal of research that demonstrates how small a role purchase price plays in the total cost associated with a manufacturing asset. So, how do you decide what to buy? Are you compelled to go for that “low low” purchase price? Or, do you take the time to ask questions and really understanding if price is the only difference, or if there are other costs that need to be considered?

The concept of TCO has been around for a long time and is used widely by industrial purchasing professions to get to the root of what an item really costs over the life of the asset. For this reason, TCO is sometimes called life cycle cost analysis. TCO is an analysis meant to uncover all the lifetime ownership costs that follow from owning certain kinds of assets. These costs include purchase costs, of course, but ownership also brings costs for installing, deploying, operating, upgrading, maintaining and disposing of the asset or the materials used by the asset. For many kinds of acquisitions, and particularly manufacturing systems, TCO analysis finds a very large difference between purchase price and total long term cost. Many studies and lots of data have been collected demonstrating the importance of looking deeper than just the purchase price of an item. One recent industry study published by ITT found –

“Though many plants shop for equipment based on price, industry data shows that purchase costs represent only 10 percent of the total cost of ownership”.

Another example of the relevance of TCO can be found at the Edmund’s.com car valuation guide. Edmunds has developed their own proprietary method of calculating what they call the “True Cost to Own” (TCO, clever) each vehicle. With their system you can find out if “saving” $1000 on purchase price really saves you money or if that car will actually cost more to own than the car thathas a $1000 higher price tag. Like Consumer Reports, Edmund’s is following the lead of industrial purchasing pros in giving greater consideration to the costs you will pay after you buy the asset. The Kelly Blue Book has just started doing the very same thing. It makes sense because while cheap purchase price is easy to find the best economics can only be found with some further investigation. Edmund’s, Kelly Blue Book, Consumer Reports and others are helping to bring TCO thinking to the mass market.So, back to the question, how do you decide what to buy and is the long term cost of ownership part of your thinking? For many of us the hard part is knowing what questions to ask. So, here is a list of some of the questions industrial buyers ask.

Is the manufacturing process for each option the same or, is there a process technology or efficiency advantage to one vs. the other?
Who developed the technology? Am I buying from them or a “fast follower” who may have an incomplete or only empirical understanding?
How does the cost of waste disposal/clean up, environmental impact or pollution control
compare?
Are there operating cost advantages – labor, energy, speed etc?
Are there potential employee hazards created by one of the options?
Are repair and spare parts costs the same?
Are future upgrades possible?
Are there any supplier experience and capability advantages?
Does one option give improved operational capability ie. – higher quality, manufacturing
flexibility etc?
What do their customers say about them?

The list of hidden cost categories above could be extended for many kinds of purchases and you could make it shorter as well. But if you ask questions about some of these areas you may find real differences between the options you are considering; differences that over the useful life the purchase could save far more money than any price difference between them.

Price is important, of course. And it’s easy to know, which makes it useful as a decision criteria. But next time you are gearing up to strike that hard bargain and negotiate that excellent price, keep in mind that the assumption price is most important in choosing one option over another is, in many cases, simply wrong and a potentially expensive error in thinking. Invest that effort uncovering some of the hidden costs and you will likely save more money and make a wiser choice of supplier. Companies who place great emphasis on the low price of the products they sell often have little else to differentiate what they are selling.

So, next time you’re trying to decide between several options, do what the pros do and use a little TCO thinking. Ask some of the questions above. With just a little extra effort, you should be able to find out if that low price is really a good deal or a way for the supplier to capitalize on what you don’t know and the questions most people don’t ask.

As Will Rogers once said – “It’s not what you pay but what it costs you that counts.”

Until next time … best of health and happiness

Ron

Crisis Management. It happens to everyone.

It happens to everyone. You’re first job for a customer who can bring you a lot of future business and the production deadline is upon you. Things are all going to plan when disaster hits. Your printer goes haywire. Days pass as the usual corrective measures fail to solve the problem. Time to call in the service people. Another day passes as they take their usual 24 hours to respond. But, next day comes and goes without a visit – the service tech assigned to you is sick.

Another day passes and you’re now just three days from needing to ship everything. The replacement technician finally arrives and discovers the part needed has to be ordered. Another day goes by and the costs are going up up up as next day freight, service time and parts costs are all adding up. And all you can do is wait, and hope that the customer’s deadline can somehow be magically extended.

I visited a sign shop recently and the owners had just replaced three pieces of equipment with the latest and greatest $150,000 flat bed printer which does “everything” he needs. It took up the space of the other printers and most of his shop. The new printer is a beauty. It has all the bells and whistles and does everything faster and better. He loved the fact that most of his production could now be completed on one piece of equipment. I asked the owner, “What happens if you’re in the middle of a job and it breaks?” He looked at me blankly and said, “It better not.” I thought to myself “But you KNOW it will.” The piece of equipment that never breaks has yet to be invented. He obviously doesn’t have a plan. Do you?

First and foremost, accept the inevitability of your equipment breaking. You know that it will. Your first call is simple, always call us first. We can often get you out of the jam but, if we can’t fix it, what’s next? The next step is calling the Ricoh 800 number listed in the materials that came with your printer. If you don’t know where those materials are, go find them and keep them in a handy place. The folks who answer your call are generally experienced and only get that job after a number of years in the field. If they can’t fix the problem over the phone, it gets interesting.

The people on the 800 line have the responsibility of scheduling any necessary on-site service visit from one of the local Ricoh Field Service people. Do you know your Ricoh Field Service Technician? If not, then your emergency will be no more important to the tech than any other call on their log. Find out in advance who your tech is and get to know them. Invite them to visit and show them what you do. Invest in building a relationship with them and ask them what the procedures are for getting the fastest help. If your tech is unavailable for some reason, what is the backup plan? For your piece of equipment, what parts are stocked and what parts are not stocked? How long does it take to get the non- stocked parts and is it possible to add more of them to the spare parts inventory? You get the idea. The objective is to know what you will do before you need to do it.

The background for this blog has come up recently in our shop. I can give you this advice now because, like the guy with the new sign printer, I didn’t have a plan and I learned the hard way. I didn’t know who to call when my service tech left a voice mail saying he had hurt his back and couldn’t come out. And we were desperate to finish a job for a company that can bring us a very large amount of additional business. And when no one answered the central call number I didn’t know who else to call. And, … the worst case scenario … crisis mode. After living through this, I know what to do next time. Nothing like the school of hard knocks.

I learned something else too. When equipment reaches the end of its useful life that doesn’t mean every component in the device is at the end of its useful life. Upgrading to a new replacement printer may be less expensive than the price of repairing the old one. I had this experience as well. We use Ricoh printers for both ceramic decorating and also for our conventional office printing (we are Ricoh dealers so no surprise there). About 6 months ago our office printer failed in the middle of printing several thousand pages for a mailer. My service tech told me it was going to be about $1200 to fix it – all four toner pumps failed at the same time. A new Ricoh SP C430DN cost about $1500. I bought a new one. The old printer is now a treasure trove of useful spare parts. We just harvested the fuser assembly to replace the one in our ceramic magenta printer. Our time to repair the next time we have a breakdown will be short because we have parts on the “shelf”.

Murphy discovered that “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” Too often we discover on our own the corollary to that rule from Murphy, whatever goes wrong will go wrong at precisely the worst possible time. Have a plan for that and your recovery will be less costly and less time consuming.

And from the old archive of wisdom comes this – “Expect the best. Prepare for the worst. Capitalize on what comes.”

Best regards to all,

Ron

“That which is most important, is invisible to the eye…”

If you have never read “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupery put it on your list, and put it on your children’s list. From a 10 year old child’s perspective it is a fun trip through outer space with lots of wonderous characters along the way. From a more philosophical adult perspective it contains most of the wisdom you need to live a happy life and get along with the people around you. The title of this note comes from this book and not only applies to the people in your life but, oddly enough, to Zimmer ceramic printing technology.

One of the unique features of the Zimmer toners that is invisible to the eye is that they are “pre-fluxed”. If you are a ceramicist you know how and why this is so enormously beneficial and why Michael spent so much time insuring that his toner formulations had this property. If you aren’t, here are two of the most obvious benefits that result from the use of pre-fluxed toners.

First is that they bond more uniformly and effectively to any decorated substrate. Ceramic decals that are not printed with pre-fluxed toners can simply delaminate from the substrate after firing if they are not prepared carefully fired correctly. This is because they rely solely on a topically applied flux layer for adhesion to the substrate. Delamination after firing can occur for a number of reasons associated with the incorrect or incomplete application of the flux top coat. With pre-fluxed toners fired to the correct temperature this is not a worry because the flux in the toner formulation itself insures a permanent bond. Except for our “in-glaze” toner set, which fires at very high temperature and is designed to embed into the glaze (in-glaze) on commercial ceramic materials like ceramic tile, the other 5 toner sets in the Zimmer system are pre-fluxed. Each is designed for a specific decorating task and covers a range of firing temperatures, like decorating glass at 1200 °F, enameled metal at 1400 °F and various clay bodies at 1600°F. The use of pre-fluxed toners enables a very high bond between the ceramic pigment and the item being decorated so you never have to ask yourself “Gee, did I do that right?” or worry about a ticking time bomb next year or the year after.

The second major advantage of pre-fluxed toners is that they expand your decorating flexibility. This is because you can rely on the flux in the toner itself for acceptable adhesion, good gloss, and here is the kicker, without a flux shadow. If you have ever applied a ceramic decal, fired it and saw the edge of the flux coating, you know what a flux shadow is. The finished result looks like a sticker was applied. Pre fluxed toners eliminate the necessity of topical application of additional flux. For items like tile it is not a concern because you simply cover the entire surface of the part and hence there is no edge to the decoration. But eliminating the need for an additional flux topcoat means you can eliminate any flux shadow regardless of the complexity of the image or size of the substrate. For example, suppose you wanted to add a complex decoration to a flower vase – maybe a picture of a flower with some text. Unless you can carefully cut the decal right at the border of the graphic, an impossible task for complex fonts and graphics, it is likely you will see the flux top coat that was used to make the decal. It may seem trivial but for certain decorations on large substrates the ability to eliminate the flux shadow can be the difference between a product that looks professionally produced and one that looks amateurish. You might be wondering how large decorators who screen print decals deal with this challenge. Simple, they make a screen specifically for applying a flux top coat to the decoration. You can achieve the same professional looking finished result simply by using pre-fluxed toners and a cover coat without a flux additive.

For certain, there are good reasons to use topically applied flux with specific properties, like a lead free flux to insure a food safe decoration, or a chemically matched selenium flux to preserving bright reds in the selenium red toner set – just two examples. But the option to avoid topically applied flux can be very beneficial. So, if you have a complex decorating job and must insure complete elimination of the flux shadow, no worries. Using pre-fluxed toners such as the ones formulated by Michael Zimmer makes this as easy as a mouse click. Screen printable liquid cover coat and dry thermal lamination paper are available without any flux and of course all the fluxed “flavors” for the 6 toner formulations are available as well. Have a decorating challenge?

Call us at 303 278 8868. We probably have the solution.

“You’re far better off buying a great product at a fair price than a fair product at a great price.”

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Enduring Images

Enduring Images was founded in 2003, and in April 2004, we made our first commercial sale of a digitally printed ceramic product. This first printed ceramic product was created using a Canon CLC 750 copier, and in the years since then,the digital ceramic printing equipment and technology have changed dramatically.
We were one of the first companies in North America to start printing digital images on ceramic products (such as dishes, glassware, dinnerware, tiles, and murals), and that experience can be seen in the quality of our products. In fact, in 2011, one of the tile murals that we printed was featured on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.
We were the first company in the world to print on ceramic using a Konica Minolta system, and the first to transition off of the original Canon printing equipment, a step that revolutionized the ceramic printing industry. We’ve been selling digital ceramic printing systems and specialty toners longer than any other company in North America, and the technical support we provide is the best in the world, thanks to our hands-on experience. We’ve known Michael Zimmer, of MZ Toner Technologies, since the mid-1990s. In the digital ceramic printing industry, Michael is well known as the inventor and patent holder for the digital ceramic printing process. Thanks to our long-standing relationship with MZ Toner Technologies, we are now their exclusive distributor of ceramic printing equipment in North America.In addition, we’re an authorized Ricoh res-seller, with a full complement of Ricoh nationwide support and resources. Whether you’re looking to buy a digital ceramic printing equipment or would like to have us print an image on dishes, tile, murals, or porcelain, we’re happy to provide numerous business references who will attest to our quality, service, and expertise. For more information on digital ceramic printing and/or equipment, please call (800) 905-3295, e-mail info@enduring-images.com, or click here for a free quote.Please note: We’re a woman owned business, and we’re WDBE certified and WENC certified.

“You’re far better off buying a great product at a fair price than a fair product at a great price.”

 For almost anything you buy you can find companies who tell you the truth.  The big question is how do you identify the companies who sell a legitimate product and do good, honest business from the ones who aren’t so honorable?  The answer is pretty simple; don’t believe anything that you can’t verify independently.  This can sometimes take a little homework.  But in the long run, especially if you have to live with the decision for a while, as in the case of buying a manufacturing system, doing that homework can save you big money.  And the big money isn’t in purchase price. Purchase price is typically less than 50% of the total cost of ownership of a manufacturing asset and can be far less, as little as 20%, depending on the supplier, process differences, product quality differences, efficiency and other “life cycle” costs.  While this is a well known fact among industrial purchasing people, it is surprising how many “normal” folks mistakenly think price is the most important part of the buying decision.  Most of us have had some experience that reflects this but it is an easy thing to forget.  We have worked with numerous companies that “saved” money on low purchase price, only to find that the cost of owning the equipment ate up all those savings in other areas.  In one case, the attempt to get the lowest purchase price cost them $5000 on a printing system that never worked, plus $3000 trying in vain to get their money back.
Back in my DuPont days, we had some success with a product called Cromalin Art ®.  Cromalin Art ® required the creation of 4 films (CMY and K) to make a ceramic decal.  Very complicated and expensive process, but Cromalin Art ® is responsible for the porcelain portrait industry that we see today.  It was an analog film process requiring 5 different pieces of equipment to produce those 4 photo-sensitive films that had to be laminated together.  But at the end it created a photo quality ceramic decal, first of its kind.  One day, one of our good Cromalin Art ® customers came to us and insisted on a price reduction or they would pull their business and use a new process for ink jet printing porcelain portraits.  No amount of honest information could convince them that their supplier was not being honest.  So, they stopped buying Cromalin Art ® only to return 9 months later with thousands of portraits fading in cemeteries all over North America.  Here is the point.  They didn’t have to believe anything they heard from DuPont or their new supplier.  With just a little investigation of their own, they could have independently verified enough of the process technology to have known that all organic materials fade in outdoor sunlight.  But they chose not to.
Digital ceramic printing systems are available from a few companies.  How can you uncover the relevant information independently?  The answer is ask questions and talk to your peers.  Spend time with people who have already done what you are thinking about doing.  Get some understanding of the technology.  In the case of the company above with the fading portraits, a 5 minute conversation with almost any second year college chemistry student would have given them all the info they needed to avoid a catastrophe.  Finding and reading the patents can also help.  Patent write-ups can be interesting and informative.  Government Patent Offices aren’t in the business of awarding unenforceable patents or misrepresenting the features of an invention.
We have hundreds of customers who can share their experience in great detail.  They have helped many new buyers and for that we are truly grateful.  I know the people they counsel are grateful as well.  To all of our customers, we say thank you.  And those who offer their time and experience to help others make an informed choice, a very special thank you.  We all have gainful employment because of each other.
For almost anything you buy, there are choices.  It doesn’t take that much time to find out which company is the originator, has the lowest cost of ownership, the cleanest and safest product, has been around the longest, has the broadest offering, etc. etc. and in the end, offers more than a cheap purchase price.  As Warren Buffet says, “You’re far better off buying a great product at a fair price than a fair product at a great price.”
There is a reason he has been so successful.

Ron Manwiller
303-278-8868
COO, Enduring Images
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