One of the best parts of being one of the technical guys at Provident is solving problems and helping customers be as productive as possible. My colleagues and I recently wound up talking about the “brain trust” we have developed through our willingness to share information, ideas and to help each other solve problems we encounter every day.
Everyone in our industry has some very specific knowledge about the presses they run, the substrates they use, and how to get the most out of their flexo presses. But nobody knows everything. There are just too many variables and different ways things can be done for anyone to be able to evaluate and figure out every possible situation or problem and come up with a solution. Between myself and the four other technical sales reps (TSRs) at Provident we have about a century of hands-on experience, yet there is always something that presents a challenge to be solved. This is part of what our jobs exiting and is part of our responsibilities, We’re always learning something new.
Technology helps. Smartphones can take great pictures and video, so it’s easy for us to share the images and call, text and email each other to get fresh perspectives, more experienced input, or just another set of eyes on the challenges at another facility. Almost every time, it makes us all smarter and more valuable to our customers.
Most of us have years of experience in flexo shops in roles ranging from press assistant to press operator to shift leaders to department managers to graphic or technical positions. This provides a kind of collectively intelligence that we all draw on. For example, one TSR visited a shop that had a “chattering” doctor blade. The blade being used was not a Provident offering but was clearly not the right blade for that press, but it was less obvious which Provident blade would solve the problem. A call to his colleagues turned up two who had encountered this problem before and knew how to translate the other manufacturer’s part number. And the problem was solved.
Although many TSRs have years of experience it still takes time on the ground for TSRs to learn about the many possible press configurations. This is where drawing on each others’ experience and expertise make a difference. For example, although flexo presses are much the same, machines from different suppliers can vary widely. Differences in workload, job types, inks, substrates, and applications mean companies with multiple locations don’t always have the same presses and products in every location, or may use them in different ways.
Coast to Coast
Provident TSRs work within specific regions, so the rep visiting a shop may be not be the same person who supports another shop owned by the same company in another region and may be unfamiliar with the products being used. Chances are though, another TSR two time zones away will understand the problem and provide the information needed to keep jobs running. Sometimes the knowledge can be quite unique.
For instance, a customer in the southeast had a second plant in the southwest, where some jobs were being run on a certain press. As the company changed the mix of equipment in its facilities the western press was shipped to the eastern operation. Because the western TSR was already familiar with the machine he was able to explain its nuances so his southeastern counterpart could be familiar with before it arrived. That TSR in turn worked with the press operator to get him up to speed before the press arrived.
“Knowing the press and how it would be used also let us be sure the correct blades, end seals and other parts were on location in advance of the press so the customer could be productive as soon as the press was installed,” related one of the TSRs involved. “Provident offers nationwide coverage and support, and one of the ways we are able to do this is sharing information.”
This sort of approach is especially effective when the mix of presses differs across multiple locations of a company. Because the shops normally operate independently, there are often differences in the jobs being run, the presses, inks, and substrates used. Sharing knowledge between TSRs who are familiar with the shops eliminates guesswork while enhancing the level of support provided.
Some bigger printers may have a dozen locations with a huge mix of equipment. Many times the TSRs will talk with each other to learn the differences and how to best approach a customer in their region who has equipment similar to that of a plant on the other side of the country. Sharing our 98 years of collective experience is a key part of making Provident and its TSRs a more valuable resource for customers.
For example, it’s well known that the abrasiveness of titanium in white ink can shorten blade life. We found one customer in the northeast who was running his blades for 10 days, while one in California was replacing the same kind of blade in half the time. Digging deeper, the TSRs found that the inks used were from different companies and the one used in California was more abrasive. Talking with and emailing each other helps make all the reps smarter so they can identify such problems sooner and make recommendations to the printer.
Other times, knowledge requires a reach into the past.
Do You Know Gravure?
Not long ago a TSR walked into a shop to find a gravure press. It was old, still on active duty, and was something of a throwback to an earlier age, but the TSR was less than familiar with the nuances of the machine. But he was not alone. A call to another TSR helped him fill in the blanks, how to identify and address the owner’s concerns, and make sure the right blades and other parts were shipped to the customer.
One thing Provident TSR readily admit is that press operators and business owners alike who spent most of their time in just one plant often become accustomed to a certain way of doing things. It is not necessarily incorrect, but it is also not the only way to perform a given task. By being in plants throughout their regions and sharing ideas with their counterparts across the country, TSRs are exposed to just about every issue associated with putting ink on a substrate with a flexographic press. And because they share their collective knowledge they are able to provide seasoned advice and even new perspectives on how to use every part of flexo technology for effectively.