ANSONIA, CT, Mar. 7, 2017 -- Want to manufacture a machine that builds customer loyalty? Make sure your customers help you build it. And then change it. And make it better. Companies that understand the critical role their customers can play in creating and improving their machines are the companies that last.
“By partnering with our customers over the years, we have been able to provide simple, safe packaging solutions that have created long-term customers. It’s a collaboration that has helped us evolve our products over our 100 year history to satisfy changing customer needs. We start by finding out what their needs are in terms of functionality, cost and production. Then, we design a product that not only meets their requirements, but also reflects their definition of machine excellence, “says Allen Crowe, Director of Engineering & Product Support for Better Packages, a wholly owned subsidiary of Intertape Polymer Group (IPG). In 2017, Better Packages, Inc. and IPG’s Central® brand of water-activated tape are jointly celebrating 100-year anniversaries.
How do customers define excellence in a machine? “It’s a combination of durability, longevity, quality, intuitive operation and cost, “according to Crowe. “A machine should be intuitive to use. When it is well-engineered, customers often don’t need operating instructions. Their people can walk up to the machine and know how to use it. A machine must be both efficient and productive. Every machine and every customer defines that differently. For Better Packages’ customers - who use their machines to dispense water-activated packing tape - that means getting the job done with minimal keys strokes in the shortest amount of time.”
A century of responding to customer needs has given Better Packages’ team a front-row seat on change. “Clearly, the environment in which our customers operate is continually changing. We count on them to give us the kind of feedback that helps us continually improve our products,” Crowe says.
Recently, that process played out with one of Central Brand’s biggest customers and resulted in a product evolution that promises to have a dramatic impact on the packaging industry. “One of our largest customers worked with us to design a whole new kind of tape to solve a problem,” says Ray Vales, Central Brand’s Corporate Vice President of Sales. “They needed a tape strong enough to hold up under their unique shipping conditions. We worked with them to create it. Now they have a solution to their problem and we have a new product to offer customers with similar issues. That’s a product evolution that benefits the whole industry. And we have that partnership with our customers to thank for it.”
Reliability That Industry Can Count On
“Specify, prototype, design, and test. That’s the recipe for a machine that does the job reliably and keeps on doing it”, according to Crowe. “When designing a machine, you’ve got to understand how the customer is going to use it. You need to see where it fits into their process. You need to comprehend what they need in terms of functionality, cost and productivity. Then, and only then, can you design a product that meets their requirements.”
While input comes from the customer, Crowe reminds manufacturers to use their own experience in the ultimate design. “Customers know what they want the machine to do. They don’t necessarily know how to make the machine do what they want it to do. They know the problems they want to solve. They know their pain points. We gather those pain points from them and from the distributor feedback. It’s your job to translate that into a workable design that improves customers’ productivity and creates loyal customers.”
Machines must not only address the customers’ pain points, they must also do their job over and over again. That means testing. “We go through a rigorous test program,” says Crowe. “We test our machines by running them through one million dispensing cycles. That means running them for 37 days straight, 24/7. Then, we look at wear and tear. We identify the weakness and strengths. We look to see if anything breaks or is about to break. And if it breaks, or is marginal, we figure out why. “
While testing through a million cycles may seem extreme, Crowe points out that for high-use customers, like large shippers, this is a realistic test. “These customers depend on their machines to do the job consistently, with minimal down time. If they do go down, they need to be easily repairable so they can quickly get back on the job. That’s another place where good engineering comes into play. We design for both durability and serviceability. We design it to be easy to repair and service. It’s a significant design criterion.”
Crowe advises engineering departments to seek knowledge from customers, distributors, their own technical support departments and from people who assemble and repair their machines. “By listening to these people, you get valuable feedback that can and should be incorporated into the future design of your machines. Collaboration is a critical part of the whole design process. Collaborate with sales, technical support, manufacturing, marketing and suppliers. Don’t overlook suppliers as trusted members of your team.”
Both Ray and Al offer this advice to manufacturers who want to deliver a machine that does the job for customers and keeps them coming back:
- Listen to the customer
- Understand the customer’s applications
- Follow engineering best practices
- Learn from the people who assemble your machines
- Take a slow and steady approach to challenges
- Don’t be afraid of change
- Understand problems fully before deciding upon a solution. Don’t just react.
About Better Packages and the Central Brand
Better Packages, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Intertape Polymer Group (IPG), is the leading manufacturer of tabletop water-activated tape (WAT) dispensers used in carton sealing. In 2017, both Better Packages, Inc. and IPG’s Central® brand of water-activated tape are celebrating their 100-year anniversaries. Better Packages’ product line includes auto-dispensing electric machines used in high volume fulfillment centers, as well as manual dispensers. Central brand water-activated tape is offered in a wide range of paper-only and reinforced gummed paper tape styles, roll lengths and widths. In the U.S., Better Packages sells through multiple channels that include industrial and packaging distributors and catalog wholesalers, as well as direct to end-user customers. Its worldwide distribution network consists of over 300 authorized distributors selling into over 70 countries.