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Another one that we've recently developed in the last year has been the squeegees for the EKRA Serio 4000 printer, and another one has been the MPM Speedline Momentum printer with the high-performance head. We designed the squeegees to fit the holders and blades, as well as our own holders. One of the advantages of using the Permalex holders is we are usually about one-third of the weight of the OEM holders because we use anodized aluminum which is a smaller profile, and that makes the squeegees easier to hold and change out and install for the operators. If it’s easier for them and lighter for them to handle, than there's less opportunity to be dropped in the process, where a lot of the damage comes from.
Furthermore, we also offer different colors for the holders for identification purposes. Lead free is very important so we offer squeegees that are green in color to recognize for lead free. Then we have blue as a standard and an optional color of red, which some customers will use for adhesive printing or for other applications.
Las Marias: Can you tell us some of the product development initiatives that are in the pipeline?
Lewis: Well, we introduced the manual and semiautomatic stencil printer, primarily because the marketplace had changed a number of years ago. We discontinued a product around 2000 because it was high volume manufacturing here, but now it is a lot of low volume development work that is being done. So we decided to reintroduce the PrinTEK. The PrinTEK is a manual bench top printer that has vertical separation, which a lot of the manual printers do not have. It’s a high reliability printer as far as the accuracy and repeatability of printing with a manual printer. It features x, y, theta and z adjustments so you can do fine adjustments. You can adjust the height of the stencil from the board and it always separates vertically instead of on an arc like clam shell designs.
Then we always have continuous development introducing new squeegees to fit new printers or new printer models that have been designed. We constantly are looking in the industry to see what new printers are out there and seeing what we can do in order to provide squeegees that will fit that printer. When we build a squeegee for a specific printer, we want to be able to give that to the customer and have them to do an exchange. They can interchange an OEM squeegee with our squeegee and not have to make any adjustments; we don't want them to have to make a height adjustment or anything. We want their pain to be minimal, and especially no pain!
Las Marias: Would you say that that is how you stay ahead of your competition?
Lewis: Yes. We are probably the only company in the industry that focuses exclusively on squeegees, and we have a proprietary patented process. Our product was patented, so it’s a unique product. The other thing is maintaining continued growth as far as what printer models are out there, what's needed to fill the needs for those printer models, and just designing around that.
We always focus on high quality as far as manufacturing to make sure that each squeegee is top quality and that the customer is satisfied. We make it a point with any kind of customer, new or old, that we always follow up to make sure they are satisfied with the product and that it fits and is working the way they want it to. And if we have to do any adjustments, we talk to the customer, communicate with them and if we need to exchange squeegees to satisfy them, we do that.
Las Marias: Alden, what is the outlook for your industry?
Lewis: I think this year, from what I’ve read, is going to be kind of a non-growth year or a very low growth. But I think the electronics industry as a whole will continue to grow because there’s just so much you can do with electronics and we are seeing a lot more introduction of electronics in the automotive field as far as sensors and things of that nature. We know there's been a lot of discussion on self-driving automobiles. That's going to all be done by electronics. So you look at that, you look at the medical field and there's continual growth in those areas as they require electronics. Anything that's got a digital print out has electronics in it. So there looks to be continued growth for sure. It’s more controlled growth and mature growth than it was in the ‘80s and ‘90s, but still a very positive outlook on the industry.
Las Marias: Is there anything else that we haven't talked about that you think we should be talking about?
Lewis: Not that I can think of, but like I said, we supply a lot of the major manufacturers and some of these factories such as SpeedPrint out of England, EKRA out of Germany, Yamaha out of Japan and GKG, the Chinese printer. As new manufacturers pop up, we are there to provide the squeegees that the customers require.
Not only do we build squeegees for automation, but we do a significant number of handheld squeegees for manual printers. There are a lot of companies that want that for product development in low volume manufacturing where they have to run a few boards. We sell a lot of squeegees for that application around the world. After we returned from productronica, we immediately sold those squeegees to Romania that someone had seen it at the show.
You would think the handheld squeegee is not that important but it is to a lot of customers, because they want the results even in manual printing. We've been building handheld squeegees ever since we started building squeegees.
Las Marias: That is interesting because I know the trend is towards automated lines.
Lewis: That's right, and yet we sell a lot. Just today alone we have shipped six handheld squeegees; four of those were in the U.S. and two of them are going to Poland.
It’s amazing that we sell so many internationally. We sell a lot of handheld squeegees to Japan, Taiwan, and to Europe, which just shows that the new product development, R&D and low volume production area is very critical to customers. They want high quality squeegees even for that manual process.
Las Marias: Speaking of different markets or different regions. What can you say about Asia from your perspective?
Lewis: Asia typically has been lower cost. They want to keep the cost down for manufacturing. A lot of times I think companies will start out using lower cost squeegees as well, but as they grow into higher products and higher cost products, then they tend to investigate alternative products that will improve their process. We have been able to grow our sales in Asia, we do quite a bit in the Philippines, and then we sell the Speedline squeegees in China for their worldwide market.
But parts of Asia are a lot like the U.S. when the high volume manufacturing kind of left this area. In places like Japan and Singapore they don't do the high-volume manufacturing anymore. They are in the same boat as the U.S. and are focusing on high reliability and lower volume, high-mix products.
Las Marias: Alden, thank you very much for chatting with me today.
Lewis: Thank you. It's been good talking with you.