This is an article published by Print Innovation Asia.
PIA sat down with Atze Bosma, CEO of MPS Systems, to discuss the company’s ‘Beyond the Machine’ concept and what this means to the label industry. By Sha Jumari.
Headquartered in The Netherlands, MPS Systems is a manufacturer of flexo, offset and hybrid printing presses. The company’s printing presses are used in the fast growing label and flexible packaging industries in food and beverage, household products and pharmaceuticals. At the helm of MPS Systems is CEO Atze Bosma. He joined the company in 2019 and has led MPS for nearly two years.
When asked on his experience at MPS thus far, Bosma said: “When you start a new career ambition like this, you never know what to expect. When I stepped in at MPS, I was really welcomed and felt I could add value because of my experiences from other industries, such as global responsibility for all packaging lines at Heineken. So it was a good match, I would say. There's lots of ambition and innovation, and it's a great company to work for.”
MPS is a Dutch company, a trait Bosma takes pride in as this sets the company apart from competitors: “Besides having very robust, high quality and highly automated machines, compared to our competitors, we are a small company, kind of a family business. We have a very lean overhead so we are more flexible, and can easily adapt.”
This flexibility can attribute to MPS’ quick adaptability to its customers when COVID-19 first hit. MPS continued operating at full production with 24hour service to support all business demands for its customers.
Redefining Customer Experience in COVID-19 Times
Like many industries all over the world, the print and packaging industry has been affected by the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic. Within the label industry, however, there has been an uptick. Many of MPS’ customers continued running high production levels as demands remained high for the sectors served.
“Actually, it's a strange thing, because we were prepared for the worse from the alarming messages earlier on in the year, but the reverse is taking place,” said Bosma. “In fact, we’re experiencing very strong business with a good turnover. But the fact is that most of our clients deliver to retail, food- and pharma-related companies. Global demand for these products heavily increased from the beginning of the pandemic, upwards of 30%. We continue to work closely with our customers to make sure their capacity is sufficient.”
As physical and social distancing became the new normal in the advent of COVID- 19, industry events are being put on the backburner and traveling to meet clients has become almost impossible. The industry has experienced a major transformation in which the bulk of customer contact is by conference calls and remote meetings. While it has its limitations, Bosma highlighted one key benefit.
“Usually when we send someone to visit a customer, there are sometimes business complexities that is hard for just one person to grasp. With conference calls, we can have an engineer, application specialist and a salesperson all together in the same conversation - a far broader team is available to serve the client,” Bosma said.
In addition, MPS provides remote access to its machines. Should there be any issues that affect productivity of an MPS press, the company is able to remotely connect to the machine and acquire real-time data exchange.
“We’ve already implemented this for over a decade. This team is exceptionally active in understanding various issues that our customers face, and we can easily have direct access to what is happening in the press because of the data exchange. That brings a lot of value to our customers; about 80% of all machine issues are solved remotely,” said Bosma.
How to achieve optimal press performance
This valuable real-time data exchange capability was the core of MPS’ concept, ‘Beyond the Machine’. Initially unveiled at Labelexpo Europe in 2019, the approach places the focus on the processes outside of the printing press in order to have the most efficient production.
“The idea of ‘Beyond the Machine’ is really our vision, and we have fully developed this and embrace it completely. We discovered that having a very robust machine is great, but there's so much more to having a great machine to achieve its highest performance. You need the right logistics, you need well trained operators, you need to properly prepare your material and inks; there's a number of other factors which take place around the press,” said Bosma.
Bosma further explained that having a high-quality machine is simply not enough anymore: “We want our presses to run with the absolute highest quality, at the most efficient speeds, and lowest change-over timing, in order to be the most successful presses in the world. We can only do this by focusing on the elements that affect performance, and we call this going beyond the machine.”
In order to do so, MPS Systems collaborates frequently with industry partners, as well as its customers. According to Bosma, this concept is being embraced by its customers.
“We strive for customer performance. When we do that, we can increase the performance of our presses. In fact, this can be at the expense of press sales. We’ve had quite a few cases where we could help our customers achieve much higher performance levels, and as a result, they didn’t need to buy a new machine,” Bosma continued. “That is a strange thing for a press manufacturer to do, but not for a performance supplier - which is our focus.”
Bosma added that ‘Beyond the Machine’ needs to be an industry norm. Within the label industry, there is still a large manual aspect in the business. Even with digital presses, the printing process still requires some form of manual work and movement, such as when it comes to managing the material. Compared to other industries such as automotive, there is not a strong focus on automation.
“The whole performance can be on a higher level that it is today, in the label industry at least,” Bosma explained. “The conventional label industry is still not a fully automated process. Therefore, the costs of waste and inefficiencies is quite high. All the efforts which can improve a customer’s performance is a good thing, so there’s much to be gained for the industry.”
MPS EFA 430 Fully Automated Multi-substrate Press
Focus on Data Connectivity
‘Beyond the Machine’ places the spotlight on four key processes: connectivity, applications, productivity, and service. One of the elements that MPS heavily invests in is connectivity.
“We have over 500 presses distributed all over the world. We want to support our customers on a detailed level, such as how to do the better changeovers and set ideal pressure settings while making sure they don’t lose too much material. If you want to find your ways on operational elements, to understand and give feedback and service to customers, you need to know a lot about the entire production process,” said Bosma.
MPS’ latest generation of label printing presses is equipped with MPS’ ‘talk to me’ connectivity platform. This platform connects printing machines and workflow with Management Information Systems (MIS) for realtime data exchange and control. The platform enables constant communication between MPS and the print operators.
“We focus on the sensor technology in order to see all the elements which are automated in impressions. MPS presses are heavily automated, so we can capture all the data from the motors, sensors, even the temperature - and from operator settings as well. We have hundreds of data points and we collect them every few seconds, so we can see exactly what is happening inside the press and how it is done,” Bosma continued.
“In order to do so, we needed to delve very deep in the data, so we invested in an Internet of Things (IoT) platform. We have edge computing, meaning that we are delivering the data streams in a very modern way, via a data factory. We set up a so called “digital twin” for our machines so that we can see the data every second and view what’s going on.”
Interpreting the Data into Practical Information
In addition to having a range of intelligent presses, MPS offers support from its expert panels that interpret the collected data in performance reports and benchmarking, and give recommendations for improvements. With the data intelligence collected from the presses, analysts can determine what can be improved in a company’s printing practices and processes.
“We’ve heavily invested in data analysts; people who are able to crunch the data and make valuable information from it. From the data and the dashboards, we provide unbiased insights to the customer. We just give the facts, and from there we determine whether improvements are possible,” said Bosma.
“What should be highlighted is that the data is not the key; the information is. It's not that we show the dashboard and then walk away. We really go in and try to interpret what we see,” Bosma emphasized.
At a defined frequency such as once a month, depending on the chosen Performance Program, the customer and their operation managers can have an in-depth discussion with a multidisciplinary team from MPS that includes trainers, engineers, and data analysts to discuss the captured data over the last month.
“For example, if the customer has difficulty with maximizing speeds, we will do an analysis on the speeds to find why they’re not optimal. Then we define action plans, which can include training to help check for reasons why the speed is low and how to increase it. In due time, perhaps in a month or a few weeks, the speed goes up. Once we see the result, we celebrate this, and then we go to the next issue. It's always with a goal to improve.”
All of the data control and interpretation is done via a cloud. Geographical boundaries are a nonissue in the cloud, so MPS can cater to all its customers, including those from Asia. Additionally, the data factories are delivering secured and protected information to the customer, so customers can be assured that the data is never outside of the communication line.
If a customer wants to have access to the data, MPS can provide the dashboards: “In the end we have business intelligence dashboards, where we are doing analysis today, every day, with all kinds of customers. The customers which are front runners can have access to this dashboard, so that they can have their own perspective on the situation,” Bosma added.
“A year ago, ‘Beyond the Machine’ was a revolutionary concept for our customers and the label industry. We understood the importance it has, and were at the forefront of a dramatic and positive change. We’ve since had many discussions with customers who understand and are ready to implement this concept, showing that we are on the right track. I’m personally embracing ‘Beyond the Machine’ with even more enthusiasm and energy, because we know we are right, and we want to share the benefits with all our customers as soon as possible. Our quest is to not simply sell a machine, but to increase our customer’s performance and success,” Bosma concluded.
Zee Cheng (Cheng) Tham is Office & Marketing Coordinator at MPS Asia in Malaysia. She first entered the printing industry when she joined MPS in November 2018.