ECI Screenprint's world is populated by technical schematics, precision machinery, and demanding applications. But as you'll discover, it's the human element that ultimately allows this industrial-printing specialist to grow and explore new technologies.
Slowdowns at ECI come when the economy compels customers to cease buying all of the parts they need at once. Cook says those who would normally order 2000 pieces might only buy 200 one month and then call in an order the next month for another 200.
“They’re kind of just hedging—holding back,” he observes. “We’re seeing the shift where they’re ordering in little bits and pieces. Some customer have dropped way off, but it depends on the industry. I’ve seen more of that kind of trend where it’s a smaller order with quicker turnaround.”
Cook’s experiences may be unique, but his results dispel the notion that when the going gets tough, the tough always go to China. In his estimation, China has gotten better about serious quality issues over the last 10 years because the Chinese have learned through error what they need to do; however, some issues with consistency linger.
“Their quality has started to level out...but the main thing is to grow our economy and keep it here—keep it local. Some high-volume applications are definitely more suited for production in China; however, ECI produces millions of parts competitively and with a very high quality standard,” he says.
ECI is involved in a life-cycle-quality study in cooperation with the Specialty Graphic Imaging Association (SGIA), in which suppliers and manufacturers in the membrane-switch and printed-electronics industries use a controlled study to identify best practices and materials for extending the longevity of the products in which they specialize.
Cook is vice-chairman of SGIA’s Membrane Switch Council, which serves as a steering committee for its market segment. Its purpose is to provide resources such as educational opportunities and information to OEMs, suppliers, producers, and buyers.
“I really enjoy that kind of work,” Cook says. “We organize presentations for the Membrane Switch Symposium, and a common thread over the years has been that each company has its own techniques and procedures for producing switches and printed electronics—but which ones work better than others? No one ever really gets it all together, because you have different environments, locations, techniques, and technologies. In the marketplace, no one knows the difference. So we’re trying to analyze some of these nuances through this testing.”
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