As technology becomes more complex and even more critical to running a lean, efficient business, Vetaphone CEO Frank Eisby believes it’s not what you don’t know that’s important, it’s what you don’t know you don’t know that’s critical. Nick Coombes asked him to explain his thinking.
NC: What you don’t know you don’t know is quite a difficult concept to grasp – what’s the point you’re making here?
FE: It’s not a new phenomenon, but one that has been thrown into sharp focus during the current global pandemic that has severely restricted travel and face to face meetings and altered the way we do business. The problem is, especially in today’s technical environment, there is so much to know that it’s difficult for one person to assimilate it all.
NC: Is it a question of who has the knowledge that’s important?
FE: We have become educated specialists, which in a growing company structure means that we have organised people into separate departments, each with specific knowledge and different requirements. But, knowledge sharing between the departments, aligning functionality to cost, is often missing and therefore the complete system becomes overcomplicated and too expensive.
NC: How does Vetaphone cater for this?
FE: As a manufacturer and supplier of ancillary technology we have the essential knowledge needed across different departments that allows us to recommend the best solution. Surface treatment may appear to play a minor role in the overall process, but in the case of major capital equipment, it can be the difference between making a sound investment by choosing the right technology and a poor one by getting it wrong – and they can both cost the same, so it’s not just about price.
NC: Has this become more difficult recently?
FE: It’s been a growing issue for some time, but the pandemic has made matters worse, which is why our sales and service teams have been innovative with digital technology and online support for our customers so that we can continue to share our knowledge and expertise. We have found new ways of educating and advising our customers to make the best decision for their own specific business model.
NC: Do you see education as a key function of selling your technology?
FE: Of course! A lack of appreciation of what each ancillary unit or system contributes to the overall scheme is a recipe for disaster. There is nothing to be gained by poring over the specification of a large flexo press or laminating line, if little or no care is taken to ensure that the best ancillary equipment is chosen for the job in question. The ancillaries might represent a small fraction of the total investment, but their impact can be enormous and costly if they are not up to the same standard as the rest of the line.
NC: If we shift the focus to surface treatment, as one of the many ancillaries, what are the specific problems involved for managers planning major investments?
FE: First of all, they need to fully understand the process and what sets one manufacturer’s technology apart from another’s. We were the inventors and have always pioneered Corona treatment in what has become a well-known and accepted process globally. But I believe it’s the design, manufacturing technique and operational efficiency, based on our 70 years of experience, that sets Vetaphone technology apart from the rest. We have an unrivalled depth of knowledge that allows us to respond to whatever changing requirements the market throws at us.
NC: Do you see Vetaphone as more than a system provider?
FE: So much more, because of our knowledge and expertise. I think we are better defined as a specialist component provider that delivers the best possible performance and ease of use to the end user’s machine. By working closely with these end users, we can refine our technology to provide them with systems that are perfectly tailored to their requirements. This is actually done by supplying less to the OEM but always the right solution for their customer.
NC: Does this cause issues with the OEMs, who let’s face it, are a major part of your business?
FE: No, because we work hard to share our specialist knowledge with them so that we can integrate our technology with theirs to make a seamless installation and operation. But we do need to get them to understand and appreciate exactly what we can do for them, and this can be a challenge where the OEMs are very large companies and have numerous people with diverse responsibilities who all need to be involved. For example, we need to speak with personnel from sales, r&d, technical, purchasing, engineering, finance, and admin departments, and that list is not inclusive – so you can see it’s a major task – but it’s essential to achieving the best end result!
NC: What are some of the specific challenges you face with this?
FE: They stem from the fact that each department at the OEM will have its own set of priorities – an agenda if you like, and we need to know what they are so we can respond appropriately. If we don’t, then we risk not providing the best functionality or set-up for the system, and that will mean that costs are not optimised with a result that there will be subsequent issues to fix. What the internal departments need to do is align and agree on the plan from mechanical design all the way through to purchasing. By sharing our knowledge across the board, we stand the best chance of getting it right first time – and we’re often talking large investment sums here.
NC: Is it just about the superior specification of Vetaphone’s surface treatment technology?
FE: No! That obviously has an important part to play but it’s everything else we offer as a market leader that makes the difference. For example, we will advise on roller covering and design, NIP and drive systems, correct voltage and frequency, which are different, and so on as technical issues, but other considerations like security and safety are vital, as well as a user-friendly central overview for the operator. We encourage the OEMs and end users to see Vetaphone as an expert adviser on anything to do with surface treatment – and allow them to make full use of our extensive library of knowledge.
NC: Do you find the situation different working with narrow and wide web manufacturers and converters?
FE: As you know, we enjoy a very healthy share of business in the narrow web sector. This has partly come about because of the success we’ve had with our compact modules. These have helped a number of OEMs to supply a unique operator-friendly machine where the Corona treatment system is included as a fully integrated parameter, linked to the specific end user product. The wide web OEMs are typically bigger companies where we have a much larger educational job to do. As I explained earlier, we’re working with people from many diverse departments, quite often not in the same location, nor even same country. But in general, they are very open-minded to input from us because they know they don’t know!
NC: How do you see the way forward?
FE: First of all, we need to continue to develop the quality of our customer communication channels during the pandemic and find ways of replacing the interface that trade shows used to offer with a more interactive and personalised approach. This will entail finding out who needs to know about and be involved in every project, because their interests can vary from special applications to total cost of ownership to after sales support and many more, and for that, we at Vetaphone offer our expertise as a service. Second, a dedicated manager must accumulate and combine all the facts and figures and point out what needs to be done both inhouse and externally to secure the best main machine and associated ancillaries to give optimum value to the end user.
NC: What part do you see Vetaphone being able to play in this?
FE: We’re very comfortable with our own in-house capability, which we can control and adapt. It’s how we impart that knowledge and skill-set to the customer that proves to be the challenge. If we go right back to the what I said in the title, it’s when they don’t know what they don’t know that the problems start – because it can cost them and their customers a fortune! The secret to getting that right, is a programme of continual education and knowledge sharing via all communication channels that are now available. Building strategic partnerships is a ‘win, win’ for both parties.