Narrow Web Profile: Computype

By Steve Katz, Editor | July 21, 2015

The tracking and identification expert celebrates a milestone while looking to the future.

2285 West County Road C
St. Paul, MN 55113 USA

From left, CEO Charlie Westling, VP Operations Todd Roach, CTO Tom Sylvester and Press Operator David Meyers
This year, Computype is celebrating 40 years in the label business. Headquartered in St. Paul, MN, USA, Computype has come a long way in four decades, and its leadership group is looking toward the future, intent on continuing to innovate while  providing customers across the globe with high quality tracking and identification solutions.

Buck Roach, Larry Erickson and Hugh O’Connell founded the company in 1975 after acquiring the business from American Can Company. The first jobs were printing bar codes designed to help libraries track book collections. Over the course of a few years, Computype successfully entered the blood-bag labeling market, and in 1983, with FDA-compliant adhesives and guaranteed sequence integrity, Computype signed a five-year contract to provide Donation Identification Sets to the American Red Cross.

Expanding its presence and offering, Computype developed a product line for the tire industry in 1988, and in 1991 was one of the first Ford Motor Company suppliers to achieve Q1 status. Since that time, the company’s tire and rubber market business has evolved to become a significant part of the operation. In 1995, Computype engineers developed the FLAP (Flexible Laminate After Printing) label that is used in automated histology equipment to efficiently and accurately diagnose cancer. 

The company expanded into Europe in 1983 with the acquisition of a major European competitor, thus establishing its Kingston upon Hull, UK facility. In addition to being one of three manufacturing sites, the Hull location also serves as Computype’s European headquarters. In 1990, the Concord, NH, USA, manufacturing facility was added, followed by the 1996 addition of the Technology Development Center in Tucson, AZ, USA. All told, there is 120,000 square feet of manufacturing space spread across the three manufacturing sites. Computype works two shifts, employing a total of 200 people.

Of the three original owners, Hugh retired in 1989, Larry in 1994 and Buck in 2010. Computype is proud of being a family-owned business. Today, the retired Buck Roach is the company’s chairman of the board, as well as co-owner, along with his two sons: Todd Roach started with the company in 1994 and today serves as vice president of operations. Eric Roach, who joined in 1997, is the company’s corporate development director.

Coinciding with Buck’s retirement in 2010, Charlie Westling was brought in from outside the label industry to serve as CEO and help steer the company into the future, which looks very bright. Last year, Computype set new sales records, while re-aligning into three global business units representing its core markets: Healthcare, Tire & Rubber, and Industrial.

“We have 40 years of history in helping companies with the way they identify and capture data to run their businesses more efficiently, to grow their businesses more effectively, and use the information in their businesses to succeed,” Westling says. “So it’s really about the world of automated identification, data capture and using information to provide all of those benefits to our customers. And we do it in a global context. We have manufacturing facilities, sales, operations and customer service in multiple locations across the globe. Whether it’s labels, automated equipment, pre-printed labels, print-on-demand labels, blank labels, the services involved, we provide that service and information, allowing our customers to be more successful.”

Track and trace
Computype got its start by helping its customers track products, and was a pioneer in tracking blood bags. “And we’ve grown in that capacity to whereas today we bar code pretty much everything in North America,” says Todd Roach. “We then entered the automotive electronics industry in the mid 80s, building our business even further. Now we focus on diagnostic laboratories, life sciences, transfusion medicine and rubber products. Those are our biggest areas,” Todd says.

With regard to the tire and rubber industry, Computype’s customers are tire and belt manufacturers. Explains Westling, “We help these companies automate the way they identify and track products through their production process and life cycle. We provide labels for about 30% of the world’s global tire population. So for every 10 tires manufactured worldwide, three of those have a label or multiple labels from Computype. It’s a big part of what we do.”

Quality is of paramount importance at Computype.

Computype’s next largest segment is in healthcare, and there are three components to these label applications – Transfusion Medicine, Diagnostic Laboratories and Life Sciences.

“Within our Transfusion Medicine business, blood centers use our labels as part of their blood donation collection process,” Westling says. “Blood is processed into multiple uses and then delivered to the hospitals for patient use. We drive about 90% of that market with our labeling and identification capabilities. Our products are used by diagnostic labs, helping them manage their tests and samples from millions of patients by allowing the testing results to be delivered to the end user patient.”

The Life Sciences segment of the business develops and supplies labels to the labs that are at the front end of drug discovery and development, and have multiple samples and compounds of chemistry and materials that need to be identified and tracked.
Computype also serves the industrial sector, including automotive suppliers, logistics, libraries and chemical manufacturers. “In the case of chemical manufacturers, our identification and tracking solutions help them comply with GHS labeling requirements. We also work with textile garment manufacturers where different fabrics produced in various lots are identified and tracked through their production process,” Westling explains.

Within the niche markets Computype serves, a common bond that ties them together is providing a solution that withstands temperature extremes, harsh environments, and is sometimes literally lifesaving in the application. “For us, this creates a tremendous focus on quality. And the ability to produce billions of labels a year without having redundancies of information, and knowing that if we have any failures it has major implications for our customers, it creates a heightened sense of importance and focus on quality,” Westling says.

Quality labels, made-to-order
With Computype customers having stringent quality standards, it’s paramount to manufacture its labels with equipment and consumables that meet these requirements.

Over 40 years time, printing technology in general has undergone some dramatic changes, so it stands to reason that Computype has experience with a wide range of machinery and technologies. Today, among its three manufacturing facilities, the company’s equipment assets run the gamut. Between its printing and converting lines, Computype has a total of 72 pieces of equipment. At the Minnesota plant, there’s machinery from Mark Andy, Gallus, HP Indigo, Delta ModTech, AB Graphic, Preco, Rotoflex, CTC, Daco and, most recently, Domino.

Todd Roach talks about what led to the company’s recent acquisition of a Domino 610i UV inkjet label press. “I have been in charge of operations for about eight years now, and an issue that we have had with our other printing technology is the durability of the ink. I have been on a mission to find a better, more durable ink. We have a lot of exposure with UV cured inks on our flexo press, so it became obvious that some form of UV cured inkjet technology would satisfy what we were looking for.

We were also looking for a less complex technology to maintain, service and keep running,” Todd says. “With our utilization of the presses we have right now, we are maxed out. We will not get a lot more direct hours out of those, whereas with inkjet there are not as many moving parts, it’s a lot more simplistic, easier to manage and oversee. Keeping the uptime on it is a lot easier.

“The Domino is the seventh or eighth printing technology we have used over the years – from photographic to thermal transfer to laser to digital offset to aqueous inkjet and now UV cured inkjet,” Todd says.

Computype is two years into its Lean Manufacturing initiative it calls “Operational Excellence,” and Todd points out that the addition of the Domino will give the program a boost. He says, “Especially since we are moving toward a Lean Manufacturing model, it became very important that we could do quick changeovers. And it appears with the less complex nature of UV cured inkjet in changing from film to film to film, it is a lot easier than our other technologies. And because of the durable UV inks, we can eliminate the need for using laminates and topcoats, making labels simpler and quicker to produce. We have less steps to go through.”

Computype owns a 30" emulsion-based adhesive coating line used to produce its own labelstock. “We got into this because external suppliers developing products for label tires could not meet our product development and timing requirements,” says Eric Roach. “Today it gives us a way to control costs more broadly in the supply chain as well as differentiate from our competition.”

Presently, the company offers more than 600 different substrates. “We have over 600 catalog numbers, and with the Domino, we may be able to pair it down, but we need to run films,” says Todd. “We don’t run papers. Less than 1% of our sales are paper labels, everything else is film. Our catalog numbers describe the ‘sandwich’ of materials used, SKUs and the make-up. We are a custom, made-to-order printing and converting company, so we try to marry up or mix and match materials.”

Westling emphasizes that the company’s “sandwich” making capabilities is one of the things that makes Computype unique. He says, “We are able to backward integrate into our label construction process, and it allows us to be more innovative, to bring a higher and greater value proposition to our customers.”

Because Computype produces labels using hundreds of unique constructions, it’s imperative that its converting equipment and other consumables are versatile. Westling says, “We have many instances where we are using equipment or materials in a way that is not standard – different how others would use that same equipment. And having the ability to work with suppliers who understand our business and how we can use inkjet technology for imaging in ways that are different than how others would apply the technology, is a key part of our value proposition, and a key part of our DNA.”

Global Vision
At 40 years old and coming off its best year to date, Computype continues to win new business – through a variety of ways. “We find new customers that are in core segments of our business units through external and internal lead generation, thought leadership positioning, relationship building and networking, industry tradeshows, member affiliations, and various other promotional activities depending on the business unit, which is supported by data from our CRM system,” says Eric Roach. “The majority of our customers are located and serviced directly in North America and Europe. We also service customers in South America and Asia through distribution agreements.”

One of Computype’s AB Graphic converting units
Globally, Computype has 14 dedicated external sales people and three focused on inside sales. The sales force is organized by Computype’s business units, with seven in Healthcare, four in Tire & Rubber and three Industrial representatives. Each unit has an inside sales representative and customer service team supporting the respective unit.

As part of the company’s reorganization, Computype has added a corporate marketing function that is designed to act as a constant means of global messaging and consistent branding, while also handling tactical activities such as tradeshows and social media. “This is so the business units can focus primarily on customer-facing activities,” adds Eric.

Computype is now shaped to work as a cohesive whole, offering its expertise equally to markets in North and South America, Europe, Asia and the Far East. Eric Roach anticipates Computype further helping its customers become more efficient. “We’re a solutions provider in the truest sense, equipped to understand complex client needs and to deliver the technical answers that allow them to reduce costs and lead times, improve quality, and be more agile in their markets.”

Computype recently won its largest ever contract in the blood transfusion sector against strong domestic competition in France. It now supplies the French Transfusion Service with all its labeling, adding to a transfusion portfolio that includes the UK and the Netherlands.

Looking toward the future, Westling sees the company further adapting to an evolving marketplace. He says, “RFID, other wireless technologies, sensors, the concepts behind the Internet of Things – we’re excited to be working with these ideas. Information is evolving and allowing us to develop labels that function as smart ID and information providers. Ultimately, we see things like the smart label and dynamic information as part of a menu of solutions. We know that established bar code symbologies will continue to be the  right solution for many applications for years to come.”

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