20 Forge St., Keene, NH, USA
Electronics Imaging Materials, Inc., also known as EIM, is as unique as the many combinations of label materials it offers its customers. The family-owned business is based in Keene, NH, USA – a quaint, picturesque New England town with a community closely tied to EIM. The bar code and durable labels specialist celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2017, thus making this an ideal time to reflect on three decades of growth and innovation.
EIM was founded in 1987 by Paul and Sue Henkel. Paul had been a materials consultant for marking and coding company Markem Imaje, where he enjoyed the company’s culture, as well as the industry. However, he left Markem after four years as product manager in the company’s first ever round of general layoffs since its start in 1911.
Today, Alex Henkel is president of EIM, and along with his wife, Heather Bell, purchased the company from his parents in 2006. Alex recalls, “My father’s experience led him to vow to create a company that never needed to have a layoff. After leaving Markem, he started Electronic Imaging Materials just as a materials consultancy, but he soon became frustrated with the lengthy delays his customers were experiencing in having their materials converted into labels.”
So, Paul began printing labels out of a friend’s garage. He would spend his days taking orders and acquiring business, and at night would run the press. In the beginning, the focus was on durable, abrasion–resistant labels, an area Paul was familiar with from his time at Markem Imaje. EIM’s first products were blank labels, produced on a 7" Mark Andy press. Customers came from niche markets such as the meat packaging industry. EIM provided a diverse mix of pressure sensitive applications, but what they had in common was filling the need for durable materials that could hold up under extreme and harsh conditions. EIM enjoyed steady growth, which led to the purchase of a second Mark Andy 830 press in 1991.
While much has changed at EIM in terms of its production space and the printing technologies used, the core values the business was founded upon have remained, 30 years later. The company leverages its expert knowledge of durable label and bar code materials, and to this day is proud to report is has never laid off a single employee, which today numbers 37.
EIM was an early adopter of digital printing technology, Alex explains. “In 1998, my parents traveled to Quebec City, Canada, and negotiated a deal – in French – for a used Markem Imaje LP 8410 digital press, which was subsequently updated and was followed by an investment in another. It was a thermal transfer machine with inline diecutting and was a great fit for our variable data business.”
As far as production space, EIM quickly outgrew the garage and moved into a converted silk mill that held a number of small manufacturing spaces. It was a setting that presented a number of manufacturing challenges that its team would always find ways of overcoming. It was a fitting start, as solving problems is what EIM does.
A Global Niche
EIM has built upon its foundation of specializing in solving customer problems in finding label and product identification solutions that can withstand extreme environments. Also, its expertise and reputation as a specialist in durable labels and bar code media gives the company a global presence from its New Hampshire nook.
A tour of EIM’s 20,000 square foot facility – which it moved into in 2003 – reveals a colorful display of flags from around the world. There are 30 in all, with each one representing the countries where EIM has had its most success. Alex says, “If you look at our current roster, we offer more than 400 specialty materials supporting over 30,000 active products for 10,000 customers across 90 nations.”
The extreme conditions that EIM specializes in producing labels for cannot be understated – these aren’t your run-of-the-mill ice bucket labels. Take the company’s line of cryogenic labels, for example. In 2000, EIM trademarked its durable CryoLabel materials, which are ideal for tracking and managing samples placed into cryogenic storage. EIM is one of the oldest and most reliable suppliers of cryogenic labels, and their products are used in laboratories and universities worldwide.
Industrial manufacturing and laboratory research are two end-use markets where EIM leads the way and can provide global support. Explains Alex, “Let’s say a company working with submersibles needs labels that can survive underwater exposure at tremendous pressure, that’s an example of a situation where we can go into our extensive selection of materials and have something that’s a perfect fit. And if we don’t have it, our R&D team will create it.
“We specialize in engineering new label materials and designs to meet precise, application-specific needs. In order to maintain our leadership position, we invest heavily in research, development and new tooling. We also do thorough in-house testing in order to find the best compatibility between labels, printing ribbons and printers, thus assuring the best overall performance of our products,” Alex says.
Improving With MPrint
Starting with its initial digital press acquisitions in the 1990s, EIM has and continues to take a leadership approach to equipment adoption.
Around the time of EIM’s acquisition of the Markem Imaje 8410, mprint, a Germany-based press manufacturer, had taken an interest in Markem technology, and by the year 2000, had purchased the rights to some of the company’s label manufacturing equipment and intellectual property. The company would build machines for small, niche markets, and would eventually get into UV inkjet, foreshadowing things to come for EIM.
After closely following the rapidly evolving digital label press market, in 2010 EIM acquired an EFI Jetrion 4000 UV inkjet press and a year later upgraded to a Jetrion 4830. The company enjoyed its success with EFI, and it realized that UV inkjet was the right technology for its many variable data and durable label customers. However, as technology evolved and new solutions became available, it became apparent that EIM could reach a new level of efficiency with a UV inkjet press also equipped with inline converting and finishing.
Enter mprint, a partner of EIM’s since the company’s acquisition of Markem technology nearly two decades ago. In 2017, the two reunited with EIM by adding mprint’s mLabel digital UV inkjet hybrid press with inline lamination and diecutting. Made in Germany, the mLabel’s variable data printing capabilities include 1D/2D bar codes, serialization and customization. With a 10" print width, print speeds can reach up to 246 fpm (75 m/m).
According to Alex, the print quality achieved with the mLabel is highly durable and often eliminates the need for additional lamination, thus making it an ideal fit for the unique durability requirements of EIM’s customers.
“The process of purchasing a new press is often lengthy due to the level of customization, testing and training involved,” explains Alex. “With that being said, it’s a priority of ours to practice forward-thinking, to anticipate what equipment upgrades will help satisfy the future needs of the industry, and then plan accordingly. Our implementation of the mLabel hybrid press was strategically timed in such a way.”
In addition, the mLabel’s use of CMYK digital ink expands EIM’s color printing capabilities while incremental LED curing provides higher resolution images.
Jason Wilder is EIM’s sales and marketing manager, and also the longest tenured team member, having been with the company for 23 of its 30 years. He’s thrilled with the new press and what the future holds. Wilder says, “With this new technology, we’re really taking a focused approach, and it aligns with what makes us special – providing customers unique materials with serialization and variable data. For 2018 and beyond, we are looking at the industrial manufacturing sector, because we know that there is something to be said for the combination of specialty materials and variable data. There aren’t too many players out there with our capabilities.
“We have a unique scenario here,” Wilder adds. “And I think we’re in the great position to actually pick and choose the business we want. We are not looking to take just any opportunity. But it’s not just a niche inside of a vertical. If we had all our eggs in one basket we probably wouldn’t be as successful as we are – and that’s what makes us special. And with the new press, we have the ability to add color that’s not spot color, which is a tremendous advantage. More and more companies want to focus on their branding, even if it’s just a secondary label that helps them track and trace.”
At EIM, the excitement for the future is palpable, particularly in light of the recent past. In 2017, its 30th year in business, EIM received the prestigious TLMI Eugene Singer Award for Best Managed Company in the mid-range sized company division. The award honors excellence from an objective set of growth and profitability metrics such as annual gross sales increase and inventory turnover.
Commitment To Community
EIM is a true family business, and its core values extend beyond the doors of its manufacturing facility and into the community it calls home. Its strong commitment to retention and recruitment is in its DNA. Heather Bell, EIM’s vice president and co-owner, stresses the importance of EIM’s relationship to the Keene, New Hampshire area. She says, “This is where we’re from – where we were born. So we strive very hard to be a Keene community company – we are fully invested in this area and have a lot going on. We retain our people as much as possible and are proud of our having policies and procedures that really honor the different needs of our employees.
“For example,” Heather continues, “We are family friendly – we have a ‘babies at work’ policy. Our employees’ babies stay with us until they are about seven months old, so they can be with their parents, and then off they go to their new environments. We just graduated our littlest intern and we’re expecting our next one very soon. I truly believe that supporting families of high value employees is a key part of being sustainable.
“We do everything we can to ensure that our employees are developing and growing and are thoroughly trained through all of their different stages and job functions,” Heather adds.
Another example of giving back can be found in EIM’s intern recruitment program, which is where it found its last three full-time hires. EIM has close ties to Keen State College and River Valley Community College, as well as local high schools.
Alex says, “The relationships we have with these learning environments are critical for us. Not only will we go in and talk to people about the kinds of positions here, but we’ll also educate students about the label and printing industries. We offer tours, teach classes and we’re even a field trip destination.”
For a number of reasons, EIM has a strong reputation within its community. “We’ll have a line out the door before we post positions,” Heather says. “We are considered a place where people want to come work. Some of that has to do with the environment here, being a family-owned business, but it also has to do with the size of our company. People come in knowing they are not going to be a number, they will be known and know everybody.”
Alex adds, “We’re a collection of experts. Here, people are valued for the knowledge and expertise they bring to the company. Whether you’re a press operator, working in shipping or answering phones, we know that your commitment to being a label expert is important to our products, customers and our overall business. So that leads to higher retention, and we’ll often get inquiries about a job opening before we even have one.”
EIM ended its third decade in business on quite a high note, adding a new state-of-the-art, digital hybrid press and taking home one of the label industry’s top honors in the TLMI Singer Award. JasonWilder, the company’s elder statesman, sums it up succinctly: “I feel lucky to have spent so many years working at such a sensational company, and I’m also grateful for getting to work with such a wonderful customer base. Without our valued customers, we wouldn’t be where we are today. That being said, as we move forward, we intend to keep delivering outstanding customer service as our top priority. Our team looks forward to seeing what the next decade has in store for EIM.”