Kristen Shields grew up in the label and package printing industry – although she never quite envisioned the journey culminating at the top of a manufacturing company. Shields, who has been an active member of FTA and TLMI, is bringing a fresh look to Graymills as its president.
Kristin has held several positions at Graymills, which has been owned by her family since 1980. Graymills, with history dating back to 1939, manufactures ink pumps, metalworking pumps and parts washers, as well as being known for peristaltic, or “tube” pumps. The company operates out of a 125,000 square-foot facility in Broadview, IL, USA.
Graymills joined the FTA in 1959, just one year after the organization was founded. While Kristin began working with the company in 1990, she grew up tagging along with her father, Jerry Shields, to FTA conferences. She has since worked her way up, and today presides over 80 employees at the company.
Though Kristen never pictured herself running the company, she has embraced the challenge. And she’s having success – Graymills continues to develop and launch new and innovative products.
Now celebrating its 80th anniversary, with the slogan, “After 80 years, we’ve got innovation down to a science,” Graymills is as active as ever.
Graymills recently introduced a new family of Smarter Ink Pumps – its newest peristaltic pump was introduced at Labelexpo Europe in Brussels. The newer version features an enhanced physical appearance and smaller footprint than previous Graymills models, and it can be mounted vertically or horizontally and easily adjusted in the field. The product features a quick-disconnect removable head, which allows the pump head/tube changes to be accomplished in seconds without tools.
The new pump has four distinguishing features, including: a display that indicates rotational speed, hose life and reverse timer; a predictive hose failure monitor with an adjustable life setpoint; a one button reverse drain shutdown sequence with an adjustable timer; and remote analog control, which is available with digital connectivity.
The company also recently launched the HP Indigo Edition Parts Washer (A-44213-A). This new product was specifically designed to operate with HP’s imaging oil.
The products are all American-made, including the steel, which is a mantra that originated with Jerry. Manufacturing takes place in the Broadview facility – from laser cutting, bending and welding to research and development. Shields has embraced Lean Manufacturing, as well. “We’ve been working on Lean training, which gives everyone accountability. We also have a red-tag program, which enables anyone on the floor team to slap on a red tag and stop production if they notice a quality issue. It’s part of our quality assurance program, and it truly empowers our employees.”
Even though ink pumps and parts washers might not seem like the sexiest equipment in the printing industry, they serve a vital purpose – one that is critical to producing high-quality labels.
“If you don’t have an ink pump, you’re doing the job by hand. You’re pouring ink in by hand, which a lot of people surprisingly still do,” Kristin explains. “Without clean press parts and filtration, you can get a lot of debris in your ink after it’s been recirculated. You have to filter out the debris, which gets between the blade and the roll, or it’s going to damage your roll. Or the debris may affect print quality by showing up in print as a blob or smudge.”
Kristen plays a pivotal role in keeping the operation running smoothly, and she’s always on the lookout for acquiring new talent, especially as the industry tries to attract the next generation of employees. She is a proponent of internships and trade schools, which could be of great value for youngsters who do not want to attend college.
An advocate for the industry’s rising workforce challenge, Kristen promotes opportunities at Graymills while also volunteering at career fairs. Recently, Graymills contributed three pumps to Clemson University’s Sonoco Institute of Packaging Design and Graphics to support its educational program. “Workforce development is such a huge topic and something that I’m really passionate about,” she explains. “We work with local high schools on up because we have to get kids to understand that there are really good job opportunities in manufacturing.
“I see growing opportunities for women in manufacturing today.” she adds. “I work closely with the FTA’s ‘Women in Flexo,’ program, as well as the Illinois Manufacturers Association ‘Women in Manufacturing’ group to encourage other women to follow a career in manufacturing.”
As president, Kristen is optimistic about the new-look Graymills, and she has already started planning for the company’s next step. “We’re targeting innovation,” she states. “We want to take our products, which are good, solid products, and make them more automated. It’s critical – whether it’s allowing our peristaltic pumps to communicate with the presses and controlling them all from a panel, or incorporating robotics into our parts washers. Our customers are asking for that, so we’re upgrading our equipment to meet the customers’ demands.”
Revamping the company’s products, with an eye on automation, will also help promote the industry to the next generation. “The next generation workforce doesn’t want to get their hands dirty,” she says. “That’s the future, and that’s where everything is going. We want to allow future employees to push a button or slide a tablet to conduct all the checks and monitor warnings. That’s what I want to do: take our products to the next level. And we have a really good team to make it a reality.”