Originality of design keeps GEW at forefront
The receding recession may have caused a feeling of déja-vu if not nostalgia for Malcolm Rae, managing director of leading UV curing equipment manufacturer GEW, because it was in the teeth of the last economic downturn of 1991 that he left a secure job to sink his life savings into his own business working from the cellar of his house.
Almost two decades later and it is a very different story. The gamble paid off and GEW is now a successful company with over 90 employees; subsidiaries and agents throughout the globe and invests seven percent of its undisclosed turnover into R&D.
“I saw the label industry as the market to go for at the outset,” he told Converter during a recent visit. “I had spent several years as technical director for a company serving the sheet fed and mid web industries. At the outset I had designed two extrusion dies on which I was pinning my hopes. I saw potential for well engineered air cooled UV curing systems and this was the direction I planned to take.”
Malcolm Rae took another gamble at that time by exhibiting at Labelexpo in 1991 with a UV dryer that received its final coat of paint in a local garage. He was following his instincts and the development trail of UV flexo from rotary letterpress and narrow web.
At the exhibition he made his first sale, to UK press importer AB Graphics, a company that at this time was selling Arsoma presses into the UK market. He offered a money back guarantee to clinch the deal and began to supply AB Graphics and replace the existing UV supplier on many of the presses it sold.
“My wife and I were workaholics in those days,” he says, “but we had to be in that situation.”
Two years later came the event that was to transform GEW and turbocharge its business.
“In 1993 the UK came out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM), an event that has gone down in history as Black Wednesday. This proved to be the shot in the arm the business needed because suddenly the price of imports rocketed and that made our products hugely competitive. I basically went around the world selling UV systems with considerable success.”
In an attempt to broaden the company’s market GEW began to look at supplying mid web machine builders with an adapted range of UV curing systems and won business from companies such as the late Drent Goebel and Muller Martini but this sector was destined never to be as big as GEW’s narrow web business.
Between 1991 and 1997 GEW’s turnover doubled year on year and the company expanded in size moving to new offices.
Malcolm Rae’s initial instincts were prescient as the label business really took off between 1997 and 2000. The company set up offices and took on agencies in Mumbai, in Germany and the US and expanded its internal sales operation to cover the rest of Europe concentrating on the Mediterranean region and the eastern block territories.
In terms of its equipment range, its first successful system was the MD1 “Micro Dry” air-cooled UV dryer that even now sees units coming in for refurbishment. After this came the MD2 lamp head designed specifically for Kopack print stations.
The rise of successful label press manufacturers contributed greatly to GEW’s own fortunes and the company designed other MD-series dryers which, together with the MD1, was fitted to hundreds of machines and really propelled GEW to the forefront of the industry.
All GEW dryers were air-cooled, including the MD3 designed for wider webs up to 30 inches.
“It may be a tribute or just recognition of our engineering abilities but around this time other competitors began to copy elements of our designs,” says Malcolm Rae. “Lots of dryers appeared on the scene that were reshaped versions of internal parts of our dryers such as profiles, connectors or the design and configuration of lamps and reflectors.”
Around this time came the next big step forward with the emergence of the Variable Curing Platform (VCP) as an enhancement and replacement for the MD1. Many parts remained the same: mountings, some reflectors but the new system was designed to run cool courtesy of improved heat management in the shape of a reduced infrared footprint.
Then with the design of the NUVA which catered for wide web applications of 1.2 metres or more the market offering covered most all curing requirements. An advancement of the NUVA called Isocure followed and that was a more refined water-cooled design.
The most recent development by the company is one that echoes the current preoccupation with the environment and all things green. The E-Brick was launched in 2005 and greatly reduced energy consumption – an innovative control system in the 9Kw to 32Kw range.
“One of our business strategies that we still try to stick to is to be ultra competitive on price but not to undersell ourselves,” says Malcolm Rae. “Only recently we had a German customer here who told us that four years ago he ruled GEW out of the equation because we were too cheap. Another quality of ours is to keep things simple, and design, production and administration are kept as simple as possible. Our open and friendly style of business coupled with simplicity have enabled us to retain even our very first customer as a customer still today.”
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