John Hauger from Weber Packaging Solutions gave us an awesome explanation of how they print dates on cans and other non-flat surfaces. They're basically small paintball guns! Who knew? He also talks about his career and how his experience in electronics has opened opportunities for him, before finally sharing the importance of communication - a sometimes overlooked skill as engineers. Here's a transcript of what he shared with us:
Jon Hauger: If you've ever wondered how those little date codes get put on there, there's no sound, there's no nothin' and it's very much just like a little paintball gun, that's how I try to explain it to some people. Utilizing small droplets of ink, they get fired off into a usable legible message.
I'm John Hauger, the CIJ product manager for Weber packaging. And what CIJ stands for is Continuous InkJet. It's a printing technology that utilizes... let's call it static electricity to actually print ink droplets on to the bottom of product. So, what I want to show you is in the craft beer industry or just any industry where they put products into cans and you have to print onto uneven surfaces how the codes get on there? And what we do to maybe add a little bit of extra value to a producer.
What you see here is a can twist. What this is, is the primary method of conveyance from, let's say a tall pallet of cans. They're going to come down and we're actually going to print on them, right here with the continuous inkjet. This is the printhead, the controller is over here, that's the big screen with the fancy words you can program whatever you want it to say, and in this case we're gonna label it. I'm gonna to throw it down, we'll just let it kind of go on its way and get a label applied. What we're gonna end up with is a finished product. So, right here, I have a finished product that not only will sit well on the shelf but if it's being distributed it actually has a date code on it. So, initially a lot of places you're going to go into they don't have something like this, especially like in the craft beer industry or the new cannabis industry that we're starting to work a lot with. We sit down, we talk to the people and say, "Okay, you know in this example, I just want to put a date code on this. It's already pre painted, I got all my art work done. I just need to be able to put a date code on it." So we try to find answers to questions like, what's your run speeds? How many cans per minute are you doing? How many lines do you need to print? Do you need the dates to auto calculate things like that? Most of the time they don't need anything big or fancy. No Ferraris or Lamborghinis. It's just something simple, basic, well-priced because normally the budgets are gonna to be a little bit lower especially for start-up companies. And we say, "Yep, this will do the job and it will continue to do the job for years on end as long as you maintain it."
I started out in the marking and coding industry about a decade ago and I was going to college actually - didn't want to waste my GI Bill you know. "Thank you, Uncle Sam!" But as I'm finishing up my calculus final a recruiter called me, just out of the blue never heard of him before. He said, "You know what John, we think you have a we have a position that would fit your profile, fit your resume." I was a field service technician and I was able to do that, thankfully, because of my naval background. I was in the US Navy and I was an electronics technician. So, taking the concepts and the fundamentals that I had learned there, I was able to apply it into a troubleshooting type of scenario. And then, along the way they said, "Hey, you can explain this stuff really well to other people, why don't you come help us sell it too?" So, that's where I started transitioning into what's called pre-sales. So, that's where you have the salesman or woman, whoever is selling the product, and they need a little bit of support as far as explaining it to the other engineers that are at the locations. There are a lot of super technical people that want to understand how the product is able to fit into their line, is able to fit into their manufacturing scenario. So, that's where the technical role really comes into play. And then eventually Weber Packaging asked me to actually run their product line. So, now I'm the product manager for the Continuous InkJet product here at Weber packaging.
One of the biggest things is, I think anybody who wants to get into a STEM background will still have to deal with people in communication. It really, really boils down to - do you have the ability to communicate? In some way shape or form, maybe not verbal, it could be written, it could be visual in some instances, but you have to be able to communicate. If you can see things that a lot of people can't see but can't translate that to the guy who needs to order that part for you or the woman who is gonna be making the decisions to buy for more.. well, if you can't translate that or communicate that, then you're doing yourself a real disservice, you need to be able to communicate with people. And in some instances, yes, it's gonna be very much face-to-face and a lot of instances, it's going to be via email or text. You could have the most brilliant mind out there but if you can't communicate what needs to be communicated then you're not gonna be taken seriously and it's not going to be beneficial for you or the person across from you - whoever is receiving the communication. You know take that time to maybe brush up on that skill, whatever it is, maybe a little bit more and you're gonna go a lot further than I think you originally thought you could have.