Awards & Engraving

April '18

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A&E APRIL 2018 • a-e-mag.com 13 Laser Engraving Many operators have added laser marking materials (LMMs) to their arse- nals for stainless-steel finishes. It takes a little more skill, time, material, and some additional equipment; however, it allows you to do the stainless-steel finish items as well as the color-coated ones. This is the level where I reside; however, it is still a crowded field providing the same service. (A fiber laser is an alterna- tive option to LMMs, but it requires a significantly greater investment.) Is it possible to get away from the huge pool of service suppliers? There are a few operators who have achieved this by doing their own powder coating. Their color combinations are limitless and their artistry puts them above the rest. Some have even worked out a pro- cess to both powder coat and mark with LMMs to make a unique product. These items command a higher price. It takes quite an investment of time, resources, and energy. CRAWL, WALK, RUN, AND SOAR It's a good idea to begin at the beginning when entering a new product line. You have to crawl before you can walk, and so on. One retail area that I plunged into was business card cases. I have a background in woodworking and thought my laser would give me a competitive advantage. My research, however, showed a crowded field of competi- tors worldwide. I started making simple cases. It was during this stage that I worked out most of the design and fabrication processes. I made a lot of cases and sold quite a few. I was, however, compelled to price them with the rest of the market. They just weren't different enough to stand out. I then added features, like a hidden passive card retention device, and developed a couple of new ways to remove the cards. I was able to bump up the price a little but continued to be controlled by the market, but I was gaining confidence. My business card holders still looked typ- ical when compared to the competition, even though they functioned differently. I saw the basic rectangular shape as the problem. So, I left the rectangular world and started making them in unique shapes. I was soon making them in many shapes: a pickup truck, light meter, acoustic guitar, spinal column, sewing machine, and saddle among others. Since no one else offered custom shapes, I was run- ning away from the competition. I was able to significantly raise prices, enough to make it worthwhile. But my competitors were soon making similar cases. It's important to understand that anything you can do, someone else can do, too. I had to look ahead and do something different again. I had been doing relief carving using the laser for several years. I've used the tech- niques in specific, larger scale applications like boxes and picture frames, but hadn't considered using it for smaller scale items. Advantage: laser, where scaling down is not a problem. I recently incorporated the technique into my business card cases and now I feel like I'm soaring. There is always a higher level to achieve. Business card holders that go beyond the traditional rectangular shape will command a higher price. ALL IMAGES COURTESY JIM PUENTES

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