MSE: a quality alternative

Published in Imaging Spectrum issue November 2008 and Recycler Trade Magazine issue December 2008

Recycler imageWith the goal of being a true alternative to the OEM, MSE does everything— from product development to business practice refinement—with quality in mind.

Mmicro Solutions Enterprises (MSE) was founded in 1994 as a technology and engineering company. And even then, quality was on the minds of founders Avi and Yoel Wazana. When MSE was in the making, large, wellknown competitors were established all over California. Avi questioned whether another remanufacturing company could make it in the area. But Yoel was confident that “there was room for a good one.” Over the years, MSE has tried becoming the “good one” with its innovations and zeal for quality.

MSE started in a 600-square-foot facility in Palmdale, Calif., and sold fewer than 1,500 cartridges a month. As the company grew, it spread out among four different buildings. That set-up created many challenges. So when the Wazanas considered moving, they looked for a location that would be big enough to house every department of the company. It took Avi and Yoel a year and four months and $7 million dollars to find and customize their new location, but it ended up being worth it. Every MSE product is “Made in the USA.”

Today, MSE is located in an almost 300,000-square-foot facility in Van Nuys and remanufactures 75,000 to 100,000 ink jet cartridges and 110,000 to 120,000 toner cartridges per month. The ISO 9001- certified company has occupied the building for three years now, and is almost busting at the seams. The building houses the sales and marketing department, 4,000 square feet of in-house engineering and technology facilities, 6,000 square feet of quality control labs, research and development labs, finished product storage and a 7,000 square-foot empties collection/recycling center.

With every department under one roof, MSE team members are able to communicate more efficiently and effectively within their own departments and with the other departments. “Being under one roof has tremendous strength and flexibility for us. Our reaction time is incredible,” Yoel said. “We don’t have to leave the country—let alone the building— to have a meeting.”

Recycling begins at home
MSE has also achieved ISO14001 certification and is trying to do its part to keep e-waste out of landfills. Employees in the company’s recycling center sort through all paper, scrap and waste. After it has been sorted, the waste goes to a local recycling center, which pays MSE for the material. According to Craig Faczan, marketing manager, those funds then go toward the paychecks of the employees who work in MSE’s recycling department. “Because we recycle so much, it’s a self-sustaining recycling effort,” Faczan said.

Through MSE’s recycling initiatives, the company has diverted more than 1,500 tons of waste from landfills, has recycled more than 833 tons of manufacturing scrap, and recycles more than 72 million sheets of paper every year.

At the cutting edge of technology
Because MSE was established as a technology and engineering firm, it has always gone the extra mile to be innovative and provide new solutions to remanufacturing challenges. The company currently has six patents and more than 18 pending patents, 10 of which involve color. “We’re always looking for ways to build a better mousetrap,” Fazcan said. “We are devoted to building solutions that simply aren’t available to other remanufacturers in our industry.”

MSE has adapted common remanufacturing techniques to make better products. For instance, with the HP9000 cartridge, instead of simply splitting the cartridge open and using clips to reseal it, MSE has come up with an alternative. MSE technicians use a laser splitter (designed inhouse), which cuts a straight line in the cartridge in seconds. After this step is completed, the technician takes the cartridge to a proprietary machine that prepares the cartridge for the reassembly process. The finished remanufactured HP9000 cartridge looks practically brand new. MSE engineers have also come up with a means to split and re-weld cartridges back together that is currently used on more than 70 toner and inkjet models. “Our welding technologies completely eliminate leaking while maintaining the original cartridge specifications,” Faczan said.

In addition to these innovative processes, MSE developed a proprietary robotic CNC gasket technology, which produces a continuous leak-free seal. This patent-pending solution eliminates leaking and is more environmentally conscious than standard sealing methods.

Often the MSE technicians and engineers build a machine or fixture that suits the exact needs and specifications of the company because these solutions are not readily available. One example is fixture number 2041. This fixture ensures that when technicians are replacing the recovery blade of a cartridge, it goes on straight with no rippling or crookedness, which could potentially cause print defects.
These technologies—the laser cutting, ultrasonic welding, robotic CNC gasket technology and other assorted equipment and fixtures ensure proper cartridge alignment, remove human error and increase quality, reliability and consistency while reducing costs. “These details ensure that the finished product will be as good—if not better—than the OEMs’, making MSE products a true alternative,” Faczan said.

Thorough testing
With MSE’s mission to be a true alternative to the OEM, testing is a major part of production. MSE starts by testing all incoming components and raw materials, such as toner, ink and chips. The quality assurance team does toner particle analysis, ink formulation analysis and MicroVu digital inspections. Because of shipping conditions, storage conditions, climates and human error, all incoming components have to be tested for absolute accuracy. If the raw components are not 100 percent up to par, MSE returns the product, gets new product and begins the incoming test process again.

Cartridges also go through multiple quality assurance checkpoints on the production floor, including a final inspection. Three separate technicians look at every remanufactured cartridge. They inspect the printed test sheets and look for any noticeable flaws, such as missing screws, gaps, and/or any other minute detail that could influence the way the cartridge performs. Once the cartridge passes these checkpoints, the cartridge goes to the QC lab for environmental and emulation tests, continuous life tests and overall print quality analysis.

The quality control test lab operators take the cartridges through a series of tests. Cartridges are put through intense climate and shipping environmental conditions. MSE has climate emulators where cartridges can be stored and tested. Cartridges are placed in a humidifier, freezer and oven to see how the ink, toner and/or plastic will react. Cartridges are also placed on a shipping emulator, where they are bounced, rocked and shook around, just as they would be on a moving truck. Finally the cartridge is put in an automated shelf-life simulator for continuous life testing. Each time a cartridge goes through an emulation test, it is then tested for performance. MSE tries to ensure that its products are quality products, no matter the shipping conditions or shelf life duration.

All MSE cartridges are also evaluated at the print quality analysis center. MSE uses an ImageXpert for print-quality testing. The ImageXpert is the same machine OEMs use when testing their products, so MSE is confident that when its product passes the tests, the quality is as good as the original. The ImageXpert tests for coverage and banding among other aspects. “This completely removes the subjectivity out of the print quality,” Faczan said. Every test is a pass/fail test; if the cartridge fails, even by the slightest margin, it goes back to square one.

MSE strictly abides by the STMC and ASTM testing standards; however, “Standard test methods like STMC and ASTM 1856 don’t necessarily mean that the cartridge is error proof,” Faczan said. “They only extrapolate yield and do not account for real-world cartridge scenarios. That is why we adopted both ISO 19752 and ISO 19798 testing methodologies. That’s what the OEMs do, so that’s what we do.”

But, those tests don’t evaluate everything either. Image density, backgrounding and other printing issues can still get past these tests, so MSE has initiated its own test methods. The quality control department randomly takes a product off the shelf and tests every cartridge for life every 30 days. This includes a proprietary set of printouts that incorporate both real world print scenarios as well as extreme printing conditions. These tests check for banding, image density, backgrounding and actual print quality performance over the life of the cartridge. When OEMs test cartridges, they test, document and run—the same process that MSE cartridges go through. Due to the strict testing process, MSE has won Recharger’s 1st place “Quality Leader – Inkjet” and “Quality Leader – Toner” awards for the past four years.

Such comprehensive testing does have its drawbacks. Most of the time MSE cannot be first-to-market with a new product. “We are very stringent on quality,” Faczan said. “Just because you are the first to release a product, there is no guarantee that the product is going to work. If a cartridge cannot print graphics quality, we simply do not put our name on it.”

Success built on people
Avi and Yoel attribute much of the success of the company to their employees. Even with 1,000 employees worldwide—750 of those in the United States—the Wazana brothers still consider each employee part of the family.

When Avi and Yoel considered moving the company over four years ago, they contemplated relocating to Mexico or China. “But if we had moved,” Yoel said. “Around 750 employees here in the United States would have lost their jobs. We couldn’t do that to our family.”

Because the MSE team is a close-knit group, hiring is no small task. An average of 35 applications make their way into the hiring department on any given day. The potential employees then go through a strict interview process, consisting of an engineering test and training. “We are looking for high-end people who can bring something to the table. It makes the company and our products better,” Yoel said. “Quality people are our number one asset. If you have good people, they can solve any challenge that develops.”

Sagie Shanun is an employee who brought something to the table. Shanun was hired in 2004 to work in the engineering department alongside Yoel. “With his OEM background, he blew me out of the water,” Yoel said. “He brought a lot to the table and a lot of organization to the department.” Now Shanun is the director of technology and engineering and is constantly working on new developments for the company.

Customer focus
Along with taking care of their employees, Avi and Yoel take care of their customers and vendors. “We treat our employees, customers and vendors the same,” Yoel said.

MSE is a wholesale distributor only. “We do not sell to end-users—period. We are one of the few large manufacturers that does not compete with our dealers,” Faczan said. “We are proud to have 100 percent channel integrity.”

MSE has more than 3,000 customers, consisting primarily of distributors, dealers, small rechargers and several OEMs. However, the company shies away from superstores. “MSE products are usually too expensive for their model, and we have been told our products are actually over qualified,” Faczan said. “We try to provide the best quality products to our customers. But with higher quality comes higher prices. We realize that more than three-quarters of consumers choose to pay the highest price for the highest quality. That is why they still buy the OEMs. Our product works the same but is also cost effective and environmentally conscious.”

MSE knows the importance of customer service. “We realize that if our dealers do not grow, MSE does not grow. We help our dealers build business models to succeed,” Faczan said. When MSE receives requests from end-users, either through its Web site or referrals, it passes those on to MSE dealer partners. “They take care of us and we in turn take care of them,” Yoel said.

To help its customers succeed, MSE provides its dealers support in the form of marketing materials. By providing in-house marketing support, MSE customers have access to well-designed packaging, advertisements, brochures and pamphlets, among many other materials, that help the customers’ marketing initiatives. Under the MSE Partner Program, the dealer becomes a certified reseller and receives all of its marketing design services free from MSE’s design team. MSE also offer s the Co-Op Program, which takes the Partner Program to the next level. Under the Co-Op program, MSE matches 50 percent of its dealer’s marketing spending, up to 5 percent of the dealer’s total purchases o f MSE-branded product. MSE also offers its customers a three-year warranty on all toner cartridges and a two-year warranty on all ink jet cartridges. “Our dealer marketing support is a key element of the company’s success,” Faczan said. “We help our dealers by providing them resources. By focusing on OEM conversions and teaching consumers that they have a real OEM alternative, our dealers remain more profitable and maintain consumer loyalty.”

Global expansion
MSE has seen incredible growth in the past 14 years. Having started as just two brothers in a 600-square-foot facility, the company has grown to now having 1,000 employees worldwide with a 300,000 square-foot facility. Yet the growth doesn’t stop there. MSE has sales and distribution centers in Canada and The Netherlands, a distributor in Brazil and an expanding sales presence in France. In 2007, MSE acquired Greenman Europe BV and 3P Europa BV. Later that year, MSE merged operations to form MSE Europe BV. MSE’s business is growing in Isreal, the Middle East, Dubai and China. “We even ship product into the Asian Market. There is a demand for quality product across the globe,” Yoel said. “It’s been very exciting.”

MSE is devoted to quality in all that it does and because of the company philosophy, everyone involved—from Avi and Yoel to their employees to their customers to their vendors—is loyal to the MSE brand. “If you cut us, we bleed MSE blue,” Yoel said. “We believe in our products.”

MSE Focuses on Quality Color
MSE is focusing much of its efforts on color. With 95 percent of consumers still purchasing the OEM product, MSE sees a huge opportunity in the color market. But, color is tricky. Many remanufacturers have not had the best luck when trying to remanufacture color. Whether it has been because of color matching, leaking or other critical cartridge problems, there have been issues. But MSE’s foundation in technology and engineering has helped them excel in color. “With our technology base, we are able to get better OEM color matching and eliminate leaking and any other critical cartridge problems,” Faczan said. “The color opportunity is huge. That is why we focus on making the best color compatibles,” Yoel added.

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