I’m Peter Williams - I’ve been around for a year or two in the field of bar-coding and labeling. I was introduced to the wonderful world of bar-coding back in 1987. Having been involved in engineering since the mid 1970’s in a family business, we all decided to split up and go our separate ways in ’87 and I was then able to take a fresh look at what was available to make a living! I answered an advert in the National Press for a company wishing to appoint an agent to market their bar code film masters. For those readers who don’t remember, in the days before Computer to Plate technology, bar codes were manufactured by specialist companies who used massive bits of kits called ‘Photo Plotters’ - the same precision equipment used to make printed circuit films. These bar code film masters were supplied in little glassine bags - they were either positive or negative images, depending on what type of printing process was involved - litho, flexo, gravure, letterpress etc. These pieces of film were then literally pasted (cut & paste, yes?) to make the completed artwork.
I remained an agent for this company for a year or two and then decided to ‘go it alone’. I purchased an Apple Mac Plus from a young student who’d just finished his degree. The Mac Student scheme at the time (I don’t know whether this is still in force..?) allowed students to buy a brand new Apple Mac at a generous discount, as long as he/she didn’t sell it within a certain time-frame - whoops, I think he sold it rather early, but I promised not to tell anyone….
I then purchased a piece of software called ‘MacBarcoda’ which, as the name implies, allows you to create and save bar codes - that’s all it did, on your Apple Mac. I’d purchased a small (fast at the time, but pedestrian by today’s standards!) modem which enabled me to transmit the eps files to an Image-setting bureau who would then output the files to film. Via a motorcycle courier, these were then despatched to my house - they normally arrived whilst I was sitting eating my evening meal with my family! My wife and I would then ‘set to’ with our white cotton gloves (the children thought this was hilarious!) and our large scissors, cutting up this roll of film into small pieces containing the bar codes, inserting them into the glassine bags, putting them into envelopes protected between two pieces of cardboard (we recycled old household cardboard even then!) and finally popping them into an envelope. I’d then make a dash to our central Post Office in Stockport to catch the 7 o’clock first class post. 95% + of our clients got their bar codes the next day - it was this simple fact that allowed us to build up a nice little business which generated a reasonable income for our family back in the late 80’s.
After working in this fashion for some 12 months, my wife Dulcie one day asked if they did ‘desktop imagesetters’ - I can’t remember my exact response but it probably went along the lines of, ” nah, imagesetters are about the size of Volvos - don’t be silly..” Needless to say, shortly after we found that yes, Agfa did make a small imagesetter (not quite small enough to go on my desk!) and we plunged into the world of manufacturing - slightly scary, but exciting. £29,000 for a bit of kit was a gamble, but we knew that the market was there…..
We managed to grow the company over the following years. First my elder son Ben joined me in 1995, then my younger son Nick in 1997. We managed to gain an impressive array of clients such as Kelloggs, Virgin Publishing, Dorling Kindersley, SCA Packaging etc.
Towards the end of the 1990’s the business had changed. We were producing less film masters and more emphasis was being placed on digital output. We’d create barcodes, save them as files and transmit them directly to our clients via iSDN. We also ran a small label printing bureau - thermal transfer and direct thermal printed labels for some of our clients.
In 1999, we sold our business (Axis Multidata) to Barcode Systems Ltd. My sons wanted to move on and make their own mark on the World!
In 2000, the Chinese Year of the Dragon (hence the name!) we formed Dragon Solutions. I’d decided that where the future lay was in the supplying of bar code readers rather than the codes themselves. We had a really good run for several years - supplying the DWP with all their readers for JobCentres, many large NHS trusts with readers for scanning patient records and many other commercial clients. However, since the advent of the high speed Internet and the volumes that the manufacturers were able to produce, the prices dropped, the amount of cheap readers flooding the market through channels such as eBay, meant that we would have to refocus our business yet again.
We still offer high quality readers to our clients. There is a requirement now for bar code scanners to read 2D as well as the conventional ‘lines and spaces’ for some applications. Also, all companies applying barcodes to their products, have a requirement to check that their codes comply to International Standards by using a barcode verifier. We supply a range of verifiers.
This new site will be mainly concentrating on the media (labels and ribbons) for thermal label printers - mainly Zebra but including Datamax shortly as well. We’ll be putting replacement thermal print heads on here also before long.
I’m still passionate about this business - I’m not getting any younger (who is?!) but still get a real buzz out of delighting my clients and hearing about new and interesting applications for barcodes and labels generally.
I’ll be chatting more very soon….
All the best,