Packaging MEA Workz in Progress: Richelle Wiley & Malcolm Keightley

Packaging MEA Logo on white gradient background on Workz Group news

Dubai’s variable data specialist seeks new markets

Richelle Wiley and Malcolm Keightley tell Benjamin Daniel how Workz supplies 20 million metres of finished board products yearly – going from blank paper to finished SIM card in two and a half minutes – and now aims to expand from telecom markets into areas such as pharmaceuticals. 

In most printshops, the custom-built Edale press would stand out. At Workz’ bespoke new 5,600m2 facilities in Dubai, though, it competes with a host of unusual features – such as more than 40 cameras.

In the words of head of operations, Richelle Wiley, these total “more than in the Big Brother house”. Yet this kind of technology is essential when your business revolves around the “the secure management of variable data”.

The success of Workz in catering for this niche – producing scratch cards, telecom cards and high-value electronic goods packaging – can be read in half a dozen figures. Since its foundation in 1997, Workz has built up a workforce of 350, from 15 nationalities, who supply 75 clients across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

Yearly output totals 20 million metres of finished board products and a capacity of more than 50 million retail packs. Just as significantly, Workz each year processes and tracks 5 billion variable data records.

“We specialise in the secure management of variable data,” said Wiley. “As such, we continue to invest in developing our systems from our OCR [optical character recognition] readers and camera verification systems, barcode scanning capabilities to in-house IT software solutions.”

As “the region’s largest telecoms fulfilment centre”, Workz has used its combination of printing expertise and mastery of data to set up new working methods and to deliver a series of innovative products.

The most critical role of Workz’ OCR readers and camera verification systems is to track serialised products, explained Wiley. This “100% QC [quality control] verification” across “the entire production process” is a major selling point.

“This is highly valued by the type of clients we have, who require products as 100% full shipments and organised in the correct serial sequence to allow batch activation,” she added.

Technical innovation in the firm’s actual products is now being driven by a new “smart services team”, aimed at giving telecom operators new value-added applications to offer their end-users.

“On this note, last year Workz was the first telecoms manufacturer to print QR codes on its products,” said Wiley.

“This resulted in an enhanced end-user experience and also reduced traditional customer complaints that the operator receives caused by heavy scratching. We believe this ‘smart’ area is extremely exciting and has huge potential for the operator in terms of added-value services and new revenue streams.”


Paper to product in two minutes

Workz runs its bespoke packaging and fulfilment facility on a 24/6 basis to pack 5 million units each month. As well as catering for high volumes, the setup also enables the firm to benefit from “a greater diversity [of products] from high-volume, low-cost packs to low-volume, high-end business and VIP packs”, said factory operations manager, Malcolm Keightley.

With its custom-built printing press, Workz can get from blank paper to finished cards in just two and a half minutes, he added.

“This has two significant advantages,” he said. “First is large volumes, with us targeting a billion printed products per year and, secondly, security and sequencing. Our clients require a very high level of security and products in perfect order.”

In his view, a sheet-fed, multiple-step process would be unlikely to deliver such volumes as quickly, as securely or as well sequenced. “Our unwind system offers us savings in terms of time and waste whilst our two station converter units using the latest flexi tooling are highly accurate and again provide significant time savings,” he said. “Our inline camera verification systems ensure accuracy.”

To achieve optimal operation with its inline flexo printing and converting line – which features kit from Edale and Martin Automation – the firm continues to invest in technology and to seek ways to streamline processes.

Alongside investments in quality control and testing, Workz is introducing high-tech equipment to help measure product performance. “We recently introduced a new high-tech security panel construction that greatly improves both the usage and security of the product,” said Keightley.

A series of recent initiatives are focused on raising running speeds and cutting product lead times.

“We are constantly looking at better sourcing of suppliers, making use of technological advances such as HD printing and continually reviewing efficiencies in terms of bringing the best practices from around the world to Dubai,” said Keightley.


Specialist products

Workz also prides itself on a “bespoke” approach to its production, which has brought a series of innovations such as the introduction of QR panels to phone cards.

“We do not just sell products off the shelf or from a set menu,” said Wiley.

“We spend a significant amount of time collaborating with clients to develop bespoke solutions that work for their specific requirements.”

As well as the first recharge card with a QR code, the “market-first” outcomes of this approach include “the first-ever Arabic SIM toolkit” and “the region’s first” 3FF SIM card.

Alternatives to QR codes for addressing the accidental destruction of PIN numbers by over-enthusiastic scratching are packaging a special scratch tool with the product and “a very strong scratch panel which is still easy to scratch”.

In any case, all products share the extensive intrinsic challenges of Workz’ chosen market. Customers require 100% delivery of product – with no short shipments – and all the company’s products must be packaged, wrapped and packed in perfect order.

“In other words, the right product in the right pack, in the right place, in the right box with the right label,” said Wiley.

“This is critical as it ensures clients can then activate the right product at the right time. Our advanced data verification systems are there to make sure this happens and the customer doesn’t have any problems.”

Security is also “a massive responsibility”, added Wiley. In addition to its 40 cameras, the company operates a highly advanced, “triple” QC verification system, a security team, biometric access points and “a very strict framework in terms of how we manage each client’s artwork and data”.


From Dubai to the world

However, these efforts are amply rewarded in an increasingly international order book – which, almost uniquely for the region’s print industry, reflects technological leadership as much as hard work or business smarts.

“Dubai is a global hub for air and sea logistics and this positions us well as our clients are spread across four continents: Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia,” said Wiley.

“Our new expanded Dubai regional printing, packaging and fulfilment facility serves many global telecoms providers and electronic manufacturers. Our current clients include the likes of Vodafone, Zain, Ooredoo, and Toshiba.”

Moving forward, though, she identifies room for expansion outside Workz’ established markets.

“We are establishing relationships with potential customers in complementary markets that require the secure printing of variable data such as pharmaceutical companies and lottery markets,” added Wiley.

“The aim is to take the essence of what we think do well and try to identify those places where we believe there is a need”.


Published in: Packaging MEA

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