GM bids farewell to longest-serving team member as Steen Knudsen retires after more than 40 years in label converting
In 1978, engineer Steen Knudsen joined the earliest incarnation of what later became Grafisk Maskinfabrik. Aside from a short stint as his own boss, he has been an inseparable part of the close-knit team at the label equipment manufacturer ever since.
Over the years, Steen has had his hand in the development of every GM machine and every piece of kit, including the design and construction through to sales and service, and most often, also the installation and training. From the US and Canada to Europe, the Middle East, Australia, and New Zealand, he is a familiar face to label printers all over the world, known for his expert knowledge and deep understanding of the intricacies of label converting.
“Steen has been an integral part of GM for over four decades, instrumental in getting the company to where it is today,” said CEO Uffe Nielsen. “I have personally known him since I was very young and have fond memories of our many trips together visiting customers all over the world. Steen is part of the family.”
From concrete to converting
But Steen’s illustrious career did, in fact, not start out in labels, rather he initially found employment in the concrete business. A chance encounter with the printing industry – when he provided moral support for his brother by accompanying him to an interview – led him to change direction. Sensing his keen interest in mechanics and engineering, the company offered both brothers a job, and Steen soon decided to join Grafisk Maskinfabrik, where he settled with the R&D team.
“When I first joined the company as a technician, it was a small specialist engineering business with only a handful of people, so I had the chance to become involved in the product development right from the start,” Steen explained. “Back in the day that meant working with hand-drawn plans, suggesting modifications to optimize the machines, and creating new innovative features. I knew right away that I had found my niche!”
However, when GM transitioned from manufacturing to a service-oriented business, Steen left to set up a separate entity with a colleague for a few years, before returning to work in sales and service. Fortunately, it was not long before he was involved in developing converting machines again, as GM went back into manufacturing – led by new owners Erik and Randi Nielsen. Together they began building the foundations of the leading label equipment manufacturer that has since emerged.
An exciting career
The decision to join GM and make label converting his career has allowed Steen to spend his life at the forefront of innovation, witnessing and influencing the growth of a dynamic industry. In step with the introduction of digital printing for labels, GM developed some of the first dedicated converting lines on the market in the 1990s, later leading the way as it moved from rotary to semi-rotary operation in the early 2000s.
Steen remembers some of the challenges they faced in the beginning and how the technology has changed. “When I first started, servo motors were very expensive, so we used belt drives and cylinders, which was a nightmare,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s incredible to think about all the improvements we have made to the process since then, with faster speeds, better quality, and so many great opportunities to add more value to labels. That’s one of the main reasons why this job has kept me interested, there’s always something new and exciting to explore, another problem to solve. It has been an amazing journey!”
Forming great relationships with printers and helping them achieve their goals has been Steen’s passion. He is known as a go-to authority when a creative solution is needed, working with the GM team to develop products to fit the customer’s needs. So, with his background and experience, what does he think the future holds in label converting technology?
“Foiling techniques will continue to grow, because brand owners and consumers love shiny labels and packaging, even when it comes to medicines. Product safety and track & trace are also key developing areas,” he stated. “Above all, I believe automated workflows and connected machines is the future, because it will allow printers to run faster and require less human input. Full connectivity will be the real game-changer.”
Part of the family
In an industry where consolidation is rife, GM remains a family-owned company with a clear mission to prioritize quality, innovation, and close customer relationships. This is in part achieved by keeping the manufacturing in Denmark rather than outsourcing to the Far East. These vital aspects of the business are important to Steen, who believes the top design and excellent quality of GM’s machines, along with exceptional service, can keep the competition at bay.
“Working for a family company, you are naturally much closer to the management team; you become part of the family,” he said. “In our business, there are not many companies like that left, and that is a real shame because it adds a special dimension. We have both feet on the ground at GM and we are very close to our customers, which creates real trust.”
That trust is reflected in the length of time many customers have remained with GM. Steen said, “Many of our customers have been with us right from the beginning, so you build up a special relationship. I could mention BärenDruck GmBH in Germany, where they installed one of our very first converters and have just added another GM machine. Another example is Aberker in Saudi Arabia. They bought a slitter-rewinder and a core cutter back in 1991. When I was there to help install a new DC330Mini last November, those two machines were still running happily. Those are just some of the many stories that will stay with me forever.”
Those close to Steen know that he is not one for taking it easy, retirement or no retirement. A keen runner and football enthusiast (he played semi-professionally for the Danish team Køge in his youth), he likes to keep fit and lead an active life. Aware that work has taken him away from his family on so many occasions, he is also gearing up to get involved in his eldest daughter’s hospitality business, among many other projects.
“This industry has been my life, engineering is in my blood, and I will sorely miss GM and the friends I have made all over the world. It is obviously a little sad to leave all that behind, but I’m looking forward to spending more time with my family,” said Steen, adding, “My wife has always said that I prioritized work over her and our two daughters, so I think it’s time to make amends. I know they’ve already lined up plenty of jobs for me to take care of!”
Thanking Steen Knudsen for his unwavering dedication to the business and wishing him a very happy retirement, Uffe Nielsen concluded, “On behalf of GM, I would like to express our gratitude to Steen for his long-term commitment and invaluable contributions throughout the years. His steady presence and vast knowledge will be sorely missed. I know I speak for the entire GM family when I say that his departure leaves a big gap.”