Let me start with asking you about the past few months.
The deals post PrintPack are trickling in, so giving you a precise figure and growth rate at this moment may not be accurate. Having said that, we are doing pretty well and are growing at about 15% as of today. If we sustain and keep up the momentum for the last quarter we would end up with the same percentage of 15% for the year ending 31 March.
Did you reach your targeted overall number in terms of installation, turnover percentage increase?
In terms of numbers, we have two verticals, one is the strategic business unit for small offset where we would be selling 255 machines and the other is our post-press vertical. As you know, we have four products in it. The inspection machine, Checkmate, the second one would be the die- punching series, Repetto, third one would be the coating series Finecoat and finally VDP series of machine. Overall in this vertical, we are growing at a rate of 10% and crossed 60 installations so far.
2019 is going to be tough election year from the looks of it. What are your expectations?
Well, if you’ve seen our stall at PrintPack, it had displayed a novel product which is the drip-off (coating machine). This is a product made in India for the Indian and the global market. It is the only one of its kind manufactured in India today.
This product has evoked a huge response and the print quality has been immensely appreciated. We believe this drip-off will be the product for the future of the packaging industry. Talking about inspection, we are very proud to say that the sheets printed on a machine manufactured in Japan or Germany, is inspected for quality using an Indian product. This speaks volumes of the capability of the machine. Thanks to the printing fraternity of India, they have imposed confidence on the product. As of now, we have 33 installations in operation, both in India and the Far East.
Prediction for 2019?
These two products are technologically advanced, both the inspection as well as the drip-off. We believe 2019 will be a good year in spite of uncertainties of the election results.
In terms of targets, have you already set it for 2019?
In terms of export footprint, we are expected to grow in FY 19 from 15% to 30% of the turnover of the company. For FY 20, we would continue to maintain at 30% but our global footprint is expected to become larger, meaning - machines are being exported to the US, France and few developed countries in the European Union. The Far East market is also expected to grow.
We have discussed your business. What about your factory in Coimbatore?
Well being in Coimbatore, one great advantage we have is the availability of a large quality conscious vendor-base. Added to it we have a full-grown ERP system from Oracle with an investment of Rs 1.5 crores up and running for the last few years. All we need is capacity to assemble machines because the supply of parts with quality is not an issue (being in Coimbatore).
Ashok (r) at the Autoprint stand during PrintPack 2019
What is the roadmap ahead?
We are in the process of expanding our factory set up in FY 20. The masterplan is ready.
Any new products that you’re looking at?
When we talk about R&D, the product that we introduced at PrintPack, that is the drip-off coating machine, was conceptualised one and a half years ago. We brought out a full-grown product in a record time and will look to showcase its capabilities in depth.
R&D for any new products which are currently in the pipeline?
In terms of current products in development; I would keep them confidential till there is concrete progress. I can tell you that innovative post-press is our focus for now and future developments too.
The 10 year challenge is in vogue now. So how has the print culture changed in the last 10 years?
My assessment would be that the culture in printing companies is changing for good due to the stiff competition in the market. People have realised the need to upgrade with newer technology to bring down wastage. The culture of importing secondhand machines has definitely diminished and people are buying new ones, made in India at that, in large numbers. This is a welcome change. In terms of quality, the consciousness has tremendously improved. Unlike the metros, the Tier Two and Tier Three are equally serious about upgrades. This was absent 10 years ago.
In terms of the future of print, where do you think it is going? How do you think we can dispel the fear at large about decreasing volumes?
The success of PrintPack goes to prove that print for packaging is growing. At Autoprint, we believed and have made investments in packaging and developing machines for packaging. This decision in our company to diversify the offerings into packaging has been right. Our current and future growth rate looks very optimistic due to this decision.
Talking about the future, how is the baby offset market?
To be honest, the small offset market is shrinking in terms of its size which I believe is a natural phenomenon - and it has to be accepted. It has been taken over by digital and electronic media.
CN ASHOK – AT A GLANCE
How does CN Ashok unwind?
Meditation for an hour, daily. Time with my big joint family and nurturing a young basketball team - Wings - in the city
Memories of growing up in Coimbatore?
Being a part of conducting several basketball tournaments out of which the renowned Nachimuthu Gounder Cup (teams from all over India participate). Have volunteered, played and now am part of the organising committee
Where does one consume the best dosa in Coimbatore?
At Annapoorna which is a 50 year old restaurant, serving with the same consistency in quality
Gandhi earlier and Uri now
Favourite holiday destination?
The Carlton, in Kodaikanal
A management mantra that you swear by?
Begin with the end in mind
How do you like your coffee brewed?
Filter coffee – Long Black
Jeffery Archer’s Not a penny more, not a penny less
Thiruvalluvar, the Tamil poet
Favourite factory you have visited?
The Ryobi factory in Japan
One suggestion to the FM for the Union Budget 2020 for the print industry?
Bring down interest rates for financing the purchase of capital equipment
What do you see as your personal challenges in your role, in the years ahead?
What do you think are the challenges for the coating technique in post-press? Is the model changing? Especially with regards to the number of players and the plastic debate for coating.
It’s definitely a welcome change. Many of the state governments have banned the use of plastic. People are looking at alternative options and coating maybe one such option to emerge in the future. The trends in the market for coating products prove this thought process. At the moment we may not be able to directly link plastic to this (coating) since we are not sure if lamination is covered in the ban. I would say if this state of mind continues we can see an uptrend for coating as a solution.
How do you think we can make the print more attractive? Have you ever thought on those lines?
In the past, the printers were not enjoying doing what they were doing due to several constraints like power, funding from banks, availability of skilled manpower, space etc. Successive governments have addressed these issues very well, due to which the printers have started enjoying their profession. This change will lead to growth of professional printers in the days to come. For example, at PrintPack we saw so many of them have a specific shopping list in terms of what they want to buy plus they were very aggressive in terms of investment. This was not the case earlier. They would want one or two machines but they will not have a list like this. It’s an attractive transformation!
PrintPack was a major boost for the industry and Autoprint. Your feedback about the prospects?
I must say the event was definitely a great impetus to our FY19 last quarter. We had good bookings of all verticals put together. The numbers at the show stood at 20 orders valued at about Rs 4-crores.