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Building "A great kingdom of newspapers"

14 September 2016

Manroland Web Systems teamed up with Kodak to demonstrate a hybrid web offset and inkjet press during Drupa. It integrated the Kodak Prosper 6000S inkjet web with a FoldLine inline finishing to produce a hybrid line. This could imprint digital sections into retail flyers with full-page variable colour at full 600dpi while matching the speed of the offset line. It is the FoldLine which was the star of the show during the recent Book Conclave, the German press maker hosted in the capital on 26th August 2016.

A lover of historical fiction, Sudeep Bhattacharjee, managing director at Manroland India spoke to PrintWeek India on the sidelines of the Conclave. He referred to Empire of the Moghul a series of historical fiction novels written by Alex Rutherford. At the moment, Bhattacharjee is immersed in volume three which is about Emperor Akbar. And like Akbar he hopes to build “a great kingdom on the subcontinent” of newspapers.

untitled-3 Sudeep Bhattacharjee, managing director at Manroland India

PrintWeek India (PWI): Your plans for the Wan-Ifra show in Kolkata?
Sudeep Bhattacharjee (SB): We are having a small booth at Wan-Ifra. We would be showcasing our Cromoman 4x1 newspaper press. Apart from that, we would also like to showcase our finishing solutions for digital printing - FoldLine and FormerLine. The systems are designed for the production of book blocks, booklets, flyers, broadsheet and tabloid newspaper. Additionally, Manroland web systems offers workflow and networking software packages that enable the integration of these solutions to any web-based digital printing system. Today, many customers all around the world have benefitted from this.

PWI: The feedback has been, the entry barrier is a bit daunting for India ...
SB: These concepts are in a nascent stage for the Indian market. No newspaper in India is considering digital. But at least we should present the option because today the Indian newspaper industry is not even aware of the digital option. Though, we saw a lot of such offerings at Drupa. I don’t think that any of the Indian newspapers are considering it.

PWI: The September Wan-Ifra show is the first one in Kolkata. It’s the city of joy. Also the city of your birth. Are you looking at new markets?
SB: Kolkata is a new territory, totally. We would be hoping to tap new clients. Or at least push towards it so that they start thinking anew. Most of the regional newspapers are growing and considering, putting up multiple single widths. This is one area, where I believe there is a lacuna in knowledge about the advantages of the double-width web presses.

PWI: What is the reason that 2x1 presses has gained such ascendancy in India? Is it mainly the cost which is driving it or is it a technology roadblock?
SB: Both. The cost is the crux of the matter. As you know, in the Indian market, the first thing (and at times, the only thing), an investor will abide by, is the cost. So, cost is most important in the Indian market. Apart from that people look at ROI, capacity utilisation and manpower cost. Though, people say that manpower in India is not a problem, based on my experience in managing printing plants, I would like to differ. I don’t think you can hire quality manpower at a cheaper cost. Even if you want to run a single unit, you need good people. My view is, in India good people don’t come at a cheap rate.

PWI: A fair point. Will India wake up to the manpower conundrum?
SB: I hope so. I have seen through my years in the newspaper industry, apart from the money factor, there are people who do not want to do the dirty work. Especially in the metro cities like Mumbai and Delhi. Soon, you won’t get people to clean the blankets and clean the rollers. Today, every person has an aspiration, which is a good thing. They say, what next for me? Sooner or later Indian newspaper plants will have to wake up to the crisis of quality manpower.

PWI: Moving on, would you say, a basic understanding of the double-width concept is missing among a majority of the plants in India where 90,000 of our publications are produced?
SB: Yes, even though the double-width technology is an established technology. Many senior technocrats in the national newspapers say the concept of double-width is an unknown concept among most of regional players. They won’t blink an eyelid before buying four single-width presses. Even though the work can be produced by a single double-width web offset press. I think, such type of projects put pressures on the technical abilities of a machine. It is quite a challenge because the newspaper publisher wants the single-width process to be more competitive than a double-width. The point is, the Indian newspaper market in the top-end is evolving rapidly. We are already achieving considerably higher quality than some of the international newspapers. And the good news is, the requirement is to move standards even higher.

PWI: There has been an improved performance at Manroland Web Systems in the last year which has resulted in record results for the owner Possehl Group. PrintWeek India’s numbers indicate that incoming orders at Manroland Web Systems increased by 10% and the market share of new web press orders worldwide had increased from 36% to 45%. What is the new message from you?
SB: One new message which we would like to strongly convey is, the impetus on the service part. Earlier, other manufacturers – and this includes Manroland – were looking at press sales or new equipment sales. The world market scenario is such that, all of us are seeking new opportunities in the newspaper industry. Therefore we have to look at service, very seriously. Our global managing director has the same thought process. He says, service and spare parts are the ‘main motor’ behind our improved figures. We are pouring a lot of our energy into the service part. We realise, equipment sales will be steady. But service is growing.

PWI: A success in India?
SB: Oh yes. Today our engineers are installing presses across the world. These things were not happening earlier from India. Today, even as we speak, we have a team of engineers working in South Africa. In India, we have a team around 30 people. Our engineers strength is 10. The point is, newspapers are doing good to moderately well in India. Most publishers will continue to print newspapers. Having said that, the need to cut long-term costs in the newspaper sector is intensifying. Although advertising revenues are steady, they look unlikely to return to the levels of four to five years ago. In addition, newspaper circulation in many regions are static, so some publishing houses are looking at the re-configuration, press re-location and up-gradation.

PWI: This service is only available for Manroland customers?
SB: We hope to extend it to other equipment manufacturers. It is not restricted to Manroland web offset users. One interesting re-location is what we did with the shifting of the Geoman from one location of The Times of India to the other. In these kind of projects there is a relocation component to it and then, there is a re-configuration part. Let's say taking up eight towers and splitting them into two or three presses, that’s the re-configuration part of it. But as you know, engineering upgradation is different.

PWI: In terms of the Cromoman, how successful is the 4/1 format? How successful has it been elsewhere in non-Indian territories?
SB: The Cromoman 4/1 is specially designed for the Indian conditions. It’s USP is space saving, web width variability, power fluctuation tolerance, Air conditioning not necessarily required, no web severance on power failure. The Cromoman, which is just 7.4m high, is shorter than its sister presses like Regioman or Colorman. We are not selling Cromoman in Brazil but we are selling it in India. In India, apart from The Times of India, we have sold to Namasthe Telangana.

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Cromoman 4x1: World first installed at The Times of India Pune plant

PWI: Why the limited success?
SB: Apart from the political parties to set up newspapers, there is also a question of a couple of established players in that state or territory. In today’s market, if there are two established players there is no room for the third player. Yes, one can argue that a new player can enter. But there is a lot of alternative media which is available through which brands are advertising.

PWI: But your personal mantra is “more newspapers”. Right?
SB: True. But investors are apprehensive about what is the future. Is there a pot at the end of the rainbow? Maybe, we think that what happened in America, may unfold very soon happen in India. So what is the point in heavy investments. Having said that even if you look at the USA market, all the newspapers make money from the print. The traditional newspapers do not make money from the online platform. This has been proved many times in a developed market like the USA.

Newspaper need to share-to-benefit

If you look at the Indian newspaper sector, it has not been very open in terms of knowledge sharing. Even today, people don’t share the data. So nobody knows the wastage quotient of a competitor. And so, there are predictions and assumptions and innuendos through the grapevine. India has to create a platform where best practices can be readily shared. I think it is do-able

Today, I look at the newspapers from a manufacturer position. There is so much similarity in working, but the synergy is missing. And so, everybody is looking at printedwaste,energy consumption and ink optimisation software. These things are happening. But they are happening, in silos, there is no synergy.
We need to get the best minds in our industry the thought leaders to pool their resources.

PWI: During Drupa, there was a buzz. Now all is quiet on the Indian front. Eerie? Or this is the usual post-Drupa business cycle in India?
SB: If you look at Drupa historically, there has been a lot of announcements which is not followed by that much of final orders. This has always been the tradition. If you look at Drupa 2016, yes there were announcements plus a lot of interest. As I see it, some of our prospects will take a decision, very soon. PrintWeek India will have the "breaking news" that some newspapers are purchasing equipment from us.

PWI: Books looks like a significant commitment by Manroland India. What are you envisaging?
SB: Books are a growing industry. Innumerable Indian printing firms are opting for book printing – and recent trends at international book fairs indicate that books have a good future. Manroland is targeting the digital finishing solution. As you saw during the Conclave, the FormerLine produces books on almost every continent. Be it: Poland, Germany, China or Brazil. And besides books and educational books, even calendars and catalogues are produced. The advantages are productivity via a high reliability and small folding tolerances/production deviations up to a dynamic change of signature setups (pages) and book structure without downtimes of the press whilst the production and a dynamic adjustment of the cut-off.

PWI: Viable for India?
SB: In India, I feel all the major players are aware. At the moment, they are scared to take the leap from offset to digital. I strongly believe in the first mover principle. Once the first investment happens, then there will be a flood of orders. I am very sure it will happen since printed books are doing well. Recently we saw the history created by Harry Potter which was printed by Manipal Technologies. Plus there are Indian authors like Devdutt Patnaik and Twinkle Khanna who have breached the one lakh mark.

The Times of India (TOI) hat

For a major part of my career I have been associated with newspapers and the pressroom. I have handled projects, set up new and used equipment and initialised new plants. At TOI, I was working for the Delhi region at the plant. We grew exponentially in the last seven to eight years. By growth I mean print orders as well as equipment.

I was involved with the day to day running of the press. Apart from that, we had a successful foray in INCQC, and the TOI Delhi plant won awards for the colour quality club. In the Delhi plant, TOI has continued the culture of improvement.

Print in 2020

Print industry will definitely exist. Our industry in 2020 would be a much leaner, nimbler and stronger industry. But we must look at processes, the efficiency levels and improve it. There are lessons to be gleaned from the automobile sector. Some of these are being adopted by our industry in terms of processes and TAT and JIT. By 2020, our industry would be much stronger. But for that we must start to imbibe all the practices, now.

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