Are print firms in India inefficient? - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

By 20 Jan 2018

Paul Bradley of ESP Colour lifted the bonnet of his pressroom economy during his presentation at the Print Summit 2018 (PS18).

The USD 17-mn company’s chief executive revealed that there are challenges in production, none more significant than people and costs. “Efficiency can always be improved, but we have to have our 3 M’s right. Man, Machinery, Materials,” he says.

In this case-study, Bradley urges the Indian print industry to focus on what customers want, rather t

Bradley: “We must give customers what they want not what we can produce"

In Mumbai, Bradley visited a number of local printing businesses, and quite naturally understood the challenges that these printers in Mumbai faced on a day-to-day basis. “In many cases, they were no different to those challenges we face in Europe and the UK, but in some cases, they are very different,” he said.

How these challenges are met and overcome; what are the equipment investments, technology and people that are employed may vary because of many factors but none are more significant than people and costs here in Mumbai compared with the UK, is what he found.

3 M’s for efficiency

Coming back to the point of people and cost, an experienced customer service person in the UK is paid a salary of USD 40,000 USD (Rs 26,00,000) while an experienced multicolour press minder is paid USD 55,000 (Rs 35,75,000). “These cost factors play a huge part in where we invest and where we need to drive change and efficiency,” says Bradley, adding, “But some factors remain the same no matter where we are in the world. Efficiency can always be improved, but we have to have our 3 M’s – man, machinery, and materials, right.”

First, it is important to run the machines at speeds it was bought for. For this, there has to be a level of production that is delivered. “That’s what I am paying for, that’s what we are going to get,” Bradley says, explaining, “The engineers, the demonstrators will leave the building till their respective tasks are over. We do that with the printing machines, folding machines, stitching machines or digital printing presses.”

In the press section, ESC has two automated B1 multicolour preses, one is a three-year-old and the other a four-year-old. Three men run the two presses – one each on the two machines and a boiler to make the marks. Each of the machines averaged 62-million impressions per year on triple shifts (111 hours) in 2017. “Our presses run at 18,000 sheets per hour (sph), every job, every day, five days a week, 52 weeks a year,” says Bradley.

In the pre-press, ESP has three people producing 3,500 plates per week at 62 plates per hour in double shifts. It has recently installed a second CTP.

ESP’s makeready is a staggering 22,500 times per press per year (approx. 90 - 95 per day) giving an average run length of approx. 2750 sheets per set of plates.


Bradley says, his company converts 25 tonnes of paper a day, cautioning that a challenge any company faces is the presentation of the paper to the press. “We don’t cut any paper that we use, everything is brought to the size we need, bulk packed in pallet ready to go into the machines.”

In the finishing, it has one guillotine, four folders, two stitch lines and auxiliary equipment for cutting and creasing, laminating etc.

The digital foray

ESP’s digital arm, ESP Smile, is a relatively new brand, is the digital division, with a turnover of USD 7-mn (Rs 45,50,00,000). Set up in a 19,000 sq/ft premise, it has four A3 cut-sheet digital presses, two roll-fed large-format machines, and employs 30 full-time people.

Bradley says, ESP bought in digital because it received a contract of producing photo-books, and canvasses. “This business was set up in September 2017,” he says.

At DSP Smile, finishing is very diverse, with case-making, PUR binding among its key kit for producing products ranging from leaflets and booklets to photobooks and wall canvases.

Bradley again brought in the need to invest in the right kit, both digital presses as well as finishing kit. “I know there are people in Mumbai who have HP Indigo 10000 or 12000 presses, and I hope they have digital finishing machines to finish the pages, because if you don’t it does not make financial sense,” he says, asking, ”Why would you buy a B2 machine if you don’t have digital machines to finish it?”

All the digital work at ESP Smile is despatched within 48 hours of receipt of files, with 50% of it despatched on the same day. “During the last Christmas period, we despatch up to 8,000 individual orders per day in peak periods.”


The transformational Project 2.5K

Around 2006, UK’s print industry was having a tough time. It was also the time when the print sector across the printing industry faced a decline in profitability as they aggressively slashed prices.

It was Ipex 2006 time, and Bradley and his team were driving back from Birmingham when they came up with a very simple project that drove everything since. “Becoming the world’s most efficient sheetfed litho printer was not what we set out to do,” says Bradley.

It took him full four years.

Project 2.5K was the target. It was a focus on the market, focus on a product type, and focus on the perfect run length per set of plates. It was a focus on changing from the norm, a focus that would drive efficiency.

It wasn’t until the next Ipex had passed in 2010 before ESP had really achieved the JDF workflow. “Many machinery suppliers weren’t ready for them, training and buy-in – from the whole ESP team that we needed to drive the physical and cultural changes to achieve the first world record of press efficiency in December 2011,” says Bradley.

Project 2.5K targeted a quantity of 2,500 good sheets for every set of plates that went on the presses. Eleven years on, Bradley says, ESP never quite got to 2.5K, but are running very close to that target. “It’s still an achievement until recently. But I was happy with as other added benefits were far greater than I had imagined.”


Press ops at ESP Colour

To ensure press optimisation, ESP streamlined change of papers and the way paper was purchased, as well as inks and coatings and blankets.

Bradley says, “This was done over a sustained period to ensure consistency of performance and still today, we change materials occasionally if something is letting us down. We introduced strict maintenance routines. You cannot achieve this level of output at the highest quality without keeping your machines in the best possible condition.”

ESP Colour introduced ISO 12647 colour standard and ensured all colour was measured consistently.

The team at ESP Colour is ‘data mad’ and received and sent JDFs between machines, between departments and of course, huge amounts of performance data to monitor the progress, the achievement, the change.

In the press room, the production planner's responsibility is to guarantee batch work better for sheet size, weight and colours; plus plan work depending on the suitability of operators. Bradley said, “If you have a long-run work, do it on the night shift so there can be fewer queries and it is more measurable.”

The process tweak was: “The press minders passed their own work.” This was for colour, for position on the sheet, for overall quality.

Even for the order of work, if the minder could see a better option of printing the jobs to save a sheet size or thickness change then he changed it. This made ESP Colour more efficient.

Bradley adds a caveat: “When they got it wrong occasionally, we train them how they could improve.”

In the post-press and bindery stage, ESP Colour focussed on a plan and batch work to reduce set up times similar to the presses. Also, there was a formula of 2/3 folding schemes per folding machine. And finally, training the staff to specialise rather than generalise.


The progress at ESP Colour

As a result of these systems, the makeready time on a four-colour job is two minutes 50 seconds (average). The running speed is 18,000 per hour on all stocks.

The average good sheets on the floor of 15,000sph.

The uptime: 84% - 20 hours per day of saleable time.

All this translates into more than 62-million impressions per year with an average run length of 2,750 sheets.

The takeaways

The ESP’s Project 2.5K revealed was, its workforce was very skilled and efficiency, but it was their mindset which had to change.

“We introduced new procedures for them to work, educated our customer service teams, production planning and more importantly our clients. We trusted our investment,” says Bradley, adding, “Why to check the plates when the PDF proof has already been checked.”

Here in India, materials, especially paper is one of the challenges. Even if the press is capable of a three-minute changeover, you can’t get the press running if it’s going to take 15 minutes to get the paper prepared or the colour settings right. “We need to take out all the possible variables, all the reasons that can stop the processes have to be eliminated. We have to achieve – Zero Maybes,” he explains.

Bradley’s advice to the Indian print industry is: Continue doing what you’ve always done. "Just remember: Markets and demands are changing quicker than ever."

He adds, “We must give customers what they want not what we can produce; be more confident in the value of the product you produce and its place in the market, and get the whole team at your firm even more involved in what you are doing and the direction you are going.”

He concludes: “The journey of automation and efficiency should never end.”

The 800-strong audience at the PS 2018 gave Bradley a standing ovation at the end of his presentation, and later one could see many gather around him, wanting to know more about his operations.

But the moot question is: Will they implement his practices on their shop floor?


PS: Do you think you have implemented a project that has changed the fortunes for your company, and can be a role model for the Indian print industry?

Let me know the details on my email:




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