The remaining 15% is shared among manufacturing industries, logistics, cooperative banks and few government departments. Hitech Print Systems has one plant each in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana with five narrow web presses with digital inkjet systems and four-colour printers (offline).
Exactly 11 months ago on 23 March 2020 – we were in the midst of printing and delivering major examination related work – the lockdown was announced. As a result, all the examination work for various educational boards, universities, recruitment bodies were stopped, cancelled or postponed. The date for future examinations was uncertain. Many of the jobs, which Hitech printed, were lying over six to eight months. In our business, as you know, stockpile is a bad word. We had an additional headache. The paper purchased could not be converted during the peak time.
Some of the educational institutes and universities started online examinations. This put further financial strain upon our organisation. The stress was infinite. Unless and until the educational stakeholders took delivery, we were in dire straits. This affected our business and our morale. The growth curve, which we had maintained in 2019-20, could not be sustained from April 2020 onwards.
Fortunately, the management was kind (and generous). They kept our motivation levels and spirits intact. They disbursed full salaries. And even during the lockdown, they committed to each and every personnel.
During the lockdown, the seniors at Hitech started discussing the future plan. But how was one to prepare for an unforeseen situation like the pandemic?
Initially, we found strength through printing of personalised documents. And so, we took up government jobs which were to be printed with personalised information. This included ration cards on a new PET media plus beneficiary letters by the government. On cue, we could see new opportunities. Hitech Print Systems did unique jobs to survive during the pandemic period. Due to our core-strength in answer book sewing, we engaged the same tailors to stitch cloth bags for seed-packing for the seed certifying authority.
Meanwhile, the national- and state-level examinations were called off. Slowly and steadily there were signs of academic life. But it was too little. The authorities informed us things are returning back to normal. Having said so, we saw a postponement of schedules by two to three months.
The dent in examination work plus the pains of the pandemic period taught us to invest in automation. We noticed the contract labourers who engaged in agriculture during the pandemic did not return to the press. That's when we realised that the human being is the one moving part in any system that is most likely to fail, which is why automation is so important.
I feel, the best way of improving the business, and hopefully margin, is to consider how effectively to deploy one's resources. Labour is the biggest resource that we have control of (usually about 20%-30% of turnover). Automation requires investment and so the capital equipment portion increases, but can have a significant impact on the labour side.
By focusing on labour efficiency and utilisation we have a mechanism for improving margins and bringing down the cost base.
I feel, as the print industry emerges from this pandemic, automation and systems that enable remote operation of equipment will become increasingly important. However, we shouldn’t automate just for the sake of it. The benefits need to be carefully analysed before investment. I have seen projects where automation was put in without proper analysis, ROI or due diligence, resulting in failed outcomes.
Similarly, with the expertise Hitech Print Systems has in variable data and personalisation, we started to think about diversifying. With the knowledge quotient being built, our team could handle ITES for the same customers of universities and boards.
In spite of three tough months (complete lockdown and strict norms), the educational sector had branched out. The examination process had shifted online. Furthermore, the learning material was reliant on digital media. Which is why, we were thinking about ITES activity of diversification along with the print products.
Today, Hitech Print Systems is focused on growing vertically. We are looking at more capacity and locations to serve the same sector, and tap new markets and products. Covid-19 has pushed the print industry – like most other industries – to rethink.
The pandemic has also underlined the need for digitisation and automation within process flows. Digitisation is causing faster innovation cycles, and the pandemic months acted as a catalyst, driving companies such as ours to intensify our development process.
B Manoharan is the vice president at Hitech Print Systems. He joined Hitech in 1989. Presently, Manoharan leads a team of 200 members, and has implemented weblink authentication, NFC-integrated certificates, and RFID labels conversion.
Technology innovation at Hitech Print Systems
Three decades ago, Standard Register Company (SRC) in Dayton, USA made a presentation at a technical conference. This is a company which is one of the pioneers in security printing. The Hitech Print Systems team visited their production plants to understand the nitty-gritty of security print design, processes of printing, security inks to print in dry offset, flexo, offset and gravure. That was the beginning of Hitech's journey into the world of security print. Manoharan says, "We were the first in Asia in 1996 to acquire a high speed inkjet printing system and were major exporters of OMR forms."
During the collaboration with SRC, Manoharan had a chance to visit print houses in the USA and Europe. He travelled over 12 countries and got the opportunity to observe many new technologies. With these visits, Hitech Print Systems came up with the idea of building "a combination press, which consists of offset, flexo and gravure. The year was 2000. In 2004, the company made an indigenous machine. Manoharan says, "Please note, this was at a time when no manufacturers were creating such machines in the USA or Europe.
That's how Hitech Print Systems produced huge volumes of mobile recharge coupons from 2007–2011 for two major companies.
The rest, as they say, is print history.