Shri Balaji Publications has been in the news. The publisher-printer has installed an entire range of hard cover machines from Impel in its factory in Muzzafarnagar, Uttar Pradesh. The reason: the two-decade old Shri Balaji Publications produces a wide array of books for various competitive entrance examinations and central boards. In these hard times, they needed a hard cover.
The three founders, Ashish Agarwal, Neeraj Bhardwaj, and Prabhat Kumar, also ensure the distribution of these books all over India through their eRetail network since most of these books are prescribed for the CBSE board or for competitive exams. Other than higher education reference books, there are books for competitive exams like JEE and NEET.
The book factory, which runs two shifts of eight hours each, has a built-in area of 10,000-sqft. The founders say, “As a publisher, we provide the best quality of content, which helps the students to gain knowledge. We do not compromise in the quality of content and naturally, this gets extended to the print and binding quality. We integrated backward as we were not getting the quality from the market despite willing to pay the price.”
That’s how the factory boasts of two WB@2500 and a full range of case-binding machines. This includes the Starplus case-maker, casing-in and joint forming and a Wohlenberg gatherer plus three-knife trimmers. This is backed by a Heidelberg four-colour press as well as three Rota Print web presses.
The founders, speaking exclusively to PrintWeek, explains, “Since 2018, the Impel-Welbound team in North India, led by Anil Kumar, has given us great support in our binding unit. We trust its quality and technical support. When we dared to set up our own hard cover binding system, we could not think of anyone else.”
The training at Shri Balaji Publications included Impel-Welbound’s top managers, including the division’s CEO Rohin Kumar, visiting the headquarters in Muzzafarnagar.
But there is a story within the story. The Shri Balaji team built the factory from scratch in three months. During that period, the machines were installed plus the books were being produced in-house. Neeraj Bhardwaj says, “As publishers, our jobs were outsourced till December 2017. Then, at the start of 2018, we thought of having an in-house printing press.”
Bhardwaj continues, “This was a risk, which we took, as this decision was in the midst of our peak academic book season.” When asked why they opted for this disruption, Bhardwaj says, “We took this step because we were not getting the quality in books. Our books were being delayed in the market and we had rejections as these did not meet our quality aspirations.”
Beneath the veneer of textbook production, there is a lot of complexity. For example, the books for JEE and NEET require a huge number of versions and revisions. These require complex organisation and need a very agile print production facility. Bharadwaj says, “Some of the books have runs that are above one lakh, and sometimes we need to break and continue to produce books in parallel. Every day is a new day in learning.”
The team at Shri Balaji is grateful. Ashish Bhardwaj says, “We had huge support Impel-Welbound that helped us set up and turnaround jobs fast.”
Prabhat Bhardwaj adds, “We never thought of producing hard cover books in-house. And when we set this up, with the support from Impel-Welbound, the company advised us on everything that can go wrong or right, and we felt confident.”
Rohin Kumar, CEO of Impel’s hard cover machines vertical with an automatic case-maker
The Impel-Welbound group, after establishing and streamlining the soft cover book production in Bengaluru, decided to foray into the hard cover book segment. Suresh Nair, director, Impel-Welbound, says, “In our erstwhile avatar in the partnership with the Kerala-based Intimate Machines Group, we were always focused on soft cover bookbinding. We had internal expertise with respect to application, thanks to our partnership with Henkel Adhesives. We did not look at making hard cover machines as the segment already had a few suppliers clamouring for sales.”
Nair continues, “However, every time we were having a discussion with a new customer – usually a commercial printer establishing in-house bookbinding, the requirement used to come up. Even our existing customers complained about the lack of quality hard cover-making equipment. While there were some solutions, the casing-in and finishing operations remained the forte of artisans; or you needed to import machines.”
There are top class solutions for book-block making, from companies like Joy D- Sign; but there was a gap when it came to quality solutions for hard cover books.
Nair continues, “Instead of starting from the scratch, we teamed up with experts in the field, like Rohin Kumar, who comes with the experience of running a company manufacturing such machines. We gave it the capital and design infrastructure to come up with products that will handle the diverse requirement in commercial printing, be it sizes, material or productivity.”
The Impel-Welbound team added after-sales support which included solid training in the technology so that the process becomes fool-proof.
The unlocking, which began in May 2020, threw up challenges which have not been witnessed before. Availability of material, labour and technical support remained among the top of issues faced by book printing.
Machines were stranded without trained manpower or they broke down and refused to work.
Rohin Kumar, CEO of Impel’s hard cover machines division, says, “Impel-Welbound differentiated itself by being able to supply raw material, spare parts and after-sales support, just in time despite all the challenges.” He adds, “We had engineers based out of places like Guwahati, Mathura, Kolhapur – and for the customers facing an operational challenge, this was a huge relief. A few customers looked at this as a signal for trying out the hard cover solutions from us. And this resulted in sales to markets like Hyderabad, Vijayawada, Bengaluru, Chandigarh, NCR region and so on.”
Kumar signs off, “Quality is part of the Shri Balaji’s eco-system and its takes pride in delivering a book with the right content and quality.” Case in point, a voluminous, two inches plus Physics textbook – Advanced Problems in Physics.