Nutech: Shaping a Future in Books - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

By 15 Sep 2019

Nutech Print Services - India is in the news because of the recent installation of a brand new RMGT, an A-format press.

In the Sunday Column, read about Ravi Shroff's vision about the humble book on the eve of Frankfurt Book Fair where his company will be parked in Hall 6.1 Stand D39

Ravi Shroff, managing director at Nutech Print Services- India

Q: Kudos on the new press. What is the role it is expected to play?
A:
Keeping in mind the changing needs of the book publishing market, we feel that the RMGT A-format presses are extremely productive. It's a perfect fit for a market that is extremely cost-conscious, and where print-runs are becoming shorter by the day. Consumption patterns have shifted over the last few years, and by taking cognizance of this trend, we have phased out several B-format presses in favour of smaller 36-inch presses. With the addition of this press to our existing battery of presses, we are equipped to fulfil our customers' needs better.

Q: What are the things that Nutech will be focusing on in 2019-20?
A: Looking at current headwinds in the global economy, Nutech Print Services – India is looking to consolidate its position as a dominant player in the market. The new RMGT press is symbolic of our commitment to continuously improve our offerings. We are also investing heavily in human capital. We believe that sustainable growth can be achieved not by offering the lowest price, but by improving skill sets and customer offerings — and thus creating better value. We are in business for the long haul, and this financial year will see progress on multiple fronts to achieve this goal.    

Q: There have been three phases in Nutech's strategy in the past few years. Be it: the new investment, the Faridabad factory project, or the streamlining of your publishing work. How do you plan the execution?
A: The Nutech book dream started at Drupa 2004, as we signed up for two brand-new four-colour presses. Reflecting over the past 15 years, we have seen our dream mature, and take us on journeys we could not even fathom at the time. All this has been possible due to continuously positioning Nutech strategically in a market that is more competitive now than ever. 

Q: Describe the Nutech journey …
A: Our journey has involved several sensitive decisions over the years - our exit from the commercial printing space or shuttering multiple smaller plants in favour of consolidating resources at one large plant. We believe that for the business to succeed, our focus has to be razor-sharp on our core offering: high-quality book printing. By consolidating our operations in Faridabad, we have created a conducive ecosystem for book printing, while creating economies of scale — all of which have helped us grow continuously. While it may seem that new investments or opportunities for growth are staggered, the execution is a non-stop process. 

Q: In what way?
A: By developing the organisation in a manner that middle- and senior-level managers can take decisions independent of the promoters, which is a key attribute for small/medium businesses to achieve long-term sustainable growth.   

Q: How do you cope with quality expectations and the constant deadline pressure from your clients?
A: A significant part of quality expectations and the pressure for quick turnarounds from clients involves managing expectations to a realistic level. Due to the ever-increasing focus on price, a lot of publishers now prefer to use B-grade paper for their projects. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this (au contraire, I feel that this is a much-needed impetus for domestic mills to improve their products as they start competing with their global peers), such papers currently cannot achieve the same quality as A-grade paper. Many times, there are issues with certain aspects of the paper that erodes process efficiency (especially in the printing stage: longer makeready, slower output etc).

Q: Do you have a process in place to tackle all this?
A: To tackle this, and to reduce human/ process-driven errors, Nutech is currently designing and implementing its ERP — a cloud-based solution that facilitates the measurement of metrics and movement of information in real-time. It will lead to quicker and better decision-making on the fly, compensating for some of the process inefficiencies created by the quality of raw inputs.

Q: As the head of Nutech, how do you set the direction of the press and communicate to your team and help them do their best work? 
A: I set goals and expectations for the organisation as a whole, and then empower my employees with the resources needed to exceed those expectations. While I do not believe in micromanaging, I am heavily involved in the day-to-day operations of the business on a grassroots level, often relying on the collective experience and knowledge of the team. 

Q: How so?
A: We regularly conduct training exercises, and after each challenging project, we reflect over the lessons learned, and how to do a better job next time. Knowledge is what empowers us, and what drives us to push higher.

Q: Very nice.
A: Yes, I once read: "Choose your boss, not your job". I aspire to be the boss that people would love to choose over others.

Q: You print many types of books. Please share with us what is transpiring in the book printing space in India.
A: While there is a massive expansion in the consumption of books, the approach is becoming far more disciplined. The shorter runs are indicative of publishers not wanting to sit on inventory for more extended periods or having to pulp them later. It makes forecasting the timing of stock of raw materials (inventory), especially paper, much harder for printers, especially in the face of volatile prices and shifting supply chains. Book printers today must have a good understanding of the market to be able to offer competitive numbers, convert jobs, and execute projects on time. 

Q: What are the steps you have undertaken to make the business more client-focused, and more importantly, simplify your structure to make it easier for clients to navigate?
A: We have diversified our team to include sales coordinators: they act as “relationship managers” for the customer and as internal liaisons. It enables them to execute the tasks in a timely fashion. But for any reason that is not the case, they can flag and escalate the issue for appropriate resolution. Clients directly work with our coordinators for all their needs. We have fine-tuned our organisational structure to build multiple redundancies to reduce single points of failure. For key accounts now, we assign two account managers. These measures bring massive benefits for both, the business and our customers’ satisfaction.

Q: People speak of the price of print remaining constant in contrast to the print inflation. Do you remember the book print prices of the eighties as compared to now?
A: Until 2004, Nutech was not in the book printing business. While I do not have insight going back 30 years, the last 15 years have also seen massive changes — prices have not kept up with costs. It has become a low-margin business with profits coming from the ability of a company to drive significant volumes.

Q: In a single phrase, what does the print industry in India need to build on the strengths that we already have? 
A: Better knowledge. Undercutting the competition in terms of price has become the industry norm.

Q: Now please elaborate.
A: I have spoken extensively about this in the past — and my position on this is straightforward. If the print industry wants to survive for the long haul, we need to build cohesiveness first within the industry, and that starts with better knowledge. Many players do not understand cost structures and undertake jobs by quoting unrealistically low prices. It has far-reaching consequences. It leads to unanchored price expectations from customers, and it distorts healthy competition. It is good to be competitive, but not at the price of your long-term viability. Time and again, we have seen respected players in the space shut shop due to this fundamental error. Over-leveraging your business, and then also expecting it to be able to absorb volatile revenues in an ever-changing (uncertain) business environment is a recipe for disaster.

Q: Last time we met, you mentioned more standardisation of press control at Nutech. What are the process and the tools?
A: We have undertaken steps to standardise press results. This standardisation is a multi-stage operation. It begins with the bare basics: pressroom temperature and RH, good maintenance, and high operator skill. We have mapped subtle differences in the dot output for each of our presses and created curves to compensate for deviances in expected values (according to ISO 12647/ FOGRA standards) at the pre-press stage. We have installed closed-loop colour management systems and other pressroom tools to reduce makeready times, and increase consistency over the entire print run of jobs.

Q: How do you manage that? 
A: Our suppliers help with all such endeavours by conducting audits, providing training on the shopfloor, as well as creating custom solutions for our input processes and materials. 

Q: When we walked around your press the last time, you mentioned automation as a way of life in the print business. How does this work in a business seen as a combination of art and science?  
A: While you are correct in saying that this business is both an art and science, I like to see it as a craft. However, it is my firm belief that standardised processes that can be automated must be automated. The long-term benefits concerning quality and efficiency make it easy to recover such investments. Over the last 36 months, Nutech has installed machinery for a lot of ancillary processes that were earlier reliant on human labour. The payback for such investments is usually rapid, and the results are palpable.

Q: One final question. Your view about ‘e’ or ‘digital’?
A: While the market for e-books has found a niche among business travellers and specific segments of the demographic, e-books do not pose a threat to traditional paperback and hardbound books. However, we are noticing a significant shift towards the digital medium, especially as print runs become shorter. The ability of the newer generations of digital machines to maintain colour accuracy is incredible, and this is a segment that Nutech plans to foray into with time.

Nutech at Frankfurt Book Fair

Q: Will you be at FBF 2019 from 16 to 20 October this year?
A: We are most definitely exhibiting our services at the Frankfurt Book Fair. Even while global trade is muted, the current trade war between the United States and China puts India in a unique position. We can leverage and divert business that would otherwise have flowed into the Chinese mainland. The current USD/ INR exchange rate is also favourable for this. Nutech has consistently attended shows such as the ones at Frankfurt and London since 2004, and has established itself as a reliable supplier for the publishing industry.

Q: Your take about shows like FBF and LBF and its benefits?
A: Shows such as Frankfurt and London allow us to increase brand visibility for Nutech. Even if the business is slow right now, once it picks up, customers better recognise your company, and can decide to place work. We also use this as an opportunity to regroup with existing clients to reflect over the past year of business, and plan better for upcoming projects.

 

The Nutech Group

Q: In the late eighties and early nineties, the Shroff brothers were setting out. Your memories of the Nutech Group … 
A: The Nutech Group has seen multiple evolutions since its inception over five decades ago by our father, Late KL Shroff. Our focus on customer satisfaction has driven specialisation in fields such as packaging, security printing, and the labels business. Nutech Packagings has moved operations to a brand-new facility in Greater Noida that has a pronounced focus on reducing their carbon footprint. To this effect, a brand new Heidelberg UV seven-colour + coater sheetfed press has been commissioned, and is their workhorse for all seasons. Nutech Labels has substantially increased its market presence, marked by the investments in the Gallus ECS 340 line of presses.

Q: What has changed in the past 30 years, and how do you learn from each other?
A: We continuously receive jobs for which we use synergies from all our business verticals to deliver superior products. Our shared experiences have helped us learn and grow into thriving businesses in a competitive landscape.

 

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