Pragati’s Narendra: 42 years of redefining print in India - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

By 12 Jan 2020

On 8 January, P Narendra of Pragati Offset was awarded the Viren Chabbra Print Leadership Award instituted by the All India Federation of Master Printers. Narendra spoke during the conference “Redefining Printing - Brainstorm with World Leaders”.

In this Sunday Column, PrintWeek shares excerpts from the speech

When I was preparing my talk I was going around in circles as to what I should speak about. Especially when so many august speakers shall be addressing the audience. I decided that I would like to present an overview on the decades that went by – how we had our disruptions, how we adapted and how we have to be prepared for a future where the technology is growing exponentially.

To begin at the beginning, I joined Pragati on 1 May 1978. This means, I will complete 42 years in four months. We grew up in and around the press, but I did not know much of the technicalities. After graduation and working in another field for three years, I ventured into my father’s business. One of the first question, I encountered was “Halftone main kaunsa screen daalu?”  Believe me, I had never heard this word halftone in my five years of engineering. I am a chemical engineer. Or should I say I was a chemical engineer. That is where I started my career. At the bottom.

Knowledge is power
I was able to lay my hands on the British Printer and American Lithographer in the government textbook press. I sourced a lot of information from these books. And so, I subscribed to many magazines from the US and UK. Reading these, my path towards progress (Pragati) was formed. Our college tag-line was “Knowledge is power”. Believe me it is true.

Adapt to change
The next point I would like to delve upon is adapting ourselves to change. Technology keeps on changing. People talk about disruption. But over the years, all of us have seen so many disruptions and adapted ourselves. When I joined the company we had lead type-composing by hand. In a year, we invested in a photocomposing machine – our first computer. This was the first disruption and the first step in the ladder we climbed in our business.

Big disruptions
Initially we used to grind zinc plates and make plates with egg albumin. Then we shifted to anodised aluminium plates and then PS plates and then CTP which was a big disruption in our market. But there was a time lag, unlike today.

Continue to adapt
We did colour separation with masking. Then we opted for scanners, systems, desktops to Macs and to digital photography. Pragati adapted to this, too.

Deploy systems
The one big thing that pushed us ahead was the advent of the personal computer. Our first set of PCs were used as inputting terminals. But the major push came in when we put a five-computer network and had a software for our quotation and workflow in 1992. This gave a big boost and we could churn out quotes at a moments notice.

This has been one of my biggest contributions to Pragati. Also we opted for computerisation and MIS, we insisted that we invoice all the jobs. As everything was recorded in the system, we could not mess around with the accounts. Again, this turned out to be a blessing in disguise. We had money in the bank and could pay all our vendor partners on time.

Move to packaging
In 1996, we registered www.pragati.com  and we got into surfing the amazing net. We could understand that we can never fight the net. We also thought the catalogue and brochure business would be affected. So we ventured into packaging. It turned out to be a good move as two-third of our business is packaging; and one third is commercial printing.

New technologies
In exhibitions like Pamex, we find new technologies doing wonderful things like automation and inline processes. We are five months away from Drupa 2020 wherein you will see many more innovations. Digital will encompass almost all the fields and this is where the challenge is for most of the Indian print firms. The amount of IT prowess required is huge.

Select digital prudently, collaborate with a pre-press company. Both would be  good options. Or create a pre-press department, and do jobs in a small way and send it to a bureau to output. When you are ready, you can purchase the output device.

Cost factor
Now we come to the cost. Buying these new tech machines, learning, making mistakes etc, believe me, there are many etcs, which have a cost. And these costs have to be amortised. We do not have much time either. As technology is growing at an exponential pace, in a couple of years, much better machines costing same or less will appear. We have to earn our money.

Drupa 2020
At Drupa, there will be demos of many digital machines like Landa, Komori, Canon, Screen, Durst, Konica etc. Most of them will be running live. Guesstimate for the machine prices is between one to five million dollars. How many of us can afford it? When will we amortize it? I am of the opinion that offset will continue for many years to come.

Internationally, the experts say, 40 to 50% of the market will be offset.  This is by far the cheapest and quality is good. But imagine a scenario where all the pharma cartons have to be with variable data with track and trace, then we have no choice. We have to invest in a digital press. Taking the right decision at the right time is the key to success.

Keep learning
As I said in the beginning of my talk – knowledge is power. So we have to be at the forefront, keep learning, keep updating ourselves at all time. As they say, change is the only constant; and we should keep adapting to that change always. Otherwise we will be left behind.

Green is good
One of the important aspects of printing now is eco-friendliness. Pragati is an eco-friendly company. Forests consume CO2 and produce oxygen. Paper is recyclable. But if laminated, paper/board will become composite materials and go into a landfill, it will be good. We must work hard to produce green products using metal transfer or gravure or cold foil.  This is the need of the day.

Friends with customers
We have to be the consultants to our clients since we do printing for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We know a lot more about printing than they will ever do. We must make it a point to educate the client on key aspects that we can build into the carton/label to thwart counterfeiting. Counterfeit goods and medicines etc are a huge problem. All of us must take it on ourselves to learn how to produce packaging which is not easy to copy. We must raise the tech-bar constantly.

When people are copying currency notes, they will try to copy everything. I cannot stomach it that people make counterfeit medicines/masala/milk and fake food items. As a consultant we must advise the customer on tech specs, eco-friendliness as well as TAT which keep in view their business and cash flow. 

Client is key
Now we come to the most important person in our business: The Client. The purchase department wants it cheaper than last year. We can do that only if the specs are changed. As such, the cost of running business is rising every year. Over the years, we have boosted our efficiencies. We have passed on many tech benefits to the clients. The point is, there is not much more to reduce the cost or increase the efficiency.

Take care of yourself
All of you travel in an aircraft. A familiar safety drill is carried out at the beginning of every flight. I would like you to recall the scene where the air hostess is explaining that if there is a problem, oxygen masks drop from above. And she tells us, to first look after yourself and then help the baby or someone besides you. I would like this picture to be permanently embedded in your memory. Please take care of yourselves, first. We can look after others if we are in a safe zone.

Only one reason to be in business ...
There is only one reason to do business. To make money. If we do not, it will not sustain itself. We need not look at obscene profits. But we must make a reasonable amount to sustain ourselves and more importantly to reinvest in this business so that we can serve the client better. It has to be a win-win situation. Cut throat competition must be avoided. Unfortunately, we are cutting our own throats.

People power
While we have the client on one side, we have an equally important workforce on the other. In today’s world we can buy technology, import any material but we need good people to man the machines and extract the best result. If there is one thing that is in shortage in India, it is people. Ironic but true. So we have to keep looking for people, keep on training, look after them well and make sure they feel that the company is theirs. Only then can they produce their best.

Succession plan
As good businessmen we have to look at a succession plan. This cannot be done overnight. We have to plan for it.

Let’s do our best and try to ensure that make in India is a huge success.n

P Narendra’s mantras

  • Invest wisely. Good time to collaborate and cooperate.
  • Knowledge is power. Keep learning all the time.
  • We must make money to keep the business sustainable.
  • Think green / biodegradable.
  • Finishing and embellishment is as important as print. Concentrate on this. Be hatke.
  • Choose your vendor partners wisely. It makes a big difference in the long run.
  • Clients need us too. Become advisors to your client and not just a supplier.
  • Continuity of business. Who will take over from you and is that way clear. It is very important if the business owner is getting older.
  • Invest in people. That is the most important asset we can build.

 

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