Ramu Ramanathan (RR): JC, what is the secret of your pre-press team? And how has pre-press made Veepee a game changer?
Jaichandra (JC): We stepped into the flexo pre-press business in 1995. It was a huge learning curve for the first five years, as we were primarily an offset service bureau. Mastering the art of flexo pre-press was a challenge. It needed a close understanding of the whole printing process. In 2000, we had the option of either investing in a digital imager or strengthen our pre-press skills with more advanced packaging software to foster our business. Eventually, in 2002, we decided to invest in software and workflow. Esko was our choice. It was the only company to understand the flexo process completely. Towards the end of 2006, we actually invested in our first digital imager. The only way to be distinct from our competition was to focus on our core competences, which were pre-press skills.
With a good piece of equipment anybody can make good plates, but what makes or breaks the job is what goes into the pre-press. Thereafter from 2002 till date, we have invested huge amount of money on automation and software to increase our productivity, reduce errors and wastage, and thereby maximise our profits.
RR: If you can just share a little bit of Veepee’s journey from the 90s till now, how did Veepee begin and where is it now?
JC: Veepee started its journey in 1961 as a design studio. Commercial art was our core business till the early 70's. Our major clientele were letter press printers. Entering the pre-press business was more because of our customers who wanted the designs as well as the printing blocks from one roof. Zinc and copper block making was our main focus till the early 1980s until offset printing revolutionised the printing industry. Being the front runners of the industry, it was easy for us to venture into offset litho. We are one of the early investors in drum scanners and imagesetters. With the saturation of the bureau business in the mid 90s, we were on the lookout for new avenues to invest. That is when flexographic printing caught our attention and realising the potential of the process, we did not think twice before moving ahead with the project.
RR: So, you have been masters of many technologies – letterpress, offset and now flexo. How did your journey begin with Esko at that time in 2002? How did you decide to take the risk of investing in this sort of expensive technology? How did that journey begin and why did you specifically select Esko?
JC: Once we decided to strengthen our pre-press infrastructure in 2002, we evaluated both Esko Graphics as well as ArtPro as our solution provider. Though price was important, the decision to join hands with Esko was driven with the fact that they had the perfect solution for both, front end as well as imaging. Therefore, it was more of a conscience decision to work with a company who were focused on our core interest, which was flexo pre-press and plates. Technology always comes at a price and we acknowledge the fact that Esko has invested huge sum of money on R&D to be where they are today.
RR: What are the things that Veepee did while partnering with Esko along the way? Three highlights, if you could say, in the last 15 years, which set it apart from everyone.
JC: First and foremost, investing in the right software. We have realised that though automation is expensive, it pays back over a period of time. Increased productivity, reduced errors, thereby decreased wastage ultimately translates into profits. Second highlight was the most challenging decision we took to invest in the right imager. In 2006, when we decided to go for our first digital imager, though we had a couple of options, the decision to go ahead with the CDI was a logical decision, as we had fully fledged Esko workflow in place by then. What followed later was even better because with our in-depth understanding of the process, we were able to adapt to the new technological developments introduced by Esko over the years. Lastly, assisting in print standardisation and colour management, which helped us retain our customers over the years.
RR: So this is a good time to invest in HD.
RR : a) Your observation about HD and b) what has of technological benefits have you accrued from it?
JC: With our investment on the digital imager in 2006 there was a huge transition in quality, as we could reproduce finer highlights which were always challenging with cconventional plates. Yet, getting a vanishing vignette was still an area of concern. This problem was addressed by the HD screening technology, which has a combination of FM and AM screening. With HD, we could actually achieve offset and gravure print quality through flexo.
RR: When did you invest in HD technology? How long was the learning curve?
JC: HD screening technology was implemented along with our second imager with the inline UV in the year 2009, which was the first installation of its kind in South East Asia. Inline UV could hold dots as small as 20 microns on the plate which was essentially required to reproduce fine highlights. As the imaging and the UV exposing is done in the same machine, we could maintain consistency on the quality and do away with the bank exposure which was an additional operation. The technology was entirely new to us and took about six months of internal R&D to produce a good quality commercial plate.
With the technology advancement from digital round to flat top dots, we installed our third imager with full HD in 2012. Again, this was the first machine to be installed in the South Asian region. Though, we had our past experience and in-depth understanding of the flexo printing machine and process, it still took us more than six months to stabilise. This was quite an uphill task, but at the end of the day it did pay off.
RR: So, we will talk about your team. You mentioned it is a lean and mean team. The other thing that emerges is also an extremely young team. Again, two parts to the question. A: How do you knowledge share within the organisation and B: Considering the scale and size of your team and the amount of work you are doing, how do you ensure that the knowledge platform is equal within the organisation?
JC: Yes, we work with a lean mean team and we have created an environment wherein we have the least labour turnaround. Our payouts are much higher than the industry standard and the work atmosphere is world class. We believe in knowledge sharing within the team so that everyone gets a chance to learn and grow within the organisation. When there is a new software launch, the Esko team is hired to train our team. Our periodical internal training sessions keep them updated with the technology. Our company’s philosophy is, “As the company grows everyone in the organisation grow.” My team believes in this.
RR: The kind of technological structure you have?
JC: We are proud to claim ourselves as a paperless organisation. Our ERP was developed internally and implemented six years back. Most of the job inputs are by mail and a unique job number is created and assigned to the preflighting team. Once the preflight is done, the job is assigned to the editing team who works on 12 seats of package with automation engine, along with the colour management and QA software with two FlexRips, all working on the latest version. We also have few licences of CorelDraw as well as Illustrator. On completion of the editing and ripping, the job is moved to the QC department before it is assigned for plate making. Our ERP system not only tracks the jobs during the entire process, but also helps improve our efficiency and productivity. Towards the end of the year with the upgradation of our ERP, customers will be able to upload, approve and track the jobs till dispatch, online.
RR: You do 150 odd per day average, which is a mix of labels, flexible packaging, corrugated and book work for the top and not so big brands. You cater to the length and breadth of the country. A basic of sense of your workflow.
JC: We cater to the narrow web, wide web (flexible packaging), corrugated carton as well as the book ruling industry. We see a paradigm shift from gravure to flexo in flexible packaging mainly because of the environmental awareness, flexibility of operation and cost effectiveness of the process. As of today, the major pie of the business is from narrow web and flexible packaging, but the corrugated business is also growing manifolds as we see a shift from the basic spot colour jobs in pre-print to the more complex graphics on post print. “Customer is the king whether big or small” is our ideology. All jobs, irrespective of the customer, have to go through the set process. The organisation works on systems and not for an iindividual. This has helped us maintain consistency and increase the scale of operation with our lean mean team.
RR: How do you prepare your organisation, which is young and upward, for the future? What is the strategy you have for the future?
JC: Keeping up with the technological upgradation and living up to our customer’s expectations will be our main focus. This is the mantra of keeping competition at bay. With a young, talented and skilled team backed by futuristic thinking, we will be able to achieve our goal. As this business is getting localised, going multi location is a possibility.
RR: How does JC, a fitness freak who does gyming and everything, keep his team fit? What is the training that the organisation you put through to stay a) ahead of the game or b) to be a game changer. Do you provide any kind of training?
JC: As mentioned earlier, most of the training happens within the group. The processes are quite clearly laid down, and we ensure that everyone in the team follows it. The initial print standardisation and creating of the press profiles are done hands on by me. We work very closely with each and every customer and establish a tailor made pre-press solution. We evaluate the productivity of each individual, understand the flaws in the process and plug them at the natal stage before it creates major damage.
RR: One final question. Flexo relatively is a baby technology and still is in a huge process of metamorphosis. Three very simple Veepee mantras that you would like to share with your 150 customers?
JC: Well it starts with choosing the right configuration of the press, which entirely depends on the market segment you intend to service. Secondly, work with vendors of plates, inks and substrates who can give technical support as this industry is ever evolving. Third and most important, have standardisation and a proper colour management in place. Leave the colour management to the plate and ink supplier. The printer’s duty is to print and not to manage colour on the press to achieve the desired result. This will help you to get the job first time and every time right! And most important, pay me my dues on time!
The VeePee and Esko partnership
Esko is one of my extended families. The 13-year partnership has seen the companies grow big, which explains why it's so special. Changing vendors just for commercial benefits is against our company policy. We weigh business and relationship equally, which we strongly believe will go a long way.
Apart from the Veepee team and Esko, I have another member in my extended family, that is DuPont. We work very closely with both the teams when it comes to adaptation of new technology, but eventually what differentiates us from competition having similar technology is our in-depth understanding of the processes and customising the technology to suit our customer’s needs. This has been our strength and USP from the very beginning.