“Change is inevitable in the print industry”

AMSG Ashokan, the new president of All India Federation of Master Printers, comes with multiple job stints in government committees. These include the vice president of the Sivakasi municipality as well as the chairman of Capexil. Recently he spelled out his plans and concerns, both near and long-term, in an interview with Anand Limaye of Mumbai Mudrak Sangh (MMS) and Noel D’cunha from PrintWeek India.

28 Nov 2013 | By Anand Limaye & Noel D'Cunha

Anand Limaye (AL) and Noel D’cunha (ND): Congratulations on your ascension as the President of AIFMP. AIFMP is among the oldest group in India. How will the Federation continue to be relevant to its members over the years ahead?
AMSG Ashokan (AMSGA): The Federation is celebrating its 60th year. It has done lots of services to printers all over India and will continue to do so. We will be concentrating the skills of our workers as well as improving the printing institute so that our human resources catch up with the latest technical advancement. There are many small printers all over India and one of our activities would be to encourage them with proper technical knowledge to raise the standards.
AL: Tell us a bit about yourself?
AMSGA: Basically I am from the second generation industrial family in Sivakasi. We manufacture safety matches, fireworks, aluminum powder for fireworks (leading manufacturer of matches and fireworks in south India) and then commercial printing. We have a diploma college with various disciplines including printing technology and a matriculation school. My father was dedicated to the public activities as well and the legacy is being carried by me. I was the vice chairman in the Sivakasi Municipality (2006 to 2011) and chairman, Capexil (from 2003 to date). I have also represented many government and business organisation advisory committees like department of labour and employment, fireworks, national safety council, match industries, the Tamil Nadu Chamber of Commerce, tiny and small scale industries etc.
ND: You had identified disposal of rubbish educating the youth on the dangers of inadequate refuse disposal and importance of recycling as so​me of the central concerns during your stint at Sivakasi Municipal corporation. Aren’t these concerns similar to what the Indian print industry faces? I am sure you must have set goals as the president of the AIFMP?
AMSGA: Owing to the disposal concerns for the print industry with strict pollution control measures, we highlight our affiliate members to invest in a common facility centre (CFC) on the capital equipment for recycling and proper waste disposal. We will also make our affiliates to adopt green and eco-friendly technology. Though it will be difficult for the small printers to adopt this, we will educate them to adhere­ to pollution control and local municipal by-laws. Also our AIFMP joint secretary (Environment, chairman) has published a book on this; it will be circulated to all the member so that print firms can adopt it.
ND: What’s happening to the proposed print clusters in Sivakasi? And the other proposals, including the solar power generation, you’ve been pushing for the Sivakasi print fraternity?
AMSGA: The Sivakasi printing cluster is in the final phase of implementation. We have already purchased four acres of land and constructed 12,000 square foot building, where a brand new Heidelberg CD 102 five-colour plus coater is being installed. A Kodak CTP system and an Itoh Tech cutting machine from Japan will also be in place soon.
We are also planning to take this cluster program all over India so that the small printers will accrue more benefit.
Regarding the solar power generation, since it is capital intensive, it will take some more time. We also expect the financial institutions to approve and support the project which is going to be the future.
AL: How do you balance your duties at the Arasan Group of Industries and with those of the AIFMP?
AMSGA: Time is of the essence. All busy people have time for everything by managing the time management, which I have learnt from JCI (Junior Chamber International). I will allocate my duties equally over my family, business and for the AIFMP.
AL: The field of printing in India, it is claimed has evolved during the last decade, would you like to comment on this evolution?
AMSGA: The printing industry has evolved during the last decade. More Indian editions of the foreign magazines are being printed in India which is at par with international editions. Packaging, printing for pharmaceutical, food, liquor and personal care products, have made tremendous advancement. Digital printing is also growing.
ND: Among your ambitious calendar of events, Pamex is one. You comments?
AMSGA: Pamex in one of the important events. It is like Drupa and Ipex but at a national level. We intend to make the printers and small converters to visit the Pamex who cannot participate in the international exhibitions to upgrade their knowledge and invest in the latest technology.
ND: What we can expect in terms of product launches? Is there anything special our readers can look forward to experiencing at the show this year?
AMSGA: You will find latest technologies exhibited in the Pamex. Worldwide printing organisations will be invited to exhibit their new product lines.
AL: The economic and political situation of the country seems to be hurting the industries in India, putting the print Industry in a flux and the declining value of the Rupee is not helping the print industry’s growth, at least the way in which it was expected to be. Will these factors affect the show? What are the challenges?
AMSGA: Yes the present situation is hurting the industry. Let us all hope that the situation will improve. Any industry will have the challenges and opportunities and we need to convert the challenges into the opportunity. The falling rupee value is beneficial for exporters.
We need to publish and propagate the Pamex exhibition in a big way through affiliates so that large number of printers and print buyers will visit the show.
ND: Why is attending Pamex, so important for a print CEO? What should they focus on, during the show?
AMSGA: Every CEO of the print house must visit Pamex to shift them towards adopting the latest technologies which helps cost control in print production. They should put more focus on eco friendly technology and digital printing.
ND: Some print companies have incorporated the best practices in their business and their pursuit of excellence towards this single purpose of success has been astounding. Has AIFMP identified such best practices for management in any line of print business?
AMSGA: Printing was an art and now it is 100% science and the application of the best practices can be adapted to the print industry in a scientific way.
This year we have proposed to do more programs to create awareness among the printers about the best practices for management in their print business. These programs will be done through vice presidents of the respective regions in different locations. They will report the same in each governing council meetings and exchange of ideas from different regions.
ND: Investment in equipment is the key to putting the best practices in place? What type of equipment should every print business invest in?
AMSGA: Investment on the latest technology machines which will bring down the wastage and reduce the printing time. Plus there should be finishing lines for value-addition of the printed products. And finally there should be best practices in place. The technology up radation needs huge investment which needs to be encouraged under the technology upgradation fund scheme like TUFS (similar scheme which is available for the textile industry).
AL: Coming back to the presidentship, what is your benchmark to consider your AIFMP leadership to be a success?
AMSGA: Membership growth, seminars, training programmes for old to young and vice versa, to create awareness on best practices in production.
Long time vision projects like  a world class testing lab of international standards and investment on this line will be encouraged.
Finally put the proper system in place so that even if I am not there the system will take care of the activities of the AIFMP in future.
AL: How do you see the print industry evolving in the next five ten years?
AMSGA: Change is inevitable in the print industry. The industry is changing and growing at a faster speed. The advent of computer as well as online print ordering has lowered the cost. Lot of time and money will be invested constantly, in optimising crucial workflows to sustain the growth despite many challenges. So we have to move with it or else you will be left behind.
The Indian printing industry is thus poised to achieve 80% growth during the 12th five year plan.

Limaye (l) in conversation with Ashokan: