"Two decades ago, printing was not a respectable business. It was called a chhaapakhana"

For more than 40 years, Bal Krishan Khindria, founding partner of Delhi-based Memory Repro Systems, has been at the forefront of change. He witnessed the shift from hot metal composing to photocomposing, film setters, DTPs, scanners to CTPs, and, on printing side, from letterpress to offset. The manufacturer of press equipments is now moving towards print packaging. He shares his knowhow with Dibyajyoti Sarma and Rahul Kumar of PrintWeek India.

06 Dec 2016 | By PrintWeek India

The mood was upbeat as Khindria ushered us into his office. The previous day (17 June), Memory Repro Systems signed a contract with Brüggen, Germany-based chemical manufacture Hanns Eggen to market and sell its products in India. The company, which manufactures pre- and post-press equipment, will market the pressroom chemical products with the help of its Chennai-based sister concern Press Sense. Agreeing that the Indian pressroom chemicals market, worth Rs 150-crore, is fiercely competitive with many players, Khindria said, “We want to jump into the fray with better products, most of which will be used in the packaging industry, where consistency is an issue.”

Recently, the company signed an agreement with UK-based Man Mat, for ProCrease, an advanced creasing matrix technology.

Khindria who did his graduation from Delhi University and joined a travel agency soon after, eventually left the job after six years to start his journey in print. He said, “I was looking for a change and got an opportunity with Monotype. I knew the manager, Kumaran, who sent me to Bangalore for the final interview with Collier, manager, India operations. He asked me how much I knew about printing. I said I did not know anything.”

Khindria joined Monotype on 15 September, 1970 as a liaison-cum-sales executive. “I remember the date as it was my girlfriend’s birthday,” he said. Among other people he met at Monotype, there was NS Manku, who, Khindria said, was a great teacher. “He helped me learn the principals of printing business,” he said.

Khindria worked at Monotype for 10 years before starting Memory. “Chadha, who is my partner now, had developed a machine called re-melting furnace, for the mono/slug casting machines. The machine was used to melt the typeface metals at a measured temperature,” he said. “We were successful in manufacturing and selling the machine, and for many years, we sold them through Monotype and other agents. We had a small place in Paharganj, Delhi. We used to outsource machines fabrication and assembly.”

Meanwhile, at Monotype, it was a period of transition. “By 1972, I was convinced that the time for ‘hot metal’ is over and offset was the future,” he said. While reminiscing about the North Indian print industry of the 60's and 70's he said, “There were some really good printers, like Thomson Press, Mehta Offset, India Offset, to name a few. Jalandhar in Punjab was full of printers and Ludhiana was coming up in a big way, along with the packaging industry.”

Khindria said, unlike today, back then printers were not aware of changing technologies. “We used to teach them. Monotype had hot metal and photocomposing machines. They were the first to introduce a new machine called Alphacom. Printing was not a respectable business. It was called a chhaapakhana. It was a manual, time-consuming affair. Again, you needed space to set up a printing unit. You needed labour. Even the owners were not educated. I was convinced that times were changing and soon, printers would have to shift from letterpress to offset.”

Yet, one cannot deny the contribution of Monotype, the technology trendsetter of its time. Khindria added, “The problem with Monotype was that the people, who were handling India operations, were not foresighted. They had limited products and had wrong notions about them. They failed to move ahead with time. When Memory came up, we started making better machines. We were the first to introduce Memory-made register and plate punches in the market.”

He concedes that Monotype was huge in India in those days. He said, "It was because they did not have competition. If anyone wanted a casting and composing machine, they had to go to Monotype. When technology started to change and competition started to emerge, Monotype disappeared.”

“When we displayed our machines at the first Pamex in New Delhi in 1982-83, Monotype had a similar machine. My former manager, Kumaran, came to our stall along with Derek Crocket, managing director, Pictorial Machinery, UK, saw our machine and asked me – with whose collaboration are you making these? I pointed towards my head and said, with this collaboration.”

Memory started in 1968, as a partnership between Chadda and Girdharilal. It was then called International Sales Enterprises and they were manufacturing items for electronics market, like irons, coffee machines and stuff. “After I joined Monotype, Chadda made the re-melting furnace, and asked me to sell it. I said I will do it, but they will have to make me a partner. They agreed. I paid Rs 5,000 as partnership money and joined them,” Khindria said.

During the initial years, the company grew. “By 1982, we had started our factory in Noida, UP. We were manufacturing pre-press and post-press equipment, such as exposing frames, contact printers, FRP sinks, etc. We were showing our products in exhibitions, and we grew,” he said. One of the main reasons for this growth, Khindria said, was customer satisfaction. “We gave what the customers wanted. And we serviced all equipments free for many years.”

Talking about the product development strategy he said, “At first, we saw the products at Monotype and took the concept from them. But we never copied. Chadha was the brain behind it and I was the marketing man,” Khindria said. “We were the first company in India to manufacture fibreglass trays, doors and sinks. When we used to visit printers, we would see metal doors making rattling noises. We would see sinks seeping with chemicals. We decided to give them something better with fibreglass. We also took ideas from our customers.”

In the 1980s, the company had four factories in Noida, each with 500 sq/yrds area, manufacturing everything from processors, cameras to plate punches. By then, it had 32 products, some of which were even exported to countries like Canada, Malaysia, Ireland and the UK, apart from the neighbouring countries. Then one of the partners left and Khindria had to part with some space. With the increase in production and constraint of space, the company moved to its current location to a 4,000 sq/yrds area in Mundka Udyog Nagar in 1992. The company also has registered office in Kirti Nagar in an area of about 200 sq/mts.

Memory's plant: 4000 sq/yard

By then, there were several companies overseeing different aspects of the business. They merged three companies into one, separated their Chennai business and in 1992, we became a private limited company under the name Memory Repro Systems. Today, Memory has 20 products.

He adds, "Memory’s target customers are those in the bottom of the market pyramid. Sometime back, we were trying to sell China-made box-making machines. However, we were not successful, as, for the printers, the cost of kickbacks did not justify the cost of production. They were looking for ordinary, local-made machines. We looked into the issue and gave them what they needed.”

From just two persons in 1968, today, Memory has a staff of 80 people. Khindria said his strength were his sons. He has divided the work among his three sons in terms of marketing, designing and production. “Today, we have a turnover of Rs 10- crore. I want it to cross the three-figure limit, sooner than later. It may be anything between Rs 100-crore and Rs 999-crore,” he said.

To this end, the company has invested in CNC machines, to add to the quality to product design and manufacturing. “We bought the first CNC machine in 1999-2000. Today, we have eight CNC machines. Earlier, we used to draw the designs by hand. Today, we have a software called Solidworks, which is connected to the CNC machines. It’s all automated,” he said.

The major strength of Memory, Khindria said, is the ability to provide what customers want. “If there are any complaints, we will fix it. All my equipment come with money-back guarantee,” he claimed.

According to Khindria if India wishes to be a manufacturing hub in printing equipment then the manufacuterers have to focus on two things, first quality products and second, timely delivery. For this, you need in-house infrastructure, from designs to manufacturing units.

Compared to the changes that were happening in the 1970s, printing has changed considerably, It has reached a saturation point, according to Khindria, “The future is in print packaging. The awareness about packaged products is on the rise and there is a demand for better packaging. We are also looking at automation and are introducing inspection and detection systems in our machines.”

To conclude, Khindria, whose motto in life is passion, hard work and honesty, had this advice to give to an aspiring printer: “Enter the packaging industry. The future is in packaging." And his advice to manufacturers is to focus on their skills.”

About Khindria

Born in Lahore in 1945, Khindria studied in a Christian school in Delhi, which, he said, instilled discipline in him. He wanted to be an engineer, but that did not happen, “since I was not a very bright student. Then I decided that I should learn while I earn. I did not want to be a burden on my parents,” he said. In school, he was popular among his teachers and his peers and was an active participant in sports. The athleticism is still alive. Even today, he wakes up at 4am every day and goes for a walk, does yoga and meditation.

Product development

For a manufacturing company based in India, product development did not come easy. “We had our limitations. We had to look for guidance. We would visit exhibitions like Drupa to see what was going on, what kind of products they were making and selling. We also studied the market to understand what was happening elsewhere in the world. As a rule of thumb, whatever happens outside, it will happen in India after five years. In one year, we saw just one camera in Drupa and we knew, the camera was going out,” he said.

For Khindria, creating a new product is not just a business aspiration. “It’s our passion to be able to offer new products to customers. In exhibitions, customers come to our stall to see new products. This is our strong point. Sometimes the products work, sometimes they don’t. But we are always innovating,” he said.

How did the innovation work? Khindria gave an example: “A printer with regular repeat jobs stores his plates, and cleaning the plates is laborious and time consuming. So we thought why not give the printer a machine to clean the plates. After four years of struggle, we succeeded in building the machine.” The company has so far sold 60-70 units of the plate cleaning machine.

First published in 10 August 2014 issue.