Aaditya Kashyap thinks labellers should take their gloves off - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

At the Gallus Innovation Days 2018 in St Gallen, Switzerland, Kashyap discusses how to do the ‘label business’

07 Jul 2018 | By Noel D'Cunha

Aaditya Kashyap, managing director Of Marks Emballage

PrintWeek India (PWI): Give us an update on Marks' new plant?
Aaditya Kashyap (AK): The new plant is under construction and should be ready in Q4 2018. We are working to achieve our vision to have a plant which can qualify for all international quality audits and be instrumental for us to achieve top production and service quality, using the most advanced technology and process optimisation.

PWI: Marks Emballage, that sounds French…
 Yes, “Emballage” means packaging in French. We tried a lot of word combinations but ‘Emballage’ just defined our vision to offer a wider range of packaging solutions, great brand recall, a great conversation starter and a differentiator. And MCA made it easier by rejecting at least 10 names before giving us the beautiful new name we are proud of – Marks Emballage.  

PWI: How did Marks start out? What does the company specialise in?
 Marks had a small beginning in 2011 as a trading company for packaging materials and corporate gifting for a pharma company. During this time, we identified an opportunity in the label printing sector. With this, we started label production in 2013 and have not looked back since. We have been focusing on labels for pharma. We have kept on investing and growing since then. Today, Marks is building a world-class facility with best in class capabilities and capacities for self-adhesive and filmic labels.

PWI: From starting with Chinese label printers to Bobst to Gallus. Tell us about your equipment selection?
  I can relate the journey to learning to walk to walking, and now we are ready to run. I come from a banking background with very limited knowledge about printing when I started. I got my first steps on the most entry-level solution in a Chinese stack flexo press to start with. This was done with the intention that if I fail then I burn only a finger and not my hand, if you know what I mean.  Two years later, Bobst was a natural progression following the initial learning phase. Today, we are confident and expanding our facility with the ability to service the bigger brands and even look to exports.  Hence, we added two Gallus Labelmasters and Pantec along with Prati finish lines to give the best results to the end-user.

PWI: Your outlook for the Indian label market?
 On a very conservative side, the label market is estimated to be around Rs 3,000-crore. A 15% growth means Rs 450-crore of label jobs is there for the taking. All the brands need are quality label printers with capacities to produce and grab the jobs.

When I look at the market in India, especially for the label, it is getting bigger and bigger. One reason: we have seen packaging enter the interiors of India, and everything that wasn't within reach earlier, are now easily available. Also, within the Indian market, there are new Indian companies which are established with a strong belief that as an Indian company, they have to make things in India. All this is, and will, trigger growth in the label, carton, and flexible industry.

If there’s a 15%-20% growth in the labels requirement, the top 10-15 firms are ready with the equipment to cater to it. It’s the smaller printers who ponder about how they’d get to the next level. I believe, if there’s an opportunity, shift the gear not from first to second, but straight to the fifth. And I think, not everybody is thinking like that.

PWI: Not many years ago, in terms of quality offset was considered a superior technology to flexo or even digital. But the gap is narrowing. Indeed, flexo and digital are both getting closer to offset quality…
 Flexo and digital are evolving at a very quick pace and achieving almost similar print results like in offset. Today the gap is very narrow and it’s getting closer. In the flexo, the advances are not only brought about by the full servo mechanisms but the entire spectrum of digital plate materials, mounting tapes, sleeves, anilox rolls, doctor blades, enhanced curing, etc. Today, good flexo print houses are able to print comfortably at 200lpi and thus achieve very close to offset qualities.

In the digital space as well, electrophotography and UV inkjet are evolving very rapidly. The results are very encouraging for digital to become mainstream in near future with its other inherent benefits of easier operations, personalization, and short runs.

PWI: The last two Labelexpo Europe in Brussels saw the introduction of hybrid label presses. Almost all major flexo press manufacturers have unveiled their version of a hybrid press. Gallus has the Labelfire 340. Mark Andy installed its first digital press in India recently. The trend of hybrid presses is catching up?
 Flexo and digital have long been thought of as competing technologies, but in reality, they should be thought of as complementary technologies — both technologies have their own inherent advantages and disadvantages.

PWI: What are they?
 Flexo gives speed and flexibility of combining different print process, multiple varnishes, screen effects, embellishments with hot and cold foiling and inline finishing solutions at lower costs (not possible on an independent digital) loved by the supply chain of print buyers.

The digital device satisfies the ever-growing demands for differentiation of the brand with more and more personalised artworks, handling growing SKU’s and short runs for the brand marketing team (not possible on the flexo).

The hybrid presents a unique opportunity to combine advantages of both technologies onto a single transport system thus finding its own niche.

PWI: Basically, what you are saying is the hybrid just proves that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, right? 
 Yes, absolutely. In flexo, when one SKU or version of a label is printed and completed, it then takes additional time and labour to complete the setup, or makeready of the next job to print—changing colours, plates, etc. And during that makeready downtime, when the press is not running, the label printer/converter is not making money. This situation can very well be changed with the hybrid presses. The downtime can be minimised while printing multiple SKUs from a family of labels. Thus, help the printer make more money.

So basically, a hybrid is a win-win for both the printer and the brand owners and thus will only get more and more popular.

PWI: What’s your hybrid experience here at the Gallus Innovation Days?
 I saw the Labelfire 340. It enables label printers to broaden their product portfolio as also bring in flexibility and efficiency. The machine runs with a web speed of up to 50 metres per minute and offers seven colours. The new Upstream screen printing unit to produce opaque white is a good addition and the digital embellishment unit downstream will accomplish all finishing processes inline.

PWI: Flexo narrow-web presses are getting wider and wide – take, for example, the Labelmaster Advanced. Do you think this will allow label printers to find new avenues in flexible packaging space with medium width flexo presses?
 We are seeing more and more products are moving away from glass, aluminium and HDPE bottles in exchange for pouches or bags. This presents a loss for the label industry, meaning products that once were labelled, are moving towards flexible packages. 

While the flexible packaging is increasing but due to market forces the run lengths are getting shorter and shorter and becoming unviable on gravure or wide flexo.

This is where the narrow web printers with medium width presses can find a perfect fit to produce flexible packaging for short lengths.

While the move to flexible is a loss to the label industry, the upcoming opportunity to participate in the short-run flexible jobs more than compensates for this label business loss. The opportunity in short run flexible packaging is tremendously high and will continue to grow.

PWI: We have seen a few intermittent presses being installed, particularly few top label printers in India. But as a technology, it has not taken off as yet. Why?
 While intermittent offset has its unique advantages in the print quality and lower cost of a new job due to inexpensive plates, the advantages are quickly overshadowed by the limitation of the intermittent speeds (typically 200 impressions per minute – 50-70 m/min) and inability of printers to manage the wide range of spot colour requirements of brand owners used to 8- to 12-colour flexo press output in either a CMYK or six-seven colour ECG configuration.

The whole challenge is the habit developed over time with the letterpress and flexo press experience. It’s difficult to change the perceptions. Also, to manage the output from the intermittent press, the technical skills needed by the press operator and pre-press team would be higher than the conventional flexo press operators. To change clients used to flexo output and getting the same artwork approved from offset would be another deterrent. Thus, we see the advantages quickly getting overshadowed by these factors.

We may not see intermittent presses being sold in the same numbers as flexo presses. But we do see technically sound printers (like Pragati, Sel Jegat) understanding the advantages of the technology and going for new intermittent presses.

PWI: The big revolution in flexo pre-press has eliminated certain challenges flexo as a technology had. When you look at flexo from the repro side, do you see a screen ruling of 200+lpi; 1% dot as a new normal now?
 Yes, this is true. It’s time, the printers push the 133/150 lpi.  There is a need to go higher with print quality as this is can be a differentiator for the brand and the printer. Since there is a very limited choice of substrates the whole focus is on attractive graphics and shelf appeal.

This is where the printers can start making a difference with a strong prepress, good anilox inventory, press skills, and process standardisation to achieve this high quality.

PWI: Talking about anilox, it is at the heart of printing. How does one go about selecting the anilox? What’s your formula for selection?
 Yes, there’s much to anilox roll, because a wrong specification can cause real problems. I may not be able to explain things in detail, but just to simplify things, anilox is not just about ink-transporting cells but angles, ink carrying capacities and importantly the screen ruling that determines how good the anilox, which will ultimately deliver the flexo print.

Take, for example, the screen line. For us, the thumb-rule is: if 175lpi ruling is selected, the maze for the anilox has to be 175x5, say around 800lpi minimum.

Then you have the solids, the mid-tones, the fine text or high process. For a process, which used to be 1000lpi a few years ago, has moved to as high as 1500lpi today. So, we code the anilox into three areas and depending on the results we want, we specify the anilox roll.

PWI: Do you think that it’s important to have a fixed set of suppliers? Why?
 It is, but it is also important to put the proper set of material that you buy from the fixed suppliers, to use. The suppliers could one, two or more.

Today, a CMYK from one printing ink manufacturer would be different from the other. For example, we buy inks from two different companies, and then we buy aniloxes from two different suppliers.

Till this time, it’s fine.

The problem occurs when the press operator selects two aniloxes from one company and two from the other. Then he selects cyan and magenta from one ink company and yellow and black from another. If the press is standardised to run on either one type of ink or anilox, your entire standardisation process goes for a toss.

PWI: How does one dispose of the liner? Is there a greener way to do it?
 The label industry has two main wastes – the matrix waste at the print site and the liner waste from used labels at the brand manufacturing site.

Unfortunately, in India, we are not taking any steps to dispose of the same in a more responsible way. Currently, most of these wastes end up in landfills or are burnt away.

We already have examples of various initiatives in the Europe and UK from which we can learn and strengthen those initiatives by joining forces.

PWI: For example?
 For liner waste, we are seeing an organisation like Cycle 4 Green in Finland collecting the liners and converting them to recycled paper with the active involvement of a paper manufacturer Lenzing Papier GmbH in Austria.

On the label matrix waste at printer’s site, we have a great example from the UK – Zero labels to Landfill program run with the active involvement of industry association - BPIF Labels. They are also collecting waste from all printers and then centrally managing them to send them for recycling. While this can be a viable business opportunity when the waste is aggregated, it may not be the case for each individual printer.

The above two programs not only are pioneers to show the right direction to dispose of waste more responsibly, it could also mean lower costs and more green points to brands and printers.

Basically, there can be an independent opportunity to collect label liner waste and recycling the paper across major manufacturing hubs in a country like India.

PWI: The industry is slowly but steadily consolidating: What should be the strategy?
 Consolidation is nothing new. We see much larger consolidations happening across all industries globally, In fact, it is coming very late to the label printing industry and quite slow in the Indian label industry.

PWI: Why do you say that?
 The present label industry in India is highly fragmented. Most of the printers are single site family-run businesses. We also see many new companies started either by new entrepreneurs, expansion of existing offset business by younger generation or by press operators leaving established companies to start their own. Majority of these players with either secondhand equipment or entry level presses with a lot of manual operations. There are very few who start with a decent investment in new technology and automation. While this may have worked in the past, the same may not work in present or coming days.

PWI: Why?
 Today, we face a very different scenario. End users have consolidated their buying operations on a regional and often on a global basis and squeeze converter margins; the cost of the most efficient converting machinery and surrounding workflow and ancillaries is far higher; run lengths continue to come down as product variation and shorter marketing cycles become the norm; and there is a huge shortage of trained press operators.

While small players are able to survive purely based on local servicing and proximity to their customers, the medium-sized converters have found it increasingly difficult to remain profitable and continue to keep investing.

PWI: And what are the challenges?
 The big challenge is access to capital. We do not see any major backing of print or packaging companies by venture capital or private equity firms in India like in the west. And because of the small sizes of businesses, the ability to raise capital is very limited and also the cost of capital is very high. 

PWI: So it’s consolidation either through merger or acquisition?
AK: That’s the only viable solution in today’s scenario. Another option is the formation of groups, like what is happening in Europe. Rako, X-Label, and Baumgarten forming All4labels group is a classic example of working together – a win-win for all.

I would certainly consider this theme – working together is better than working against each other.

Mergers and acquisitions are perfect to consider when the companies have to complement strengths either in geographical reach, customer base, technical manpower, infrastructure, and capital.

PWI: And finally, your three takeaways from the Gallus Innovation Days 2018?
AK: One, Gallus’ passion for innovation. I was introduced to the team behind the crafting of these machines, from technician to electrician to the design team and even the promoters who demonstrate a great passion for innovation.

Two, the ultimate experience centre. The entire range of Gallus presses present in one place which showcased the versatility in printing with a lot of advanced technologies – a must-attend for anyone investing in label production. 

And third, digital shall become mainstream. The newly launched Gallus Smartfire presents a very attractive entry-level digital solution for existing print houses as well as new entrepreneurs thus democratising digital label production like never before.