Autoprint and Swifts: The mini offset story - The Noel DCunha Sunday Column

Print continues to be a dominant part of the communications industry, currently representing 40% with brand advertising crossing Rs 16,000 crores in print in 2015 as per the Pitch Madison Advertising Outlook report for 2015.

02 May 2015 | By Noel D'Cunha

But things do not augur well for the mini offset print segment. This is a segment which had the firepower to produce books, publicity items, billboards, labels, etc, for the people of the country.
Shafiq Ahmed of Sahil Graphics put forth the demand of a ban on import of secondhand printing presses. He said, “We are manufacturing sheetfed offset printing presses since the last 15 years. Unlimited import of pre-owned sheetfed printing presses is the biggest hurdle for us. Faridabad has been experiencing a slowdown in terms of demand over the last few years.”
The number of Indian manufacturers for single-colour offset presses were more than 50; now it is a handful.
Ahmed said, “In order to sustain, Sahil has forayed into another vertical of non-woven printing presses since the past two years. The segment is seeing a solid growth.”
This is a good time to remember the Late Hanumantha Rao of Pragati Offset, who was the then president of the All India Federation of Master Printers (AIFMP). In an interview, he spoke of the significant strides Bharat (as opposed to India) is making. And that these strides were in "small offset" printing. According to Hanumantha Rao, it was the small offset entry-level machine (15x10 or 15x20 category), which was a fast growth area of the industry with more than 50 manufacturers, and installations of about 1500 machines a year including a large number of used machines.
Has an opportunity been lost?
According to a rough "guesstimate", the small offset has had a significant growth rate of 15-20%. The players in this segment have succeeded in establishing an installation base of more than 40,000 machines in India.
The two largest Indian manufacturers who contributed to the mini offset revolution in India have been Swifts and Autoprint. Today, the Autoprint manufacturing plant in Coimbatore has the usual ISO accreditations and Japanese style outsourcing of parts. The company, under the leadership of C N Ashok, has been putting into place a whole host of new ideas and newer models. Thanks to which, they notched up 10,000 installations (for the complete product range) in 23 years.
Autoprint was established on 6 December, 1992. Today the manufacturer of offset print and allied machines has three manufacturing factories, two in Coimbatore and one in Himachal Pradesh. Apart from these, there is a customer care centre and head office.
The mini offset press has been sold to a mix of top cities plus innumerable tier-II and tier-III cities, which in geographical terms covers more than 40% of India’s postal pin code zone.
C N Ashok while speaking exclusively to PrintWeek India said, “In addition to the success of the mini offset press, we incorporated a genuine buy-back scheme policy on all single colour presses. This policy fetched us about 150 machines in the last year alone, which is about 33.13% of the total sales of single colour presses. And according to me, this buy-back boom would continue for another two to three years as there are several secondhand single colour presses in the country that had come to India during the peak time and have lived out its life. But print jobs are still available. This is the reason why orders are continuing to flow.”
Meanwhile in another part of India, Swifts Offsets celebrated its sixtieth year of operations. The Nashik-based manufacturer commemorated this milestone with the launch of VDP mini machine. 
Swifts was founded by Shri Appasaheb Marathe, in 1955. With over 10,000 installations and five decades of expertise in manufacturing mini offset printing machines, the company is a key player in this market segment. The company bagged the National Award for Import Substitution in 1978 for substituting the imported mini offset technology with its ‘Made in India’ product.
Swifts, which has a manufacturing plant in Nasik, say the company's exports to Latin America at the turn of the millennium were based on the legacy dealers for US-manufactured Multilith.
Multilith 1250 is capable of printing small cards to sheets up to 11.7x17inch. It can give 7500 impressions per hour. The features include: independent control of ink and water systems; and a special systems for ink and moisture in the machine allow the use of a wide range of inks that match the need of the job and the plate.
In 2003, it had launched the Advent, which evoked a tremendous reaction amongst visitors. It is a three cylinder, 15x20 machine with very good registration features.
The Autoprint saga started with the launch of the ‘short run’ 1510 in the year 1992. A machine, which complemented the need of the small printers to upgrade to offset technology from the traditional letterpress. Priced competitively and supported by DTP evolution, the ‘plateless polymaster’ technology enhanced the productivity of printers and also ensured viability in the business.
Autoprint 1520 soon followed this machine, and later the front-loading 1520 two colour versions.
The Autoprint Colt, a low-cost edition of the 1510 and the 1520’s and the X-tend Series for international markets followed these.
Autoprint, also scored a first in establishing the concept of the instant print shoppe that bundles DTP, duplicating and short-run printing to provide a total solution for its customer’s customer.
Marketing innovation was created when Autoprint classified the geography of its market by pin codes. Armed with a hydraulically operated mobile demo van, these pin codes with a crack team of marketing and service support, was meticulously targeted for installations. Such an exercise adds credence to the fact that Autoprint has installed at least one of its machines in every district in the country. 
Autoprint launched the Autoprint Knight in 2003, which is 15x20inch for high quality, four-colour tint jobs. The specialities include: pull type, side lay, three ink form and two dampening form rollers, longer oscillation, delivery stacker, etc.
Sadly HMT is no more but one of the most interesting machines in the HMT product list was the mini offset MOM 1015. This machine has direct in-feed systems with adjustable pile height sensor and sheet separators which are suitable for stock thickness which vary from 0.05 to 0.3 mm. Besides this, the MOM 1015 had a 10 roller inking system with two forme roller and a three-cylinder configuration for goodish print results. Like other mini offset, the MOM 1015 also had a single blanket system with chrome-plated cylinders.
HMT supplied over 2,500 machines in Indian and abroad. Its plants were ISO 9001 accredited units.
In the pursuit of providing the customers quality machines with changing technology, HMT had a continuous process of acquiring and assimilating technology. It had a technical collaboration with Koeing & Bauer AG, West Germany, and a technical agreement with Mabeg Maschinenbau GmbH of West Germany.
Macro Print Engineers in Coimbatore has established an installed base of more than 500 presses in South India. P Veeramuthu claims that the Indian printer is "looking only for quality machines" and that his machine fulfils this condition with its heavyweight cylinder design.
Macro launched lower priced models to compete with Autoprint's Colt. One such machine is the 15x20 inch DD-DX, a simple, cost-effective entry into the modern offset printing world for letterpress printers, in-house print departments as well as new entrepreneurs. It is a small offset with multipurpose uses, accurate registration and quick make ready.
The machine can handle aluminum plate, anodised or pre-sensitised, prepared by photo offset process and paper or polyester masters prepared by photocopying or laser printing.
  • Supplier Press Model Benefits
    Swifts Advent (15 x 20); Rotaprint (15.5 x 21.5); Multilith Best quality
    Autoprint Colt (15 x 10) New machines: Recover and Knight Excellent service, and best for short run
    HMT MOM 1015 and Pearl (12 x 17) Conventional dampening system
    Macro Print Macro 2000 DX (15 x 20); Macrojet (15 x10) Double dampening, four forme rollers
    Rajyog Imprinta (15 x 20 and 10 x 15) Three cylinder
    Fieldstar FS 25 (10 x 15) and FS35 (15 x 20) Good quality, low maintenance
    Patel OM 1015 and OM 1520 Good quality
    Fuser Fuser 12x17 Bearing type sidelay; motorised pile table
    Gallantic Gallantic 1217CD and Gallantic Gold Auto dampening systems
    Prakash Prakash 10x15; 15x20; 16x20 Swing gripper, and compact
    Speedograph Echo 1510; Deluxe 1520 Double dampening system, both side printing
    Patil Offset Patil 510 (10.5x17); Patil 2015 (20.5x17) Top quality four colour can be printed
    Light Generation Offset Light 15x20; Light 10x15 Can print polythene and polybags
    Seven Star Graphics SSG DX (15x10); SSG STD (15x20) Automatic forward / reverse; two cylinders
    Fair Deal Engineers Fair Print Mini 10x15, 11x17, 15x20