Barcom: The transformation that's based on a smart move

While pursuing his engineering in electronic and telecommunication or even while working as the market process head for the Singapore market with Aiwa in Gujarat, did Prasanna Sahu, the managing director at Barcom Industries, ever dream of giving it up and get into the business of manufacturing labels? “No,” he says, adding, “Not until I joined Interlabels in 2002, where I used to look after barcode printing in the technical segment.”, Business

20 Apr 2016 | By Noel D'Cunha

Eight months into Interlabels, Sahu quit his job and found himself busy trading and meeting customers for a friend who had set up a label printing unit. As has been the case with many entrepreneurs, this friend soon started contacting the customers directly, making Sahu’s position redundant.

It might seem like an unconventional entry into label business, but Sahu is not one of your conventional guys. “Frankly, I had no idea what to expect when I decided to start my own press in 2004,” says Sahu. “I had to learn how to manage a print business – a label print business.”

This may not be easy for many people, because there’s the matter of figuring out the capabilities required as well as various regulations to be adhered to. To begin with, the company installed its first Mark Andy 830 press, a secondhand kit. It has continued to invest in more presses and post-press machinery since.

“For me, the first step was to evaluate the press I wanted for my business. I opted for Mark Andy for the service that the Indian representative, FIG, provided. I continued to invest in Mark Andy presses every two years,” says Sahu.

Barcom’s 32,000-sq/ft Vasai unit, which started operating from 2008, is a Mark Andy house with seven narrow web flexo UV presses – a four-colour press, a seven-colour press, four eight-colour presses and one nine-colour press. The latest Mark Andy P5 is a nine-colour machine with inline rotary screen facility. It was installed in January 2016.

Structured pre-press
Barcom’s clients include blue-chip companies like Cipla, Marico, Aditya Birla Retail, Reliance Retail, and Lupin Pharma, among others.

The company’s USP is in the innovations it does in its labels, which Sahu says, are both secure and food safe. “First of all, we are an ethical company. By ethical, I mean commitment. We are very conscious and that’s why we have got in-house plate making,” he adds.

In 2014, Barcom installed the Esko CDI 4835, in addition to Esko’s Packedge, FlexoTools and FlexRip software.

It’s true that having an in-house pre-press facility could save time and money. It may even garner greater control over the production process. However, the feasibility of having a pre-press in-house depends on the amount of material needed, the quality of people in-house, the investment price and the location. This is the reason why we see only the larger firms have their pre-press facility in-house.

“Some say it’s a hassle, but manufacturing labels is no less hassle,” says Sahu. “For us, getting the pre-press in-house was a necessity, as buyers demanded high quality as well as security of their jobs. Sending jobs to be processed outside of the company’s premises meant exposing it to counterfeiting.”

The decision, Sahu says, has enhanced his company’s standing among its clients, and has also saved it time and money.

Smart moves
Barcom made its smartest investment when it installed a bi-directional label inspection machine consisting of Rotoflex slitter-rewinder and high-end Nikka camera. It perhaps is the world’s first highly configured Rotoflex-Nikka inspection kit.

Barcom had the Rotoflex VST slitting, die-cutting and AVT and BST security inspection machines, but last year, Sahu expressed a desire to have an inspection machine that would give his company an edge over others. “Rotoflex and Nikka took our requirements and made a machine,” says Sahu.

Security in labels is fast becoming mandatory. People who are purchasing labels need some sort of mechanisms. They want to know the quality report and what the finishing equipment is doing. When the roll is finished and sent to customers, you have to attach the inspection reports with it, so that the end customers can see it. This is becoming an integral part of the whole process.

Sahu adds, “I think it’s very important to choose the right technology to finish. We cater to the pharmaceutical industry and as part of the good manufacturing process (GMP), the industry needs 100% defect-free labels.”

So what’s different with this kit? Usually, inspection systems detect the faulty labels and then wait for the operators to replace it with the correct label. It then doesn’t inspect the replaced label. With the bi-directional system, the replaced label is checked again for its correctness. Thus, no faulty label passes from under the camera. Besides this, the machine, which is equipped with a 4K camera from Nikka, also enables QR code and barcode verification.

Sahu says, “The bi-directional inspection capability of the machine has set us apart from the rest as it has ensured zero scope for human error and offers full control in the process, thus providing 100% inspection.”

Armed with the ISO 22000:2005, the food safety certified company will now extend the capabilities of its 100% defect-free labels to liquor, FMCG, and food industries.

The other smart thing Barcom does is that it hires engineers and diploma holders for its operations. “We hire mechanical or electrical engineers and later we train them. We hire diploma holder for machine operations. Having the right team in place helps us work according to our requirements in pre-press, press and post-press operations,” says Sahu.

Most of the recruits are from North and Eastern parts of India, and they are provided accommodation with food. The company seeks a three-year commitment from such employees. Right now, the employee strength at Barcom is 230.

Good growth, expansion
When companies invest in machinery, it is said that the industry is growing. So it is with the label industry. With a monthly capacity to print up to seven lakh sq/m labels and an annual turnover of over Rs 50 crore, Barcom is certainly growing. “For the past three years, we have been growing at about 35% year-on-year,” says Sahu.

Now, the company has ventured into setting up a plant in Orissa – with a new 20,000 sq/ft site in Cuttack, but initially utilising 10,000 sq/ft for construction work.

Sahu, whose origins are in Orissa, says it makes more sense for him to expand in his home state. “Our customers are demanding that we expand in the eastern region. It will reduce the delivery time for label supplies in the region as well as the accessibility of work force will reduce operational cost.”

The plant is expected to go live in March 2017.

Sahu usually leaves most of the operational work to his managers while he focuses on sales and on how to make the company profitable. “There’s a team spirit among those working at Barcom. It shows in the low attrition rate,” he says.

Like every market, the label printers too have to answer their customers and they must also be competitive. Adding value to labels means more processing, more skill, and more production cost. “Barcom is an example of right investment at the right time. We have positioned to meet the demand of our customers and have a new vision for the company,” says Sahu.

Partly because of its own stability accrued from its growth and the smart investments it has made, there has not been a hiccup on the way to the top, but Sahu is aware of the flip he encountered in the beginning of the journey. “We do cater to those customers who trade in print (read the canvasser), but we believe in protecting them. Wherever our customers’ customer approach us, we simply quote a rate higher than the one offered by our customer,” says Sahu.

Overall, Sahu does not have much to complain. The label business is good, and it’s growing. All he has to think is how best he can use his recent investments.

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