Can digital fuel the label path? – The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

The LMAI Conference 2019 in Kochi focussed on label printers embracing digital print technology. But with flexo showing no sign of an ebb, the question is: how long will it take for digital to arrive in India?

PrintWeek India spoke to 11 leading voices at the show, and what they had to say was pertinent

02 Aug 2019 | By Noel D'Cunha

Priyata Raghavan, director at Sai Packaging

Can digital print improve time-to-market?
Digital is a very good solution for test marketing. It’s a good solution for addressing niches in each market. And especially in the market in India, where there’s change every hundred kilometres – the language, the dress, the dialect, and the script. Therefore digital print is a perfect suit.

But how can one do more?
True. The grey line is how do you follow it up and build on the speed? That’s where I think the traditional print and digital have to meet, and meet much more than we are doing today. 

Would not converting process have to go digital to get the speed-to-market factor right?
Yes, ideally it should be one seamless digital solution, which is not what we see today. We do something using digital, and then we go offline.

What is the Sai method?
At Sai, we have digital print technology. We want to say we've not done a very good job of it, we understand that digital is a different segment altogether. And to be able to capitalise on the speed to market, the organisation has to be built to be agile and adaptive to the technology to be able to deliver on that speed. The traditional systems will not work.

How does one ensure traceability of the original file to the press?
Ensuring traceability of file is driven by how the brand owner wants to do it. There are a lot of guys who aren't willing to invest in artwork management, because it requires an investment. But there are a lot of brands that would like the converter to take that over. More and more, we're seeing that people are realizing the value of managing the data at their end and then having capable converters to understand and integrate with their system. That makes life easier for them. It makes life easier for us. There is data integrity, traceability etc, but forever, there is still the largest section, which is still adapting, there it becomes more complex and the ones are on our side to be able to go through the entire process of product development, artwork development and hand it back to the brand.

How does one manage it?
A lot of it is digital, but there's still a lot of manual components. 

So what is green or sustainable?
There are different understandings of green that different brands want. I think, brand owners apart from a few leaders who are actually paving the way. Many are still trying to understand what they want to do and how their product can be green. 

What can our industry do?
The one thing that we can do as an industry is to work with the leaders on the supply chain to build a better system of knowledge. So which is more accessible to the brand owners, better forums and open discussions rather than doing one on ones with? There is a definite need for that. Very few brand owners understand what does recycle mean or how do I collect it, or what EPR mean? This is true for the smaller ones, since the bigger ones have a system in place. As an industry, there are opportunities for us, as key members and business partners that can work and bring international knowledge to India faster.

Is the onus of green printing only on the labellers?
No, it’s a shared onus – between the labellers and brands.


Tejas Tanna, director Printmann Group

Will digital improve time-to-market?
Digital printing equipment will not completely replace conventional technology. Digital will enhance the conventional set-up by means of hybrid technology or by extension of the current press set-up.

Digital does not mean only print equipment but the entire ecosystem which includes workflow?
Over the years, pre-press capabilities have evolved. Today, artificial intelligence is creeping in. This means, the presses can be well connected and one can recall the stored jobs. But adding a digital press would add value with all your presses connected to your pre-press.

What does green mean for you?
Going green is not about investing in new technologies but how to ensure your process is green from start to end. It’s a commitment towards the world and it should start for the converters with the help of the brand owners. Little steps like carbon footprint in your organisation can be a good start.


Vivek Kapoor, chief executive director, Creative Labels

Will digital improve time-to-market?
It will improve the time to market provided the labeller has converting machines. Not just one, but multiple converting machines. However, if the digital printing equipment does not offer a ready mix of special inks, it would mean going back to the conventional process. A better option, in my opinion, would be the hybrid process, which could reduce the lead time.

Digital does not mean only print equipment but the entire ecosystem which includes workflow?
We still use the conventional process of printing labels and we outsource of pre-press requirements. There are trades houses that produce super plates, but the traceability has been a challenge with most of them. That’s the reason we maintain a record of printed labels duly indexed not for print quality, but to backtrace the print in case of a repeat job. One job wrongly printed can be very costly.

Guarantee green to the brands
I think digital print equipment will not guarantee green, but the raw material component is very important. If you look at label production, label stock constitutes a large component of the production process. Ink is around 8-10%.


Denver Annunciation, director, Janus International

You have both flexo and digital printing capabilities. Has digital print helped you reach the market quicker?
Yes and no. As a business, if you are doing short-run jobs, digital would be a much faster option. But if you scale up, doing thousands of jobs, I guess it has to be flexo. 

You can print it fast, but what about finishing?
If you look at the European markets, it is evolving into a completely digital converting too. So you apply foil using inkjet, you do laser die-cutting, you can even do varnish using inkjet.

Your view on a digital workflow?
When you have a complete digital workflow, you are able to then match your digital speeds to your converting speeds. But then there is a cost involved. Right now it is on the expensive side. The process becomes more expensive when you produce it digitally than it would with flexo.

Is converting kit crucial?
We have been using digital for 11 years now. And I don’t think it’s about having digital converting equipment, it’s the process which is important. 

Even for a good number of jobs?
When you are handling 30-40 digital print jobs, you need to process the information in a certain way so that you get error-free outputs. I have the print-ready, but my team forgets to order the die or orders a wrong die, the job is delayed. You lose that time to the market. I think, we need to have systems and processes to ensure that mistakes don’t happen. 

So, software is the key?
Digital is not just about printing equipment, it’s about software too. We use state-of-the-art software which is commonly available in the market. We configure them such that it helps us in our operation – ensuring traceability of files from pre-press to brands to back on press and delivery. We use Esko, and it’s been in the market for many years now. 

Clean and green for you is?
Digital reduces waste, reduces time, and can produce usable prints faster. So, if I am able to produce an error-free job in with my first print. This means, I become much cleaner than other processes as it is produced without plates or cylinders.


Aaditya Kashyap, managing director, Marks Group

You say digital process shall improve time to market. How?
I think the digital process shall improve time to market. See, digital print is one part of the digital process. The major improvement will have to come by the digitisation of the entire process – from order to delivery. This calls for a good amount of investments in systems, training and manpower besides digital printing and post-press equipment.

Tracking data from file to press to final printed label is important, isn’t it?
Yes, it’s a wish-list for us.

Any other purpose of tracking the data?
One purpose of keeping such data would be traceability for quality assurance but I think the future is using this data for machine learning. This is already becoming mainstream in many other business verticals and printing shall be no exception. This is going to help companies achieve consistent results in minimum wastage and the fastest time.

Green talks at LMAI – so much done, so much to do?
The industry is fully aware of the sustainability issues as highlighted in many talks of industry leaders at LMAI. I think the matrix and liner waste recycling initiative from Avery should be a big welcome for the convertors and brands. I think more and more efforts should be taken by ink suppliers also to come up with an efficient ink disposal plan and making printers aware of these options and thus ensuring that converters are a partner to the brand’s green efforts.


Sandeep Zaveri, managing director, Total Print Solution 

India is moving quite rapidly and is at par with the best in the world or perhaps, even better. 

The three questions - digital’s ability to improve time to market, file handling and sustainability, can be successfully implemented provided the attitude of all of us changes. Attitude with respect to brand owners on innovation or just-in-time, there is always a cost to the technology. 

There is a need for change in the market given the competition, demand for short runs and security printing. Digital technology definitely justifies being there.

But, it all boils down to investment be it in areas from traceability to the finished labels. It is certainly possible. Many printers have implemented ERP software. The key to growth where you become more system-oriented.

Each one of us is responsible socially so go green the concept is a must.


Krish Chhatwal, director, Kwality Offset Printers

It’s been over a year since we brought in digital, and it has given our business a new edge. It has reduced our lead time to the market, both for the existing customer as well as new customers. We don’t have to produce plates, which is a huge advantage. We have an offline Digicon Series 3 converting machine, which is dedicated to only digital prints. The Digicon is so quick that it can accommodate prints from two digital printers. 

We also have flexo presses, but currently, I would say digital has helped us garner more customers. How? It has helped us enter different segments of the packaging market, with variable printing capabilities, like pharma. 

But deploying digital, we save 30% on input material like label stock, ink, and electricity. Also, for digital we do not use plates, so we are not cleaning them. When you don’t use flexo plates and chemical during the platemaking process, it not just saving monies, but also the environment. Because you polluting the environment with harmful chemicals.


Manish and Aarjav Hansoti of S Kumar

I think there are two aspects to it. One is to printing proofs and printing the required number of labels as approved. Digital helps us complete both tasks quickly and efficiently. Now, if we have to rely on the conventional method to produce proofs and print the order, will certainly dent the speed to market. The other advantage of digital printing is that one can provide more numbers of design proofs. This is not feasible in flexo.

The advantage of going digital is saving on tools and raw material for label printers, and the brands can save on inventories because their requirements can be served just-in-time. In my opinion, digital fits the test-market bill just perfectly.


Ranesh Bajaj, managing director, Vinsak

Can digital print improve time-to-market?
I don't agree that digital print will improve time-to-market simply because label print is 50% of the story, finishing is the other 50%. Even if one can print the job quickly, if there aren’t fast-finishing machines to back the printing speed, it’s not going to make a difference. Let me put it this way. Digital printing is for short runs, short runs are for premium products which want fancy looking finishing. So accomplishing all those finishing requirements like foiling will take time. The entire ecosystem has to be in place, if one has to meet the just-in-time requirements of the clients.

How does one ensure traceability of the original file to the press?
Ensuring traceability of the files from the time it is received to the print stage, is essential. For this one needs to have a complete workflow like JDF for labels operation. This should start from pre-press, all the way to delivery. 

Are we there?
I think it’s another ten years more. It’s more an evolution part for the label industry in India.

Your view on green?
In the label industry, liners are the biggest green destroyer. We will have to go linerless. The industry is moving away from PVC films – and convincing people to the use of paper. But if you see most of the organic packaging is Kraft paper, brown coloured. You try to sell an organic product in a bright yellow bag, nobody will buy it. I am also talking to a lot of companies where the solution to handling plastic is by setting up reverse logistics. 

Aha. You are a plastic person?
We must understand that plastic per se is not bad. It has the lowest cost per SKU, functionality is the best – be it water-resistant or migration qualities. The only problem is people tend to dispose of it irresponsibly. If we are able to put in place a reverse logistics process like in Canada, incentivise the consumer to bring the plastic products for recycling,

Who has to do it?
I think the onus is on the brand owner. They’d always see what’s available, or which are the low-hanging fruit. But I think the label printers will also have to get themselves up to speed and say, look, this is what you need to do.


Ganapathy Thillai, application sales manager, flexo sales for South Asia region at Esko

Can digital print improve time-to-market?
With the kind of technology available today, digital print can improve labels time to market.

How does one ensure traceability of the original file to the press?
Esko has software that can ensure traceability of files. We have inspection tools that help, AI-enabled processes which send the same file to the inspection system of the press, and so on to check the results. This pre-press software ensures that the brand owners get the same kind of product which has been approved. 

Is India ready?
A good number of Indian label converters are tuned to such systems. All they need to do is to collect the data and cross verify it.

Your view about green?
From the pre-press point of view, the best way to go green is to move to solvent-less or water washable technology. This is considered to be a clean technology. Moving forward, we need to educate the users, bring value propositions in going green, like the savings it can bring to the table, which makes for good business sense.


Akshat Pardiwala, director, Nippon Color

Can digital print improve time-to-market?
Yes, as we eliminate platemaking and reduce the set-up time in digital presses, labels can start printing quicker. The main drivers for the growth of digital printing in labels and packaging would be personalisation/variable data printing. India is a vast and diverse country with so diverse languages. Label manufacturers can offer labels in regionalised languages in every state. Then you add seasonal products, group-specific products, prototyping, test marketing, and more in the mix. All these will act as a new revenue stream which will not only help them serve their existing customers, but help them reach out to new ones.

Ensure traceability of the original file to the press, to the job validation and final storage of data generated from the final printed label
I believe using the JDF standard developed by CIP4 that automates the digital workflow can ensure this. It will bridge the communication gap between production and management information systems.

Guaranteeing green for the brands
It does not “guarantee”, but it does help in the green movement. Faster makeready means less makeready waste, which means a reduction in waste of paper and ink. Water-based inkjet inks have been developed, reducing toxins in the waste stream. With platemaking eliminated in digital printing, you are eliminating a step that produces waste in terms of chemicals and VOCs. Moreover, lesser machines required and lower footprint of digital machines means more efficient use of space, reduce labour, materials and electricity required as compared to a conventional flexo set-up.