East India print industry round-up - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

Eastern Print Pack 2014 steps back, Kolkata still remains uncertain while places around it look to reshape

05 Dec 2014 | By Noel D'Cunha

It’s not always that a trade show triggers off printers’ interest in the newest equipment releases. The inaugural Eastern Print Pack show, hosted by the West Bengal Master Printers’ Association (WBMPA) five years ago (in 2009) at Milon Mela Kendra, did that. The show then, profiled conventional offset presses, digital presses and services from over 100 exhibitors spread across four halls. It generated some heat among the printers, in terms of new equipment and software installations. It promised to be a major commercial opportunity both for the exhibitors as well as the visitors.

Five years on, much of the heat seems to have evaporated with the Eastern Print Pack (EPP) 2014, the regional landmark show for print, packaging and allied machinery, seeing about 75+ exhibitors. The likes of Heidelberg, HP, Xerox were conspicuous by their absence. Among the exhibitors, Ricoh, was present with the biggest stall. Other exhibitors like Canon, Monotech, TechNova, Graphica, Pratham, Welbound, Megabound, Printers Supply Company, Insight Communication, SLKCG, though were present.

The one-day seminar on Global Print Vision saw speakers like Dr Rajendrakumar Anayath, HS Jamadagni, A Appadurai of HP, and BS Kampani of Toyo Ink, share their insight about global trends and the opportunities that lie for the Indian print industry.

Transition period continues
We have largely owed it to the economy for a lot of things not going right in this decade. For a region that was once a centre of the print industry in India and a pioneer in printing, the slide started sometime in mid-seventies when the corporate offices made its move out of Kolkata. Industrial activities too found unexpected bumps in the road.

The printing industry in Kolkata (now around 500 printers), played safe. It resisted investing in new equipment or technology, chugging along with their old machines. Bejoy Dey, general manager for Eastern India at Heidelberg India, says, “Printers did business simply to cater to their clientele, without being subjected to any restrictions. However, this did not help the core cause which is quality print.”

The last five years have seen offset press installations of around 21 presses in East India, 11 of which have been Komori presses followed by Heidelberg with nine and one Manroland.

Kolkata was once a centre of print industry and pioneer in printing. That is history now. On the technological front, printers in Kolkata have been slow to take the investment plunge in print equipment. Digital print though has been an exception.

Kolkata’s printers who have invested in presses and digital technologies, remain in the race and pursuing growth are: Anderson Printing House, CDC Printers, Maheshwari Printers, Lebako, Calendar Exhibitions/Rachna Rukhman, Darpan, Green Press, Singhania, RB Laminations, and Saraswati Printing Factory.

The good news is that a clutch of gen next, who are now at the helm of affairs, are rising to the occasion, and are willing to invest. The likes of Mahesh Aggarwal of Nextgen, Rohit Kuthari of Antarctica, Manu Choudhury of CDC Printers, Snehangshu Ganguly of NK Gossain (Lebeko), and Rahul and Rajnish Jain of Secure Print Solution, Sunny Jain of Arihand Printers are looking at newer possibilities, both in terms of investment and print business.

Further, there’s more activity happening in places beyond Kolkata. Of the 21 presses installed in East, at least 10 have been installed in places like Guwahati, Siliguri, and Sikkim.

Surajit Kundu, regional manager for sales at Insight Communications, representative for Komori in India, says, “Guwahati is one of the fastest growing belt in the region because of the subsidies offered, while north eastern states, which until few years ago were underdeveloped are now looking up.“

If anything, the installations and some more to come, will give the printers in the East their best chance to make high yielding impact.

The digital dust-up
It’s been 21 years since Benny Landa, the founder of Indigo and pioneer of digital print, said, “Anything that can go digital, will go digital. Print is no exception.” Of late, this eastern region of India has seen a surge of interest in digital equipment. 

Ricoh India used the Eastern Print Pack 2014 as a platform to give an India launch to its latest digital printing option with a fifth station, the Ricoh Pro C7100x; and a latex Pro L4160, its first wide-format press. It also launched a new alternative to click charges with its lifetime warranty plan. According to the company, there are 20+ Ricoh digital presses installed in the region.

Having installed only four to five Konica Minolta press in 2009, Monotech’s tally in East India now stands  at 100+. Monotech informed that it will soon be opening up offices in Guwahati and Bhubaneshwa.

At the stand, Monotech presented Skylight, the photo-album specialist in Kolkata. Skylight will become the first in East India to install a Scodix S75, a kit capable of producing rainbow effect.

Canon launched its newest press, Imagepress C600, intending to target a market that its representative states, “is favourable for entry to mid-production level presses.

There are six HP Indigo presses installed in Kolkata, most doing photo-album work.

On the lower-end,  cheaper universal copiers, and older and slower digital print devices are gradually being replaced by new digital production engines. “It used to be a very strong part of digital print business, but that is changing,” says Avijit Mukherjee, COO, PP-BU for Ricoh India. Mukherjee says, the Ricoh Power Pack, an aternative to click charges, is aimed at jobbers who are facing problems with reconditioned machines, as well as in-plant and offset-only printers. “The lesser the coverage, the lesser is the toner usage, which results in saving.” He added, “The offset printers are used to this kind of model of buying inks and consumables. With this model, they can build their business while increasing print volumes.”

TechNova brought its new launch, the digital label press, SmartJet to the show along with the Duplo, its range of CTP, plates and other solutions at the show.

CTP/CTCP installations in East India stands at 110+ (figures include Bihar), which include numbers from Monotech, TechNova and Kodak, represented by MS Graphics, Kolkata.

Post-press acceptance
The government of India has embarked on a programme, which provides for free textbook distribution to all school-going children across the country. Government of West Bengal controlled, Saraswati Press, Swapna Printing Press, and CDC Printers have been catering to the textbook segment.

It has also prompted new players to take up book printing business. MS Print & Publish has invested in a new plant and an Orient 508 web offset press. M S Print & Publish is the print division of MS Graphic, a representative for Kodak and Huber Group in Kolkata. At the show, this start-up company placed order for Welbound perfect binder and three-knife press, which was on display at the show.

P Sajith, director for marketing and sales at Welbound, says, “Book sufficiency and press efficiency are necessary tools for man, nation and development in India. We expect more printers in Kolkata will bring their post-press in-house or upgrade their existing facility to meet the demand.” Welbound has over 200+ installations in the region.

Megabound showcased the M-Book series. Kailash Papers in Ranchi placed orders for two sets of machines – two case-makers and one joint forming machine.

Electro Mec Machinery, which showed its upgraded six-clamp Diamond series, informs that it has over 50 installation in Kolkata, notable among them at National Art Press, Swapna Offset Printer, Dey Offset Printer, and Anderson Printing House. “The printers in Kolkata are recognising the importance of post-press,” says K Mohamed Ismail, director at Electro Mec.

Old still rules
Ninety percent of machinery coming into India are pre-owned machinery. And Kolkata has a good number of these. According to SLKCG, which was present with its solution for packaging and ERP, there are more than 500 old printing presses in the region, 200 of which are Akiyama presses. “The print industry in this region is craving for organised service support and we hope to provide this through our expert servicing abilities,” says Vinayak Munipalli of SLKCG. This was SLKCG’s first appearance at EPP, and aims to target 25 to 50 printing companies with used machinery in the next year.

Kit checks
At any show, it’s always interesting to see what low-key players are doing. The stand of Printers Supply Company was a conglomeration of Indian manufacturers, from Robertson to Ratan, Unique UV to Unitech, Pratham, Autoprint, Zeta Enterprises and Param. Grafica, as usual, had its share of success at the show.

And finally
So where will the eastern region be in the next two years, particularly Kolkata. Will it take up the growth path that the generation next envisages?

Vinod Jain, managing director of Secure Printing Solution, which claims to be the world’s largest scratch card manufacturer, says, “While the revolutionary changes in the printing technology are likely to continue, it is extremely important for printers in this region to know and ascertain for themselves what is in store for them in the coming years.”

And while basic issues like spiraling rise in prices of input cost, squeezed margins are bothering one and all in the print industry, the buzzword in printing circles today is “quality print”. The wait-and-watch approach may have tempted the old timers in Kolkata and surrounding areas, it is one thing that the gen-next should vigorously avoid. Latest technologies, applications and solutions provide new profit opportunities and scope to expand.