EssCee Enterprises: The packaging wonder of Bengaluru - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

The firm started with a single machine and has now mastered the art of investing in new and proven technology that is future proof. A story of practice, patience and persistence. Read on

04 Jul 2021 | By Noel D'Cunha

K R Chandrashekhar (l) and BV Shashidhar (r) partners of EssCee Enterprises, Bengaluru

1999. EssCee Enterprises was born. The choice of kit was interesting. A second hand lamination machine for job works. “That was how we began our first day at the company,” says K R Chandrashekhar, Bachelor of Engineering (Mechanical) who along with BV Shashidhar, a Diploma Holder in Printing Technology, are the two partners in this firm.

The two share a cordial relationship and have innumerable interactive sessions before making decisions.  Shashidhar looks into production, planning and marketing;  while Chandrashekhar takes care of administration, accounts and other projects.

Both were employees at Geetanjali Graphics in Bangalore, now Bengaluru. Together they built the firm gradually by acquiring various machines over a period of time by planning the technology strategy for pre-press, pressroom and post-press as per their customer needs.

Assembling the dream machinery
If the success of a company is to be measured by its production capacity then consider this: keeping in mind the average of different sized cartons, with printing resources available 24x7, EssCee has a conversion capacity of about 300 tonnes of boards per month and an average production output capacity of 12 lakh cartons per day.

But it wasn’t all hunky-dory when it began. After the lamination machine in 1999,  EssCee bought a two-colour Heidelberg press in 2003 to announce themselves as the printers in Bengaluru.

It was on this very machine that they fulfilled their first challenging job – a catalogue for Ivega Technologies. Its earlier catalogue was printed in the US and at a cost of USD10 (around Rs 700) per catalogue. EssCee achieved the same quality on a Heidelberg press at the cost of Rs 52 per catalogue.

“And then in 2013 came our first important investment which was buying a five-colour Heidelberg CD 102 printing press which started our foray into catering to a larger volume based clientele of pharmaceutical companies,” says Chandrashekhar.

EssCee has relocated two times in the company’s history due to space constraint and moved onto bigger facilities. First when it started off, it was in a rented premise in Mathikere and then it was moved to its own facility of 24,000 sq/ft printing and packaging facility located in Rajaji Nagar Industrial Town.  Then in 2017, they moved to a 60,000 sq/ft facility located in Peenya Industrial Town.

Managing the space availability efficiently has been a steep learning curve which has made the company to think out of the box to accommodate and has resulted in automation of its machineries. Initially, the firm was
looking for a large-format printing machine to cover its large volume orders and bought the five-colour Heidelberg press plus coater of size 28x40 inch.

Later in 2017 it went looking for a six-colour printing press plus coater of 23x30 inch size, which was ideal for most pharma packaging and that size machine was only available with RMGT. The six-colour RMGT 790 ST press with UV is an interesting format. The rationale behind this investment is well thought of. “We have a UV ready machine, but we are not actually using it for UV coating. We only do inline aqueous varnish on the RMGT press and we have a separate two-colour Heidelberg press for UV coating which is now under installation,” says Chandrashekhar.

And then it also went for a smaller format five-colour Komori press plus coater that was utilised for short run jobs and mostly as a backup machine.

It gives EssCee the distinction of being one of the few packaging companies in India which has invested in three different brands of multicolour presses.

“This was done mainly keeping the customer in mind. We have acquired the reputation of being pioneers amongst our customers in supplying to their customised needs with different styles of packaging,” says Chandrashekhar.  “This has helped us to build our customer base which has grown rapidly and boasts today of the top global brands and reputed companies.”

The output from the presses is ably supported by an investment in resilient post-press machinery that includes a combination of Bobst and Suba Solutions. “We have invested in three Bobst auto die-cutter machines, two Bobst carton folder gluer machines, and two blanking machines from Suba Solutions,” says Chandrashekhar.

He is proud of the company’s investment in a hard-case grooving machine. “The grooving machine helps in cutting down the wastage, improves the quality and gives much better productivity when compared to manual punching of the hard case jobs,” says Chandrashekhar. The company didn’t have to convince the customers as they were “happy with the quality of the finished product and the lesser lead time for delivery.”

The company relies on a service-based workflow wherein it feels committed to deliver on customer’s urgency and “we really don’t stick to the first in first out policy,” says Chandrashekhar.

It’s no wonder then that EssCee Enterprises is an ISO 9001:2008 certified company. Periodical audits of the international quality system are conducted to check the compliance of the quality objectives like waste reduction through strategic planning resulting in lower manufacturing costs, employing emerging technologies to achieve superior production, frequently training, updating and motivating the workforce to produce products of international level.

Print management lessons
Many converters are looking at upskilling. In this sense, EssCee has always maintained standards for make-readies and to reduce machine downtime.

It holds monthly meetings for each department to assess the make-ready time and down time due to both – the machine and the operator.

“It is through these meetings that we decide on our possible scope for an investment in automation to implement faster processes,” says Chandrashekhar. “For a daily procedure the sheets per man hour or SPMH is assessed and a standard is set depending on the working condition of the machine and the complexity of the job.”

Many converters tend to deploy unusual methods to finance their investments. It is not the case with EssCee Enterprises which prides in its simple success mantra in terms of capital deployment for generating growth. “The need of our customers is what we have invested in and we have gradually automated with faster machinery as the volumes have increased. We finance these investments by re-investing a major chunk of our profits back into enhancing our facility,” says Chandrashekhar.

These profits are not always easy flowing.  To balance this, the company extended its operation by diversifying the product range and having customers across various sectors. It is one of the primary reasons for the company to get into folding cartons.

“We started our firm by doing job works for packaging units and we gradually forayed into other aspects of pre-press, press and post-press. Along with time we have diversified our product range and subsequently installed the machineries required,” says Chandrashekhar.

The company has been able to spread its production portfolio across an interesting mix of brands. With varying clientele across different sectors, the different peak seasons balance out with the troughs of other sectors and helps the firm from getting overloaded. “This criterion has really helped us to remain busy throughout the year. We have a base price at which we accept orders and we don’t do our pricing based on the market conditions,” adds Chandrashekhar.

EssCee’s  infrastructure at the 60,000 sq/ft printing and packaging facility in Bengaluru

The price war in Bengaluru
Chandrashekhar feels that the Bengaluru market was good when they had started. “The prices were good with lesser number of players and though there weren’t advanced technologies available in the Indian market yet, we tried to keep ourselves updated with whatever we could.”

In the last two decades the competition has gotten intense and the pricing has become extremely competitive driven by a humungous number of players in the market. The customer has also become more demanding with getting the job done at lesser prices and with lesser lead time offered for deliveries.

EssCee’s aversion to dynamic pricing has not had an effect on its bottom lines even in these tough times. That is mainly because the customer is kept well informed about the processes involved. “We usually suggest any alternative process that is available with us which can improve the lead time and can also enhance quality of the end product, and we inform them about the financial implications of it. We leave it for our client to decide,” adds K R Chandrashekhar.

Pricing is also one of the major hindrances to implement the green approach in packaging according to Chandrashekhar. Sometimes the brands get serious about recyclability of the packaging material. “Our customers do opt for a go-green approach wherever possible. As an industry we still have quite a way to go to move towards a complete green initiative. Plus the government has to implement crystal-clear norms for it to work on a larger scale.”

Stepping into 2021
Past 12 months have been bad for the Bengaluru print market. It being one of the worst hit cities in this pandemic hasn’t helped the cause. Being an IT and commercial hub, Bengaluru saw a lot of shops shut and EssCee saw a drop of about 30% in its turnover.

“In this situation, since the development of new requirements was delayed by our customers, we really didn’t have much to quote for. But due to shortage of raw materials the industry has escalated the prices of raw materials and inevitably affected our customers pricing,” says Chandrashekhar.

The Covid-19 outbreak in 2020 and the subsequent lockdown resulted in 50% of its 250 employees move out of Bengaluru to their hometown. Being a supplier of packaging boxes for the pharma industry, EssCee managed to fulfil its customer needs with 50% staff.

“We have had to tweak a few minor processes in the SOP’s during the lockdown due to shortage of staff. But once we started getting back to normalcy, we reverted to our SOPs after updating the ones that were earlier overdue,” says Chandrashekhar. “We have even given the increments in 2021 as with every year. We have had our staff working through the pandemic, so we have continued the increment process.”

With the employees now returning the situation is starting to look better and with the orders picking up, EssCee seems to have overcome this challenging time in business. “The start of 2021 has been good with business getting better with each quarter. It has been a tough time for us as well as the customers and we have tried to support them as much as we can with our need based services,” says Chandrashekhar.

The B2B nature of the print business poses a set of challenges. Right from the beginning EssCee has always focussed on building a packaging centric unit based on the needs of its customers. “Eventually it has turned out to be a good business with the need for value-added packaging growing with time. We have had challenges along the way like with any other industry, but things have mostly gone well for us,” concludes Chandrashekhar.

K R Chandrashekhar – At a glance

How do you unwind?
By spending time at my farmhouse with friends and family.

One activity you love?
I have a particular interest in social work.

Favourite films…
Lagaan, 3 Idiots and Babruvahana (Kannada).

Once the pandemic is over, where will you vacation to?

Favourite snack…  
Bajji and Bonda.

Favourite book…  
Board Roomina Sutta Mutta (Kannada) by Satyesh N Bellur.

An international print factory you visited which is a must see? 
Heidelberg factory in Germany.

One thing about Bengaluru no one knows? 
It has the highest number of doctors along with the highest number of engineers.

One print factory in Bengaluru you love?
Our own – EssCee Enterprises.

Who is on your speed dial? 
My mother.

One phrase, you utter at least once a day? 
Any achievement is a happiness, enjoy the achievement.