A fresh perspective about China

Two Mumbai-based print CEOs attend the All In Print Show in China and look at how the Chinese print industry is applying new ideas and fresh ways of working to their real-world strategy

29 Dec 2011 | By PrintWeek India

Vishwanath Shetty 
All-in-Print exhibition held in Shanghai, China from 14 to 18 November provided an insight into the developments in China. I visited the exhibition, with a view to study key trends. There were new machines of Chinese-make.

It was interesting to note the activity among CTP manufacturers, both plate-makers and plates. A number of Chinese machines were on display. Plus there was a leap in the machine-making paper bags and boxes. With so much of alarms being raised against plastic bags, this is a growth area.

Just one concern. The cost of the machines is prohibitive and the size is a deterring factor for people who want to put up facilities in India. One of the machines, which looked exciting, occupied 1,200 to 1,500 sq/ft floor space, leave alone the working space around the same. Yet another drawback, the feed for this machine was punched sheets.

I wish the machine had in-built punching facility. then the job would be faster, precise and less cumbersome. Idea seems good, but the operation is huge and may not compare with the manual manufacturing cost. The last bottleneck, the mechanisation does not include handles. The string or handle has to be attached manually. This can be managed in smaller bags, where there is a self punched handle, but not otherwise.There was a major leap in the number of high speed envelope manufacturing machines.

This was surprising, as the envelope manufacturers, in India talk of a dwindling market due to the influence of electronic media, emails and such. I see the growing retail markets and their mailing needs as an opportunity for this field. There will be a continuous flow of job work in this area, and shall guarantee growth. 

Screen printing: There were a lot of screen printing machines and accessories, again Chinese. The option for people who look for accessories is huge, but they need to make sure of servicing these machines, and if they should import these machines. The advantage of these machines is the versatility with which they can print on different media. Flexibility is immense. It can print on paper, polyester sheets,  sunboards, acrylic, crafted boards or flexible material.

Split laminating machine: A laminating machine was on display, where split lamination was possible. If you want to laminate a straight strip in between a poster or multiple lines of lamination, it’s possible. This can get effects close to ‘matt lamination plus gloss UV. Simple, yet innovative application. 

CTM – Print Tech Di: I believe this machine is in existence for sometime, but the awareness level is very low. Though this machine  is not yet successful, it is interesting that the machine can be print ready within 10 minutes, from connecting to the job, either online or from CD. This has a small laser unit above the cylinders, which etch a film / astralon mounted on the cylinder that works as the plate. It can offer 25-30,000 impressions. For larger quantities, you need to etch a second set of polyester sheet. The machine is compact with good print quality. I wonder why, it is not taking off? 

It was difficult to assess a lot about these machines or their prospects as hardly anyone would communicate in English. Considering the fact that China is an emerging industrial force, it is rather shocking that they are not making any efforts to learn the international language. Or it is that, they are euphoric that the world will learn Chinese?

If so, they will have to wait for their super-power growth.There was one stall, distributing lenticular printing samples. When I enquired, they requested me to attend a demonstration. I made sure, I reached there and the demo was in Chinese, a presentation like a Bollywood film song! The machine was rolling, but the samples were pre-printed! Now that it’s almost two weeks after the exhibition is over, the manufacturers have started responding through emails, from the visiting cards I collected.

What was most disappointing was, there were no European exhibitors. May be, my expectation was wrong. The good brands we could see were Japanese manufacturers, who have manufacturing facilities in China.

If there was a better, confidence-building through conversation and better communication, we could have derived benefits from such a show. As a user, this is the way we feel, but the machine traders, spare and service providers may have something for them.

Rupesh Sawant
Missing All In Print China would have been a foolish mistake – “Do you have ten rupees in your pocket? We have a technology for you,” is what Rupesh Sawant says is the motto of the Chinese manufacturers.

The exhibition was for printers who wanted to graduate and become a value-added printer with post-press equipment. For eg: If you have a printing facility of 5,000sq/ft, you had products which would fit in your 5,000 sq/ft facility and also equipment that would occupy the entire MIDC ground.

There were book printing machines which could produce 200-300 or even 2,000 copies per hour. On display were foiling machines for variable as well as one for production. There were case-makers, perfect binders and other small machines. Also exhibiting were spare manufacturers. One does not find good spare manufacturers.

The spectacular thing about these spare manufacturers was that, the documentation of the spare-part number and the year of manufacturing could help in procuring the desired product. A few of the manufacturers were manufacturing spares since 30 years. The trend that emerged was Manrolands were popular and now the Heidelbergs. Komori has started gaining popularity. There was a table-sized machine working at the show, which converted an A3/ A4- sized paper. A lot of labour is saved.

It is a replacement for the workforce. Each machine was a purpose-specific equipment. For a bag making job, printing, punching, lamination and pasting is easy. For manufacturing 1,000 bags, 4,000 eye-lets are required. They had a pedal-operated machine which produced 1,000 bags at a go. The material used for producing these eyelets was tin. 

Overall theme of the show
The show represented a factory of the world. There were visitors and manufacturers from across the globe. There were at least 24 CTP manufacturers – all Chinese manufacturers. Only PS and UV plates were produced. The trend that can be inferred from this: is it the return of PS? There were at least 50 plate manufacturers. 

I asked these manufacturers two questions. 1). What is the advancement in technology? Are they one a step ahead of the existing players? In terms of hardware, they are equivalent to the European manufacturers. Ultimately it is PLC-based and servo motor-based and a tad of metallurgy. They have mastered it all. That’s why 50% of the Chinese market is back to PS plates.

The key reason for this being, cost and ease of operation. The demand for PS plates is on the rise. We visited three plate manufacturers and all of them produced PS and thermal CTP plates. There were colour press coater offset machines running at a speed of 13,000. The Chinese are mastering the art of manufacturing an offset machine. The differences in technology and metallurgy was apparent.

There is a huge difference in the technology they use. This is backed with good market knowledge. Above all, in China, there is a tremendous support from the government. The government provides them land and a building and demands an export commitment in return. Loans are available at 2% per annum. How can the Indian manufacturers compete? The government to play a role. It has to provide subsidised power rates. 

The other thing is, the Chinese manufacturers, adhering to the export commitment, accept orders for container loads. The average production of one plant producing plates would be five-lakh sq/metres per month. They have high exports to Australia, Russia, Brazil, Latin America etc.

The most appealing fact about the show was, the manufacturers are aware about the requirement of the industry and are working towards achieving their scale of production. For this scale, offset is the king. In lieu of what I saw at All In Print show, I think Drupa 2012 will be a digital and fantasy show.