Fujifilm consolidates during tough times - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

SM Ramprasad, the assistant vice president of Fujifilm's India operations, says, there’s a lot to fight for in the print space the Japanese major operates in, in India – plates, ink, signage and digital print.

In this Sunday Column, Ramprasad unveils measures which he hopes will shore up his company’s fortunes in India

29 Sep 2018 | By Noel D'Cunha

PrintWeek India (PWI): Fujifilm has been very vocal about the low-chemistry plate that only requires a one-stage gum clean out, rather than traditional processing chemistry. Today, Fujifilm India is the de facto vendor for leading packaging companies like ITC and Parksons Packaging plus a couple of newspaper majors…
SM Ramprasad (SMR):
 Fujifilm has been focusing on the high-quality customers, particularly in India. Packaging is the key area where we are focusing. We are the preferred plate brand for a majority of the packaging customers in India. Consistency and quality are the factors of our Superia thermal plates which make us the preferred choice. Same way, some of the commercial printers also bet on our plates. Internationally as well as in India, we have some of the quality conscious customers for violet as well as thermal low chemistry plates who appreciate the value that it brings to them.

PWI: What else is happening on the plate front for Fujifilm?
 In the thermal category we have developed a new generation of Superia ZP and ZD thermal processless plates which give good results even with the UV Inks. But not many Indian customers are still prepared to pay the cost for this changeover though some of the customers who are willing to take up the cost having understood the value it offers on the overall level.

PWI: As a consumable major how are you coping with the toluene-free drive?
 Fujifilm as a global company adheres to the best of sustenance policies and environmental-friendly practices and is always at the forefront to set new benchmarks. Apart from our plates, our water washable flexo plate too is good for flexible packaging. Plus we offer low migration UV inks just to give few examples.

PWI: Will we see an increase in the price of offset printing plates as raw aluminium costs continue to rise?
 The aluminium price has stayed at a high level at the London Metal Exchange. And the dollar is at an all-time high as well. So it puts dual pressure on most of the manufacturers as well importers and the local manufacturers especially. The question is, how much of the brunt can we manage, otherwise it’s a very serious situation for a lot of companies. 

PWI: The Directorate General of Anti-Dumping and Allied Duties (DGAD) has adjudicated discontinuance of the anti-dumping duty (ADD) on the imports of digital plates. What is the impact on Fujifilm?
 We principally stood our position stating that as a Japanese manufacturer, it doesn’t matter if we manufacture in China, Europe or Japan, our qualities and other standards are the same. Our price was one of the highest in the industry as we are selling our premium branded plates. We are not the importers who will come and dump the material in India. That was the position which was clearly validated by the latest order.

PWI: It benefitted you primarily because you have premium customers …
 Yes, currently our focus is on the premium customers, but this year we are trying to introduce mass volume plates for mid-segment, lower run length and short-run jobs. You see, these customers appreciate Fujifilm quality but wanted a specific plate with lesser run lengths and value for money proposition. And we have been trying to address that need and have succeeded in developing some solid products in our portfolio. It’s a huge market. Again we are using our technology to address it.

PWI: What is happening with Acuity? Last time we spoke, the number of installations was around 70…
 At the end of this month, we will be crossing 100 units of installation in India. Our selling rate is almost five to six units per month in the current year.

PWI: And how many more cities or centres for Acuity are we looking at…
 We are now moving across all area, all markets, not only the metro but even tier-three cities. So if you look at the recent times, we have entered markets in upper North areas, which are not only limited to New Delhi but also Punjab and Ludhiana. Similarly, for the other states in North India, we are present in Jaipur and are also entering into other markets like Udaipur which is more like the smaller cities but is very eager to adapt to new technology. In Tamil Nadu, for example, we are now installing the Acuity in places like Trichy, and in Maharashtra, we are moving beyond Pune to markets like Aurangabad.

PWI: What is the profile of these customers that Fujifilm intends to target?
 We have got a clear understanding of this market so we have different categories of product for each sub-segment. We have just launched a new product Acuity LED 1600R keeping in mind the strategy to target the mass segment. It is typically an entry-level roll-to-roll model UV printer and the price point is also very attractive for the customers. So all those who are currently using eco-solvent printers can upgrade to this. 

PWI: Is the price range under one-crore rupees?
  We have now UV roll-to-roll printers starting at Rs 30 lakhs + GST. Fujifilm has expanded its printer portfolio with the launch of a more flexible, lower cost alternative in Acuity LED 1600R. 

PWI: What is the update on the print management system?
 In the last one year we have been working with quite a few corporate brands.

PWI: How does it work? How do you audit the customers?
 We go and present the case to the corporate brands, for example, the big brands like Samsung, Apple, ITC, Coke, Pepsi, HUL, Patanjali, Suzuki, Hyundai and Castrol -  just to name a few, who want unique and clutter-breaking strategic branding and visibility. We pitch our product and technology. We have an installed base of around 100+ customers across the country. We give the brands an innovative idea and assurance in terms of the consistency of the brand and the application. This gives the brands a sense of what they’ll be able to do before the pre-launch. We run test samples at our demo-centres. We work in tandem with the brand so that if they scale up, they are aware of the possibilities. Also, we introduce innovative materials through which they would be able to design a better brand campaign. Since we are not selling anything directly to the customers, it works. The overall objective is to make a brand campaign successful for them. Then, of course, they negotiate with our customers directly for the commercials etc.

PWI: And how busy has the demo centre in Mumbai, been?
 The primary reason for the success of our demo centre in India has been the placement of newly launched products including the high-end model like UVstar Hybrid for demonstrations. We are the only major brand to have the India demo centre where even such high-end machines are showcased to benefit the Indian customer. This enables them to make an informed decision before buying. For many MNCs the higher end machines are usually kept in their demo centres outside India. In our case, the customers can go through the product before actually purchasing it. They know what exactly they are buying and how it works. Ideally, this helps the customer but it proved to be helpful for us too for the after-sales service. It helped us because our customers knew what to expect from our machines and the risk factor for them was reduced.

PWI: What is happening in digital print signage space?
 The print volume is getting reduced with more and more electronic or the digital media coming into place. At the same time, it is getting compensated with more brands that are opting out of regular ATLs like electronic medium and newspapers etc to OOH. Earlier the outdoor or the indoor branding was limited to fewer brands. Now more brands are exploring it and what they are looking at is more of a 360 degrees approach. In that sense, it is getting compensated.

PWI: Does it mean there is an increase in the consumption of digital print signage?
 Yes. There is a tremendous amount of increase coming from rapid infrastructure expansion projects, for example, metro in every city and each city having more than 50-60 stations and each station having more than 4,000 sqft of space. That is something incremental for the digital printing. Even the technology shift within the ambit of printing, for example, the solvent-based kit is being replaced by UV. For us, the growth is happening on account of all of these, plus the shift towards UV.

Every digital printing company, in the recent past, has been talking about UV, more driven by environmental regulations. However, as the pioneers or the first movers, we have been upping the standards ante and it’s the advantage that we get over others.

PWI: What’s happening with CTP plates?
 In the CTP space, we got a clear outlook of the market when we started pushing our digital press - JetPress. We did a lot of cost analysis while promoting the JetPress and I can say with confidence that plates have a good future for the next 15 to 20 years in India. Nobody is simply going to shift to digital because, with the kind of cost-benefit analysis that the customers or the printers are expecting, digital doesn’t even come any way closer. In that sense, we need to be prepared as to how we further give good quality or cost-effective products.

PWI: What about CTCP?
 In India, CTCP is growing leaps and bounds. So we are putting some strategies in place and probably will have some tie-ups with the local manufacturers. Here we see the possibility of providing our technology and know-how and build strategic tie-ups with some manufacturers so that we can give quality plates to address the Indian market. Therefore CTCP is on our radar and we will provide a possible solution soon.

However, to the best of my knowledge CTCP technology will phase out in major markets, as the demand for these plates worldwide is marginal.

PWI: And what is happening with Luxel?
 The space for violet platesetter is narrowing down to newspapers. Even with newspapers, we don’t know how long it will sustain. Violet was preferred over thermal primarily for higher run length. Now no one requires that kind of run lengths. Maybe the more cost-effective thermal or CTCP will replace violet in the coming days.

PWI: How does Fujifilm intend to capitalise on this new curve in the consumption of plates?
 We would be launching for the new short-run thermal plates starting from this month, and we will be launching some of the plates which will be like what we call the drop-in plates. They can keep rotating any brands of plates without changing the chemistry or having a separate processor. That is one thing we are looking into. The other one is CTCP, for the cost-sensitive market.

PWI: That would be direct or through vendors?
We are exploring some strategic tie-up with a local manufacturer.

PWI: And JetPress? How does it fit into the scheme of the short-run market?
: Yes. We have identified a soft spot for JetPress. It fixes into the scheme of the short-run market and also into something that we call a hub-and-spoke kind of a model. This will recreate the space for a lot of small-time printers who have lost out, to come back into the business. They will be able to reap the benefits without making huge investments for this kind of product. The bigger printer will be able to make an investment on their behalf and they will mutually get the benefit out of this. And according to our understanding, there are a huge number of small-time printers in India, who are either getting phased out or taken over. The JetPress will be a good solution for them, to come together and make this investment. They will also be able to provide print-on-demand for their customers looking for quick delivery of jobs like visiting card or letterhead or any small kind of print jobs. Today if they take this job to a bigger commercial printer, these jobs would not get the priority they need. The hub-and-spoke model will allow the commercial printer to accommodate any short-run jobs without disturbing their regular runs.

PWI: The question that arises out of this model is the scale of economics for everyone involved…
 We did a lot of study and discussion on this with some of the top minds in the market. There is a tremendous potential to sell this in each of the printing hubs and we are working on this. And since this product meets all the criteria for print-on-demand, without the need of any plate and this is not like a regular digital printer. This will fit into their scheme of things. We have even identified five to six prospects with whom we are working very closely. Within two to three months we will be able to get a closure.

PWI: When you say small printers, what size are you looking at?
 When I say small, these are the people who would bring the job from their nearby and surrounding, they are the ones who had their small-time press and are short on investment to expand. Small time printers are kind of freelancers. They possess the right contact at the local level and they will have contacts with small-time shops, temples, churches, schools and political parties.

PWI: One of my favourite products is the Dimatix printhead. Why is it underrated?
 As far as Dimatix is concerned, Fujifilm Diamatix sells it more as an OEM with various manufacturers. It’s not an off-the-shelf product. In that sense, we have a lot of customers in India as well, particularly in textiles which are integrating and using this printhead.

PWI: So much of silence on the XMF workflow front? Why the kolaveri?
 It all boils down to cost-effectiveness. At one level, you have the quality focussed customers, where they buy the product in conjugation with their offset machines. Since we don’t have offset machines, we can’t influence customers to go for XMF, when the integration happens the primary focus is on the offset machine. And the second reason is that our main focus is on the workflow, basically in the pre-press section. Where the customer expectation has increased is, getting a cost-effective software solution. We still hope for market maturing and investing in such solutions in the coming years.

PWI: What is the future of this beast called print?
 The future looks optimistic on account of the economic outlook, the size of the Indian market. Also being late adapters we tend to catch up with the latest technologies even if the adaptations are made only at the top end of the pyramid.

PWI: Why is concept selling not managed or structured better in print operations?
 As long as the print owner calls his client to take the order, the salesman becomes irrelevant. Maybe only 10-15% companies have good salesmen who pitch for the print product and these salesmen are able to explain why a company should buy his product or explains the difference between the products. Rest of the 85% business is managed on a phone call and decided based on the pricing and relationship.

PWI: What is your growth plan for the remaining five months?
 We are primarily targeting on doubling our installations on the Acuity range of products. In terms of the plates, we are betting heavily on the new plates getting a huge launch. We have JetPress as one of the key expansion products this year. We have Flenex in the flexo segment and after a one-and-a-half year of trials and testing, we have the complete solution that is ready for the market now. For the mass market, we will introduce CTCP through a strategic local level tie-up.

PWI: Final question, what is the overall sentiment about the market from Fujifilm’s point of view?
 I think we are coming out of all the structural changes that the government introduced in the last year. A lot of corporates are showing better results now. The bad phase is over now, so we can hope to improve.

(Interview transcribed and copy edited by Amogh Dikshit)

The Acuity LED 1600R
The Acuity LED 1600R is optimised for four-colour CYMK roll-to-roll printing but is otherwise said to share all of the quality and performance benefits of the Acuity LED 1600 II hybrid model, which was launched in 2015.

Incorporating Dimatix Q-class industrial printheads, the Acuity LED 1600R offers four channels as standard. The 1.6m-wide machine can print at up to 33sqm/hr, matching the speed of the Acuity LED 1600 II.

It can handle rolls of up to 40kg, around 15kg more than the maximum weight the 1600 II can accommodate, enabling users to manage longer uninterrupted runs.

The printer features a high-density mode capable of handling heat-sensitive roll media and is suitable for producing backlit and window applications.

It produces low levels of heat and requires lower ink volumes and less power than similar machines on the market, Fujifilm said.

It also has an instant start-up, long-life LED UV lamps, no ozone or VOC emissions and uses only one consumable – the ink.

The manufacturer’s new Uvijet RL ink is used with the device. The range is available in CMYK and CMYK plus light cyan and light magenta.

A modular upgrade option to include white is available, with an option for up to eight channels, to include clear ink, also being added in the next few months.

Designed specifically for printing onto roll media, Fujifilm said the Uvijet RL range is manufactured by Fujifilm Specialty Ink Systems in the UK and, combined with the 1600R’s LED curing system and Dimatix printheads, delivers “near-photographic” print quality.