And whose grievance is this anyway?

The In Depth feature reflects on concerns facing print firms whose contracts are not honoured. It highlights the critical enablers that can ensure a clear understanding between printer and manufacturer.

25 Feb 2011 | By Samir Lukka

Case-study one

A print firm in Bengaluru is growing. The company has invested in a CTP platesetter, two presses, MIS system, plus finishing kit. In 2005, they had purchased a brand-new press in March 2005. After 14 months, the chiller stopped working. This was brought to the notice of the dealer and representative of the company in India. The company was told the chiller should last for decades. Thereafter, the European manufacturer said they would replace the chiller without cost.

A few months later, the manufacturer refused to supply the chiller "free of cost". The dealer tried to get it repaired. Meanwhile the press operators noticed bubbles on the blanket cylinders. Again the parent company was informed. A technical engineer was summoned. His verdict was: the press operators had been careless. Therefore the scratches on the cylinders. The diagnosis: running the machine without the chiller. The manufacturer issued a bill of Rs 85 lakh to replace all the five blanket cylinders. The matter reached a deadlock.

Case-study two
A similar saga unfolded with a digital print company. It purchased a high-end digital colour press. But as one of the partners of company said, "the downtime of the machine was more than the uptime due to lack of service backup and improper supply of spares."

During the four years, the company "did not run the machine for more than 20 days in a month due to repeated breakdown. Needless to say, the company made losses during these breakdowns, besides having financial commitments with private finance companies."

When the company confronted the manufacturer, it was slapped with a legal notice and accused of raising "frivolous issues" to avoid its payment of lease. The two partners paid up the dues to the manufacturers.

Case-study three
A pre-press bureau in Mumbai is struggling with its CTP platesetter. The bureau was struggling to produce plates. The manufacturer stated the machine was being sweated beyond its capacity. A major deadlock. Finally, the bureau had to replace the processor. Once again, a lot of negative vibes.

A way forward?
We discussed this with Manoj Mehta, who is president of the All India Federation of Master Printers (AIFMP). He says: "I don’t feel the suppliers and manufacturers want to behave badly. It’s quite normal for them to query whether malfunctioning equipment has been damaged."

The big question here is: have they broken or infringed (either literally or in spirit) the terms and conditions of any warranty or after-sales service agreements? If they have, or are breaking either the terms or the spirit of them, then the AIFMP has something firm to go on.

For this purpose the AIFMP has formed a special grievance committee, which is being headed by Prakash T Jagtap of Color Point in Vadodara and Ajay Seth of Hanemex Art press from Amritsar.

That’s a start. The number of new and pre-owned machines being installed in India is rising. Automatically the number of complaints and mis-communications are bound to increase.

BMPA: shows the way
For many years, the Bombay Master Printer’s Association (BMPA) has had a Grievance Cell. This Grievance Cell is a special Task Group (TG) that safeguards members’ interests especially the realisation of bad debts or overdue payments.

In the event of a dispute, between a member and any third party, the BMPA renders services through the Grievance Cell Task group. Herein the two sides, i.e. the complainant and defaulter are requested to resolve their differences or disputes amicably; and hopefully in a spirit that would nurture the scope of their business relationship.

According to Anand Limaye, the chairman of the TG Grievance Cell: "We approach these situations like a mediator or arbitrator. This approach has prevented unpleasant legal battles between the aggrieved parties. The cell’s action has not only resolved issues but have promoted healthy business relationships."

Through its engagement BMPA TG has aided member firms to recover more than Rs 1-crore in 2010. Also, the Grievance Cell has resolved two cases of outstanding payments against a print buyer and one against a fellow printer with whom the BMPA member had excuted some jobs.

Limaye adds: "The BMPA looks forward to many more members availing of the services rendered by the Task Group of Grievances." He agrees that could be, and should be extended to the complaints that members have about poor fault machine parts, service default, poor maintenance.

For this, he says, "The cell can proceed only after satisfactorily establishing the bonafide of the members’ claims; and more importantly if members approach us with their claims."

Right now, very few firms avail of such an apportunity. The main reasons are: fear of a legal suit; and lack of proper documentation by the print firm.

Planning for the future
Technical consultant, Abhijit Pandit who has years of experience says: "Print firms are careless when they sign deals. They should be wary of sales persons who make promises. Instead they should ask as many questions about how the system works before slapping down their hard earned money."

Pandit explains: "Sometimes the problem is a technical one." He points out, that there was a company that recently switched to ISO 12647. And so, everyone re-calibrated or set up the print to this standard.

The main problem was: with all these alterations to the platesetter, the printer had no idea what had been done plus no understanding of how to re-calibrate it. A lot of technical people came and re-calibrated the machine without anyone watching. Now tell me who is to blame for this situation? The printer, the manufacturer, the technical experts?"

This creates a problem.

Every time there’s a complain, companies are unable to depart from the standard industry practice of reflexively "denying and defending" most claims. Inevitably, top management and personnel sit down with plaintiffs and their lawyers to discuss formal litigation.

This is not required. When the working atmosphere is free of retribution, manufacturers and dealers no longer have to duck and dodge to avoid the appearance of guilt when errors occur. We require a culture of transparency which will reduce error rates along with improved quality service for print companies.

For this to happen, print firms will have to be vigilant.

Top tips from PrintWeek India for buying a new machine

Do your homework. Preparation is the key. Attend trade shows, where you can fix an appointment for live demo; or request the company to organise a plant visit to a customer site.
Collect all the information and product details in advance and build up a library of case studies if that’s possible.
Try it before you buy it. Every press – and indeed piece of print-related software – that hits the market has been intensively beta tested in the field before its release and manufacturers are constantly on the lookout for test partners. Signing up for a beta test has numerous potential benefits – you get to try out the next generation of kit and get the full attention of the manufacturer’s engineers during those early months to ensure that you’re getting the maximum out of it.
Do it well or don’t bother. Have a designated technical person who understands your expertise. There’s no point having a rude surprise (or shock), later. New flooring or re-wiring or even an additional retro fit.
 What are your finance options? How effective are the interest rate, currency rates for small business?Ask your supplier, what could be done to improve it?
Ensure you have a genuinely fool-proof after-sales service contract.