How Quarterfold decided to take risk and set up a new factory - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

Quarterfold Printabilities has focussed on the nuances of educational printing and publishing. A PrintWeek profile about how the rise of print management has boosted educational books.

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23 May 2021 | By Noel D'Cunha

What started as a two-person team in 2014 has now turned into Quarterfold Printabilities (QFP), which has recently expanded to a new factory in the areas of print management, content development and publication support for its clients in the continent of Africa.

Within a span of six years, QFP is now one of the youngest and advanced book presses in India. “With continuous investments in production sources, technology and paper stocks, our main focus has always been in the education sector, both in Africa and recently in India,” says founder and CEO Nilesh Dhankani.

The fundamental attitude of QFP is to never say no to its publisher partners. For instance, it had to deliver two simultaneous projects with over eight million books in a time frame of 30 days. The mammoth task was completed in 26 days. “No matter how challenging the job, we never shy away from supporting our publisher friends. I guess that’s what makes us the pioneers in the educational printing domain,” says Dhankani.

Despite the pandemic, the company decided to take a risk and set up a new factory. The rationale behind it is Dhankani’s aim “to provide educational publishers with outstanding print services, delivery in short lead times and no compromise on quality.” These are calculative risks as QFP has a thorough market understanding and healthy projections. It took the company years of experience and market research to derive these risks.

Print vs pandemic
Dhankani seems to be bucking the trend against the tide of the print-is-dying perception. He is of the view that despite being rocked by the pandemic, new trends continued to emerge that presented many opportunities to the sector. He also feels that the notion may be gathering traction mainly in the areas related to trade, fiction or non-fiction books, where eBooks/Kindle have replaced the traditional medium of reading. “However, when it comes to education or core industry sectors, print will always remain and continue to thrive.”

Dhankani feels that the print market is gaining acceptance among many businesses across the globe. “Rapid developments in production along with changes in consumer preferences and an accessible global reach present a number of opportunities to the industry today. But companies must be ready and willing to make significant changes to their existing systems to take this advantage. It has become very important for a print company to deliver offerings way beyond the traditional methods.”

According to him, the print industry in India needs to build on the strengths that we already have. Publishers and print companies need to work together in the time of ever changing technology trends. “Instead of cutting prices, it is high time we collaborated to share experiences, upgrade and merge our skill sets to be able to have better understanding of consumer and ways to deliver value,” says Dhankani.

Education sector in Africa
QFP’s prime focus in 2020-21 will be in the education sector across Africa and India. Helping publisher partners with development of new products will be one of its core areas along with printing.

There have been three phases in the QFP strategy over the past few years. Be it print management, setting up infrastructure to invest in technologies or streamlining print with publishing work.

The rising costs of raw materials have affected the profit margins. One of the important strategies of QFP will be to make efficient systems to cater to the growing consumer needs in-house, in its state-of-the-art setup. Considering the price competitive nature of this industry, it was vital to keep the cost low.”

To achieve this, QFP has been working hard in scaling up the operations. It has increased its capacity to nine web-offset and three sheetfed machines with a post-press binding set-up and that is increasing steadily. “In the past few years, we have been able to manage everything in-house. We invest heavily in stock options (paper procurements and contracts) so that we are ever ready and don’t run out of paper,” says Dhankani.

“We have to strive to run our presses 24/7 with paper in, paper out and everything in between. It is going to be challenging and it is going to feel good to be challenged,” quips Dhankani.

When it comes to quality expectations and constant deadline pressure from its clients, Dhankani feels proud that QFP does not have a single unhappy customer.

Quality management in the book market
QFP has hedged its bets on Africa for book exports. Many African publishers prefer to use B-grade paper for their projects. Such papers cannot achieve the same quality as A-grade paper. The question that arises is: how to cope with issues about the quality of the paper that erodes process efficiency (especially in the printing stage: longer make-ready and slower output). 

To which Dhankani cites his experience of 15 years in the African market. “With regard to the query regarding the use of B-grade paper, I would like to say that this is a misconception. In fact what I have seen is on the contrary. Many of our African clients prefer using A-grade paper.

When it comes to the systems for planning and logistics for the African clientele, QFP has tied up with shipping companies and transporters.

“To oversee the logistics, we have a good team to ensure deliveries are always on time,” adds Dhankani. Although QFP uses traditional software for measurement of metrics and movement in real time, the increase in capacity has led to IT upgradation projects operating in full force.

“We will be moving our systems to an ERP soon, preferably they will be cloud-enabled,” says Dhankani.

View from the top
Print-runs are becoming shorter by the day and consumption patterns have shifted over the last few years. Many book factories have phased out B-format presses in favour of smaller 36–inch presses. Commercial printing is seeing a downward trend as digital technologies are replacing traditional print because of which print runs are becoming shorter and more expensive.

“This is true for commercial printing on sheet-fed machines,” observes Dhankani. “As far as QFP is concerned, our jobs are mainly on web machines and with longer print runs. Since the last year, we have also started printing for publishers and certain industry sectors in India.”

As the head of QFP, Dhankani leads a multicultural and cosmopolitan team that renders a diverse and a vibrant work culture within the company.

“We are very young, dynamic and thorough professionals. Moreover, I have always believed in empowering people, as that freedom helps in getting the best out of them,” signs off Dhankani.