India’s first HP Indigo 30000 heads to Parksons Packaging’s Daman plant - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

PrintWeek India broke the news of the latest Parksons investment. HP Indigo retweeted the news, saying, “Great momentum brewing in folding cartons now with a HP Indigo 30000 press off to India”. Parksons says, it not breaking the tradition of investment in offset, but obviously digital can do certain things offset can’t.

We say, it’s a seismic shift in the traditional folding carton market.

This Sunday Column is about the ‘how and why’ of Parksons Packaging's foray into digital printing

15 Mar 2019 | By Noel D'Cunha

India’s folding carton major, Parksons Packaging is investing in digital printing technology for the first time. HP Indigo 30000 will make its India debut at the Parksons’ plant in Daman, where the digital print behemoth is expected to land very soon.

Alon Bar-Shany, vice president and general manager at HP Indigo, says, “It’s a great honour and an emotional moment for us, to be partnering with a leader who has a strong reputation for quality, innovation, and good business. We have seen good success in the photo market segment, but recently we have seen some nice progress in the labels and packaging. I would say, until now we have dabbled in the folding carton segment with the 12000 HD press, but this 30000 installation will be our first entry in the folding cartons segment. Now, we have a partner who will be able to create world-class capabilities.”

The new investment will enable Parksons to produce high-quality, B2-format (20x30-inch format) applications allowing brand owners to communicate with end-users customers, provide a lean and agile supply chain, faster speed to the market, including on-pack messages.

In conversation with Ramesh Kejriwal, chairman of Parksons Packaging and his son, Siddharth Kejriwal, managing director of the company...

Congratulations on the HP 30000 acquisition deal. Will we be seeing a shift in the business focus, and technology investment in the future?
Ramesh Kejriwal (RK):
 Parksons is focussed on folding carton business, multi-locational, and predominantly offset-based operations. In 2017, we set up two plants, one in Sri City, Andhra Pradesh and the other in Guwahati, Assam. I think in terms of geography, we are well covered, and our focus continues to be folding carton business.

Right from the beginning, you had the vision of doing something different from what the industry had been doing. This is a continuation of that vision?
 And as you know, right from the day we started our footprint in folding cartons, be it in the pre-press side, print or post-print, we have always looked at technology as a main ingredient for our manufacturing. So it will be right to say, we have been looking at digital as well for quite some time now, understanding the advantages and how it will complement our offset operations.

So, are you breaking some traditional rules you’d have set?
 I don't know whether we can call it breaking a tradition, but we feel that today we have to provide brand owners what they need. Whatever steps we take has to be in that direction. So whether it’s offset printing, UV, embellishment or other product designs, it is to provide a solution to the brand owners, enhancing the packaging material we produce, both in terms of quality, get-up, and structure. We think this investment in digital could also be an additional solution to the brand owners.

You believe that offset will remain as the mainstream technology when it comes to manufacturing folding cartons?
 Yes, simply because of the sheer size of our packaging operation, where we convert 8,500 tonnes per month at our six plants.
Siddharth Kejriwal (SK): Let me put this in a perspective. We are not comparing offset and digital, and therefore, it is not like going out of the tradition of investing in offset, because I think as a folding carton solutions provider, there are certain areas which would be mainstream and always done in offset. But obviously digital gives you specific opportunities to do things which is not easy to do on an offset or not the best way to do it on offset. So I think it's about complementing the offset and digital technology rather than saying that we are an offset folding carton converter. We’d rather say, we are prepared to offer solutions across different technologies within the folding carton space.

RK: Going forward, as we continue to grow, we may look at additional investment in digital, but definitely, we are going to look at offset too.
At the moment, both the offset and the new digital investment is in the sheetfed segment, but we are also looking at web. Technology should fit two things – one, it should empower the investor to provide a solution to the customers; and two, good capacity utilisation.

You mentioned solutions to customers,  so what is the kind of chatter you’ve been hearing in the last 12 or 18 months which you are trying to resolve. I mean, the typical pain-points that you have come across – be it launching of campaigns, short runs, personalisations? What pushed you into this digital investment?
 Well, we are not only looking at pain-points of the customers but also as a value-add to the customers. Today, brand owners are looking for a lean and agile supply chain, how to get their product on the shelf, communicate with the end-user, and explore new avenues. When you talk of digital print technology, there's the capability to do on-pack message – regionalise or mass customise, you can do versioning, you can allow the brand owners to dip in and out of promotions, and of course with smart packaging, a better direct to consumer connect. The entire market is evolving and the brand owners are looking at how they can enhance their brands and launch new products. I think, digital fits in some of those expectations of the customers.

A mix of offset and digital?
 Yes, complementing one another, but more importantly providing a solution which will complement our customers’ brands evolution. I think some of our customers' future initiatives could be supported through digital technology.

So how will the HP Indigo 30000 help?
 The market is changing, and changing fast. Young customers are getting into buying. The brand owners have to be quick in their reaction time. They cannot sit back and relax, only to realise later that they have been hit by another innovative brand product. I think as someone with the capabilities of the HP Indigo 30000, we are in a position to give that brand owner, the edge in terms of providing packaging solution. If the brand owner wants to test a product by sending 10,000 pieces in the market and they want the 10,000 cartons in a very short time with quality that matches offset, colour integrity across the print run, we’d be able to do that. And if the brand owners want to include on-package printing with a variety of designs within the same order, that’s also made easy.

Automation is key to digital printing – so it has to be print, coat, die-cut all in one process. In that sense where does the HP investment fit?
 The HP Indigo 30000 is a seven-colour press, capable of printing on paperboards, metPET, synthetic material of 250-600 microns thickness. The 30000 will be equipped with two interchangeable coating units for aqueous and UV varnishes. The die-cut unit is not part of the investment. A digital die-cut machine is not an option at the moment, instead, we will utilise the conventional equipment we have. All we have to do it get the dies made, which can be ordered even as the job file is being processed for print. The whole process of print, coat, die-cut, glue can be done in a day’s time or maybe the following day.

Did you look at any other devices while you were shopping for the 30000, both within the HP stable and outside of it?
We had a look at many options. But our concentration was always on HP because we found HP had the right technology in terms of their system and quality. So, we were quite clear that if we opt for digital at this point of time HP would be the right fit for us.

HP and Parksons teams at the Parksons Packaging headquarters

We know you’d been to HP’s plant in Israel. Any live demos at the customer site, because you’ve selected a heavy piece of hardware, so there would be the permutation and combination you would have looked into, tried various boards, including Indian boards. Can you share the process of how you made the selection?
 It’s not just I, but we had our team go over to the HP plant in Israel, and visit some converters who have been using HP for the last two to three years, and understand their comfort levels. We first tried to understand what the technology is about, how the print transfer happens, the registration, and the hardware related to it. We saw the pre-press requirement, the Esko software connection, which was a comfort for us, because we are using the highest end of Esko. That was about understanding the hardware and software. Next was the colour reproduction, the consistency and uniformity of print, matching it with Pantone, how close can we get on the Pantone shades. All this was evaluated by our team, including running trials on different paperboards, to understand what quality levels we can achieve in practice. And once the team was convinced that we had the right kit, the management stepped in to finalise the investment process.

So in a way, will there be a kind of unlearning, for someone who has been an ink in the blood kind of a person; process-wise, a bit of tweaking?
 No, absolutely not. I think it is easier, because it’s all automated. I think once you have trained the operators, and set standards, there’s less human intervention required.
SK: If you ask me, I think it’s cutting-edge technology. We have opted for one of the highest configurations within the HP folding carton specific equipment. Obviously it comes at a cost, but we believe that there are customers who are looking at that sort of cutting-edge technology based on what value-add we can give.
RK: For example, the customer requires aqueous coating, UV or matt coating. If we go offline, we would be wasting time. So we opted for a double coater.

You mentioned that your team visited some of the other converters while travelling abroad, and HP is very good at that. Where do you think the hand-holding will help in terms of actually doing it? Also, we find a lot of designers are still old school; they have great ideas, but the shopfloor implementation is sometimes an issue. How would you be able to address that?
 I think one of the key advantages of digital is obviously, customisation and personalisation. And that is something which is an engagement between us and the brand owners, which will be quite strong to bring in the value-add. It’s true that, typically, most of the development of the brands happen, keeping in mind the conventional process. But there could be a certain brand, certain segments where you cannot have a conventional approach. I think it will be important to make the brands as well as the designers aware of what this technology can do. I think HP has great learning across the globe, and we will use that learning to our advantage. So, hand-holding in all aspect, whether training of people, going through the learning, or even in marketing, HP would be very much in sync with what want to do with the brand owners.

Are you going to deploy the 30000 for any special segment – food, pharma, FMCG?
 I think we are looking at the whole folding carton as a segment. We are not really specific that we are doing this only for a particular segment. Again, I think each segment has its own nuances. And a lot of them need solutions to impact the customer, the brand, and the message they want to convey through that brand. So our focus with digital technology would be to convey that message through colour consistency, small runs, personalisation and customisation, and smart packaging. We are working with a large brand across the country, and we believe, therefore, there are many opportunities across different segments where this technology can really benefit our brand owners.

Retail is one sector where the packaging perspective shifts a bit faster than some of the other segments. Will that be an ‘easy to move’ vertical?
 It could be. Obviously, where you are able to bring more customisation through smart packages will be an interesting area to get into.

We were at a print-packaging college which hosted a conference recently and we realised that the theme was digital, but there was actually no talk on digital. It was mainly conventional. And then the students came to us after the sessions got over and asked if there’s a special mindset or a special skill set or capabilities they should build to become employable. These are millennials who would be driving the print industry. How would like to answer that?
 I think it’s automation that is the key, and in any new millennium, and new students should understand the importance of just not the art part of the print, but also automation part. Even in offset, technology is constantly evolving. Heidelberg has the Push to Stop concept where a series of print jobs can be lined up with the help of Prinect software. The operator presses the button to start the press, and intervenes only if the process needs to be corrected. So I strongly feel the students must get into the thick of automation, which is a combination of hardware and software. Whether it is an offset press or a digital press, the future lies in automation.