JK Fine Prints: David versus Goliath - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

The Taloja-based label specialist has a simple approach. You can think of the difference between tactics and strategy as the difference in doing things right and doing the right things. Both are required as PrintWeek finds out.

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13 Jun 2021 | By Noel D'Cunha

Kapur (r) with cousins Rahul, Karan and father Surendra at JK Fine Prints’ two-storied plant in Taloja

The generation-next of the Kapurs, members who call their fathers “trendsetters”, are in the saddle of the Rs 35-crore label business. “Our fathers introduced self-adhesive labels to India. This was an era when India knew only wet-glue labels,” says Himanshu Kapur, director at Taloja-based JK Fine Prints. Kapur’s father Surendra is the founder president of the Label Manufacturers Association of India (LMAI). “When we started JK Fine Prints, we concentrated on incorporating advanced technology and automation in the printing and manufacturing part of the business,” says Kapur.

In his spare time, Kapur prefers to watch videos on different kinds of machines and the way they function.

Popular among the label circles in India, Kapur and his two cousins, Karan and Rahul, have been thrust into the competitive world of production, marketing and sales, after the previous generation passed on the baton to the young guns.

“In 2006, we established JK Fine Prints under the guidance of my father, uncle, Jatindra. With over three decades of experience in printing for computer stationery and label printing, we saw a greater potential and future in self-adhesive labels. So, we decided to foray into a specialised unit dedicated to that sector,” says Kapur.

The new generation of Kapurs has displayed the combination of ability, desire and experience to fuse the potential of its label business into a potent and unified force. “As time went by, we started adopting European norms into our company. For example, using benzophenone-free inks when the printing industry in India wasn’t even aware of it,” elaborates Kapur, adding, “We worked very hard to achieve and be certified with Sedex (SMETA-4 pillar) accreditations. We are also proud of receiving other certifications such as FSC, GMP, ISO-9001, ISO-14001, ISO-45001. Standardisation in our manufacturing unit is paramount at all levels, which leads to seamless integration and smooth flow between departments. We are constantly innovating systems and processes in order to minimise wastages and maximise efficiency, thereby reducing our carbon footprint.”

I ask Kapur whether this is the usual green PR that’s become mandatory these days. Here, he said, giving me an example of the recently started waste segregation department, which optimises recycling output (see box). “It’s a full stainless steel shed. Each colour denotes a certain type of material to be sent to its respective slot for waste management,” explains Kapur.

In November 2018, JK invested in a third Gallus EM 280 as it planned to scale up its capacity from the present six-lakh sqm to one-million sqm per month. Last month it invested in an ABG Omega RTS330 sheeter capable of running speeds of 40 m/min for an A4 size sheet, producing 150 labels a minute; and are in talks to buy the latest spectrophotometer and lightbox.

JK has currently only invested in label printing in pharmaceutical, food and beverage, lubricant, automobile, FMCG and personal care. However, within the label segment, it has increased its focus on specialised labels such as ophthalmic labels, EN-71/3 toy industry, low migration, void, direct-contact labels. “The compliance norms are extremely difficult to attain; thereby making us one of the very few label manufacturers that cater to companies that require these sensitive labels,” says Kapur.

The Kapurs: JK Fine Prints has been a loyal Gallus customer, having installed three Gallus  EM 280 flexo presses at its plant in Taloja

Machine selection brings print power
JK prides itself in operating three fully loaded flexo presses from the Swiss company Gallus, two letterpress machines from Taiwan, four 100% defect-detection machines from ABG Graphics, UK and Prati from Italy. Also, it possesses a host of other finishing machines such as backside numbering machines,  core-cutting machines, flat-bed converting machines, and multiple quality control machines.

I ask Kapur how he decides which machine is the best fit for JK, and he tells me that before he narrows down on any machine, he takes into account several factors such as pedigree of the manufacturer, reliability, accuracy and of course technology. Besides the above, he selects a company that holds a strong presence in India so that any servicing needs, should they arise, can be tackled promptly.

“Our research and study about printing machinery have led us to conclude that European machines are more reliable, productive and high on accuracy,” exerts Kapur.

And it’s just not the make, but also the type of machines he buys. The first Gallus EM 280 was a seven-colour press installed in 2006, while the second installed in 2013 was a 10-colour press. And like the 10-colour press, the six-colour press is equipped with web guide, servo tension, Corona treater, infeed and outfeed full servo, all units with active antistatic bars, chilled drums, auto ink pumps,  two die-stations, two cameras,  auto-register and plate mounter and India’s first IST MBS 7 UV system.

“It’s all about economics, and the benefit is either in time or money. We work on a set size and a line of similar press format means whichever press finishes first takes up the next job. Ideally, all three keep on rolling,” says Kapur.

That said, in terms of technology, Kapur says, it’s been quite some time since flexo has seen any real change in the printing technique. “The only changes observed have been in automation of print, which does not really impact the final product, but merely assists the operator in faster make-ready.”

However, one area in which he has seen major technological advancements is in pre-press and digital printing wherein year-on-year the print quality keeps improving. JK does have a small conventional pre-press set-up, which is used for emergency jobs. Most of its flexo plate requirements are outsourced to Reproflex.

“The pre-press house has developed an advanced screen system that delivers high-quality HD flexo. Another reason we chose them is that they use green solvents thereby not harming the environment. A good pre-press sets the stage for a good quality label.”

Himanshu Kapur - At a glance

How did you unwind during the pandemic?
The only real unwinding I experienced was when we took a five-day holiday to Munnar in January this year with my family. We were staying within the Chola forests. Being one with nature was very therapeutic after such an intense year.

One phrase you heard during the pandemic months.
I think it’s on everyone’s lips – stay home, stay safe; or wear masks, sanitise and wash hands. And the funniest was – go Corona go.

Which film or web series did you watch?
The Serpent, Joker, Ozark, This Is Us, Ludo, Mirzapur,  the entire Marvel collection, among others.
Once the pandemic is over, where will you vacation to?
My wife really wants to visit and go on a road trip to Ireland. So I guess that’s on the cards since family holidays are her department.
Favourite snack.
Anything made with red meat.

Favourite book.
Frankly, I don’t read books in my spare time. I prefer watching TV or videos about different kinds of machines and the way they function.

Your adda in your city.
Pre-Covid times, it was Phoenix Mills, Lower Parel. Or a coffee shop.

One historical thing about Mumbai you find interesting.
Close to where we live, there is a historical place of interest called Towers of Silence, which is the only real patch of green and quite truly very green like a mini forest. It is the final resting place for the Parsi community in India. It is not uncommon to spot snakes or peacocks when one passes by.

One print innovator from history you want to meet.
I meet him every day. He’s my father. He was a pioneer in his time in this industry.  He has been my guide and mentor.
One phrase, you utter at least once a day.
“Hurry up, do fast”.

Automation makes it easy
There is little doubt that automated manufacturing systems make it easy to develop and deliver new types of products and in different sizes very quickly. Flexible automation can also make label production profitable, promising increasingly specialised products that cater to brands’ needs.

That’s very true, says Kapur, whose firm’s 60% jobs are vanilla (pure flexo) and the remaining 40% are with embellishments such as multiple foils, holograms, invisible UV printing, thermochromic ink printing, embossing, screen-printing, label-on-label, scratch-off labels, and scented labels. “That’s the reason we choose to configure our machines to be operator-independent as possible.” He gives the example of the automatic capabilities such as automatic registration, automatic ink pumps, dual camera system and reel lifters available on the presses and on the shop floor.

JK had invested in an automatic core cutting machine very early on, and recently added a Prati slitting machine with a 100 % defect-detection system from Nikka having an in-built spectrophotometer. “We don’t believe in manual inspection as humans are prone to err, but machines can eliminate errors,” emphasises Kapur.

The company has also developed its own software to have a linear workflow between all departments. In order to aid ergonomics and prevent back injuries, its employees use a rechargeable roll lifting and moving device from Prati. There is also an automated GRN generation system that converts an alpha-numeric code into a barcode to facilitate workflow between various departments. All its employees are cross-trained and well-versed with the functioning of each installed machine.

“This ensures continuity in case of any staff absence,” says Kapur, adding, “Honestly, our team is very knowledgeable and efficient, and with very good back-end support from our associates we iron out our challenges fairly quickly.”

All the automation has made handling orders easier for the company. “We regularly print as low as 500 running metres up to 2,00,000 running metres to give you an idea of our range,” says Kapur. “We can handle any MOQ as long as the price is justified.”

But investing in a digital printing kit as Capex investment is something that Kapar feels is not justified, as its output and many other processes that are otherwise performed online on a flexo press, increases the cost of labels. “Take for example, die-cutting, white lay-down, cold foil, lamination, and varnishing. But once digital printing heads towards a complete automated system – from the input of raw material to finished product, that’s when we will certainly look at it as a complement to our current processes.”

Surender Kapur, Ferdinand Rüesch of Gallus, Anil Kumar Sharma of Avery and Samir Patkar of Heidelberg India

A prudent and profitable player
There are multiple small changes being made and tweaked along the way to generate more profits. As they say, with multiple drops of water a sea is formed. The same way JK keeps a check on the smallest of aspects to add to its bottomline.

Kapur shares three examples. “We increased our outer delivery box size slightly to accommodate that much more material, which in turn increased our tempo carrying capacity and reduced delivery costs. Two, the core used for matrix rewinding was a paper core so we had to keep changing it, now we have a heavy siliconised pet core, which is reused for years as the matrix jumbo roll leaves the core and it saves us considerably on an annual basis. And three, the smaller waste raw material is joined and wound into larger rolls and used for colour matching. We have a host of small initiatives, which has led to a reduction in costs.”

Customer satisfaction is another reason that the company has seen them sail through even during the pandemic. “As a company, we are always ready to incorporate and comply with clients’ needs to the best of our and our machines’ ability.” Moreover, Kapur says, “We are willing to learn and ameliorate our processes.”

I found out that one of JK’s client required a large quantity of 1x1-inch individually cut labels for which it invested in a whole new post-production machine line up only to cater to that client. “Yes, and we are also in talks with another company that requires a class 8 HVAC system,” says Kapur. “Regular repeat order jobs are always made in excess and kept ready and available so that when a client requires those labels, it is dispatched
almost immediately. We have created a track-and-traceability system, which enables us to trace back to entire production records if at all a customer requires them.”

By 2030, JK would like to diversify into offset printing and tap those markets. Integration of software where real-time data is relayed within each department of the entire business is also on the cards. Kapur says, “We are working our best towards contributing to a more carbon-neutral environment. We dream of harnessing solar and wind energies to generate our own electric power. We aim to become one of the forefront companies catering to industries that require high compliance standards of printing and certifications especially in the pharma and toy sectors.”

But what brings a big smile on his face is when I ask him at the end of the interview, about the one print job Himanshu Kapur loves. His answer, “I genuinely enjoy making toy labels as they’re fun to look at with different cartoons or characters and also the fact that it would bring pure cheer to a child’s face.”

JK’s green initiative

Waste management is extremely crucial and is the need of the hour. Taking this project very seriously, JK Fine Prints has recently set up a waste-segregation unit that separates the silicon liner, matrix waste, recyclable plastic drums, wooden palettes, and mercury lamps.

For example, mercury lamps are sent to a hazardous waste management system. Silicon waste is outsourced to be recycled into silicon again. Likewise, plastic waste is sent to a separate recycling facility, and wooden palettes are reused till the end of its life.

JK is in the process of adding a waste-water fogulator, which essentially separates the clean water from contaminated inks and other residues. The remaining non-recyclable waste all goes to kilns for power-generation, which in turn leads to lesser carbon footprint. It also celebrates World Environment Day, where all employees are encouraged to plant a tree.

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