KG Suresh of Autoprint wins Lifetime Achievement Award - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column
KG Suresh, joint managing director of Autoprint accepted the Lifetime Achievement Award conferred on him by the IPAMA during PrintPack India 2022. An M Tech, gold medallist, from IIT Chennai, Suresh is one of the founder-member of Autoprint. He has been instrumental in designing and manufacturing machinery which are based on customer requirements.
From printing machines to post-press equipment. Suresh’s mantra is: Innovation needs to be matched with the customer's affordability quotient. One cannot load the kit with features which are too expensive and unaffordable in the current market conditions.
In this Sunday Column, Suresh looks at the industry from his unique vantage point in Coimbatore
19 Jun 2022 | By PrintWeek Team
PrintWeek (PW): Congratulations on the lifetime achievement award. What is your message to the industry?
KG Suresh (KGS): This is a very large and varied industry requiring high-precision reliable machines which need to be adapted or modified to the different end-customer requirements based on local needs.
PW: How have the results been for Autoprint? Is it safe to say we're back on a high after two tough years?
KGS: Yes, we now find there is more interest from the print industry to buy capital equipment. We believe that India could become a manufacturing hub for the world in printing and post-printing machinery.
PW: What is the update from the Coimbatore factories? Any additions or Greenfield extensions? Please share.
KGS: We have expanded our factory by adding another 10,000 sqft and shifted the assembly of all our machines to one factory.
PW: Autoprint implemented Kaizen manufacturing practices a decade ago. What now?
KGS: We are continuing with Kaizen, ISO, and other standard processes. We have added daily work management to empower our middle-level teams, which is yielding very good results. We have also changed our ERP to a web-based solution which has simplified our work.
PW: Follow-up question: How can our industry re-engineer manufacturing practices so that we can operate at earlier or even better efficiency levels while ensuring utmost safety?
KGS: Automation should be done in a gradual step-by-step method so that efficiency is brought into the operations. We find that there are many middle-level printers who have not upgraded their post-print equipment on par with their printing. Due to this, their manpower cost will be higher and also it would not be safe for the operators. Most of our equipment helps them in this area by reducing the manpower by at least 50%.
PW: They say that packaging is recession-free. And even though demand is high, the raw material prices and fuel cost is high too. Any pointers on the type of management quality and factory governance and product portfolio and e-mobility that is required going forward?
KGS: Increase in raw material prices is a huge challenge for everybody including us. One of the things we all can do is to become more efficient in doing our businesses. In Autoprint even after easing pandemic restrictions, we are still continuing to have remote meetings, remote demonstrations, extensive usage of Facebook, Google, and Instagram for the initial generation of sales leads and many more such initiatives which saves cost.
PW: Print is not growing anymore. We know that. But it is still huge. It's still a billion-dollar business. How should our industry plot its next business move? What are the new verticals of the future?
KGS: The best way would be, to look at their end-user requirements and then adapt, rather than a very drastic shift not knowing which would work. One way is to adopt a process called design thinking, which is what every big industry is adopting now. This is the latest management course in all famous colleges also.
PW: Do you think the manufacturers are offering the right products, not only in terms of attractive features but also innovations? Please throw some light on automation in Autoprint’s manufacturing...
KGS: We think innovation needs to be matched with the affordability of the customer and not just features which make the machine too expensive in the current market conditions. In Autoprint, we are now manufacturing most of our parts using only CNC machines with proper toolings and fixtures, which gives us better quality and repeatability, which ultimately saves our assembly time.
PW: During the pandemic more and more products were being introduced into the market. What are the trends (structure or substrate or engineering) that the Autoprint team has been spotting in the past 24 months?
KGS: We did look at a few things but then we found that we had enough development to be done on our present line of business itself and hence we decided to focus on that. As we were supplying equipment to many printers who were doing jobs for the pharma and food industry we had enough work even doing the pandemic. Our exports were also better during that time.
PW: Suresh Sir, the question for you is: has the pandemic era taught us a lesson (in a cruel way). That we need to reshape our factory, our shopfloor, our pre-press department, and our marketing services?
KGS: We are able to connect to our machines remotely, and provide the necessary support which is very effective, especially in our export market. We have also made small videos which help the customer to resolve most of the issues.
PW: What are some of the working practices that Autoprint has developed over the past two years — which include faster and more agile work and higher creative quality — which can be embedded into the industry’s DNA?
KGS: Empowering the middle-level teams to take decisions, daily work management, and focus on the cost of quality,
PW: Autoprint manufactures kits that cater to the Indian pharma industry. What are the types of conversations you are picking up from the pharma players? How can these be addressed by pharma converters in India?
KGS: Quality consistency of the cartons supplied to the pharma industry is very critical and the penalty for poor consistency is very steep. Our checkmate machines address this issue perfectly and our users of these machines assure us that they get zero complaints if the cartons are passed through the machine and shipped to the customer.
PW: Green and sustainability are the two mantras touted to be the key to long-run success. What has Autoprint achieved in these two departments?
KGS: We make coating machines and drip-off machines which are used to improve the aesthetics of the print, and also give it good protection. These are eco-friendly as it eliminates lamination which is not eco-friendly. At our manufacturing plant, we have started to replace wooden packing with 7-ply corrugated board packing for lighter machines, and also by thin steel tubes fabricated for heavier machines.
PW: Suresh Sir (a tricky question): Heidelberg collated performance data from thousands of presses worldwide. It was interesting to see (April 2020) how activity among commercial printers crashed to the most serious impact level, classified as “severe impact: multiple print shops stopped production completely” and with productivity expected to drop to below 40% of normal levels. Can Auoprint share similar data - about what transpired on the shop floors across India in real terms?
KGS: Basically Autoprint sells in two segments. One is a very small print shop and one is the mono carton packaging segment. Hence from our experience, the mono carton segment is still growing and the demand will continue for some time. In the small offset machine segment, we see that there is a reduction in demand. But the drop in demand is not as much as we had expected. It is probably because we are going to very small towns where there is still a demand.