KS Murthy: Rethinking Ink, Bet on sustainable growth - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

While 2021 might have slowed us down, it certainly didn’t stop us, says KS Murthy, managing director of Toyo Ink. In this interaction with PrintWeek, Murthy discusses how Toyo Ink created new products, came up with an eco-friendly process, and supported clients in the best possible way. “As a company with 125 years of history, we proved to be strong in the face of adversity,” he says

10 Apr 2022 | By Noel D'Cunha

PrintWeek (PW): First and foremost, what is the update on the Dahej plant?
KS Murthy (KSM):
To meet the growing business needs of gravure inks in India and overseas, we have set up another dedicated manufacturing facility for gravure inks. This facility will support Indian and global brands with seamless supplies of premium quality products of Toyo. The facility and its related efforts will remain sustainable.

PW: What are the highlights?
Our R&D and technological advancement have enabled us to develop new-generation water-based gravure printing inks to improve printing quality, consistency and flexibility. This development will have a positive impact on the overall market growth.

PW: During Day Two of InkWeek (22 March), you launched an ink product line. What has been the feedback thus far?
The response was good. The industry has expressed interest in the product line we have showcased. These days customers and partners are more inclined toward sustainable and innovative products. Our range of products satisfies our customers from all facets, and we are happy with the response. We are exploring various solutions and possibilities to meet the growing business needs of our customers and partners in a sustainable manner.

PW: You are a keen student of the Indian printing ink industry. What is your take on ink volumes?
As you know, gravure printing ink’s market size is growing substantially. It will continue to grow during the next few decades due to the fast-growing packaging and lamination sectors across the globe, rise in disposable incomes, and increased acceptance of interior designing with customised wallpapers.

PW: Are ink volumes likely to remain at the current levels with practically no or minor growth from 2019 levels?
Past two years have been very uncertain with minor growth. But now, people and corporates are stepping out of the uncertain mindsets, aiming to bring in new perspectives to work, products and services. I feel, 2022 will be challenging in many ways, but we are expecting the volume to go up as compared to the last two years.

PW: I know it is tough to predict, but will the market stabilise in 2022?
Global logistics and raw material shortages have caused a multitude of challenges for our industry. Supply chain disruptions and cost impacts will continue until the end of 2022 with further price increases. No doubt that the value of printing inks and coatings is undeniable, and we all should work together with committed hearts to ensure continuity of supply as we move forward against these continued headwinds.

Product Spotlight
Everyone talks about bio-based raw materials that can be deployed as ink constituents. Toyo has the TK NX Process. It is a cobalt-free and vegetable oil-based ink series. This ink series is used by packaging and commercial printing segments. Some of the key features include good colour gamut and brilliant colour vibrancy, halogen compliance, and fast-drying and setting. Plus, there is emulsification stability and good chemical resistance.

Toyo is working with several brands locally and overseas. The product characteristics have helped gain popularity among several brand owners and converters.

PW: So, some hope …
Yes, 2022 will be a bright and bold year. But we need to be savvy enough to implement what we have learned in the past two years to create a more agile, resilient, and creative future for our ink manufacturing industry.

PW: We were studying the P&L of the ink majors. The price increases the top lines of the industry, but EBITA margins will be lower. What is your view?
We can take pride in the fact that when the pandemic brought the world to a halt, it forced us to keep our distance from family and friends. The work ink makers have done helped people stay connected, making our difficult times a little easier.

PW: How did Toyo cope?
We have enabled capability-building programmes to ensure that all our people understand the importance of cash and have the right tools and necessary knowledge to make decisions based on P&L and cash implications. Also, we implemented sustainability practices in every facet by adjusting trade strategies and investing in technology while firmly putting humans at the centre of decision-making.

PW: That’s good.
I’m proud to say that while 2021 might have slowed us down, it certainly didn’t stop us. We have invented new products, come up with eco-friendly mechanisms, and supported our clients in the best possible ways despite many challenges. As a company with 125 years of history, we proved to be strong in the face of adversity and change.

PW: Your message to the industry at this critical juncture…
The ink industry must work together to pave a strong foundational safety and contingency plan to safeguard our people, community and business. When united, we can overcome any adversities. Our combined strength is what makes us successful as an industry.

PW: As we see it, during the past 24 months, many business owners were innovating quickly, planning better, and adopting fast. Today, such companies are better placed than most. To what extent has Toyo facilitated this innovation process?
We have laid the foundations for a future of orderly, sustainable and profitable growth. We have revamped our innovation model to generate and capture attractive ideas for our new product offerings. Our innovative stance will preserve our strong leadership amid the disruptive technological changes and amplify and reinforce our connection with the ebullient technological innovative ecosystems spreading across the globe.

PW: How can a business remain competitive with the help of inks?
In ink production, choosing the right, high-quality materials from various parts of the world is key. Constantly working with high-quality materials has made us unique in this business. Our current challenge is closely related to where we want to develop adaptability with new technology and cutting-edge innovation to help us stay ahead of the competition.

PW: How does this work in India?
We have two production lineups, a standard collection of products and a custom-made lineup. The former applies to many different industries, but for us, this is hyper-specific to a client’s needs and is highly demanding. When working on a custom product, our R&D, production and sales teams are challenged, but acquire a huge deal of knowledge and expand on what other products we can make. This ability to apply what we learn with each product and expand our production base has made us competitive and successful.

PW: What does a good ink system bring to the production process?
Well, we do basic research on colour, application and new technologies that continuously develop around us. We also research mass production because our clients will ask for large quantities. Toyo always ensures that quality remains high at production centres.

The Toyo message
Today, change is everywhere. Our customer markets are evolving rapidly in response to volatile raw material prices, new feedstocks, and new manufacturing trends. Sustainability is often the spur, driving demand for better, cleaner and more efficient products and ways of doing things.

For companies that can see potential in these challenges, this is a good time to be in business. From the inception of Toyo, we always sought to adapt quickly to customer needs and requirements. Our tradition of ingenuity has driven continuous improvement in the way we operate as well as a relentless quest for sustainable growth.

PW: How does the system work?
Firstly, we focus on training our people. We keep a very strict and standardised production protocol across our factories. Secondly, we send materials to our factories from Japan; this ensures that no matter where something is produced, it still will come out the same way as it would in Japan. The third is technology. Our teams are trained in factories abroad, so our quality control is world-renowned.

PW: Can the ink-makers make features such as high lightfastness, chemical resistance, and scuff resistance a standard offering? Right now, it is a separate grade of inks.
At Toyo, we say our inks can adhere to anything, but water and air. We have the technology that can print anything on anything in any colour desired by our customers. To add value, we have other functions and capabilities. But chemistry and physics are also required. We create adhesives on top of our chemical work, which requires mixing.

PW: Can ink manufacturers build a chain of training and ink mixing centres in all major towns of India to train people in the science of colour matching and ink mixing? What is your view?
Certainly, there is science behind every ink. It is ideal to study science and trends and enable that knowledge at every level. Only education can change people’s perspectives. That’s when people will understand the difference between a normal ink and a gold-standard ink. At Toyo, we have colour scientists who constantly invent and reinvent the wheel as per our growing customer and market trends. It is an excellent idea to inculcate knowledge about the science of colours.

PW: There is so much pressure on ink manufacturers to optimise costs. Please share your view.
: Agreed. 2022 is the time to think through and enable the right technologies that can better add value to optimise manufacturing costs. Sustainable expansion and reduced environmental impact, optimising the manufacturing costs, and imbibing the right technology are the need of the hour. The industry needs to go one step further to make this happen. There will be so many mergers and acquisitions. Fulfilling these trends will allow us to create a new generation of ink for the betterment of humankind.

PW: Next 12 months for Toyo...
Next 12 months will be challenging as we must deal with supply chain disruptions. We must relook our processes and strategies to keep the price competitive. We must build strong cashflow and enable capability-building programmes focusing on green manufacturing. In the following 12 months, our philosophy is to add value to our partners, customers, community, Mother Nature and the nation.

KS Murthy and Sustainability

The ink industry should come together to enhance the existing processes and standards to deliver sustainable products. When an individual or an industry cultivates sustainable thinking, there is a lot they can discover, and it all aids in building better products and a better community. The ink industry should go back to the roots of organic-ness or vintage printing and figure out all possible earthy ways in bringing out the products that stand the test of time.

The packaging industry is evolving and will grow in the next few years. Sustainability will gain more impetus in the coming years as customers are very cautious of what and how they consume. The ink industry should make advancements in packaging to transfuse sustainability across the packaging ecosystem and fraternity. The industry should adopt futuristic technologies and IoT to enhance the interconnectivity between the manufacturing and supply chain cycles to enable process transparency and delivery efficiency.

EPR is a good initiative to have yearly targets for the stakeholders on specific types of plastics. It is a good initiative by the government to safeguard Mother Nature. With respect to plastic packaging, the EPR covers reuse, recycling, use of recycled plastic content and end-of-life disposal by producers, importers and brand owners. As per the new rules, the producers, importers and brand owners shall have to provide the details of recycling certificates only from registered recyclers, along with the details of quantity sent for end-of-life disposal. At Toyo India, we have a mechanism for EPR to meet the targets.