Pallippuram Sajith: Automation can bring down costs

Pallippuram Sajith of Impel Services, A Welbound group company, attended the Power Lunch at the MMS Roundtable (third edition). He belonged to the group, Books & Catalogues - next level. Sajith spoke to the PrintWeek India team about innovation.

06 Mar 2019 | By PrintWeek India

Are we moving too slowly as compared to the other industries?
Like many other industries, we are challenged by disruptions in this digital era. We are probably taking wee bit more time to pause, contemplate and ideate.  
What should a modern press look like?
Seamless flow of customer requirements to finishing and fulfilment.  There are too many stop-start-runs in a printing process. Digital printing has done a lot to make these jobs sequential. As offset is mimicking digital print in many instances.
... In this sense, one innovation on the shopfloor you would like to see?
I foresee of an offset print job - may be a 32-page booklet designed, processed, printed, folded, glued and trimmed inline. 
Do you have to be much more innovative than your counterparts of a similar scale?
We are in business because of our customers. Everything that we do.
Such as?
Conceptualisation, design, engineering, manufacturing and servicing. All have got the customer as the centre.
How do you cope with that, constantly learning new innovations?
The design thinking process that we follow has five stages: empathise, define, ideate, engineer the product and test. Innovation is not a competitive reaction, but a proactive process towards customer delight.
What is the most innovative skillset you’ve had to develop in your team?
In most cases, the development of a product or improvement comes as a reaction to customer request. We are skilling our team from sales to dispatch, to look at minute requirements in our customer's business. This could be as simple as the customer's need to understand daily production data or to ensure that the safety guards are not lifted to carry out an operation.
What is your strength?
We believe that our strength is in converting a series of such smallish requirements to incremental innovations. To put it simply, we have asked our team to listen more and empathise, and then the innovation follows.  
In terms of creating innovation, do you invest in R&D in your organisation or you follow industry trends?
As mentioned above innovation does not happen in the R&D, it happens at the customer's place. The requirement gets defined, and during the ideation process we ask if we can go beyond whatever the requirement is - and create delight. Engineering puts a few such ideas together, looks at delivering these with minimal disturbance for the current structure and process of manufacturing. Prototypes are made and tested. So we need to make investments across the whole value chain not just in our R&D
What drives innovation? Is it a necessity or technology?
As explained earlier, innovation, for us, is driven by customer needs - but yet they are not reactionary,  as we look at gaps and try filling them. In that way, it is driven by our own need and aspirations to differentiate and sprint towards leadership.
Almost all print companies have diversified into new markets or applications – what is the key to that?
While innovation is always customer centric, opportunities sometimes come from other considerations. For example, at Impel-Welbound, we have a huge collective experience of handling hotmelt adhesives and applicators, thanks to our leadership in bookbinding.
How are you spotting opportunities?
We have tried to take this skillset to an entirely different market and application area - end of the line packaging. It takes time to establish yourself in a new market, but once you have the initial success, you can quickly differentiate yourself, thanks to this skillset. And then more opportunities follow from this new market. However, you must have complete faith in the idea and an enormous amount of patience. 
What about automation?
I would suggest "smart automation".
What is smart automation?
It is automation that is logical, cost-efficient and with a human face, is a must. For printers to be successful, they must understand the process and costing better. So before automating the process or along with it, one must capture information at every stage. So begin with a robust ERP and MIS solution that will help you understand your capabilities, gaps and costs.
Is automation an area that manufacturers can help in? If yes, how?
As regards bookbinding, labour is the single largest component of cost, even today. Automation can bring down costs.
What are the key challenges facing your vertical in the industry?
Book readership data is not promising. It is not e-books that are threatening books, in fact, they helped find new readers who swayed into printed books as well. Our children and grandchildren need to discover the delightful experience of reading. It's not just for the sake of publishing and printing industry, but for the sake of our society as a whole
The culture of print businesses 20 years ago is very different from what it is now. How do we make print more attractive?
The print is attractive, we simply need to change the lens through that we are looking at it
One innovation in our industry you hope to see in 2030?
I would like to see a multitude of incremental innovations in our industry that will help the society move from digital addiction to a phase of many more human interactions.