Photokina: holding all the right cards

Photokina’s JV with Saati, the Italian manufacturer of screen-printing fabric and chemicals, is a opportunity to expand its portfolio in India, tells Photokina’s managing director Jagdish Sheth to Noel D’cunha

27 Apr 2013 | By Noel D'Cunha

Noel D’cunha (ND): In terms of performance and growth, how was 2011-12? And how do you think you would close the business cycle for 2012-13?

 Jagdish Sheth (JS): Last fiscal we grew 22% (to Rs 21 crore) and we have projected a 25% (to Rs 25 crore) growth during this year. With our association with Saati, we are very confident that we shall achieve that.

ND: What is the state of Indian screen printing industry vis-à-vis global?

JS: The global screen printing industry is in a state of transition. Many of the applications of screen printing are taken over by digital printing. At the same time, there are new avenues that are opening up for screen printing. These include RFID, solar, architectural glass printing, ceramics or the automotive industry. In my opinion, the scenario in India is similar.

ND: In what way?

JS: There were certain print jobs that were traditionally with screen print, like visiting cards, small print run brochures, wedding cards, etc. These have moved to digital. But take the requirement of the automotive industry. India is the third largest manufacturer in the automotive industry and the requirements for of screen printing products is huge. Then there is the ceramic industry, where majority of application is screen printing. While on the one side, screen printing is losing its sheen in a certain segment, there are new avenues that are cropping up.  For me, the screen printing industry in India is clearly in a transition mode.

ND: Screen printing industry suffers from an image problem – it is seen as an industry which has not evolved, as compared to say the digital technology. Is that a right assessment of the industry?

JS: No, it is psychological. It’s a mindset. Many think that screen printing is a cottage industry. But that is not the case. If you visit the new-age plants, you will see, screen printing has become technical.  It’s true that screen printing is one of the world’s oldest methods for printing words and images, and although the process may be ancient, there have been many new innovations and improvements in the last decade. Today, it’s a process that adds value to print applications. Its glows in the dark, there’s scented inks, its environmentally friendly and most of all, it high quality. Today you see innumerable offset printers setting up an in-house screen print unit to provide value-added products to its customer. If you see, a majority of screen printing manufacturers have sold a large number of their machines to offset firms.

ND: You said there are new innovations and improvements. Please elaborate.

JS: There has been a drastic change in the ink industry that has taken place in the last few years. The top ink manufacturers in India all have international factories, and have set-up their own plants either by the acquisition of an Indian ink company or through JV. They have changed the ink technologies and formulations. These ink manufacturers have introduced new generation of inks such as UV inks, aqua inks, and specialty inks etc.  With the new developments in screen printing ink, there’s room for newer machinery, and print technologists have started looking for the right kind of products. India offers numerous opportunities for imported screen printing equipment manufacturer and the new inks work efficiently with advanced machines. And so, printers have started purchasing new equipment.

This trend is visible not only in screen-printing but across industries. Three-four years ago, we did not see the number of Audi or BMW cars, but today there are huge showrooms by car manufacturers; and because of a proper infrastructure for manufacturing we have dazzling displays which are available. It’s the same with screen printing. The possibilities offered by screen printing has allowed the requirements of printers and their consumer-base to increase. This has lead to strong upturn in the screen printing, particularly textile and industrial segment.

ND: Photokina has been in the screen print business for almost 25 years. How has business panned over the years?

JS: Most of the tenure has focused on the distribution of products. We distributed the products from local as well as foreign manufacturers. But in the last two to three years, we have shifted our focus to be customer-centric and have started manufacturing screen auxiliaries that cater to the screen printing industry, though distribution is still our core business. We are channelising our efforts, strengths and investment in becoming a strong manufacturer. We have our own facility for manufacturing chemicals. But they are not as high in quality as Saati’s are.

ND: From Photokina’s point of view which are the screen print products that you have focussed on?

JS: We offer all the things that are required for screen-making, be it for ceramic, textile, electronics or graphics. We manufacture chemicals and are planning to foray into the manufacturing of medium range of ink products that are suitable for the Indian market.

ND: IS the tie-up with Saati mean Photo Kina is in an expansion mode? Why did you feel the need for Photokina to tie-up with Saati?

JS: Photokina is working with a number of international companies and the tie-up with Saati is one of them. Our association with Saati is multi-dimensional. It is not meant for distribution of Saati products alone. It not only covers entire Saati product portfolio, which include mesh, chemicals, emulsions, filtration products etc. It is basically a diversification of Photokina from screen print industry to venture into the filtration industry.

ND: Saati’s supplies will orginiate from?

JS: It will come from China.

ND: Rather than just distribute, would not it be right for you to manufacture Saati products in India. Would this be a better option, insteda of having it shipped to India and then distribute. This would bring the prices of the products down?

JS: Definitely, at least as far as chemicals used for screen printing is concerned. You asked, why not manufacture these Saati products here in India? It is not that we are not in a position to manufacture it here in India, but the question is where is that kind of demand. To manufacture any product cost-effectively, you need to have volumes. Saati manufactures its products in China because they have the volumes there.  You see the screen print business in China, like all other businesses, is huge; almost a hundred times more than in India. There’s a demand for high quality chemicals and meshes. Here, at this time with the kind of demand in India, it is not worthwhile to manufacture and supply the product. Whereas distribution makes a lot of business sense.

ND: So it will be only distribution?

JS: As I have previously mentioned, this tie-up is not only about distribution. With this tie-up, Saati will leverage our distribution network across India, to enhance its market share in India.

ND: Do you have customers who are doing such type of work?

JS: Yes we have. We have our customers in Pune and surrounding areas, who specialise in automobile segment; in Bengaluru for IT products, in Gujarat for ceramic industry and customers in the NCRtoo, to name a few sectors. We have supply to our customers across India.

ND: Are you upbeat about the JV?

JS: Yes I am. See the automotive, ceramic, solar panels, smart cards and in particular smart phones with touch screen, can be done only through the screen printing process. Such products requiring special applications will have to be done using screen printing process and these processes will require the right kind of high-end material for its execution.

ND: Are you upbeat about the JV? Will these industries and special applications drive the demand for Saati’s products?

JS:  This is true for the Indian market. We will manufacture it locally, and make it more affordable. This tie-up in the long run will entail transfer of technology especially the technical expertise in terms of chemistry. Initially we will start with chemical and then move on to other products. That way we would be enhancing our manufacturing facility in terms of quality and capacity.

ND: Knowledge transfer is going to be a benefit for Photokina. Will we also see some funding from Saati?

JS: Well, that is a possibility. It depends on how we move. This is the first step. n

Photokina Chemicals was founded in 1985. The company is a blend of manufacturing and distribution capabilities for the screen-printing industry. It operates from a 43,000 sq/ft site in Changodar, Ahmedabad and has 125 OEM companies, dealer network of 450, and capability of allied manufacturing and custom package conversion system. Its product range includes screen fabrics, chemicals, emulsion, stencil films, frames, squeegees and handles among others.