Pradeep Shah: “In every business one has to adapt to the changing market scenario”

Manugraph India, a leader in web offset printing presses manufacturing expanded its portfolio into packaging printing. This includes manufacturing of central impression (CI) flexo printing machines in collaboration with the Italian manufacturer Carraro SRL. Pradeep Shah, director, Manugraph India speaks to Ramu Ramanathan in an exclusive for WhatPackaging? about Manuflex and packaging.

24 May 2019 | By Ramu Ramanathan

Pradeep Shah, director, Manugraph India

Ramu Ramanathan (RR): From web offset to a brief foray into folding cartons to CI flexo?  How has the journey been?
Pradeep Shah (PS):
In every business one has to adapt to the changing market scenario. The writing on the wall is clear quite clear, newspaper web press growth is stagnant and in order to survive, one has to look at other businesses with a similar synergy of machine building. CI flexo was one such an option.

RR: The Manuflex is being manufactured at the plant in Kolhapur. 
PS: Yes. At Manugraph, we are able to handle every complex manufacturing process.

RR: What are the alternations in the manufacturing process - and the investment in this area?
PS: Given correct designs and documentation, our team in Kolhapur is able to build any sophisticated machine. We have had to increase our investment in manpower, mainly, in people who understand CI Flexo and for testing the final process of delivering such a machine.

RR: Manugraph has an association with the Italian manufacturer Carraro SRL.  How does it work?
PS: Manugraph has obtained all the drawings from Carraro for production of the CI flexo press in India. We will produce the same, and offer it to our markets.

RR: Sanat Shah, who is chairman of Manugraph and your father, mentioned the CI flexo project a decade ago. 
PS: When Sanat Shah talked about CI flexo and his vision of it being manufactured in India, it was too early, similar to the Supersonic Concord story. 

Pradeep Shah and Sanat Shah

RR: How tough has it been to have grown in the shadow of Sanat Shah?

PS:  When you have a father like Sanat Shah, it is always a challenge to step up and follow him. Fortunately, we are extremely close and he has groomed, nurtured and been supportive always. All the ideas for corporate planning are done regularly on an ongoing basis. The most important lesson that he has taught me is – "Never Give Up" and "Strive to be Number One".

RR: One day when he patted you on your back? One thing you wish you could emulate?
PS: On one occasion, he patted me on my back, when I single-handedly caught one of our ex-directors in Kolhapur, stealing drawing know-how and offering the same to other ex-employees to start a factory which would be our competitor.

RR: And now, are you on the right side of the technology curve or is there a delay?
PS: I am very glad that we did not manufacture the CI flexo machines, then.  India is now getting ready for CI flexo, as the quality of CI flexo is very close to gravure technology.

RR: The fact is, when it comes to packaging, you have nailed your technology colours to the mast and the future is definitely CI flexo. 
PS: Manugraph is known for introducing technology which is not available locally. We have produced machines at par with the West, for the Indian as well as the overseas market. Hence a CI flexo press which was being attempted to be made in India but with limited success. With our mechanical and electronic supremacy, we were confident of manufacturing a CI flexo press in India. The world witnessed the launch during the recent IndiaPlast 2019 exhibition where the machine did live demos on all days of the exhibition. Installing a press in four days and running eight-colour jobs was no mean feat. The press was appreciated by existing users of CI flexo machines, veterans from the industry, ancillary suppliers as well as our fellow competitors.

RR: Why not gravure which is so much more popular in the flexible packaging segment in India?
PS: A significant issue driving flexo’s appeal is the continual improvement of flexo technology at both the OEM and supplier level. This has gained more momentum in the last couple of years. At the same time, truly innovative technological advances have been transpiring with the new generation of high definition polymer plates being used. I think incredible results have been achieved. This matches gravure in terms of quality. Pre-press, inking, and sleeve technologies are being refined to meet the demands of the flexo converter and the flexo consumer. All of these developments were and will continue to be key contributors to the tremendous success that flexo has enjoyed over the last few years. For all these reasons the future definitely seems bright for flexo.

RR: The latest report published by Research Report Insights the worldwide market is anticipated to record a CAGR of 6.7% throughout the projected period of 2017–2022.  What is your estimation for CI flexo in India?
PS: In the last 2-3 years, India has seen 12-15 CI flexo machines installed per year. I would say this number will increase up to 25-30 machines per year.

Manugraph's newspaper drive

Newspaper readership: Everyone knows that the new generation is mostly reading newspapers online and accessing content through TV. Only rural India sees demand for newspapers. What I am trying to convey, is that in the metro cities, circulation growth is very limited and most of the publications have enough capacity. Therefore buying new machines may not be that much of a priority.

US print media: The US economy as far as newspapers are concerned, is extremely weak.  In fact, some of the big newspaper printing machine manufacturers have even merged in order to survive. I do not think, things will look any better in the coming years for the US print media.

RR: Which product verticals do you see a boom for CI Flexo?
PS: Hygiene, pharma, lidding applications are on the rise. This has immense potential, especially in less developed nations. The market for breathable and non-breathable films for sanitary and diaper applications are bound to grow leaps and bounds. Apart from that, if well researched, the products have other applications as well. Milk and oil are the evergreen packaging markets and will continue to grow proportionately year on year. Yet again, with traditional flexo jobs coming back to flexo, it is a big plus in terms of production as well.

RR: Why so? Is it because of the ability to use water-based as well as solvent inks to help a converter serve more market niches? 
PS: Yes, flexo printing has the flexibility of using both kinds of inks, solvent-based and water-based, though water-based inks are not as popular in India yet, it is gaining traction. We are positive that water-based inks will get more mileage once ink and other suppliers are ready with the kind of changes required for handling/ using water-based inks. As a manufacturer, we are ready to manufacture machines for both solvent-based as well as water-based inks.

Team Manugraph India at IndiaPlast 2019

RR: Manugraph India has sold one Manuflex machine.  What’s the target for 2019?
PS: Manugraph is set to manufacturer 6-8 machines a year. We have already sold one machine to New Delhi based Osho Industries, which will be installed at its production plant in Roorkee, Uttarakhand, One was displayed at IndiaPlast 2019 in February at Delhi. We have three Manuflexes on the floor thusfar.

RR: The Manugraph web presses were solid in terms of colour management controls, plus automation which enabled everything automatically, from dot gain to density.  To what extent does the Manuflex have similar features?
PS: When we speak about Manuflex, it is a workhorse. The machine is manufactured in line with Carraro’s electrical and mechanical guidelines. It is a very sturdy and precise product. Carraro began manufacturing in the 1950s. You will be surprised to find many Carraro presses which were built 40 years ago, still running in the market, and even more surprised to see the results. Manugraph shares the same philosophy of "built to last".  Our strength in building sturdy machines, our attention to detail and quality is known worldwide. Manuflex has all the latest features, is operator friendly; plus the quality you can expect which has the hallmark of all our Manugraph products.

RR: Installation of a CI flexo press involves lakhs of rupees of building development – structural piles to the flooring and new everything, from wires and cabling, to air conditioning and water, in a redesigned area within the press hall.  How similar is this to the web offset press installation?
PS: Installing any sophisticated machine requires appropriate care in flooring and a clean environment, clean power, etc.  The CI flexo machine is no exception.  All routine safeguards are undertaken for running the machine as per international standards.

Pradeep Shah: The fun side

Apart from enjoying my work, I do unwind by playing golf over the weekends. I am also blessed with a good family and spend a lot of time with them enjoying films, dinners etc. As is well known, we are a very close-knit joint family.

I have been a golfer for several years. The most important mantra in golfing is that you have to learn to be patient to achieve success.  You have to have a plan and you need to follow this plan to reach your destination. There are no shortcuts. As any golfer would tell you, you also need to have some luck on your side.

As a cigar smoker, I have been analysing, how cigars are packed. Cigars being an expensive item, the packaging has to be such, that cigars do not get spoiled due to humidity, etc. I enjoy looking at the tiny nuances that go into making these packages look good.

RR: What are your aspirations for the packaging value chain in India?
PS: The reason Manugraph undertook manufacturing CI flexo is to have the same market leadership as we have in the newspaper printing machine business.  We definitely want to be a dominant player in this segment.

RR: There’s so much uncertainty in the Indian market about polyethylene, OPP or PET...
PS: The government is working on a lot of schemes at a macro level where all these challenges are being addressed.

RR: Your view on what is recyclable, biodegradable and compostable?
PS: As far as recycling is concerned a lot of responsibilities fall on us as consumers. We need to reuse, segregate and dispose to make sure this initiative is successful. This will help the next line of systems to bring around the required change. In India, we need to develop a strategy for cleaning and sorting plastic waste economically, regardless of it being biodegradable or compostable.

Recycling and Reuse and Reduce

Change always begins with us and consumer awareness is the key. The government is working on schemes for recycling. The companies need to get together to agree to a methodology to quantify recycling. For reuse, consumers themselves have become conscious and are trying to minimise the use of one-time packaging. Also due to the ban on plastics, there appears to be a marked reduction in the plastic footprint, with consumers increasingly carrying their own recyclable carry bags.

RR: The food and beverages, personal and household care, are key drivers for market growth.  Do you pay attention to the chatter from the big brands in this space?
PS: Yes, in today’s day and age it is the consumer that drives the market, therefore big brands are keenly looking at consumer preferences using all sorts of tools at their disposal, be it on-line surveys, social media etc. Though it takes time, big brands are aware. And they cannot be slow. They need to be ahead of the changing curve. So whoever comes first gains the advantage. This has been proved by market dynamics, repeatedly.

RR: The flexible packaging market is dominated by BOPP, BOPET, polyethylene, cast polypropylene, polypropylene, polyamide, ethylene vinyl alcohol, polyvinyl chloride and polystyrene. Any development in substrate science that we should be aware of?
PS: Yes, BOPP etc. are dominant at the moment. I feel it will remain so for a while. However, polyester shrink film is gaining ground and printed coalition shrink film is also being used extensively now. A lot of work is being done on compostable and recyclable films as well, and we are positive it will only add to the industry’s growth and not hamper the outputs of PET and BOPP manufacturers.

Manugraph India's Kolhapur plant

RR: More than a thousand employees and perhaps one of the proudest make in India brands.  Are the labour travails resolved in Kolhapur?
PS: Yes, Kolhapur has a lot of employees.  Under the current labour conditions, especially as the laws in Maharashtra are not in favour of management, one has to deal with the constant ups and downs as it is a part of our everyday life.  One can say, that almost all of the senior personnel at Manugraph have and could be tagged as labour consultants with the number of travails we have faced. Having said that we have, we keep looking ahead, positively. 

RR: What do you see as your personal challenges in the role, in the years ahead?
PS: I look forward to bringing the glory back to Manugraph in this changed scenario.  The coming years will be extremely interesting as we venture out in different manufacturing technologies, which we are yet to see.  Flexo is the first example and we will be evaluating other segments keeping in mind our core strength at Kolhapur.

Manuflex: At a glance

Manuflex 1308-350

Number of sections: 8

Printing speed: 350 m /min

Printing width: 1300 mm

Repeat: 400 to 850

Manuflex 1308-350 press

Manuflex is an eight-colour gearless CI flexo press having a maximum printing speed of 350-m/min and a web width of 1,300-mm. A variety of substrates like PE, PP, BOPP, PVC, PET, paper, aluminium, breathable films and paper can be printed on this press. Depending on the requirements, Manuflex can be offered with optional equipment such as inline corona treatment, register control and inspection system, viscosity controller, inline slitting and so on.