Pretty undeterred: The men who manufacture machines

The print manufacturing sector in Faridabad is based on the innovation model. The varied hues of manufacturing are to be found here. This includes: product development (TPH, Multitec) and process technology (APL, KK Printing), as well as management (Pressline, Webtech) and marketing skills (Sahil, Kalbro). In spite of poor quality of labour and crumbling infrastructure, the manufacturers have been toiling against all odds to provide reliability and quality assurance. Some are tinkering with mode

13 Mar 2014 | By Rahul Kumar & Ramu Ramanathan & Rushikesh Aravkar

The roundtable began with opening remarks by Ramu Ramanathan, editor, PrintWeek India, about the health of the print industry. This was followed by the panel discussion, which started with a look back at the year 2013.
Nitin Garg of NBG Printographic Machinery was of the view that 2013 was slow but not discouraging. He added, “The industry seems to be moving in the right direction. At NBG, we are a manufacturer of web offset machines. Now we have added post-press equipment to our portfolio and have become a representative, in India, for Chinese manufacturers and their kit. The response has been encouraging.”
YP Taneja of Precision Graphic Engineers said, “We manufacture multi-colour sheetfed offset presses. Last year was good for us as we supplied four four-colour printing presses to the Indian market. Currently, our focus is to cater to the export market. However, I believe we need to improve our design and consistency of quality production. We need better technology to use our production skills in terms of engineering. I feel, this will definitely boost our confidence.”
Falcon’s Amarpreet Singh and APL’s CP Paul seconded Garg’s opinion that the growth was slow in 2013. Paul said, “We manufacture UV coating and curing machines, screen printing presses and consumables. Over the years, we have shifted our focus towards UV curing and coating systems. Recently, we entered into a joint
venture with Germany-based Vegra and formed a new company, Vegra APL. The company is involved into printing chemicals. We are very bullish about two major exhibitions – Print Pack Arabia 2014 and PrintPack India 2015. We see good opportunities in the export market and we are expecting solid growth.”
Satish Bajwa of Pressline India, said, “Earlier our business of web offset printing presses comprised of 80% export and 20% domestic market. We have exported to Russia and Latin American countries as well. It was a tough time for us in 2013 but the good thing is that the domestic market has picked up well. Most of the book printers are converting their printing presses from sheetfed to web for faster production.”
According to Bajwa, automation and innovation will be the two key points for an equipment manufacturer in India to sustain operations.
Jaspreet Singh Kalsi of Kalbro Pumps, said, “Vacuum pump is a small component in a printing press. At Kalbro, we manufacture it for the offset printing presses. We are the OEM supplier to a few machinery manufacturers. The slowdown in sheetfed segment is worrisome for us.”
Prakash Webtech saw decent growth last year, said Naveen Gupta, Prakash Webtech. “We have concentrated on in-house production for components for assembling the printing press. Manufacturing of web offset printing presses is not an economically viable preposition because of a slackening of demand in machines. During a visit to Taiwan, I realised that the manufacturers in Taiwan are united. They are competing against India as one, while we fight among ourselves. This is the reason, our printing presses are costlier.”
What must the Government do to aid the manufacturer
All the CEOs unanimously expressed their concern that the outlook for second-tier manufacturers is bleak due to limited funds and lack of government support. Most of them vociferously said that government policies, like excise duty and import of pre-owned machines, needed a revamp. Almost all of them felt that the government tends to favour obvious winners and mega companies. But print is necessary. Simply because it is a means to preserve and safeguard the future of India, through school and college books and newspapers and magazines. At a time when the education market in India is $3 trillion worth, it is important that Indian manufacturers are seen as partners and facilitators of literacy.
Ashok Kumar Singh of Samnik Graphic System, explained the trouble with the excise duty policy. He said, “The limitation of excise duty is decided by our government. This is one of the biggest hurdles in our growth. An excise duty of 12.36% is being imposed on the SMEs that have an annual turnover of above Rs 1.5-crore. The limit of Rs 1.5-crore has remained the same for the last 10 years. Since the cost of all the commodities is increasing the limit of excise duty must be increased. Being a small manufacturer with overheads, salaries to staff and other expenses is tough. Due to this, we are unable to seize new opportunities.”
Shafiq Ahmed of Sahil Graphics, put forth the demand of a ban on import of secondhand printing presses. He said, “We are manufacturing sheetfed offset printing presses since the last 15 years. Unlimited import of pre-owned sheetfed printing presses is the biggest hurdle for us. Faridabad has been experiencing a slowdown in terms of demand over last few years.” The number of Indian manufacturers for single-colour offset presses were more than 50; now it is a handful. Ahmed said, “In order to sustain, Sahil has forayed into another vertical of non-woven printing presses since past two years. The segment is seeing a solid growth.”
Kalsi added, “Entry of pre-owned printing presses must be banned or some kind of anti-dumping duty must be imposed on their import. And right now this is the only way to boost the Indian equipment manufacturing industry. We should focus on the industry first rather than on the individual.”
Paul added that the Indian sheetfed printing presses manufacturing is not growing because of easy import of second-hand printing presses. “We had 56 sheetfed offset printing presses’ manufacturers in Faridabad. Right now, we have only three to four players. I think the shrinking market is another reason apart from the pre-owned machines coming in. Whatsoever be the rationale, there has to be a ban on pre-owned machines.”
Paul highlighted the pressing issue of labour. He said, “Skilled labour is a pain in both aspects – availability and sustainability. Import of Chinese machines is a big reason for our slow growth. Being a collective forum with massive production houses, Chinese machines are economical. Plus their government supports them, and they are capable of selling their products much more economically. Many Indian manufacturers wonder if it is better to import and sell Chinese products rather than manufacturing in India. This is because an Indian manufacturer sees profit margins in the former option. That’s why the printing industry is not playing a major role in the GDP of the country.”
India: a leader in web-offset manufacturing
Here again Paul made a crucial intervention. “There is no Chinese supplier and pre-owned machinery representative in segments like exercise notebook manufacturing, and that is why companies like Line O Matic are doing very well. This is the case with web offset printing presses. We can create the market but we need imaginative support from the government.”
Garg, who is a manufacturer as well as a dealer for Chinese and Taiwanese machines had a contrarian view, “I do not see Chinese and Taiwanese machines as a threat. Getting good price for your product is not difficult if you are manufacturing quality products. We also used to manufacture sheetfed printing presses. According to me, the segment died because we could not manufacture quality machines.”
Garg further said, “Countries like Taiwan have good manufacturing base for small industries like printing, and big industries like automobile, both. We have improved our design, engineering and research and development. If I look at web-offset printing presses and other machineries, then the low-cost Chinese pricing is a myth.”
“Big players like Manugraph have set a good example and have always given quick response to the market conditions. The Printers House (TPH) has set good parameters and the other players are trying to catch up with the big two in the 4x1 configuration web press,” he added.
The technology burden
One real-world observation about the decrease in the number of sheetfed players was provided by Singh of Samnik, “The number reduced to three to four, as far as sheetfed printing presses manufacturers are concerned.” He said, “Around 80% of the local manufacturers were copying other machines. Most of them did not have technical background. Because of the local competition we could not hike the price of the machines. Slowly the gap between input and output costs had been increased and all of us started to dig a deep well by selling at a low price and giving a long credit period to the customers. Right now we are more than 50 players in web-offset manufacturing. Some manufacture one or two machines in a year, at a throw-away price. Let us see what happens.”
Singh suggested consolidation as a way forward. He said, “Stop competing with each other. We must come together under one roof if all the web-offset manufacturers want to grow. Research and development require a lot of money and it is not possible for us as individuals. Consolidation of our assets is the only way.”
Bajwa said, “Consolidation is a dream and it seems impossible. But we have to improve our quality by creating clusters and leveraging our technology advantage. We have to develop clusters to manufacture good components. Even sheetfed manufacturing can be revived. There is a demand in Tier-3 towns. It is not very difficult. The Government of India (GOI) must help us like the Chinese government helps their printers. Even if you do not ban the import of second-hand machines in one go, it can be phased out slowly. It will definitely improve the quality and standard of Indian manufacturing.”
We can overcome...
Bajwa was critical of the government’s fledgling support. He argued, “We are working on an eight-year-old excise limit. We can manufacture better machines than China, and at lower prices. But the basic support which our industry needs is not coming from the government, which is reluctant.”
Ahmed said, “At least 5,000 pre-owned printing presses are being imported every year in the country and if we could ban these machines, then Indian manufacturers have huge scope. When we produce in bulk, then we can opt for better technologies and equipment. China needs 10,000 sheetfed printing presses per year. The non-availability of pre-owned machines in China converts this number into a big opportunity for them. We are no longer in quantity game as far as sheetfed printing presses are concerned. Printers ask for our brand new machines at the price of a second-hand, imported machine; how will we manufacture a quality machine?”
Paul added, “When you look at screen printing industry, APL and Grafica have been able to restrict Chinese screen printing machines because they cannot match our production speed and prices. After-sales service is a major issue with Chinese machines. We are manufacturing 35 screen printing machines per month, and there is no comparison between ours and the Chinese kit. APL and Grafica have stopped the import of screen printing machines and the demand of screen printing is increasing day-by-day.” 
Gupta of Prakash, said, “If all the sheetfed manufacturers come together on a single platform then I can give 30% cost reduction in your component.”
Paul of APL, stated, “The major issue with the pre-owned kit is that they come into the country as scrap. If the machine is sold at actual price with a CA certificate then the problems will be solved.”
Singh of Falcon, said, “All of these issues must be tackled at our end. The basic requirements of the industry must be improved, like power supply and roads; then our production cost will be controlled. In summer, the power supply is only 25% of the total capacity.”
Paul says, “We have to create clusters for components. This will create quality and availability of the equipment, and quality will improve. Components are the same in every machine, more or less.”
Brand Faridabad: Does it exist?
The panellists were requested by Ramu Ramanathan to share their experiences about Faridabad and the steps undertaken by them to improve brand perception.
Kalsi said, “As a Faridabad-based manufacturer, I offer good after- and pre-sales service. We listen to the customers and solve their problems. I think, the overseas manufacturers cannot provide the service level that we do. We are ready to invest in the latest technology. Also, we are keen to import better technology. At Kalbro, our new product will be eco-friendly pumps which have noiseless performance.”
Bajwa of Pressline, said, “We have developed one-of-its-kind automatic splicer which can run two independent webs at same time. This technology is developed by us, independently. We have started production of this technology. We have more than 10 installations of the technology.”
Paul of APL, said, “We have two verticals in APL – UV coating and screen printing. We have developed a model called Atom and we are filing a patent for it. This is the first machine of its kind in screen printing. Neither China nor Germany could manufacture it. That is why we have opened a showroom in Munich, in Germany. We are getting good response and are targeting the European market.”
Ahmed mentioned, “We are eyeing the non-woven printing presses market. I plan to sell 100 more printing presses as compared to last year. Marketing of these presses is our focus. We have a demo centre and customers can visit any day, including on Sunday.”
Singh of Falcon, says, “We manufacture unique products. We are capable of giving a performance guarantee of carbon plate of our product, which no one can give, because we have reached a level of accuracy in the manufacturing. It is good for our customers and they can rely on us.”
Taneja said, “We have supplied one four-colour printing press in Nigeria. As of now, the number has gone up to 27 four-colour machines in the country. Lack of sustainability and lack of confidence are some of the biggest worries for us.”
Garg of NBG, felt, “Technology is the key to growth. Manufacturing facilities in Faridabad started from scratch. Most of us have had to re-invent the wheel. Paul said that APL has stopped the import of screen printing presses. I have not visited the APL facility but the reason behind it must be implementation of the latest technology. We are struggling to manufacture sheetfed presses in India because of our technology.”
Bajwa of Pressline, said, “People are opting for Chinese machines instead of ours because of quality and economical prices. Once the customer will be satisfied then you will receive repeat orders. Now Indian manufacturers are ensuring that level of satisfaction, which a Chinese player cannot provide.” He added, “India is a young country and if the policies are made in a careful manner then we can do better than any country in the world.”
JVs, VCs and alliances
In a bid to bring in latest technology and harness the benefits of research done by global manufacturers, Indian manufacturers are looking at joint ventures and alliances as a strategy for growth.
CP Paul of APL, said, “Technology partnership is the only way to survive. Everyone needs branded items. People who are not able to create a brand for their products are struggling. Faridabad-based manufacturers are doing well in the domestic and international markets, but they are not operating to their full capabilities.”
“If Indian manufacturers are aligned to an international brand, then the journey would be easier. I think they can grow exponentially. At the moment, they are not catering to even 2% of the Indian market; 98% of the market is untapped. A label player in Faridabad is dialoguing with a top European manufacturer, and its impact will be felt in India. People are ready to pay for a brand,” said Paul.
Jaspreet Singh Kalsi of Kalbro, says, “We were in conversation with an overseas player for technology upgradation. But the overseas players told us that first you have to shut down your facilities and then we can start the discussion. But it is not possible because the Indian customer wants to buy a blend of cheap and expensive. So we had to stop the discussion. We are in conversation with a German company for technology transfer. This way, we will be having two products for both – low and high price.”
Bajwa of Pressline, says, “We have done a joint venture for blanket washes with a Swedish company. We have tested it and started the process. We have export orders for the product. We will be supplying to Indian printers from this month onwards.”

Nitin Garg, “The design India uses is five decades old. NBG has reworked assembly. This means, we need four to five parts; whereas, earlier we used to assemble ten parts. This change reduces the production time and enhances the quality. It is a win-win situation for us and our customers. Less parts, less mechanism, less manpower, and enhanced performance; inventory goes down and it becomes easy to operate.”

C P Paul, “Simplicity in machines is important because technology changes very rapidly these days. I feel, the existing machines may become obsolete in a few years time. Simple construction makes it easier to upgrade.”

IPAMA is in conversation with couple of international research agencies. We would like to know as to where the printing industry will be after five, ten and 20 years. But creating awareness among the Indian manufacturers is not a cake-walk for us. IPAMA is working on it. We are looking at an agency in India that can collect and analyse data for us. Data is necessary to make presentations with government and political authorities. Right now, people are not sharing the data. This is because they are shy or they have fear in their minds about income tax, labour and excise department.
We were in a meeting with FICCI. One of their members told us that we can talk to the government to ban the import of second-hand machines for the entire industry, not only printing industry. To run the textile industry, India has to import second-hand machines because we do not have facilities to manufacture those types of machines. It is very difficult for the Indian government to ban the sheetfed and web presses. We need a strong lobby to reach the government. IPAMA is working on that. We have to create a strong lobby like the flexible packaging segment.
(Rahul Kumar transcribed the PWI–IPAMA roundtable discussion. Photographs are by Rushikesh Aravkar)