PrintPack in March is IPAMA's first responsibility - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

Rakesh Sodhi, the newly president of IPAMA, talks about lean management, pruning internal costs, reducing short production time, investing in technology and inventories and increasing turnaround time. Tete-a-tete with PrintWeek

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28 Nov 2021 | By Noel D'Cunha

Kudos and congratulations on being elected the president of IPAMA? What was the first thing you did when you got the news?
When I was unanimously elected as the president of IPAMA, I immediately expressed my gratitude to the members of the association and assured my best services.
What is the first thing on your agenda? PrintPack 2022?
Yes, of course. PrintPack India 2022 is the first responsibility to be fulfilled for our members. We all have suffered during these tough Covid times. It will be my endeavour that the exhibition should set a record in business generation for the industry after the pandemic.
What is your plan for the next 12 months after PrintPack 2022?
I believe continuous learning is the only mantra to survive and grow. Following this belief, our plans are to organise conferences and information-sharing activities related to new technology, management tools, quality, and new policies, among others, as a knowledge-gaining experience for our members. There are a number of ongoing projects which are to be started again after the 15th PrintPack India exhibition. The plan for 2022 includes: setting up of an R&D lab, setting up of a museum, some charitable activities, organisation of exclusive packaging exhibition and basic homework for the 16th edition of PrintPack India. 
Tough time to be a president – what with the second wave of Covid and the deaths and the medical emergency... 
Being the president of IPAMA, a prestigious organisation, is definitely a challenging job. I have to fulfill all the responsibilities and complete all the projects well in time. As for the pandemic, admittedly, there was an adverse impact of the second wave of Covid-19, not only on the industrial operations but also on the general public. There was large-scale migration of workforce to their home states. A number of deaths were also reported from different parts of the country.  However, after the lifting of lockdowns, the industry is now returning to normalcy.
Has IPAMA organised any support for beleaguered print families?

During Covid-19, IPAMA office-bearers had regular interactions with IPAMA members through various modes of communication. Necessary assistance was provided to them, as and when required. IPAMA members are fighters and can survive in difficult conditions. They have proved this in the last 18 months.
What is the condition of the factories in Faridabad/ Greater Noida?
Though all areas were equally affected, the web offset industry, and the commercial and book printers were the worst-hit by Covid and its implications.
The order by the central government crippled the commercial printers when they directed all states to restrict or avoid printing of promotional articles like calendars, diaries, greeting cards, etc. What is IPAMA's view about this?
Indeed, the government's policy of scrapping promotional articles has been a big setback to all commercial printers and also to all related machinery manufacturers. After the onset of Covid, it was presumed that for at least the initial six months, capital goods/machine manufacturers' businesses were affected badly.
What’s the reason?

There were limited funds with printers/buyers. All the industries were working at 20-30% of their capacities. There were no expansion plans. Priority was given to their internal fund requirements. We all had to keep our resources intact to sail through, though it was also time to rethink our businesses, gain new knowledge, adopt new technologies, source alternatives to survive, build new relations. 
There is huge uncertainty about the cost of raw material and freight costs. How are IPAMA members coping?    
It looks like all manufacturers are suffering on all fronts. Prices for raw material like steel, iron, rubber, electronic items have skyrocketed by 40-70%, sea freight for imported critical items have increased by ten times. Add to it the non-availability of critical components with lead times of 3-4 months. All these factors have made it really difficult for us even to quote prices and withstand it. Every day, the prices are increasing.
So, what’s the way going forward?

The only way to survive is to adopt lean management, cut internal costs, cut short production time, invest in technology and inventories and increase turnaround time.
When are prices likely to be normalised to an earlier price level?
I don't see it coming back to normal in immediate future.
Why have the prices of almost all types of paper/paperboard/kraft tripled? And when will the situation be normal?

Interruptions in the international supply chain, non-availability of waste paper from developed countries, sea freight owing to Covid and their spiralling effects continue.
Is it true that the speculators are taking advantage of the unprecedented circumstances leading to the worst impact on the price?
Holding onto inventories was the immediate effect, where speculators, in general, did take advantage of the situation. But now, there is a genuine shortage of raw material and components, where supplies are affected for three to four months.
Who is representing our industry to the government to address all challenges — shipping, containers, paper, power — to begin with...
Shipping and containers are primarily regulated by international trade, where prices are controlled by a very strong cartel. But raw material and petrol prices, which have a direct impact, can certainly be controlled by our government with representations from different industry federations/associations and trade bodies like CII, FICCI, Assocham, etc.
You are a keen watcher of the packaging market. What is transpiring in this vertical? What should our readers be looking out for?
With the commercial printing industry hit hard by Covid and digitalisation, many affected players are now contemplating shifting their verticals and spreading their resources in the packaging industry, be it corrugated, folding cartons, rigid boxes or flexible. With India's growth in FMCG, food and pharma, packaging is the only growth sector.
There are doubts too about the packaging segments’ growth...
The packaging segment is performing very well. If the sector strengthens its capabilities in terms of technology, skills, and efficiency, India can emerge as a significant global player. The export of packaging materials from India was estimated at USD 843.8-million in 2018-19, witnessing a growth of 14.1%. India has emerged as a market leader in quite a few sub-segments of packaging. Investment in the packaging industry is also attractive.
Many firms in India were investing in technology, basically reducing dependence on people's availability on their shopfloor. For example, investments in workflows and finishing equipment. Is this trend to automate the shopfloor dominant among IPAMA members too?
Surely, automation in technology at every step of business is the only solution to achieve productivity with quality to meet the ever-increasing demands of customers. Be its ERP software, CRMs, integration of different divisions of print, data integration. The main objective of automation is to utilise maximum time and save resources. Finishing equipment now plays a major role as it was the main bottleneck to meet the just-in-time concept of manufacturing. Our members have already geared up to provide state-of-the-art equipment with the latest in technology and automation. IPAMA is in the process of setting up its own R&D lab with a view to develop and provide the latest technology to its members.
India is a country with the maximum youth dividend. As an industry have we failed to send out the proper messaging to this demographic group?
It is a fact that India is a country having a very large youth population. Today's youth want white-collared jobs where it is easy to work in a plush working environment.  We see very few turning towards hardcore manufacturing, where they have to burn their fingers to achieve milestones. We, at IPAMA, are working towards attracting more youth to our industry. 
Any new schemes by IPAMA which have been a success? What is the status of the research lab?
The research lab is a long-drawn project, which needs input and resources from all segments of our industry. We are working hard on this front.
Moving away from Delhi and NCR, what are the trends you are picking up from IPAMA members in the rest of the country?
Other than Delhi-NCR, Gujarat, Coimbatore, and Aurangabad region are now well-developed as manufacturing hubs.
One lesson you have learnt from the past 18 months?

Never quit... keep walking, keep reinventing. Well-balanced physiological health is the key to happiness. 
As president of the IPAMA, what is your message to the fraternity for 2021-22?
We have crossed half a bridge. Keep walking. Soon we shall run. Focus on raising the bar of quality standards, technically upgrade products with automation so that ‘Make in India’ can be truly justified across the globe.

Rakesh Sodhi — At a glance
How do you unwind?

Listening to old Hindi songs.
One activity you love?
My work and spending time with my family.

Favourite films?
Pakeezah, Mughal-e-Azam.

Once the pandemic is over, where will you vacation to?
After successfully concluding PrintPack India 2022, I will go to Melbourne, Australia to see my kids.

Favourite snack?
Almond Magnum ice cream, chilli cheese toast, and fruits.

Your adda in Delhi?
My sweet home and my family.

One thing about the IPAMA no one knows?
Everything is transparent to all.
One phrase, you utter at least once a day?
This is what I want.

(Rakesh Sodhi is also the managing director, Sodhisons Mechanical Works, Haryana)