Sai Com Codes Flexoprint braces for challenges with an eye on growth - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

The pandemic months has been hard, but Harish Gupta, managing director at the label company made swift moves, which brought new opportunities.

The transformation will hold his company in good stead going forward, Gupta says, in this Sunday Column conversation

09 May 2021 | By Noel D'Cunha

How were the past 12 pandemic months for you? Good, better, or could be even better?
The past 12-odd months have been good for us. We started Digistik, a digital unit of Sai Com Codes Flexoprint (SCCF). With the new digital arm, we have aligned our efforts to meet the current market needs by offering our services to brands of all sizes. The tagline for the new venture reflects our mantra – a start-up for start-ups.

Harish Gupta, you are a first-generation label converter based in Sonipat. What are the other things about your company you are proud of?
The one thing, which I cherish and am proud of is that in a short span, we have grown as a company. We have four more plants across India – in Guwahati (Assam), Vapi (Gujarat) and two in Sonipat (Haryana).  Few more expansions are in the pipeline.

With flexo, and now digital print equipment, is SaiComm aiming to be a one-stop-shop?
Yes, we are aiming to be a one-stop solution provider. We want to cater to brands of all sizes. The requirements of a budding entrepreneur or a start-up are challenging. They have to face issues of minimum order quantities (MOQ), cost of different plates for different colours, die-cutting techniques, reprinting expenditure and more.

We hope to address all our customers’ challenges under one roof with smart and cost-effective techniques, flexibility in design and operational capabilities.

You have a solid infrastructure both in print and finishing...
Yes, we have seven Nilpeter presses, one Mark Andy P7 press, eight Rotoflex VS1, one Konical Minolta Accurio Label 230 and the recently acquired HP Indigo 6900.

From the need to overcome lockdown hurdles with a Konica Minolta kit to HP Indigo 6900, that’s quite a jump...
The pandemic triggered the demand for essential goods, including preventive medicines, sanitisers, liquid soaps, health supplements, and cough syrups. This triggered a growth in demand for labels. To bridge this extraordinary need-gap and in view of the impaired supply chains amid the lockdown, the company decided to embrace the power of innovation. We established Digistik. To overcome the mobility restrictions imposed by the lockdown, we decided to print labels digitally to enable immediate delivery of labels to the manufacturers.

Your digital arm became a success...
Our print runs grew. We started producing different kinds of labels for the health and hygiene segments, which had an exponential growth. But there was a limitation in terms of multiple substrates and limited colour options of the Konica Minolta press. It was basically an entry-level press.

When did you decide you needed to upgrade?
As it happens, every customer wants premium quality labels, even at low costs and volume. During the pandemic, we decided to utilise the downtime to not only invest in upgrading our capabilities in a sustainable manner by reducing our carbon footprint, but also being able to effectively print on any surface so that recycled and biodegradable products can be used.

The HP Indigo 6900, a seven-colour digital press, was just the answer we were looking for. HP has helped make us not only a variable data printing wizard by improving our efficiency of scales but also aided us in becoming an even more sustainable choice for our customers. Today, we are generating good faith in the market by enabling our customers’ businesses to fulfil their deliveries faster to gather customer loyalty.

New technologies – are you seeing a real difference in the technologies you have invested in, since they say the tech moves on?
Technology is ever-evolving and yes, it has changed for the betterment of the industry. Each new technology that is being launched in the market comes up with new features and delivers better results than its former counterpart. It offers flexibility – to control things that are not in our control.

For example, raw material and rising prices of raw materials, that’s not in our control. Technology on presses, including finishing tools, help control manufacturing operations, in terms of making most of the available resources. Likewise, it helps improve the overall quality and the ability to print with consistency. In flexo, for example, new-age imagers and processors standardising colour output has become easy.

Harish Gupta, managing director, Sai Com Codes Flexoprint

Label printing is about printing on different substrates. What varieties of substrate do customers demand?
Mostly filmic for segments such as health and hygiene, paper for pharma whereas F&B still remains a segment with multi-substrate demands such as metallised paper, clear or metallised film. Although substrates are as per customer demands, our team makes certain suggestions to brand managers that would be best suitable for their end product requirements.

SCCF is a long-run player. Were there any changes in your production numbers during and after?
Yes, pre-Covid we produced around 10-lakh sqm per month. This became 8-lakh sqm per month during Covid and post-Covid it’s 6-lakh sqm per month.

You are doddering, and we are into a second wave... What’s your assessment of the situation?
The second wave is here and this is more intense than the previous months. We are already getting orders for requirement similar to the first wave, with a request for quick turnarounds, however, quantities have reduced as there is no panic buying in the markets.

The team is geared for challenges ahead, as I earlier said, we stood like an extended family, we will stand together. We are geared up for these challenges as we now have the potential to deliver our customer expectations with two digital presses. All plants (and supply chain, too) have permissions to perform under the “essential category”, hence we don’t foresee any downtime due to restrictions.

One of the challenges during the pandemic months were people. Many people exited their place of work and now here we are with the second wave. How has SCCF coped?
We retained most of our people during the pandemic months. Our staff, as well as our workforce, stayed with us. We made sure that proper hygienic accommodation and care is provided to all our workers so they don’t face any problems in these testing times. We all are one extended family and we stick together.

You are targeting high print volumes from your flexo presses and short-run from digital. What is the capacity utilisation for each of the presses – flexo and digital?
The flexo presses are at 65% utilisation and digital being a new set-up is at 35%  capacity.

How do you manage breakdowns, as in despite any machine breakdown, how do you maintain your production schedule? Should one have a spare press to fill in for any casualty? In that case, is the load on that press kept relatively low?
We have tight preventive maintenance schedules, which we adhere to keep our machines in good health. It is not viable to have a spare press, however, we have multiple similar composition presses, which gives us the flexibility to ensure customer schedules are met, even in case of breakdowns. We can immediately shuffle jobs between different presses and our team is capable of having similar outputs, even using different printing processes.

The benefits of a workflow are well understood. How does SCCF deploy it? And what are the advantages?
ERP workflow has helped us a lot by connecting all our plans together.

We have an in-house developed workflow, which was designed around the actual business model. It connects all our plants together and gives us an edge to centralise our supply chain, enabling effective sharing of resources, including capacities and capabilities between different plants.

What is special about SCCF’s pre-press?
It’s all in pre-press. We have an experience-rich team, which gets 95% of the jobs, first-time-right output. The key is to have an experienced team with well-synced plate outputs. We have our presses periodically calibrated with our plate output partners. We use HD plates and manage different screen angles as per job requirements. The team is provided with training on the latest trends and developments to keep them updated with industry trends and practices.

Let’s look at the labels business. In some respects, it’s similar to the paper business, in that it’s exposed to the volatility of raw material prices and it’s dominated by suppliers. This industry was in the doldrums during the pandemic months. How did SCCF cope?
Yes, you mentioned very rightly, but with our experience and industry connection, we professionally managed the effect of the volatility of raw materials during this pandemic time.

Our team puts in a lot of effort while designing a job to fit maximum jobs in similarly available sizes, which gives us the flexibility to stock fewer sizes, but with more quantity. The similar-sized inventory also means that we have steady rotation and the material does not hold for long. We keep our customers updated with challenges and suggest similar alternatives, which do not hamper the performance of the product and helps in meeting the required timelines if exact material is delayed beyond a reasonable time.

How do you handle waste in the world of sustainability?
The generated waste is treated sustainably. We are closely associated with the label waste management programme of the Association of Label Printers and Suppliers (ALPS). Apart from treating the waste responsibly, we also believe in reducing the amount of waste being generated first-hand. Less wastage, lesser carbon footprints and more eco-friendly ways of doing business are what we are striving for.

What are your aspirations for SCCF in the next decade?
Less waste, more efficiency, sustainable and eco-friendly choices are what we are aiming for apart from expansion in the national and international market. We plan on adding self-adhesive and shrink labels to our list of services with the improved variable data printing (VDP) technology. Shorter runs, quicker turnarounds, no plate costs and photo print quality devoted to meet the branding and marketing needs of our clients, giving them the benefits of customisation and ensuring that their budgets aren’t overrun is what we believe will help us build our brand and grow in future.

What are the initiatives you think has ensured SCCF has a better business?
Setting up the digital arm, Digistik is certainly one of them. The traditional way to get labels usually takes weeks and amending changes in orders was a nightmare and the costs of redoing bulk orders for minimum order quantities has always been a catch.

By innovating and updating ourselves we ended businesses tyranny of being stuck in the endless loop of waiting and paying through their noses for a product that is just passable. We delivered premium quality labels to start-ups, small and medium brands, liberating the market with our digital printing upgrade and making Digistik the effortlessly malleable one-stop solution to all their packaging woes.

Harish Gupta - At a glance

How did you unwind during the pandemic?
By focusing on fitness.

One phrase you heard during the pandemic months?
Stay at home.

Which film or web series you saw?
House MD.

Once the pandemic is over, where will you vacation to?
The Maldives.

Favourite snack?
Chicken Tikka.

Favourite book?
Bhagwad Gita.

Your adda in your city?
City Park (Delhi).

One historical thing about the city you live in no one knows?
It has the best Biryani outlets.

One print job you love?
Country Bean.

One print innovator from history you want to meet?

One phrase, you utter at least once a day?
“Times are tough, I want to go out”.