Shankhya Debnath: Teachers need to be aware of future technologies

To enable students to be job-ready and innovators of the future, we need to enable our educators to update and be aware of technologies of the future, says Shankhya Debnath, lecturer, Department of Printing Technology, Regional Institute of Printing Technology, Kolkata in the Print Guru series

16 Jan 2024 | By PrintWeek Team

What is the USP of the print and packaging industry in India?
The print and packaging industry in India is outperforming the global industry in multiple parameters. One of the key reasons for this is the Indian print and packaging industry has brought about innovations that are cost-effective and scalable. This has happened due to a young and aspirational workforce of print and packaging engineers who are highly skilled at what they do.

As an educator, what have been the three biggest problems you have faced?
While it is not always possible to procure and operate state-of-the-art technologies at educational institutions, aspiring print and packaging professionals need hands-on exposure to such technologies. In many cases, technologies of today and the future are not always emphasised or find their reflection in the print and packaging curriculum. And finally, to enable students to be job-ready and innovators of the future, we need to enable our educators to update and be aware of technologies of the future.

How do you think these obstacles could be tackled creatively?
Print and packaging engineering being a multi-disciplinary applied field, a strong connection between industry and academia needs to be built and nurtured. This will align the academia towards industry needs. Print educators need to engage in more consultancy roles to bring about solutions to actual problems faced by the industry today. Educators need to innovate and mentor aspiring technologists of tomorrow with a curriculum that looks to the future.

Which is your favourite subject and why is it important?
As a lifelong learner of print and packaging technology, I have always been fascinated by the science and engineering of colour. The technology of colour is so complex that it involves the knowledge and deep understanding of related concepts of physics, mathematics, computer science, physiology and psychology. But at the same time, I feel that one of the primary responsibilities of a print technologist is to create value for the client by delivering the right colour the first time and every time. Although it is easier said than done, understanding and utilisingcolour science in print will ensure that customer expectations are met.

Today, you are a teacher. Who was your guru, and why so? 
Well, although professionally I am a teacher, I have always been a learner and try to remain that. For me, a guru is a mentor for life, one who shows the path when all other paths have closed. I consider Dr Tulika Das, former lecturer in Chemistry &HoD, Science and Humanities at Regional Institute of Printing Technology, Kolkata (author of the famous book Chemistry in Printing) as my guru. It has been my singular privilege to have come in contact with her. Not only in terms of technical knowledge, but I have learnt some of the most valuable lessons on how to lead life from her. 

One innovation you implemented after listening to your student?
I started introducing peer learning processes in the classroom. This has been a tremendous success.

Were you the minister of printing and packaging, how would you tackle the industry's problems creatively?
I will take the following steps. One, create research and innovation hubs for the printing and packaging industry. These hubs will bring together government agencies, academia, and industry stakeholders to collaborate on advanced research and development projects. Two, provide grants and incentives for companies that invest in research and development, particularly in sustainable materials, 3D printing, and smart packaging technologies. Three, introduce the green packaging certification programme, which rewards companies for using sustainable materials and reducing waste. Offer tax credits and preferential treatment for certified products. Four, launch a digital transformation initiative for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Provide subsidies for adopting digital printing technologies, automation, and digital workflow management systems.

Five, develop a centralised digital marketplace where packaging designers and manufacturers can connect and collaborate on projects, fostering innovation and efficiency. Six, create a dedicated export promotion council for the printing and packaging sector. Provide export subsidies and market access support to help domestic companies expand their global reach. Seven, organise innovation challenges and contests with cash prizes and recognition for companies and individuals who develop groundbreaking solutions in the print and packaging sector. Eight, encourage cross-industry collaborations, such as partnerships between packaging companies and tech startups to create innovative packaging solutions. 

What ingredient do you seek among your young disciples?
For me, the primary quality that sets an outstanding student apart from the rest is his/her interest or willingness to learn on their own and develop a skill set that gives them an edge over others. 

An article/listing in a publication that impressed you?
A 2022 original research paper by Prof John Seymour titled Color inconstancy in CIELAB: A red herring? and published inColor Research & Application, Wiley grabbed my interest a lot. The paper talks about how changes in colours due to illuminant changes in the CIELAB space may not always agree with the changes as perceived by the human visual system. A link to the article:

Your present preoccupation in the field of research?
I am presently working on developing low-cost and open-source alternatives to density and colour measurement devices.

One project you are excited about?
I am excited to explore the possibilities of using machine learning technologies in creating metrological devices for print process control.

Assuming you can align with a print or packaging association, what would be the three most important things you would expect from it?
One, networking and collaboration for connecting industry professionals, educators, and businesses to share resources, knowledge, and best practices. Two, the association should actively seek out grant opportunities and partnerships with governmental agencies, foundations, and private organisations to secure funding for R&D projects at educational institutes. Three, create mentorship and apprenticeship programs to allow experienced professionals to pass on their knowledge and skills to the next generation of print and packaging technologists. 

The industry needs skilled professionals on the shopfloor, and different printing education institutes have been churning out printing professionals for decades now. Still, there seems to be a disconnect between industry and academia. Why? What do print teachers want from the industry? Read more in this series where PrintWeek asks 13 print gurus.