Sivakasi: Teeming with a new print model

Sivakasi, long a source of cheap labour and economical print, has re-awakened to the challenges of the Indian and international market with new innovations. Ramu Ramanathan reports

19 Jul 2010 | By Ramu Ramanathan

A decade ago there were six thermal CTP systems in Sivakasi and none in Bengaluru and Chennai.

Today, it has added a few UV CTP units but both Bengaluru and Chennai have added 50 CTP units. The statistics are staggering. Even today, Sivakasi consumes an extraordinary 40,000 sq mtrs of wipe on plates.  A majority of the town’s 370 printers re-grain their plates at a flat rate of Rs 15 per plate. This dominates 75% of plate usage. Thermal consumption is 15%, and PS is 10%.

But change is in the air.

Srinivas Fine Arts (SFA), Lovely Offset, Sel-Jegat and the Noida-based Gopsons Papers are setting up game-changing plants in Sivakasi.

It is "work in progress" at SFA with what it claims to be the biggest book plant in India on a 65-acre plot. The view from the main gate is a wonder to behold. It's a four-lane road which leads into the new unit. Trucks with paper stock can enter the unit directly, and off-load the material. The unit, the size of a football pitch has an array of Kolbus, Aster and Sigloch equipment. A fleet of post-press kit is expected to be added to the one lakh sqft pillarless shopfloor.

R Chockalingman, who shows off his new plant is a happy man. Over many glasses of coconut water, he recounts the days when he was an assistant manager in Hind Matches in 1955 – after which he worked with A Chelladurai's Bell Pins.

The SFA journey began in 1964 with "Rs 850 capital". And initially, SFA supplied labels in art paper for a saree manufacturer in Rajkot. Chockalingman says: "In 1969, I purchased a second-hand single-colour, Solna offset machine from Coronation Litho Works." Today, generation next is handling operations and SFA has grown into a company which produces premium diaries, notebooks and 200 paper products under its brand of Nightangle.

Today, SFA is also one of the few global stationery companies with a presence in five continents – USA, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia.

Chockalingman says during a tour of the new plant: "Until now Sivakasi was regarded as a print city with cheap labour. But now, we have to innovate." The most obvious reason is, Indian print companies are dreaming bigger dreams. At the same time, they are fearing competition from China – who have relentlessly climbed up the value chain.

Chockalingman adds: "We have to be global – and at the same time, we have to be competitive in our own domestic backyard."

That's one of the reasons, the dynamism shows no sign of waning. The print industry – and this includes Sivakasi – is pouring resources and pepping up production.

An emerging market
Label printer Sel-Jegat is in expansion mode on its nine acre land. They have procured 16 acres for future expansion.

While PrintWeek India was in Sivakasi, the Iwasaki six-colour letterpress intermittent feeding machine was being installed by the Japanese engineers. V S Raveendran, the director of the company that is powered by high-end narrow flexo presses, says: "The Iwasaki engineers have trained our operators and we are operating the machine successfully."

He adds: This is the first Iwasaki LR 3 installed in India with GMI remote inking system. The GMI is part of the AVT system and offers remote inking system for new, as well as retrofit on existing offset and letterpress sheetfed and web fed printing machines."

The Sel-Jegat plant is impressive. Great stress is laid on remote inking system which allow faster job change-over, as well as consistency for long run and repeat jobs. V S Raveendran and his 150-member team ensure minimum material wastage and micro-manage little details like ink profile storage and retrieval. The company is trying to eliminate dependency on human skills, especially for security features.

For this, Sel-Jegat has a Rotoflex SPI 410E with a high-end Nikka inspection system and I Cut system in it. This is the 17th Rotoflex installation in India.

An EskoArtwork CDI 2530 with inline UV will be installed in July. The company will be finalising it's colour management software soon.

Raveendran expects that all this will propel his company from an existing Rs 22 cr to Rs 50 cr turnover by 2012.

A lovely journey
Lovely Offset was founded in 1961 by C Kadarkarai. A self-made man, he specialised in the printing of self-designed papers and wedding cards.

Today, his three sons (K Vijayakumar, a diploma in printing technology), K Selvakumar (an engineer and MBA graduate) and K Senthil Kumar are leap-frogging the company into a new league with an expansion on a 23-acre plot.

Lovely has a 75,000 sqft automated book plant which houses a brand-new Heidelberg and an array of book printing kit from Muller Martini for soft-cover and hard-cover book binding equipment. The windowless, pillarless unit is a virtual Muller Martini showroom. This was one of the reasons, the Muller Martini chief, Bruno Muller took time out to visit the Lovely Offset plant in Sivakasi, a few days before Ipex.

The plant boasts of two Ventura book sewing machines, a Diamant MC 35 bookline and Horauf BDM 45 case maker. For softcover production, it has an Acoro A5 perfect binder with a Merit S trimmer, plus the Prima S saddle-stitcher.

While PrintWeek India was in Sivakasi, Lovely was installing the Prima saddle stitcher. Plus the company is erecting a brand-new plant (which is an exact replica of the present unit). K Selvakumar director of Lovely Offset said: "40% of book production in the new unit will be for exports."

The Lovely factory in Velayutham Road is 1,00,000 sqft. With the new buildings, their floor space will be 2,50,000 sqft. He adds: "We are very keen to transform the low quality book market into high quality-high volume."

For this, Lovely possesses two Kodak Trendsetter 800 Quantums with Prinergy workflow which feeds their battery of presses that include two Mitsubishi Diamond LS3000s, one of which with a coater; one Heidelberg SM102P eight-colour and a Heidelberg CD102 four-colour and two Mitsubishi 3DP. In the web offset department, Lovely has a Heidelberg heatset and a Pressline. They are on the verge of installing an AIM Graphics Web 4/4.

When questioned about the pace of investment, Selvakumar says: "Multinationals expect 40% of the world's growth over the next few years to come from China and India. What we have realised is, we have to work harder if we have to prosper in this booming market."

Lovely consumes 3,000-5,000 plates per month – and approximately 11,000 tons of paper per annum. Selvakumar states: "Volume is the name of the game. The potential market is huge. Populations are already much bigger than in the developed world and growing much faster. What is interesting is, hundreds of milllions of people will continue to enter the middle class in the coming decades."

Lovely is keen to tap the market with their range of cartons, weddding and invitation cards, as well as calendars and diaries. Selvakumar is excited about the new print kiosk system which they are setting up at their six showrooms. This will see the installation of Konica Bizhub printers.

Breaking the rules
The other big news in Sivakasi is Noida-based Gopsons Papers setting up a 17.5 acre plant near Sivakasi. The company was in the news at Ipex for the purchase of two new four-colour + IR drier KBA RA 130a presses.

Vasant Goel of Gopsons, says: "We have purchased the land and will start construction by end of June."
The company expects to begin commercial production by Q1 2011. The plant will produce books for both export and domestic market. The capacities in phase 1 will be 35,000 hardcover books per day, 1,50,000 paperback books per day and saddle wire – 1,25,000 per day.

Goel says: "It is an exciting phase for the Indian book printer. My worry is, Indians talk in terms of millions copies printed, but the Chinese measure the production in container-loads." Goel is quite clear that India needs hundreds of book production units like SFA and Lovely, if India has a serious chance to take on the might of the Chinese in the global market.

The trick he says is "straddling the pyramid" or "playing the piano". By this he means, "serving both the publisher at the bottom of the pyramid and those at the top."

The master printers of Sivakasi
G Ramakrishnan of Heidelberg India who has been nurturing the city for years, is bullish about Sivakasi.

And he has every reason to be. Heidelberg has had a good innings here.

Leading the pack is, SFA with a six-colour Heidelberg CD 74-6+LX UV with Prinect image control. (Incidentally, this was the first image control system in Sivakasi – which was installed after ITC in Tiruvottiyur). SFA also boasts of a Heidelberg SM102-4P and a SORK and SORSZ.

Then there is Lovely (refer to previous page) and Sel-Jegat, which produces high-end wet-glue labels on their four-colour SM 52 and GTO.

Likewise there is Bell Printers which installed a four-colour Heidelberg SM 102 and Varimatrix 105 CS – the first die-cutter installed by Heidelberg in India.

Then there is Bell Match which produces (and exports) some of the most exquisite match boxes on their four-colour SM 52. There are two SM 102V at the Nadar Press – and a SM 52-1 at Orient which is deployed for producing playing cards.

Interestingly enough, there is "the film poster giant", Safire Offset Printers which has a fleet of four pre-owned SM 102s and Mitsubishis. The Japanese press which is serviced by Proteck has been installed at Papco Offset (security printers plus lottery), Lovely Offset and Jothi Art Calendars.

There are a handful of CTCP bureaus, but what dominates the market is 125 platemakers who operate out of a 8 x 10 sqft room and produce 40-50 plates per day.

It is clear that for every SFA or Lovely or Sel-Jegat which is well-managed, there are plenty of poorly managed and uncompetitive firms. I Kanagarajan, who is CEO of Standard Press concurs. But he hastens to add, "most people jump into the river because they don't know how to swim." Standard which was despatching 70 lakh books to a textbook bureau while PrintWeek India was visiting, is looking to take that leap.
Kanagarajan states: "Sivakasi has lost some of it's advantage. Labour is no longer cheap. The Government has revoked the subsidies. Madurai airport is 60 minutes by road, and Tutiorin port is close by but Sivakasi doesn't have good rail connectivity." Above all, some of the machines are ageing.
Selvakumar is optimistic: "20 brand-new presses and perfect binders have been installed. SFA and Lovely have MIS."

Perhaps he is right.

The Sivakasi print industry was a byproduct of the matches and fireworks industry. The mushrooming of match and firework units created a demand for labels and posters. Since 1932, the industry evolved and was able to provide printed products to the rest of India. Today that clout has diminished.
Chockalingman of SFA, says: "Sivakasi will have to evolve a new standard of print management which includes reverse innovation and frugal production. Print companies will have to realise that it's not just about the end product. It is also about the production processes which meets those ends. They have to realise the customer is king – and today's customer has very high expectations."

Sel-Jegat is one of those unique firms which has a combination of high-end flexo, offset, letterpress and screen printing under one roof. Great stress is laid on systems with delam/relam, lamination, cold foil on rail, punching, sheeting, in line 100% video inspection and combination of UV/water-based inks. R Prashant the technical director (in the picture) at Sel Jegat says the unit can print from 12 microns film up to 350 gsm carton.

Standard Press print facility is located on it’s 60,000 sqft unit – and produces high-end book printing products for the domestic and export market. In addition to a fleet of post-press kit, they have a Roland 700 eight-colour 4/4 with CCI (size: 740 X 1040) and a Roland 700 four-colour. They specialise in hard and soft cover books, catalogues and brochures.

Safire Offset Printers established in 1975 has many firsts to their credit. It has a unique eco-model for producing film posters, an in-house ink kitchen (please refer to picture), a massive mess for the workers and 20 sheetfed presses which includes five Mitsubishi Diamond Series four-colour presses and six Heidelbergs.    

Bell Match creates the most exquisite match boxes on their Heidelberg. Most of these match boxes are branded and exported to European hotels – including Bell Hotel in Sivakasi a preferred destination for outsiders. In addition to Bell Matches, there is Bell Printers which has expanded with a SM 102 and Varimatrix die-cutter. Their four-acre facility has been fortified with 30,000 sqft of production floorspace.

There are two polytechnic colleges in Sivakasi. these are the  Sivakasi Institute of Printing Technology generously supported (from land to building to machines) by the Sivakasi Master Printer’s Association. The other college is Arasan Ganesan Polytechnic College. Both institutes have produced print technologists who are well-placed.


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Monicka Techno Printers in Karur sets up advanced 35,000 sqft unit (17 July 2010)

CTP systems penetrate interiors of Tamil Nadu state (16 July 2010)

In Depth Analysis: Dissecting cost of a print job in India and fixing loss (15 July 2010)

Insource in Sivakasi boosts its digital capacity with Truepress (15 July 2010)

First Bizhub at Vignesh Graphics in Madurai (15 July 2010)