TechNova announces alliance with Konica Minolta

Pranav Parikh, chairman and managing director of TechNova and Tadahiko Sumitani , the managing director of Konica Minolta. On the occasion of forging an alliance with Konica Minolta, Parikh speaks to Ramu Ramanathan.

14 Mar 2013 | By Ramu Ramanathan

Ramu Ramanathan (RR): Kudos on the Konica Minolta announcement. But why Konica Minolta?
We believe Konica Minolta (KM) is a financially strong and well diversified conglomerate with a turnover of $10 bn spread over many industries. It offers the best value-for-money and leading-edge fit-for-the-purpose technology for entry-level to mid-range segments. They have the depth of experience in graphic arts as well as digital printing technology. Their print-heads are recognised as one of the best in the industry. Importantly, we find that there is alignment of organisational culture and value system between KM and TechNova.

In 1995 you shared space with Benny Landa, and anticipated that digital was the future ...
Too long ago, too much before its time, I must admit. Soon after the famous launch of Indigo by Benny Landa, we flew in an Indigo for a live demo at the Pamex Show in Delhi. It created magic … but not business. It was too early, and neither the technology nor the market was ready for it.
And 20 years later, you are back with digital ...
Perhaps you are saying that we were too early then and are too late now, right?! Perhaps we are, but I doubt it. We entered the digital arena originally in 1995 with a wide portfolio of products, including digital proofers, wide-format inkjet printers, digital press (Indigo). When we realised that it was too early, we withdrew, only to re-enter in 2003 with India’s first CTP solution, followed by a full range of digital imaging solutions, supported by the largest pool of engineers in the industry. Our strategy has been to enter fields where we can add value for our customers, and at a time when we believe we are capable of serving each customer in an exemplary manner. The timing is not always of our choosing. Rightly, or wrongly, we believe that now is the right time for us to re-enter the digital printing arena, starting with KM. Whether or not our timing is right, only time will tell.
But you have other option for digital printer?
For a printer who needs to produce very short-run jobs on demand at low cost, we offer our MetiJet inkjet CTP (iCtP) system that uses a no-process polyester or metal plates. This is the most affordable CTP system in the world, based on a custom-designed large-format inkjet platesetter. 
How are you going to recommend to a customer which technology to opt for?
TechNova’s strategy is to customise technology roadmaps for every customer. In our opinion, the MetiJet iCTP system is the logical first step for an offset printer who has no experience in digital workflows. For his next steps, we provide him with the options to upgrade to violet or thermal CTP systems. Thereafter, to be able to offer personalised (variable image) prints, the logical next step would be the KM digital printer.
With 1,000+ installations of Konica Minolta kit in India plus three Indian representatives, TechNova will be the fourth. What’s in it for TechNova? Are you confident in terms of numbers to be pushed in developing the segment?
This is not a numbers game for us. We are looking at where we can truly add value for our customers. We will focus on that. If that generates numbers, let there be numbers.
Is that a matter of concern how top digital firms have closed in on their year-end target with a tepid EBIT recording. Is consolidation the future of digital press manufacturing?
There is a huge amount of churn and consolidation in all segments of our industry: offset presses, CTP systems, graphic arts films, offset plates, printing inks, blankets, etc. This is a natural phenomenon whenever there is hyper competition caused either due to shrinkage of economy or significant excess capacity in the industry. Usually, the process of consolidation, when completed, results in a healthier and stable industry supply scenario. Until then, end-users need to exercise caution and prudence, and undertake due diligence while choosing their digital journey vendor-partner.
That brings us to the question, what happens to CTP?
Every great big story has a life-cycle. Judging from the volume of analogue plates that are still being used, and the fact that total consumption of offset plates is expected to continue to grow for several years, we believe that there’s still a lot of distance still to be travelled in CTP’s life-cycle.
What about developments in TechNova’s CTP technology?
R&D spend continues to be invested on developing new and improved digital plates. The focus is clearly on high-performance, UV-ink compatible, long-run, environment-friendly plates where the need to use water and processing chemicals and effluents is eliminated. 
Why don’t you sell CTCP devices?
Because the existing channel partners of various manufacturers are doing a good job. We support them by supplying UV CTP plates that are compatible with their systems.
TechNova conducts CTP audits. What triggered this idea?
Every morning, we analyse all the complaints received by us concerning the use of our CTP systems, plates and chemicals. Our database reveals that over 98.5% of the problems faced by our customers could have been prevented if the recommended standardised operating and maintenance procedures were followed by the end-user. Our survey also revealed that our customers would welcome our assistance in periodically auditing their processes and operating parameters, and recommending improvements. The experience so far has been very satisfying for us as it has enabled us to make a tangible contribution to productivity improvement and waste reduction.
That brings us to the anti-dumping stance. Are you relieved with the legal decision and of course the reaction that followed?
The fact is that anti-dumping duty has not affected Kodak or Fuji. Though anti-dumping duty was levied on Kodak in the Preliminary Findings of the DGAD, no duty was finally levied on them in the Notification. Fuji diverted its imports from China to Netherlands, thereby avoiding anti-dumping duty, though their CIF price continues to be almost at the same level as their imports from China.
What about anti-dumping for UV CTP?
As for UV CTP or CTCP plates, they are now being imported as PS plates or as aluminium scrap by various importers, thereby evading the duty levied on CTCP plates. As a consequence, though the minimum international end-user prices of thermal or violet plates is $7-$8 per sq/metre, in India, the prices are at least 20%-30% lower.
If you’d have to define TechNova’s moments in the past 40 years?
There are two honest answers:  one, that every moment has been, and is, exciting. Two, I must admit that one of my weaknesses is that I cannot recall, and I don’t make an effort to recall, history. My energies remain focused on the present and on anticipating the future. However, I guess you will consider these responses as evading your question. So let me share whatever pops up in my head as defining moments that shaped TechNova’s trajectory.
Yes, please. What stands out?
Allow me to go back by 30 years, to 1971, when TechNova was born on the shopfloor of Printwell or more precisely, on a 11x30ft mezzanine floor above my cabin in Printwell…with the first mission being to develop copper-plated aluminium photoengraving (letterpress blockmaking) plates to replace prohibitively expensive and hard-to-get solid copper plates. I must mention here that the real father of TechNova is Alan Vincent, a British Graphic Arts research scientist. He agreed to help me start TechNova’s journey, based on the founding principles: uncompromising business and personal ethics, focus on innovation and excellence, love and respect for everyone.  
The exhilarating moments ...
The moments that I have found most exhilarating are when TechNova has been engaged in developing and launching new products and technologies, one of the most memorable one being the immensely successful launch of our first offset plate, the MicroFinish aluminium plate, at the All India Printers’ Conference in Ahmedabad. It signalled a warm welcoming of TechNova by our industry and reaffirmed our faith in our journey and accelerated it. Also I can never forget the visit to our office by late G Kasturi, the former editor of The Hindu and former managing director of Kasturi and Sons. He said, “You have helped the commercial printing industry to rapidly convert from letterpress to offset printing technology by introducing  deep-etch aluminium plates to replace zinc plates. We, too, plan to shift from rotary letterpress to web offset, but cannot waste 90 minutes to image and process a deep-etch plate. What can you do for us?”

That was the trigger point for the development of the wipe-on technology, which reduced the platemaking time from 90 minutes to ten minutes. The logical next step was the PS plates, which further reduced the time to five minutes. And thereafter, a range of digital plates that are now routinely imaged @ 200 newspaper plates per hour. What’s fascinating is that all these technologies are still being used in India. 
Was the GATF award one of the truly memorable events ...
One of the most memorable events was receiving the GATF InterTech Award for the world’s first no-process laser polyester plate.  This technology transformed the small-offset print industry in US as well as India, helped extend its life-cycle. For TechNova, it signalled the start of our international journey, reinforced by our various international alliances - especially Agfa – and active participation in Drupa, IPEX and other shows.
A sad moment, the closure of Printwell ...
The event that stands out, with intense nostalgia, and sadness, is our decision to exit from the printing business  and the resultant closure of Printwell. Why? Because hard choices have to be made when faced with strategic opportunities that present themselves as challenges.  Thereafter, with total channelisation of all our resources on TechNova, the pace of growth accelerated. Another defining moment concerns a crisis. The first one, the total destruction of our anodised aluminium plate factory at Mahalaxmi  by fire that started in an adjoining factory. It brought out the best in TechNovites. The crisis was turned into an opportunity to embark on setting up multiple manufacturing plants where safety, technology sophistication, eco-friendliness  and manufacturing excellence were given the highest importance. And more recently, the global financial crisis of 2008-2009, through sheer survival instinct, helped transform TechNova into becoming the world’s lowest-cost  producer of offset plates.
Just to rewind a bit. We have come across a humungous number of people, who owe allegiance to the fact that they were at Printwell, where they learnt the best trick in the trade. Many of them say, Printwell was a training school and a print laboratory. Is this true?
We have been blessed with wonderful people being associated with us, historically and now. They perhaps remember Printwell due to their own propensity to constantly learn and improve. All that perhaps Printwell did was to provide them with the compelling drive to excel through continuous learning and the opportunities to experiment and perfect.
Days of innocence, you may say?
Yes, very well said. Days of innocence and ignorance...
One last Printwell question. There was a certain amount of level-headedness and great level of connectivity with the print industry. Has that experience helped you in good stead?
If there was level-headedness, perhaps it came from exposure to spirituality, thanks to my father. The connectivity with the print industry is something I have always enjoyed and cherished. What is really endearing about our printers’ community is that it is made up wonderful human-beings. There is warmth and goodness, and a spirit of sharing knowledge. Having been a printer has been immensely helpful. At the core, I believe I am still a printer, and can therefore relate naturally to a printer’s needs and concerns. I guess that helps TechNova to shape its products and services.
Coming back to today, where do you see the industry go? 2013, we are at cross-roads ...
There is a high level of anxiety in the printing industry globally about its future in the wake of the rising tide of alternate communications technologies. The sudden collapse of the commercial and newspaper printers in the US, UK, Europe, in particular, is being perceived as the inevitable future for the entire global print industry. Indian printers are not immune to this fear psychosis. Hopefully, this will lead to innovative thinking and creative strategies. 
Examination of the following data can help create a more objective assessment of the future for the Indian print industry. 
India’s per capita consumption of printed materials ($10 to $15 per capita) is among the lowest in the world. Countries where the printing industry has significantly shrunk had 30 to 40 times India’s per capita print consumption. Even after the shrinkage, their consumption remains 20 to 30 times higher. Moreover, a significant percentage of their print consumption belonged to the discretionary category, the type that one can easily do without during an economic crisis. With the fall in employment and incomes that has occurred in these countries, the discretionary category suffered the highest contraction. Also, a large percentage of print consumption consisted of items that could be better served by alternate media such as the web, smart devices, etc. This segment too suffered from shrinkage through migration to alternate media.
India’s print consumption pattern and stage of economic development are on a completely different trajectory, for at least the current decade. We have extremely low per capita income. It is growing rapidly (even with the current depressed rate of growth) relative to the west. Along with it, the per capita print consumption will inevitably grow. Forecasters believe that it has the headroom to grow at least 10 times before it levels out. We should also factor in the fact that our population is growing. Moreover, the current composition of print consumption has hardly any component of discretionary or dispensable print material. The print consumption predominantly consists of indispensable items, where print (regardless of whether offset, digital or flexo) has a clear advantage over alternate media, for example, packaging, textbooks, magazines, etc. The penetration of alternate media is also undoubtedly growing, which may impose an upper limit for the growth of print consumption. 
Hence, whilst there is no present or imminent danger of collapse of our industry, it is vital to review one’s competitive strategy, technology strategy, and financial strategy…with creativity and positive energy…not fear.

TechNova Timeline
1971: Birth of TechNova
1971-80: Launch of (India’s first) deep-etch aluminium offset plates and chemistry; Wipe-on plates and chemistry
1981-90:  Launch of a full range of PS plates; drafting and diazo films for printing, textile and engineering industries
1993: Technology  collaboration  with Dupont-Howson, which was later taken over by Agfa
1995: GATF “Technology Pioneer” InterTech Award for Novadom  polyester laser plates
1995-2000: Marketing alliances with digital Imaging companies e.g.   Scitex, Indigo, DuPont Cromalin, Encad, Ultre, Imation, etc
1997: World Economic Forum “Technology Pioneer” and “Global Growth Company” Awards
2000-2012: Multiple Product Launches: Thermal, violet, inkjet digital plates; Green (chemfree and No-Process) plates and chemicals; digital print media for photography, signage, proofing; self-adhesive labels; clear inkjet graphic arts films; dye-sublimation print solutions; screen-printing emulsions; flexographic and letterpress plates (from Toray and Asahi).
Establishment of the DIS (Digital Imaging Solutions) division in marketing alliances with Agfa, FFEI, Screen, Dotline, Epson, Proteck, Glunz & Jenzen, Nela, Toray, AsahiKasei, a range of software solutions providers, etc. 
2013: Marketing alliance with Konica Minolta.