The new-gen flexo press and the art of automation

Narendra Kulkarni spoke at the Respack conference in Mumbai about the tweaks in the power grid and reduction of contract demand. At LabelExpo, PrintWeek caught up with the Gallus gentleman in order to understand how automation can bring reduction in contract demand and power.

13 Sep 2023 | By Ramu Ramanathan

Kulkarni: Enjoy the musical taal of the machine. Hear the machine, feel the machine, speak with the machine. It should be a jugalbandi

Ramu Ramanathan (RR): In what way can the shortest web path between a print unit, for an eight-colour print unit machine just 11.2 metres during printing operations result in 44% material reduction in print production than a longer web machine? 
Narendra Kulkarni (NK):
The Gallus Labelmaster has 1.4 m web length between two print units which is part of the printing process. The corresponding eight-colour machine will have 11.2 meters in the printing section, whereas older generation machines were long web machines where curing units as UV were bottom of the flexo unit, and web length were 2.5 metres between print units under impression. The point is, due to the change of machine construction material at the impression point is reduced by 44%.

RR: What about automation?
In addition, automations in Labelmaster reduce the waste substantially like job storage and recall, format length corrections as used for mono elastic materials, shaftless and gearless press, substrate flexibility (15 micron to 450 micron). Labelmaster is a workhorse and fit for purpose press.

RR: Labels are evolving with anilox rollers, servo motors, doctor chamber and HD flexo. What next according to you?
In general, the flexo technology has undergone rapid development in every area of the process. It is perceived as simple in nature; and yet, it has its uniqueness and inborn complexity. What is important is quick wins and returns. This should be supplemented by steady long-term progressive returns with a peace of mind. This needs to be well understood. Quantification and getting real-time data and analysing the same is most important. I think digitalisation of conventional machines is the next big thing.

RR: The main focus of your presentation at the Respack conference was about power savings. Please explain this concept.
Reduction of energy input was possible due to modern electrical drives and automation which needs less power input and consumes less. On Gallus presses, the main power grid and distribution and conversion of power was effectively done with the help of newly developed electronics. How energy is used and re-circulated in a factory using combined heat and power units, solar energy. On the machine front, usage of a single converter has significantly reduced power needs.

RR: Most of the CEO’s energy is focused on taxes. How does one try to find one focused on business?
Printing and the label converting business in India is an extension of the family business, where young ones have taken the driver seat now. Today, this is driving transformation and ensuring most converters function like a corporation. Many firms in India are already modern and progressive. Many are moving towards professionalism.

RR: Your learnings about how NOT to micro-manage the business as most Indian label converter CEOs do? 
Generally, micro-management of the business is the culture. In a way this is good but it runs the risk of late decisions. On the other hand, transformed business groups have moved on strategic business approach with macro management approach. Simple rule in business is to earn money , and probably keep one eye on the P&L. This is the prime responsibility of a CEO along with the operational management. Business has two functional areas. One is profits in place and two, operation management. First is strategic in nature, and the rest is routine work. I think a good CEO should have a bird’s eye view with a macro management attire. He should be a master of the micro points as well.

RR: Is this possible?
Oh yes, it is. I have found that in the case of real leaders, you cannot separate as CEO who is a dreamer and doer.

RR: How should a label converter look at his balance sheet? Why are we still playing the 35 paise per sq-inch game?
Am not sure what paise per sq-inch game is. I feel the famous 3Ps must be enjoyed while viewing the business balance sheet. This is: pleasure, performance, profit.

RR: Bankers are there to sell; should a print or packaging CEO look at a banker as a friend. In the good old days we were taught: capital expenditures will drain your cash when you need it the most; always have a capital plan?
Tough one for me. I always try to relate business to our home and daily kharcha where cash is king and capital (asset) is peace. However in a business scenario, cash and capital has to be king. Today, technological advancements hold the key to ensure your capital expenditure does not go down the drain. Current press technology and innovations bring machine portfolios to earn cash. In my understanding, just opt for it. And for this, yes, you do need bankers as a friend.

RR: What does sustainability mean to you?
Sustainability is like R&D and SIP . Any new approach or change costs money. Anything that needs urgent implementation, requires investment. The same is true of sustainability.

RR: What obstacles have you faced whilst implementing eco-friendly solutions in an India label factory?
In my understanding, a complete supply chain is yet not ready. Many dots need to be connected on the topic of sustainability. Therefore, implementing it takes time. I do not see any other obstacle. In Hindi there is a saying, चाह है तो राह है (where there’s a will, there’s a way). And so, if the entire label fraternity works towards the same goal of a green atmosphere, it’s do-able ...

RR: How have the last 12 months been for you and indeed the label converting sector?
It’s been an awesome last 12 months. Business is growing and all our customers are busy shaping brands with awesome new creative print design and reproductions. The Indian label industry is going through its routine hills and valleys. This is part and parcel of any transformational business journey.

RR: How do you see the next 12 months pan out?
Next 12 months will be busy for us. Personally I am thrilled and get goosebumps to understand how I am the smallest team member in a journey which is celebrating the 100th year of Gallus. I am honoured to be part of a truly passionate team which is a world leader in flexo printing.

RR: Finally, one simple parameter that everyone should follow in their factory?
The quantification of every activity.