Three print companies and standards - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

On 3 April 2019 the Share to Benefit (StB) Forum members hosted Sushant Katkar, lead auditor, SGS + social audit expert on the different kinds of certifications available. Those in the thick of ISO implementation at their plants, namely, Ankit Tanna, Prithviraj Desai and Faheem Agboatwala discussed the benefits or otherwise of ISO standards. When Animesh Kejriwal joined in, the conversation ended up in a – to do or not to do, dilemma.

This Sunday Column is about setting standards to increase business efficiency

21 Apr 2019 | By Noel D'Cunha

Members of the BMPA's Share to Benefit Forum

The likes of ISO 9001, 14001, ISO 45001 or SA 8000, in the opinion of the Mumbai-based members of BMPA’s StB Forum, discussing these, could be both necessary (a tag that represents quality practice) or just a game (a tag which has no value in it, because it is too simple or too difficult to implement).

However, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. The best way to know if these certifications are working is to take a closer look – necessarily, get the printers to talk about it.

So to begin with, a printing and packaging company never caters to only one customer. There will be multiple clients. Even a small firm will be providing to not less than 15 to 20 customers. Meeting the requirements of all these customers can be an arduous task. “It is practically impossible,” says Katkar, the lead auditor at SGS. “You cannot meet everybody’s demands.”

So, how does one go ahead?

This is where certification helps, says Katkar, citing the experience of his. “I was working for a consultancy firm, when one of our clients, a service provider, had to face a P&G audit. The requirements came in the form of a questionnaire. The management which was facing the P&G audit got a little worried. After I went through the requirements, I understood that it was nothing more than the ISO 9001, which related to Quality Management System.”

So, Katkar claims, certifications act as the best support system for customer audits. “The biggest advantage of certification is it reduces audit burden.”

In terms of certification, there are, by and large, four types of ISO standards applicable to the print and packaging industry.

ISO 9001:2015 – quality management system, is a general certification which is typical for all the industries.

The second is ISO 9001:14001. Not everyone opts for this certification, but it is also one of the important ones. ISO 14001 is an Environmental Management System.

The third: ISO 9001:45001, Occupational Health and Safety Management System.

The fourth: SA 8000, which is a hot topic, Social Accountability. When we discuss this with print companies, the refrain is: it’s a difficult-to-achieve certificate, and difficult-to-maintain, standard. But it’s the future.

When Faheem Agboatwala of Hi-Tech wanted to dabble with certification, it was available for Rs 40,000 to Rs 50,000, and nothing was required to be done. “You could just buy the certificates. So, we just stayed away from it, deciding that we would like to do it in its essence whenever we are ready, and not just buy it.”

Faheem Agboatwala of Hi-Tech

Six years ago, he decided to get the certification. “We brought in a consultant and did a gap analysis. And we found out there were gaps with 10-15 points. We got the team to commit; this could be achieved only with team commitment. ISO 9001:2008 was the simplest one. Today it’s ISO 9001:2015,” says Agboatwala.

Theoretically, it is essential that there's a standard by which quality can be measured in any industry. Agboatwala, therefore, wanted the most stringent auditors. “We did not want just a certificate because we don't have to prove it to any client, and no client was asking us for it at that time. We wanted to do it for ourselves.”

The consultant went hammer and tong and propped up the team in several sessions.  Eventually, Hi-Tech got the ISO 9001:2008. Now the company’s two locations are ISO 9001:2015 certified. But it did not end with getting the certifications. “It’s the commitment of following these standards which is a litmus test,” says Agboatwala, who says, “I would highly recommend everybody gets it. It's a brilliant system of standardisation.”

But has it helped Agboatwala’s companies? “In some of the ways it has helped are: it has brought in a certain amount of discipline. Everything is documented, we have to follow rules, meet certain criteria and such. When you have an ISO certification, you earn respect not only from your clients but the team itself learns to respect each other and the organisation,” explains Agboatwala.

The key is to make your Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) simple and easy to understand, implement and follow it regularly. These SOPs need to be reviewed and updated periodically with the help of all those who are involved or affected by it.

Control on quality

Ankit Tanna of Printmann

Like Agboatwala, Ankit Tanna of Printmann is a pro-ISO standard.

Printmann undertook the implementation of ISO 9001:2008 in 2012 and today is an ISO 15378, PS 9000, BRC:IOP and Sedex Compliant certified company.

Again like Agboatwala, Tanna too was offered a readymade SOP (standard operating procedures) manuals. All he had to do was add his company’s name. “But we did not want to do it that way,” says Tanna. “We hired two B Tech (in printing and packaging) students from SIES Graduate School of Technology. “We told the SIES team to go to the shopfloor, engage with the person on the activity about the process, and write what they see in their language about what they understood. That report was polished with the help of the consultant,” says Tanna.

Most of the SOPs were done as per the procedure, that is, what was happening in our end. “I wouldn't call it 100%, but we implemented about 60% to 70% from the day one,” says Tanna adding, “If we were not checking Delta E up to 2, that was because we had not been doing it. We had written Delta E at 5, which we brought down to 3 at a later stage.”

When it comes to ISO 15378, Tanna says, his company complies with a plethora of standards and believes that there are several benefits. “They help you to deliver quality consistently. For a worker who did not know what ISO is, for him, it’s a holy grail. If you are an ISO company, you are really special. So he goes that extra mile. And you have to sell it that way.”

From a company’s point of view, he argues that working to standards reduces wastages, and customers are happy in all areas. “For example, adhering to 15378 for our pharma business, mean demonstrating our ability to provide primary packaging material consistently meeting our customers’ requirements, including regulatory and international standards. As such, one of them is clean room manufacturing. We have installed air curtains at each of the entry points. Then, to meet other norms, we have segregation of equipment and partitioning it. Change room for the workers, double-door from the bathroom to the production floor,” explains Tanna.

Standards for the direct mail business

Prithviraj Desai of MOS

When MOS began its business, a lot of it was direct mail, which involved getting clients artworks, clients data, customer information, names, addresses, past buying history. “These were very critical, very sensitive,” says Prithviraj Desai of MOS.

He adds, “Our clients dictate what we were supposed to do – receiving the data in an encrypted password protected file; the password would be sent in a separate mail, maintain a registry to store all the password. Importantly, the password would be refreshed every three months.”

MOS was doing 100% overseas work. The process involved, meticulously maintaining records, maintain the gaps in case of mistakes and keep a report, maintaining data deletion record. “The processes were stringent, but they automatically got ingrained and turned into our business culture.”

So when MOS set up its printing facility, it was required to have a particular quality management certification. “The documentation was done, the processes were set, so our goal for certification was to be recognised as a company of professionals. That’s how we got our ISO 9001:2008 certification, which was a breeze, the easiest one to go through. I don’t recollect there being any challenge.”

MOS went a step ahead and became an ISO 27001-2013 certified company. It was a certification especially for data security and intellectual property -handling it sensitively, which was an information security management system (ISMS). “Again, this was something that was critical to our business. We had the entire wherewithal, but here gap analysis was very important, as the requirements for certification were stringent. We were able to close out the gaps because we had a good implementation partner with us.”

MOS hired a consultant who helped it find the gaps. MOS changed its SOPs as far as data handling was concerned, which included forming a team structure, the matrix of the team within that, approval authorities, put in place a disaster management system,  which is an essential matrix within the ISO 27001:2013 certification. “That said, the ISO 27001:2013 was a by-product of what we had initially started doing,” says Desai.

There were benefits of achieving the ISO 27001:2013 certification. Local clients started considering MOS as an option due to the accreditation and their experience in exports. “We could approach clients from the insurance and banking sectors since we also had printing facility in-house combined with the data certification. It opened a whole new market, a new vertical for our business. That was one huge benefit,” says Desai.

Besides, it gave MOS certain benefits in terms of the ISO 27001 tag that it had. “It makes things easier just to have that base set work-wise,” says Desai in favour of the standard.

While doing these certifications, management commitment is most critical. They are aware of the gaps, and exceptions that go during the process. These exceptions can be kept at the minimum. “We have at least three meetings in a month for our ISMS related activities. We have a surveillance audit every year, and a re-certification audit every two years. We have six different client audits throughout the year. They tell us a week before, and they’ll go through their process and our system, everything.”

The other view

Despite there being enough support for the idea of ISO standards, there’s cynicism about both the ability of the standard and the benefits it can bring.

“It is all in mind. There is nothing else in it. Any business has to make money, ISO or no ISO,” feels Animesh Kejriwal, whose company Parksons Graphics, implemented GMI (Graphic Measure International), an ISO 12674-2-based standard. “It was primarily developed for Target Suppliers and is now a common standard for several brands.”

According to Kejriwal, the ISO standards should directly support a business objective. “The reason you do a social audit or FSC or any of the certification is that it moves you from a pool of 100 to a pool of 20. And that’s where you become premium or get that extra money or a job. That’s the way you have to look at it.”

You have to go to the harder thing, not the easier one. “ISO 9001 is very loosely defined. You go through such a big manual to figure out five or six key points that will affect your business. You can do that by looking at your own business,” explains Kejriwal.

Doing business is all about customer satisfaction. And to achieve that Parksons does something like net promoter score (NPS) on a daily basis.

The NPS index is designed such that Parksons NPS team asks its customers their overall satisfaction with the service. “Every month, we had surveys of customer satisfaction of all our customers down to the client service level. So we had the data where we could point out to a particular record where the score was not up to mark. If anyone gave us a bad score, we would go and ask them what we have done wrong and then come up with a fix.”

For Parksons Graphics it worked.

Rupesh Sawant of Superlekha Printing Press, says all should follow ISO standards. “There’s no point if one print company is doing it and the other is not.”

Arun Rawat of QOT packaging has had other kinds of problems while seeking ISO certification. “Getting people to handle the implementation is an issue. They don’t last to see it through,” he says.

While Agboatwala of Hi-Tech Printing Service is all praise for ISO 9001:2015, he realised meeting the stringent SA 8000 norms was going to be an uphill task. “We decided that we don't want to go into that certification. The last thing that you want is to have sleepless nights that you're not up to the mark if you fail that particular audit.”

So, Agboatwala’s advise is, take your time to decide, but do that gap assessment. “It is very, very important. Because out of the ten gaps that will come maybe six you can fulfil and you should fulfil these six irrespective of whether you get the certification or not.”

According to Agboatwala, the way out to meet the ethical/social audit was to maintain two separate books (overtime issues and such), and for a Rs 100-150 crore turnover company, with two separate books, this social audit is highly impossible to implement.

The whole thing is about ethics. “And then if the company has to maintain two books - showing one to the department and one for the accounts/HR, where is the ethics. The whole purpose is defeated.”

According to Katkar having a standard does not guarantee good practices. “I have come across print companies that hold ISO 14001 Environmental certificate, and they don’t know what their gross material waste is.” Gross material waste (tonnage of paper for recycling and waste compared to tonnage used) is an easy measure for most litho printers and usually ranges from 15%-30% – a significant opportunity to reduce cost and environmental impact.

I would like to add here, that every objective has to be in line with the objectives of the company, says Katkar. “For example, if your objective is to increase 10% of your turnover, each department has to contribute. So your raw material supplies are on time, and quality assured, production is on time, and the shipment too. It’s like a chain. If one chain is broken, the objective cannot be achieved.”

Difficult to implement, yet many among the print community believe that having an ISO certification is a no-brainer. “It's a must; you can't live without it. After five years of ISO 9001 2015, we feel that way,” says Agboatwala.

And like Tanna says, if you are implementing standards, you do it for yourself; you will not need to lie.

A note from BMPA

The StB (Share to benefit) was conceived by the BMPA in 2007. It is a group of print converters of varying size and scale, who service different verticals and product mix. They meet once in a month with an agenda to share their knowledge and experiences selflessly with each other with a common goal to learn and solve each others problems.

If you are interested in joining the StB, please apply by emailing to and they will get back to you with the next steps.