Kerala’s commercial printing industry grapples to overcome setbacks

Battered but not beaten by the floods

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KP Sabu, managing partner at Five Star Offset
KP Sabu, managing partner at Five Star Offset

Over nine months since floods battered God’s own country, the printing industry in Kerala is still slow and coming to terms with the pace. In August 2018, severe floods ravaged the state, causing colossal loss of lives and infrastructure. The print and media industry was hit too, suffering heavy financial losses not only in terms of physical infrastructure but also business revenue as a whole.

We at Indian Printer & Publisher visited to well-known commercial printers in Kochi to understand where the commercial printing industry stands today in Kerala.

Five Star Offset Printers, Kochi invests in packaging

Established in the year 1991 by KP Sabu, managing partner in the company, Five Star Offset Printers started with a brand new AB Dick machine. The Nettoor, Kochi based company specializes in the printing of textbooks, magazines, calendars, leaflets, brochures, danglers, stickers, postcards, envelops and posters. “Basically, we undertake all kinds of commercial printing jobs. We have complete facility in-house and do not depend on any third-party vendor for our printing needs,” says Sabu.

In 2016, the company realized the potential of packaging and diversified into the segment with converting equipment from Bobst. Currently, Five Star Offset has a Prinect Signastation and a Heidelberg Suprasetter CtP in its prepress section. In its press unit, the company has a Heidelberg Speedmaster CD 102 4-color, a Heidelberg Print Master 74 4-color, a Komori Enthrone 4-color, a Komori Lithrone 28 x 40 6-color with coater, an HMT SOM 125G, and UV and aqueous coating machines. The postpress unit has a Bobst Novacut, a Bobst Vision Fold, a Heidelberg Stahlfolder folding machine, a Polar 115 cutting machine, a Perfecta 115 cutting machine, lamination, perfect binding, saddle-stitching and die-cutting machines. In addition, the company has recently invested in a high-speed liner machine and window patching machine from Heiber + Schroeder.

A long-time user of Heidelberg machines, Sabu says, “We are one of the premium customers of Heidelberg as we have their CtP installed here, two 4-color printing machines and also a folding machine. Their Speedmaster CD 102, which we installed five years back, is one of the world’s best offset printing machines and we are extremely happy with their service support as well.”

Commercial print still more profitable than cartons

Going ahead, Sabu has plans to invest in another printing machine and finishing equipment. He is already in talks with Heidelberg and expects to close the deal in this financial year. “Commercial jobs allow more margins so we are more focused on commercial printing than packaging as of now. So, we want to invest in another 5-color or 6-color machine soon,” he says.

Referring to the floods that ravaged Kerala in August last year, Sabu says that business is yet to pick up volume although Kerala’s undying spirit has ensured the people rise above such calamities. He shares that every industry was impacted due to the floods and smaller printers who had no insurance to cover their machinery had to shut shop. First there was implementation of demonetization, followed by GST and then the floods; so all of this has had a severe effect on the Kerala print industry. “Thankfully, our press was not affected during the floods as we have many small lakes nearby and the flood waters spread out there,” he says.

Dearth of training for achieving quality

Apart from natural calamities, Sabu feels the real issue that ails the printing and packaging industry in Kerala is scarcity of people with the right kind of knowledge to work in this industry. “I feel there is a dearth of trained workers in this industry. We have to spend a lot of time training people to achieve high-quality results. Although they have knowledge about machines and printing, they need special training on a regular basis for achieving excellent quality,” he adds.

Finally, talking about the overall printing industry in Kochi, Sabu shares, “There are not many production units in Kochi; all are medium-scale enterprises and hence print volumes are low. However, the printing industry in Kerala is optimistic of a surge in growth. Earlier, all printing jobs would invariably go to Sivakasi but that is not the case anymore. In Kerala, Kochi is the hub of printing. Here in Kochi, we have every kind of infrastructure needed to get the finest printing job result. Be it the latest machinery or technology, Kochi today has everything. There are many small printers in Alleppey, Trivandrum, Kottayam, Kasargod and Calicut who come down to Kochi for their local printing requirements. It is all because Kochi has a lot of facilities and advanced machinery here.”

The Covid-19 pandemic led to the country-wide lockdown on 25 March 2020. It will be two years tomorrow as I write this. What have we learned in this time? Maybe the meaning of resilience since small companies like us have had to rely on our resources and the forbearance of our employees as we have struggled to produce our trade platforms.

The print and packaging industries have been fortunate, although the commercial printing industry is still to recover. We have learned more about the digital transformation that affects commercial printing and packaging. Ultimately digital will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future.

Web analytics show that we now have readership in North America and Europe amongst the 90 countries where our five platforms reach. Our traffic which more than doubled in 2020, has at times gone up by another 50% in 2021. And advertising which had fallen to pieces in 2020 and 2021, has started its return since January 2022.

As the economy approaches real growth with unevenness and shortages a given, we are looking forward to the PrintPack India exhibition in Greater Noida. We are again appointed to produce the Show Daily on all five days of the show from 26 to 30 May 2022.

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– Naresh Khanna

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