New Komori ups Foil Printers’ revenue in first year

Ambivalence on automation in postpress

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Kamal Chopra with sons Dalip and Sudhir at Foil Printers' unit in Ludhiana

Kamal Chopra, owner of Ludhiana-based Foil Printers, is also the general secretary of the Offset Printers Association in Ludhiana. Headed by him, the press is run by his sons Dalip and Sudhir. Unlike any other printer in Ludhiana, Foil only prints commercial work. The other printers in Ludhiana, according to Chopra, have already migrated to packaging.

“With the new revolution brought about by the internet, commercial printing is shrinking. There is a huge growth in packaging though. Every city has a company completely dedicated to packaging. In Ludhiana, there are many packaging companies and many commercial printing companies that have diversified to packaging. There is no one dedicated commercial print setup except for ours,” Chopra says.

Commercial print more profitable compared to packaging

Talking about Ludhiana, Chopra feels the market is suitable for commercial print. He thinks that there is an overcapacity in packaging in Ludhiana but in the case of commercial print, due to the lack of players in the market who are completely dedicated to this segment, Foil has apparently managed to gain a dominant market share.

“We really do not have any competitor in this city. All the players who have a setup comparable to ours are doing packaging work. Printing is a minuscule part of their business. We have a dedicated setup for commercial as well as digital work. We have planned our investments well and have a mix of brand new and second-hand machines to cater to our customers’ requirements,” Chopra adds.

Komori Enthrone 429 press

Last year, Foil purchased a brand new Komori Enthrone 429 press that was installed in July. Before Foil purchased its new Komori press, its annual turnover of close to Rs 3 crores increased to Rs 4.5 crores after the press was installed last year. Apart from the brand new Komori, the company runs a second-hand Heidelberg 5-color plus coater. Foil supplies to the books and stationery segment where Chopra says lamination is not needed. Nevertheless, there is a rarely used offline coater from Autoprint.

For postpress and finishing, the company has two folders, three guillotines, two saddle-stitchers and one section-sewing machine. Most of these are semi-automatic while a couple of the machines are fully automatic.

Automation in postpress – a debatable choice

While most printers are adding postpress automation, Chopra says contrarily that in a heavily populated country such as India, automation isn’t needed. He says that instead of automation, more workforce can be absorbed by this process to generate employment. Nevertheless, he agrees that in order to achieve better accuracy and to increase productivity, automation is handy for any printing unit.

“I agree that it is very important to adopt automation. It is important to get a continuous supply which can be ensured through automation; with that comes quality production. In most of the cases one must have observed that in order to be associated with an MNC, one has to have automation. Companies, especially MNCs, do not compromise on quality and hence they refrain from approaching companies who do not have an automated setup. But I must say India is not fit for automation as companies have the responsibility of providing employment to a huge population. The labor cost is cheap as well. An automated machine will come at a much higher capex.

“I say, instead of commercial printing companies adopting automation individually in their own companies, all the commercial print units should together invest in setting up an automation unit that will be accessible for all the Ludhiana printers. Let us consider a situation wherein automation in postpress is not required for a company since the print quantity is small. In that case, even if a company invests in automatic machines for achieving better productivity, it will incur losses for investing a huge amount on the automated setup. That is where a centralized automation unit that is accessible to all comes handy. It is a more feasible solution as well,” says Chopra.

On the state of commercial printing in the city, he says it is on the decline. According to him, it is the printers who have spoiled the market for selfish reasons. “With the unorganized growth of industry, the margins got squeezed. Nobody kept a tab on the rates. And those who tried to, suffered huge losses. I don’t think we can complain as it is those amongst us who started it all,” Chopra says.

Foil’s digital capacity

Foil noticed the rise in short run print demand early, and invested in two Ricoh presses including a monochrome press and a Konica Minolta color production press. “Printing can never die. It can only transform from one form to the other. Just like we’re observing today, there is a shift from commercial to digital. If one plans his investments cleverly, printing can never be a loss-stricken business,” Chopra concludes.

2023 promises an interesting ride for print in India

Indian Printer and Publisher founded in 1979 is the oldest B2B trade publication in the multi-platform and multi-channel IPPGroup. While the print and packaging industries have been resilient in the past 33 months since the pandemic lockdown of 25 March 2020, the commercial printing and newspaper industries have yet to recover their pre-Covid trajectory.

The fragmented commercial printing industry faces substantial challenges as does the newspaper industry. While digital short-run printing and the signage industry seem to be recovering a bit faster, ultimately their growth will also be moderated by the progress of the overall economy. On the other hand book printing exports are doing well but they too face several supply-chain and logistics challenges.

The price of publication papers including newsprint has been high in the past year while availability is diminished by several mills shutting down their publication paper and newsprint machines in the past four years. Indian paper mills are also exporting many types of paper and have raised prices for Indian printers. To some extent, this has helped in the recovery of the digital printing industry with its on-demand short-run and low-wastage paradigm.

Ultimately digital print and other digital channels 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. For instance, there is no alternative to a rise in textbook consumption but this segment will only reach normality in the next financial year beginning on 1 April 2023.

Thus while the new normal is a moving target and many commercial printers look to diversification, we believe that our target audiences may shift and change. Like them, we will also have to adapt with agility to keep up with their business and technical information needs.

Our 2023 media kit is ready, and it is the right time to take stock and reconnect with your potential markets and customers. Print is the glue for the growth of liberal education, new industry, and an emerging economy. We seek your participation in what promises to be an interesting ride.

– Naresh Khanna

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