April to September offset multicolor press installations stall in India

Pandemic and lockdown crash commercial print in India

Team Print Point with the Speedmaster CX 75: (From left): Ashok Kumar, Sadanand Singh, Dhirresh and Kranti Kumar Photo Heidelberg India
Team Print Point with the Speedmaster CX 75: (From left): Ashok Kumar, Sadanand Singh, Dhirresh and Kranti Kumar Photo Heidelberg India

Installations of multicolor offset presses have been sparse, to say the least. These were mostly machines ordered in the previous financial year and were installed as the lockdown was lifted in May, June, and in August. Altogether, only seven presses have been installed since April in its unlikely that the number will go higher than 13 or 14 installations till the end of the financial year in March 2021.

Some of the more optimistic manufacturers were hoping to limit the damage this year with installations reduced to 60% of the previous year. Others were forecasting a total wipeout. However, it is more likely that the actual number will be half of what the optimists were hoping. Though higher for digital press installations, the numbers are nevertheless proportionately similar compared to the first five months of the previous financial year.

Commercial print down while monocarton printing is holding up

What is noticeable is that India’s commercial printing market seems to have completely collapsed with the Covid-19 infections raging at a daily rate that is the highest in the world at over 90,000 cases. The economy shows a very slight or gradual recovery. While the drastic and complete lockdown of March 24th has been gradually lifted in many sectors since the beginning of July, demand has not returned. Retail sales, automobiles, real estate, education, travel, and hospitality are not rising, although all sectors are hopeful that the festive season will bring back consumer demand.

Of the seven offset press installations from three of the five major global manufacturers, only two have come to the commercial printing segment, a 2-color press, and a 4-color press since April. The other five, including two 5-color plus coater presses, two 6-color presses with coaters, and one 7-color press with coater, came to packaging printers and converters.

This correlates well with both the collapse of commercial printing and the relative strength of the monocarton segment that relies on highly configured multicolor presses with coaters and often with both interdeck and end of press UV curing. The number of impressions of cartons printers has also been holding up since May since many of these were part of the food and pharma and essential goods supply chain and obtained permission to open their plants even during the lockdown.

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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