Replika Press installs Canon’s sheetfed inkjet VarioPrint

Replika’s growth and modernization of book printing continues

Replika Press
L to R, Sanandan Seth, director, Bhuvnesh Seth, managing director and Vikaran Seth director, Replika Press with some of the books being printed on the new Canon VarioPrint i300 inkjet color digital press. Photos: IPP

As a leading Indian book printing exporter, Replika Press has become a well-known and reliable supplier to the West’s trade and textbook publishers. In the past twenty years, it has grown in the Kundli export zone just 30 minutes north of Delhi, by building three plants, of which the newest has a built-up space of over 400,000 square feet. There is a material and physical dimension to the growth. More importantly, a culture of technology absorption as the company brings in automation and new processes and diversifies to packaging and the new generation takes increasing responsibility.

Most of all, the company shows opportunistic agility in quickly diversifying to monocarton packaging and luxury and rigid box cartons for the cell phone industry. But as the company’s managing director Bhuvnesh Seth conveys to us, he is aware that market trends change rapidly, and one must be ready for the next technology and market shift. Even as the company has diversified and structurally invested in top of the line equipment and space for the two new packaging businesses, the key is its agility and quick adaptation to new technology and markets. However, as its recent induction of the sheetfed digital inkjet press shows, the overwhelming strength is in the most modern and automated forms of book production. Seth is emphatic when he says, “In terms of the financials, the book printing exports are still the backbone of the company.”

Hardcover coffee table book on Beijing Grafitti being produced for an overseas publisher at Replika Press in Kundli

Thus, alongside the carton business’s significant investments, the book printing business has seen continuous modernization with the recent induction of two new Heidelberg CS 92 presses. These have come in alongside the battery of mainly Heidelberg multicolor presses over the past several years in addition to several Canon digital presses. The Kolbus, Wohlenberg, and Meccanotecnica binding equipment are new, which only an elite and comprehensive book printing factory can afford.

Seth says, “When you can afford it, you should buy new machines. Apart from the peace of mind and the confidence that these instill in your customers, you benefit from the automation — the new equipment’s inherent quality and reliability. Also, there is a need to reduce the number of human resources. We have benefitted from the two new CS92 4-color presses and the increasingly automated inline processes on our Kolbus and Wohlenburg binding equipment and the Aster book sewing machines.” Still under installation is an automated reel to sheet machine for converting the imported publication papers that the company uses in the main.

Bhuvnesh and Vikaran Seth with one of the two new Heidelberg CS 92 4-color presses installed at Replika Press

Replika’s growth has meant an increase in its capabilities and absorption of advanced technologies in book production. Although there is no shortage of passion and attention to detail from Bhuvnesh Seth, he has continually invested in modernization and expansion. Seth tells us that now that the company is sizable with a turnover of over Rs. 300 crore and more than 1,000 employees, its annual sales growth has, with scale, moderated but remains in the double digits.

One of Seth’s most remarkable achievements over the past 15 years has been the training and induction of his two sons Sanandan and Vikaran. He is keen to pass on marketing and production responsibilities to them. However, as we found out on our visit to the three plants in early October, he is still keenly aware of day-to-day developments and production.

Covid-19 will continue to affect book printing till March

Seth tells us that the global Covid-19 pandemic has so far impacted domestic book production more than exports. However, there is an overall reduction in book printing and run-lengths, including exports. In the domestic book industry, there have been cashflow and collection difficulties. Fewer new titles are coming up for print, and textbook publishers everywhere are making do with older books as schools are affected by the pandemic globally. So are bookshops and retail — and trade books have also considerably declined in production numbers. “Although exports have been good in the past six months, they are likely to be slow in the next six months up to next March,” he says.

Canon VarioPrint i300 installed in August

On our recent visit to Replika, we saw the newly installed Canon VarioPrint i300 in the digital printing section on the top floor of its newest building. The digital printing section houses five other Canon and Oce color and monochrome engines apart from the B3 inkjet VarioPrint i300. The press arrived during the countrywide lockdown in May and was installed in June-end by Canon India’s engineers.

Seth tells us that before deciding to buy the press, thorough testing of the press was done on both Indian and imported papers – one of the reasons that Sunandan Seth visited the Canon factory in Poing, Germany, where the VarioPrint is manufactured. He is satisfied with the color reproduction of the inkjet press on most coated and uncoated offset stocks. He believes it meets with speed and cost requirements that make the investment viable for the production of all color books with a run of 300 or fewer copies. The VarioPrint i300 can print more than 4 million A4 pages a month using aqueous-basbooked inks that seem vibrant but not excessively. The full-color textbooks and coffee table book reproductions retain good detail with fairly open shadows.

The more than 100,000 square foot on one floor, automated bindery in Replika’s newest building at Kundli

An automated 8-color perfecting digital press

The VarioPrint i300 features excellent color reproduction good for cookbooks and other pictorial books. We saw it printing a book for the most critical audience one could have on our visit — on professional photojournalism. The digital press has inkjet arrays for the water-based C, M, Y, K inks, and another for depositing either a primer or coating applied only in the image areas detected by the RIP from the PDF data. It can print on both sides of the sheet automatically with a built-in path for printing the reverse side. It is, in effect, an 8-color perfecting press that dramatically improves the efficiency of book production. It comes as no surprise that the Canon VarioPrint was also featured and demonstrated as a very high-quality book production press at the Hunkeler Innovation Days in Lucerne in February 2019.

Seth tells us that even as long as a decade ago, two overseas publishers insisted that they would not keep any inventory and that all their orders would be printed digitally. Even publishers with large runs, he says, want only 500 copies at a time in these pandemic times. Seth says, “We have always invested in future-ready technologies and solutions, and for our customers and us, the future is digital inkjet. The VarioPrint i300 brings us the ability to enhance our book publishing offerings while exploring new markets. In book printing and exports, we can provide every type of book and length of run with every process and technology under one roof – from a single copy of a book to runs of hundreds of thousands.”

This article was first published in the October 2020 print issue of Indian Printer & Publisher.

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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