Changes in carton converting become clearer in the pandemic

Talking to Prem Vishwakarma of Robus India

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Prem P. Vishwakarma, director, Robus India| carton
Prem P. Vishwakarma, director, Robus India

We recently visited Robus India at its Greater Noida plant to meet with the management team, led by Prem Vishwakarma. We learned that this is essentially an engineering-led and engineering-based company. Vishwakarma himself has extensive experience and knowledge of carton converting that he acquired in his many years in technical positions with one of the industry leaders.

The company is built on the insight that the Indian packaging market is entering a rapid growth phase, including monocartons, litho laminated cartons, and corrugated cartons with specific constraints and requirements. He feels that this market could be well-served by unique customized products such as die-cutters and folder-gluers that bring in new technology and automation but at prices that make the equipment viable for its useful life.

Robus folder-gluers are capable of executing variety of carton designs

In other words, a piece of equipment such as a sheetfed diecutter, if it works well, is likely to last for 20 to 30 years with routine maintenance, but its features and technology will likely become obsolete – or at least not state of the art in perhaps 10 or 15 years. Thus, Robus India, with its hands-on engineering design and maintenance support, sees itself incorporating some useful features incorporated into die-cutters and folder-gluers manufactured in China by leading manufacturers. The die-cutters, which include some design changes by Robus for the Indian and other emerging markets, are made by one of the largest manufacturers of such equipment in Guangzho – Dayuan.

The folder-gluers and film laminators, which include automation technology and components provided by Robus, are manufactured in Shenzhen by another manufacturer. The automation components are incorporated at the manufacturing site itself for complete integration and testing. Robus itself manufactures some ancillary equipment that makes various high-speed folders more productive on the delivery side. These are already performing well at a couple of the leading carton manufacturers. Vishwakarma tells us and asserts that the Robus supplied folder-gluers are extremely capable of executing a large variety of carton designs.

Learning in the pandemic

According to Vishwakarma, the pandemic has been an excellent opportunity for Robus in terms of service and support. He says packaging converters preferred suppliers with local servicing and engineering capacity and ready spare parts because of the travel restrictions.

He says that he could help many converters who had imported die-cutters and folder-gluers but could not get hands-on engineering support from overseas. Some of these servicing and maintenance customers have also become prospects and customers of equipment supplied by Robus. “These customers understand the meaning of service. We have been able to give these customers training, which we are very good at, even to major converters who have equipment from other manufacturers. The importance of having a spare parts inventory has also sunk in.”

He says that before the pandemic, there was some fear among converters about the complexity of automation. “However, Covid-19 has brought home to them the need for doing with less human resources. Now they are step by step wanting to automate more processes such as cutting and blanking machines because if a particular operator is not there for any reason, the less dependent and the work will not stop.”

Vishwakarma says the pandemic and lockdown have given some of the converters the time and space to rethink their business. He says, “There is a change in the way in the converters are looking at automation. They are aware that this is a huge period of growth, and at the same time, they see that technology will change 180 degrees in 7 or 8 years.

They are now looking for machines with the latest automation but with good local support at a lower price where they can realize their return on investment much sooner – since they may have to replace the machine in perhaps ten years or even sooner. This saving on Capex can be brought into their working capital and should have a positive effect on their balance sheets.

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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