VK Dhir July 1953 – May 2021

An engineer and press designer who listened – a friend 

VK Dhir at the Printpack 2011 exhibition at Pragati Maidan with the Perfect Rotary 4-Hi tower press unit. Photo IPP
VK Dhir at the Printpack 2011 exhibition at Pragati Maidan with the Perfect Rotary 4-Hi tower press unit. Photo IPP

VK Dhir of Perfect Rotary and one of the architects of IPAMA passed away on 27 May 2021 in Noida, where he lived and worked for the better part of his life. Hospitalized for over three weeks, he had suffered a stroke last year.

The Indian Printing Packaging & Allied Machinery Manufacturers’ Association expressed its deep sadness on the demise of one of its most admired and loved members and builders. He served as IPAMA’s treasurer from 1990 to 1993 and as its general secretary for three consecutive terms from 2002 to 2008. Associated with IPAMA since its inception, its members describe him as a source of inspiration and as a humanitarian. 

VK Dhir was an engineer who loved engineering. After being associated with the web offset press manufacturers of the Delhi NCR, he struck out on his own and built Perfect Rotary Offset first in Okhla and then in Noida. He continually built unique presses with designs that he made himself first on a draftsman’s table with drawing instruments and then later on Autocad. 

Vk Dhir was one of the few IPAMA leaders that I knew but not as an industry association leader but as a machine designer and passionate engineer. I first met him in 1982 when he unexpectedly rang the doorbell of my parent’s apartment in an outer part of South Delhi with a couple of his associates. I had just returned from one of my earliest trips to Kerala as a newspaper printing consultant. 

He had read an article I wrote lambasting the Indian web offset manufacturers for having little imagination. And for building web presses that were, for the most part – dangerous, and poorly designed. They were messing up the growth opportunity for newspapers that could increase their full-color pages. I had seen three things in Kerala that needed to be investigated, emulated, and ultimately re-engineered by the North Indian cohort of web press manufacturers.

Vk Dhir listened to me as we sat at the dining table, and I made drawings of the changes needed in web dampening systems and the need for both 4-color satellite units and auto-splicers. I then forgot all about his visit since I was and am used to being ignored. 

However, a few months later, Vk Dhir called to say he had something to show me. On asking who and what, he answered, “We have built just what you were describing, a press unit with a dampening system with flap rollers. Please come and see it.”

I visited his factory then astonished by his having made dampening fountain flap rollers using the back of offset rubber blanket pieces and several times over the past almost 40 years. I went to see several versions of his staggered cylinder 4-color units and the several auto-pasters that he designed and built. Often we encountered each other when I protested the bureaucratic organization of IPAMA’s Printpack exhibitions.

I always went to see him whenever he called every couple of years, but our last couple of meetings were in our office in Noida. One morning he caught me sweeping the parking area outside the gate and coming inside, said he was disinclined to continue running his factory. The demand for web offset presses was declining – and anyway, he wanted to talk about his son, who had become a software engineer. 

The last time I saw him was at the Printpack exhibition in Greater Noida in January 2019. He was no longer actively involved in the organization, which had seen some ups and downs – but the show was one of his babies, and he couldn’t resist the hum of the machines, the smell of ink on paper, and witnessing the realization of one his dreams.

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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