Okhla-based Rahul Print O Pack is all set to install a brand new Heidelberg CX 92 in the first week of February, its third new multicolor Heidelberg press in the 92 format in the past five years. Within this short span of five years from 2018 to 2023, the Delhi-based book printer installed its first Heidelberg CS 92 press in 2018 and followed it up with a second machine CS 92 in the first pandemic year, 2020.
“Consistently choosing Heidelberg over its competition is simply because the machines are considerably productive and extremely reliable. Moreover, the service support from Heidelberg is consistent. Opting for the same format again makes sense as now we are very well accustomed to the Heidelberg 92 format. The quality of the printed output is considerably superior, especially on coated media. There is a brand premium associated with Heidelberg as well,” says Rahul Soni of Rahul Print O Pack. According to him, the CS92 was recently rebranded by Heidelberg as the CX92 with several incremental features and software updates.
A barrage of machines
Apart from its Heidelberg sheetfed offset presses, Rahul Print O Pack has a full array of ancillary equipment, including a Heidelberg Suprasetter A105 CtP system integrated with the presses. In the finishing and binding section, the company has multiple Heidelberg Stahl folding machines, a Polygraph semi-automatic section-sewing machine, two Polar cutting machines, and two Welbound perfect binders. The printer plans to install a new Polar cutting machine and an Aster fully automatic section-sewing machine in the coming months to strengthen its quality book-binding capacity.
“The Welbound perfect binders are very reliable and productive. The service support from Impel Welbound is amazing. The downtimes are rare as our operators are well trained and very familiar with the machines, the setup, and the platform,” says Soni.
With a building bought in 2010 comprising a working space of 18,000 square feet on several floors in the prime Okhla Industrial Area, Rahul Print O Pack can maintain a strong bandwidth with its clients who are mostly in the Delhi NCR region. Soni says, “At times when we need to ramp up capacity, being in Okhla seems very mature as we can find contractual labor easily. Even the machine spare parts are readily available.”
Rahul Print O Pack also does some packaging and commercial printing work, producing monocartons for regional dhoop and agarbatti brands and in the off seasons for books. It prints brochures, pamphlets, and promotional jobs for publishers and some diaries, posters, and calendars. “Packaging is still a growing segment. We wish to double down on packaging eventually and are very keen on narrow web flexo label printing. We plan to enter these segments aggressively with a mid to long-term horizon in view,” Soni junior shares. Currently, the company runs two manual die-punching machines and a locally manufactured folder-gluer to cope with its upcoming carton packaging operations.
Robust quality management
Rahul Print O Pack has a robust quality management system in place where designated resources perform quality checks at prepress, press, and postpress levels. Soni shares with Indian Printer & Publisher, “The machines are calibrated for color standardization and Heidelberg’s instant gate functionality helps in transmitting the inking data from the prepress CtP to the presses in real-time. This not only helps in speeding up makereadies and print quality but also optimizes ink consumption.”
While it earlier outsourced some overflow work, Rahul Print O Pack now does most of the printing in-house. Soni reveals, “The major difference we have faced after moving the complete process in-house is in terms of quality. Our turnaround times have further improved as the processes are completely under our control. Our service agreements and operations have improved which has led to improved efficiency and cost savings. We have not completely stopped outsourcing, we do outsource if we have the requirement but 90 % of the printing is in-house now.”
Creating a niche in short-run book printing
Started by Ajay Soni, Rahul’s father, Rahul Print O Pack is well known in the book printing industry for its quick turnaround times. The book printing runs an average of 5,000 to 7,000 volumes – especially in the months from January to April. “We print as few as 750 or 1,000 copies and can easily go as high as 35,000-40,000 copies. Many publishers have a reprint demand which requires a very fast turnaround time. The time to market for publishers in preprint orders is very crucial,” says the younger Soni.
“This is where the Heidelberg presses give us an edge over the competition. Having these highly productive machines, our production numbers even on short runs are very good. We can compete with other players and have an edge over them on short-run pricing. Most of the printers for short runs charge a premium because the machine time is more and their productivity is less,” Soni adds. In addition, he feels that his company’s productivity gives it an edge over the competition in short runs, especially in the K-12 textbook publishing segment.
Rahul Print O Pack has delivered some interesting printing projects, including activity-based learning kits for pre-primary titles and coffee table books for a few imported fabric brands. Soni says, “We have done some early learning titles for nursery, LKG, and UKG, which involve a lot of packaging-oriented work including manual fabrication and glitter effects. These orders involve a lot of creativity – we worked as an extended team with our clients and assisted them with specifications such as glitter sheets, gumming sheets, die-cut inserts, tipped inserts, and tracing paper inserts. We helped them deliver kits for this segment, which are an attraction to children, and deliver a complete package. These products are massive hits and for the last 5-6 years, we consistently receive orders for these kits.”
Coping with Covid-19
The Covid-19 pandemic wreaked havoc in the printing segment as most commercial printers lacked work. That, however, was not the case for Rahul Print O Pack. The junior Soni shares, “During the pandemic, there was a major setback in terms of work as there was a demand shock. We were proactive during Covid and had internal safety protocols such as sanitization booths, masking, sputtered lunch times, and sputtered entry and exit by the end of Jan 2020. We didn’t have a single pay cut or a single lay-off and all the salaries of our personnel were paid in advance.”
“However, quite suddenly books were not printed in the numbers that we were used to. But, due to our continuous track record with our clients, there was clear confidence in us as a printer. We shared our business continuity plans at regular intervals with our clients and were optimally utilizing shifts for whatever demand we had,” he adds.
“Since the outbreak of the pandemic and then the Russia-Ukraine war, commodity prices have been very volatile – and the paper prices have gone haywire. We used to purchase coated lightweight papers at Rs 55-56 a kilogram and in a matter of two years, we have also had to purchase publication paper at Rs 120 a kilogram. This price increase has affected our margins as our buyers were not ready to raise prices after a point. This, in turn, has led to some over-exploitation of printers in a difficult time.”
Investments and upcoming trends such as book printing exports
The Soni father and son duo plan to enter the lucrative book printing export business as soon as possible. Amit Soni explains his rationale, “The Delhi NCR print prices are the lowest in the world, and still China is the dominant name in book printing exports. If we get a break, we will succeed in this industry. We require a more expansive space if we wish to become a significant player in the book printing exports division. We hope to have a good export presence by 2025.”
With the implementation of the National Education Policy in the next academic year, and the introduction of new subjects such as entrepreneurship, legal studies, and baking in the curriculum, the domestic textbook market is set to witness increased activity in the next two years. “All the publishers will be scrambling to have their new editions developed, printed, and introduced in the market at the earliest,” Soni says.
Digital makes inroads
Meanwhile, digital printing has made significant inroads in the past few years. “Turnaround times can be a matter of hours now. Fundamentally, the pure-play commercial segment will completely pivot to the digital. Print-on-demand (POD) is coming up as a big segment in the publishing landscape as well, especially in the higher education segment. POD enables customers to keep their entire catalog alive, while printing and binding as per demand. Higher education will be more POD and digital in the upcoming future. Despite this, I think nothing beats good old offset on the quality and price front.”
Rahul Print O Pack is planning to acquire a new plot of land on the outskirts of Delhi in its next phase of investment and growth. “We will always have a presence in Okhla as we are content here – we won’t be uprooting the setup but will be purchasing and establishing additional capacity,” concludes the younger Soni.
Note – This article has been slightly improved on 18 January 2023 by the editor.