The need for productivity and automation in book printing

An 8-color perfector makes the investment in automation viable

L­R: Pradeep Nandgopal, Provin Technos; Stanley Petrus, Krishnadas MP, RB Kashyap of Thomson Press; and Vinay Kaushal, Provin Technos. Photo IPP

Twenty years ago, simultaneous with the move to new multicolor presses, print business owners wanted to add coaters to their presses. It was the era in which the economy was booming, and the trend of buying new presses took hold. However, the highly configured presses with automation were limited to the packaging arena, and here too, many packaging buyers bought only 5-color presses. Commercial printers in India had a high threshold for what they considered ‘appropriate automation’ – where they felt it would make a difference in terms of locally available skill sets and the capital cost of automation features.

In the past 15 years, although there have been at least two economic disruptions to the growth trajectory, there has been an overall upward move upward in the complexity of multicolor offset presses and automation purchased. On the packaging side, Indian converters have reached global standards with several 7-color plus coater presses with UV curing and automated color control imported each year – and perhaps at least one or two are a bit longer with eight print units and double coaters.

In the past four years, the commercial print industry and its subset of book printing exporters have seen the viability of increasing their efficiency by purchasing 8-color perfecting presses. The Indian book printing exporters are now a substantial cohort – who, with continued visibility at the European, North, and South American book fairs, have developed relationships and a positive reputation for their reliability and quality beyond their traditional African textbook market.

The viability of the book printing exports has come from their purchases of new multicolor presses in the 92-cm format suited to the bulk of book printing. This saving of 10 to 15 cm, in one direction, has led to considerably less CAPEX and running costs. Lower consumable costs with smaller blankets and offset plates have added viability to their investments. 

The availability of reliable folders and automated binding machines from Indian manufacturers such as Pratham and Welbound has added to the confidence and competitiveness of book printers. And when a book printer has invested in the several types of finishing and binding machines that are a prerequisite for exports, then it makes sense to have several presses appropriate for the various types of books. These provide the flexibility needed to deliver on time – and it makes sense to have one press with a coater.

Taking productivity a step further, is the influx of brand new 8-color perfectors over the past four or five years at the leading book printing exporters. It started with Replika in Kundli in the Delhi NCR, and then Multivista in Chennai, which bought its first 8-color perfector near the beginning of the pandemic, with its second 8-color perfector inaugurated in December 2022. In between, in mid-2022, came the Thomson Press 8-color perfector with simultaneous plate loading, inline color controls, and LED curing in Faridabad, also in the Delhi NCR. 

Several aspects of book printing exports make for a virtuous spiral. Energy-saving interdeck curing makes for a quick turnaround, less work in progress, and the ability to handle difficult or uneven substrates without fear of ink set-off and scuffing. It increases reliability and decreases the cost of on-time performance in full quantities. Energy-saving curing also produces less heat, reducing the carbon footprint of print, which should matter in beyond only being competitive in price and time to deliver. 

Full automation and implementation of CIP data reduce makeready time in some cases to about 7 to 10 minutes, including plate loading, and less than 50 sheets to approval. Above all, the automated record-keeping of downtimes bring the operations of a highly productive asset closer to 24/7 reality in the Indian environment. These take the MIS systems installed over the years beyond their front-end roles in estimation and machine loading, making real-time production monitoring a reality.

The problem is that many printers who understand the productivity of longer presses and automation, are unable to convince their banks to lend them the money to buy them. All the government hoopla of the ease of doing business and support for small and medium business comes to nought – with Indian bankers unwilling to understand the technical workings of project finance. Thus, as we have written before, the larger form of corruption is not mere bribery but incompetence.

This article is from the upcoming March 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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