SMI Labels and Packaging Materials

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Developments in flexo printing and label production technologies


Flexographic printing in India has undergone a sea change in the last few decades. My own experience dates back to the 1980s when as siliconiser I was selling silicone coated release paper sheets to screen printers manufacturing stickers. I was under pressure to brand my silicone sheets to get higher brand positioning, value and increase in demand. Since the reverse of the silicon sheets was blank, few other suppliers of release paper located in Mumbai started printing the same image of a diamond to differentiate the uncoated side from the coated side so that sticker manufacturers would know which side to use as a protective layer for the pressure sensitive adhesive on the sticker. It was this need to print that lead me to learn about flexographic printing process and print my own registered trademark. It was a very rudimentary process whereby a butanol based ink was picked up by a rubber roller and transferred through an intermediate roller to a rubber plate mounted on another roller and the image was then in a moving web transferred to the paper. The rubber printing plate was natural rubber based and made more like a rubber stamp after vulcanizing the patterned sheet. In fact, Ram Nagar in Paharganj area of Delhi was home to manufacturers of rubber stamps. I located a vendor who would make the sheets for flexo printing for me to print the backside of coated release paper by flexographic printing in a secondary process after siliconising. Nowadays the same back printing of release liners is done in line by roto gravure process while producing the silicone coated release paper or filmic liners.


Developments in flexographic printing process or Flexo as it is now referred to has made it a preferred printing technology in recent time. It is now being considered almost at par with offset printing and the last two decades of the new millennium 2000, have seen the rapid adoption of this technology in PSA or Self Adhesive Label production or narrow web printing may it be labels, shrink sleeves, lamitubes or flexible packaging. Biggest advances in flexographic printing came about in the 1990s with the development of photopolymer plates. These are synthetic plates made with light sensitive polymers that harden and cross link at exposed areas in design on exposure to light. Further developments in platemaking have made it possible by computer aided etching the images and designs on the plates. The factors that aided proliferation and use of flexo in label production include the whole gamut of printing, embellishing and converting. These are as follows and each process is a complete technology and warrants attending individually;

1.       pre-press

2.       plate making

3.       plate mounting

4.       Web movement controls

5.       Press design

·       Inks

·       Ink delivery system/Aniloxes and their cleaning system/doctor blades

·       Print head construction

·       Hot air/UV/LED UV

·       Web path

·       Tension controls

·       Auto Registration

·       Online inspection

·       Turn bar

·       Delam/Relam

·       Lamination/cold foiling/Hot foiling

·       Embossing/ die-cutting/ slitting/rewinding

·       Waste matrix handling

·       Higher production speeds

·       Other specialized processes

·       Automatic butt splicers/reel changers to achieve 24X7 production

·       Hybrid/combination

Plates:


Developments in prepress and plate making has provided the biggest impetus to the improvements in flexo and its implementation in label production. Most of the important development in flexographic printing is attributed to photopolymer printing plates, including improvements to the plate material and the method of plate creation. Digital computer to plate systems has done well for the industry. Companies like Asahi Photoproducts, AV Flexologic, Dupont, MacDermid, Kodak and Esko have pioneered the latest technologies, with advances in fast washout and the latest screening technology. In India, the credit for upgrading and bringing flexo printing to a quality almost similar to that of offset, goes largely to Dupont and Esko. A good plate can ensure good printing if and only if the plate has been mounted on the print cylinders accurately. Flexographic plate mounting is a critical step in achieving optimum print quality. Using correct mounting tape, proper techniques in preparation, mounting and plate removal will allow the optimum performance of the mounting tape through the entire flexographic printing process. From the manual mounting of plates in the 1990s we now have reached a level where automatic plate mounting machines are available for achieving perfection in print quality and registration. Mounting tapes play a crucial role in flexo. High print quality at high press speeds can be directly associated with the quality of the foam used in the plate mounting tapes, a wrong plate mounting tape can impact print quality adversely. Specialized soft plate mounting tapes that act as a shock absorber as they compress and return to the same thickness are now available. The tape adhesive is also an important part, these adhesives have been developed such that they stick firm to avoid edge lifting and also be cleanly removable for the reusability of plates. Plate thickness and tape thickness are matters of importance as they impact the circumference and repeatability, but technical support is now easily available on these parameters from the suppliers.

Inks and ink delivery:

UV Curing image: courtesy Labelsandlabeling

Flexo liquid inks have also undergone a lot of developments in the intervening period. From solvent based to water based hot air drying to UV cured and then LED UV cured inks. The evolving of the process into UV ink has brought in an era of high-speed printing and reproducibility with accuracy.  With water based flexo the color matching of each job (even when it was a repeat) used to be a challenge due to ever changing viscosity of the ink lying in store shelf or in the pan while running on the press or due to changing temperatures it affected the print quality. Availability of UV inks in the late 1990s and full UV flexo presses changed the flexo printing scenario. Subsequently operators could easily operate machines, handle the inks without any difficulty eliminating the need for measuring ink viscosity, ink pH, color variation, setting time to get the exact color with reduced wastages. Anilox rolls play an important role of measured ink delivery system. Anilox rollers are cylinders highly engineered metal and/or ceramic roll that are laser engraved with minute cells of a given angle, line screen, and volume to deliver the required amount of ink to achieve fineness of print. Higher line count aniloxes enable printers to go to higher plate screen line count, fine print and reduced ink consumption with higher speeds. Laser-etched ceramic anilox rolls also play an important part in the improvement of print quality due to their ability to control Ink volume transfer making full-color picture printing possible Further developments in introduction of LED UV is resulting in reduced energy consumption. The subject of print quality, flexo dot size, dot gain, distortion etc. and their impact on colours or tones is a full subject that we shall discuss separately in another writeup.

Printing station:


The printhead has had an interesting journey from the simple set of rollers driven by gears as described in my opening paragraph to a highly technical workstation delivering print quality that matches the best produced. The quality of gears improved over the years, the line shaft was accurately designed, the number of gears reduced to reduce any visible gear marks, the whole cluster was re-engineered to achieve finesse and facilitate quick change overs, automatic registration controls with cameras or sensors and finally introduction of servo drives. The servo drive eliminated the gears, helped in reduced wastages, achieve better speeds and excellent registration control in both machine and cross direction in automation. The advanced print impression pre-settings, a computer control pad, register pre-settings and job storage data improve the flexo printing experience. This drastically reduced dependence on operators. The anilox placement was redesigned for easy lift off for replacement. The simple ink tray, doctor blade which is an important part of flexo printing process is now replaced in seconds after introduction of Chamber doctor blade which is a recent development in the flexographic inking process. It is an enclosed chamber doctor blade system in which two doctor blades are used along with an enclosed chamber to dispense the ink to the anilox roll. it enables printing with smaller quantity of ink without contamination from atmosphere and faster changeover. The whole ink cartridge system and anilox of printing head can be changed in seconds enabling fast changeover of jobs.

Drying System:


Hot air drying required a long web path and by the time an operator could reach the level of acceptable registration he would end up with over a 100 running meters of wastage impacting the cost. Ever since 2007 when short web path was introduced along with installation of UV lamps to dry and cross link backed with chill drums aided by fully automatic registration control systems with cameras at each station was introduced, the amount of wastages has come down substantially. On the other hand, the development of UV LED flexo inks give faster production speeds compared to traditionally employed UV curing. It also offers longer life of lamps, instant on or off capability, reduced maintenance, and faster changeovers.


Finishing:


Aiding better quality e.g. to eliminate pinholes when a solid ground is to be printed web cleaners are installed to have a cleaner web eliminating micronic dust particles or fibers that may have flown of  the blades during slitting and settled on the web. Corona treaters are now a standard equipment that aid the anchorage of the ink and coatings to the substrates. Inline embellishing and finishing have brought innovation into printing, decorating and converting of labels. These include cold foiling, lamination, hot foiling, turn bar for front/back printing all on movable rails to position at any station. An important part of the finishing in self-adhesive labels is die cutting and waste matrix removal. These could be any printer’s nightmare, especially when producing special shapes. A change of die with a change of magnetic cylinder meant anything between half an hour to one hour using crane to lift and replace the heavy magnetic cylinder. In today’s time when time is money when we consider it as an input in our costing, one cannot imagine such loss of time. Machine design have been modified by press manufacturers such that now one can just slide out and slide in the new cylinder in a matter of seconds. Complex die cut labels result in waste matrix that cannot withstand the rigors of highspeed converting. Most machine manufacturers have redesigned their waste matrix removal innovatively to keep performing efficiently at full machine speeds. Other processes that are added as required include inspection, embossing, debossing, slitting and rewinding all inline in a single process.

Machine design and engineering is an extremely important part of machine building. The precision in developing and creating each moving part such that there is no unwanted vibration or shiver when the machine speed is increased or decreased. Some machines may have all the features that are there in a high-end press, but it runs well until say 70-80 meters per minute while internationally acclaimed label presses run at 200 meters per minute. For price considerations some printers are tempted to opt for the former, not realizing that in the long run the more expensive, high speed and stable machine returns a better Return on Investment (ROI). It is thus advisable to dwell on each aspect of the machine, its setup, consistent quality output, speed and maintenance. Capital Investment is not like buying raw material repeatedly and where you can change your supplier whenever desired but capital equipment is a one-time investment which has a definite impact on your company’s future.

Written by Harveer Sahni, Chairman Weldon Celloplast Limited, New Delhi October 2020

Printing magazine are permitted to reproduce the above article by giving due credit to author including the blog address http://harveersahni.blogspot.com  

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Janus International-Pioneers of digital label printing


Sometime during the spring of 2002 while I was camping in Mumbai, a father son duo came to meet me to seek my advice on the way forward in their label printing business. They were making labels for beer and liquor companies by outsourcing printing from sheetfed offset printers and then embellishing them at their factory, Hot foiling, Embossing, Die-cutting, etc. They were at that time deciding to go in for a narrow web label printing press. By the time the meeting ended they were sure that they will invest in a new label press of international brand. The duo was none other than, Joe Annunciation and his younger son Janus, he has another son Denver. They had been considering a Mark Andy press earlier when it was sold by EAC graphics. Meanwhile Heidelberg had acquired EAC and had also invested substantially in Gallus in 2003 due to which it came within the Heidelberg portfolio replacing Mark Andy, the Annunciations were inclined towards Heidelberg as their printing vendors had their equipment and spoke of their unmatched service support in those days. This situation motivated them to finally settle for a Gallus EM280 label press to initiate their journey into narrow web label printing and converting.

Joe Annunciation
Joe Annunciation a B.Sc. in chemistry started his career with Colour Cartons a leading package printing company of that time. Joe had the unique distinction of being the first chemist ever to be employed by a packaging company in India to work in their laboratory. While he was still at Colour Cartons, Joe got an opportunity to work in a Dubai based plastic molding company Cosmoplast which he readily accepted and relocated to UAE. Cosmoplast are manufacturers of Industrial, household moulded plastic items and disposables. Here at Cosmoplast he shifted to marketing. His elder son Denver was born in 1980 while they were in Dubai. As time passed, Joe ventured out on his own. Given his technical knowledge, he started trading in Plastic Bags, travelling, and selling in the entire Gulf region. He envisioned setting up a manufacturing facility of his own someday, so kept remitting his savings back home. In 1985 just before the birth of his younger son Janus, it was time to head home and initiate his own business. Joe and his wife Lourdes, a homemaker, returned to Mumbai and set up the family’s maiden corrugated carton manufacturing unit in partnership with Joe’s brothers. A decade later he parted company with his brothers and in 1996, he set up his present labels printing company, Janus International.

Janus, Joe and Denver
Joe’s elder son Denver Annunciation who now runs Janus International along with his brother Janus, did his earliest schooling in Dubai but on return to Mumbai went to boarding school for further education. Denver attributes the time at the boarding school as the most rewarding in shaping up his career. Post school he completed his B.Com. from SIES College Mumbai. He wanted to study further and become a computer programmer but due to his father’s problem with his eyes, in 2001 he joined the family business working initially in the accounts department besides assisting his father in production. Within 2 years of his joining, the Anunnciations invested in a 5 colour Gallus EM280, since it was a 5 colour flexo press, they impressed upon customers and converted most jobs to suit their equipment. The first label that they printed on their Gallus label press was for Cannon 10000 beer. 5 years after Denver joined business, his brother Janus also joined strengthening the team to expand and grow the company. A challenging time came when their regular customer Shaw Wallace got acquired by Sab Miller. The auditor from the new team at Sab Miller had different parameters to assess the vendors and reduced their business substantially. A persistent Denver took that in his stride, worked harder to grow the business exponentially. From just one press in 2003 they had installed 4 presses by 2008.

With their HP4500 Digital Press
In 2006 Denver while still working joined S.P. Jain Institute of Management and Research to complete his MBA and then move to head the marketing and sales operations at Janus international. His brother Janus also followed Denver’s footsteps and pursued further studies to get an MBA degree. While at S P Jain, a professor impressed upon Denver the unique model of Toyota whereby they could produce even one unique car. This had impacted his mind immensely, more so because they were already loaded with bulk manufacturing of beer and liquor labels day after day. Denver found this too monotonous and tiring without much innovation, even after registering a whopping 80% growth rate. He started thinking of the unique Toyota concept that his professor had advocated. Digital appeared to provide him the solution to diversify into an exciting arena of change and unique concept of creativity in short runs and catering to a much larger customer profile. At this time, they took the pioneering step of being the first label printing company in India to invest in an HP Indigo 4500 label press. Denver and Janus decided to visit Drupa in Dusseldorf and finalise the deal for an HP Indigo, but they were worried about the existing business in their absence for the long time that they would have to spend at Drupa. Fondly Denver reminisces that a day before leaving Janus accomplished a gigantic task of proofing 56 jobs in a single day so that things would run smoothly in their absence.  At Drupa they signed the deal to invest in an HP Indigo 4500 Digital Label Printing Press. They had finally the capabilities to print Offset, Flexo and Digital.

As early as 2008, Janus International led the Indian label industry’s move into digital label printing!

With their HP6900 Digital Press

It is normal that when one indulges in a new technology there are many glitches and it becomes continuous learning until you stabilize and settle down to a comfort level. At Janus International it was no different, but Denver is appreciative of Ajay Rao Rane, then working for HP, who helped him through the learning process. They had to test printing on all different materials, learn the primer coatings and other operational nuances. Now the brothers are adept in the digital label printing technology. They are capable of catering to a diverse range of customers offering short runs, immediate deliveries and customized jobs with variable information. 11 years after buying the HP Indigo 4500 they decided to upgrade the machine to HP Indigo 6900. Allowing Janus International to offer customers options such as shrink sleeves, cartons, pouches and in-mould labels. The upgrade has also enhanced Janus’ capabilities to address the requirements of a wider variety of brands, including small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) clients, for fast short-run production and packaging.  With this installation they can print wrap-around labels, pouches, IML, lamitubes, security labels, pressure-sensitive, shrink sleeves as well as folding cartons. Gradually the customer base swelled from 14 customers to reach over 350 customers.

Wilona and Denver




Looking back, Denver feels some of the events that have brought him happiness and success include the decision to join a boarding school, join S P Jain for masters in business administration and his meeting Wilona, his wife and marrying her. Dr. Wilona Annunciation is an MD MBBS, a successful psychiatrist. The couple is blessed with two children, a daughter Allyssah 9 years and Aeyden 7 years. Denver still nurtures his passion for IT and IT related activities, as he grows in business, he wishes to someday become an industry consultant related to IT enabled print services, digital printing being an important part of such services.






Facing the pandemic, lockdown and restarting production, the Annunciation brothers say, “There was no change for us, we have been investing in workflow management and automation for a couple of years now. We could start production in 4 days with just 5 workers”. They had got permission to restart as they were supplying to manufacturers of food and pharmaceuticals which are termed as essential supplies. They have adopted the standard safety procedures as recommended by the government. As regards future growth Denver is not really interested in just growing the topline. It is the bottom line that makes him more indulgent. The company with their efforts, has attained a certain level of inertia and will keep on growing in the normal organic way. Janus International now operate out of a 30000 square foot factory at a single location with 11 presses, 110 people 6 flexo label presses, four sheet offset presses and one HP Indigo 6900 digital label press.

Commenting on the evolution of new label technologies like linerless and direct on product labeling, he is not worried and feels that as the human race grows in numbers and lifestyles change take place, need for labels and packaging will remain an imperative. The new technologies will not take away a growth, this industry will remain vibrant and we intend being there through all the change. Nowhere is anyone saying that a label will cease to exist. Just the technology to produce and deliver the same will change. We will need to evolve with the technology.



Written by Harveer Sahni Chairman Weldon Celloplast Limited, New Delhi August 2020

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Life in Labels-Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow!


A resilient label industry that was reeling under the adverse impact of lockdown due to Covid-19 is now clawing its way back to normalcy despite facing a highly stressful financial situation that has left them staring at a massive gap in cashflow and loss of production. Customer demand is low as regards retail, with malls still not opening to full strength and consumers restricted to their homes, buying only essential items of use. A sudden spurt in requirement of sanitizers and pharma products has given a fillip to the label requirement but one is left wondering how long this will stay and with increasing number of printers offering similar products, the price of labels for this segment will also soon become intensely competitive and non-remunerative with no value addition needed as a necessity. The silver lining is that the industry at large is confident to bounce back to the pre-Covid levels, but this may take a few months to a year or more. Underlying threat of the virus not dying down continues to haunt the industry and it is time to look back evaluate the present and foresee or plan for a consistent future.
The previous pandemic termed as the deadliest in the history of mankind and called “Spanish Flu” lasted a little over two years from 1918 to 1920. It impacted almost 500 million (50 Crore) people across the world, which was around a third of the world’s population. It killed more than 20 million (2 Crore) people around the world, the worst impact appears to have been in India that time when almost 12-13 million (1.2 Crore to 1.3 Crore) people, almost 5% of the population that time, lost their lives to the flu. With no vaccine or antibiotics those days, general preventions such as isolation, quarantine, good personal hygiene, use of disinfectants, and limitations of public gatherings were applied to control the spread.
Label industry in India had been registering a consistent double-digit growth for past many years. It still managed to keep growing while the country went through, demonetization, implementing of GST and economic slowdown. In recent years we have seen printers expand and enhance their capabilities to empower themselves with diverse printing and converting technologies to create innovations so as to remain in the profitable league of business owners. We saw in recent years the number of label printers grow in all segments indicating the robust growth of demand with which growth of labels is directly linked to. It has been an interesting phase when we have seen the likes of Seljegat in South India expand to a 40,000 square feet  factory, Any graphics in North from humble beginnings to building a 250,000 square foot green factory, Sai Packaging with their factories in Faridabad and Bengaluru, Sai Comcode also going multi locations and then our home grown printers Mudrika Labels and Zircon starting initially as only label printers crossing the Rupees 100 crore sales barriers. This was also the time when we saw multinationals move into the country either directly or by mergers and takeovers, these include the likes of Skanem, Signode, Huhtamaki, Brady’s, Printcare, etc.
Populations around the world have grown many fold since the previous pandemic and medical sciences are much advanced yet it is 4 months since Covid-19 has hit the world and there is no sign of it coming to an end, the numbers just go on escalating. However due to the availability of advance medical facilities which too are falling short in view of growing number of affected people, the recovery rate is relatively good. Yet people are suffering and dying in numbers all around, businesses are in a dilemma of lost production due to lockdown, worker migration, reduced demand and total closure for travel and hospitality segment. It will be a long time before the economic recovery takes shape and return to pre-covid levels. I asked several questions to label printers of varying size across India and reproduce some of their relevant responses as below.
1.       How has the lockdown impacted you?
a.       Raveendran Seljegat, Sivakasi South India: We were closed for a week but then because we supply to important pharmaceutical companies, we got permission to initially run with 30 people out of 150 and 10 days later we were allowed to work with 50. Subsequently we got permission to work with 100% but as per Government directive we gave retirement to workers over 50 years with full settlement without any deductions. Now we are working with 140 persons in 2 shifts for social distancing.
b.       G K Deshpande, Geekay Printing and Packaging Bangalore: Our team was shattered, as many workers went home out of fear, we had to manage with few. Our digital printing facility helped us in meeting requirements of customers from pharma and food segment.
c.       Manish Desai Mudrika Labels Mumbai: Due to reduced work force we must work with flexible timings and holidays. We have lost 2 months of production and sales; payment terms have become unviable hampering finances.
d.       Himanshu Kapur J K Fine Prints Mumbai: Monetary wise the impact is huge but will be short lived. I see another 3-4 months of pain, hopefully after that we should be back to pre covid levels.
e.       Mahendra Shah, Manohar Packaging Palghar: The impact is there but it is a boon to manage in getting a more responsible output with 50% work force 
f.        Dilip Modi, Integrated Innovators Ahmedabad: Business down by 25%
g.       Manish Hansoti S Kumar Multi Products Ahmedabad: The impact was there but not as severe since we came under the category of essential supplies. We had to operate with just 25% strength. The bonus was managing life with less and enjoying quality time with family.
h.       Rajendra Gandhi Maharshi Labels Ahmedabad: We had to shut down factory without prior notice, some machines need daily maintenance without which they begin to go faulty. Today, even after 3 months, we are still not at full capacity. Overheads are increasing, sales are not.
i.         Rajesh Nema Pragati Global Indore: Looking at the positive side, “It has brought me closer to my extended family.”
j.         Hari Shankar Modi ModiFlex India Kolkata: Two months of no productions!
k.       Priyata Raghavan Sai Packaging Faridabad: We have lost turnover for 2 months, have absenteeism and many losses piled up. Payment and Inventory cycles have gone off track. We are now fighting to stabilise vis-a-vis earlier when we were fighting for growth. Many major customers have declared Force Majeure leaving convertors like us, in a difficult situation.
l.         Rajeev Chhatwal Kwality Offset New Delhi: Sudden lockdown announced came as a surprise. All production was stopped resulting in nil sales for nearly 2 months. Orders got cancelled, inventories have piled up and severe liquidity problems are being faced.
m.     Anuj Bhargava, Kumar Labels Noida: Negative: Lost one full month’s sale, Positive: Learned to work efficiently with least resources
n.       Luv Shriram, Shriram Veritech Solutions Pvt Limited Noida: Reduced sales resulted in impact on profitability / longer cash cycle and customers are delaying payments
o.       Shakti Jain, Great Eastern IDTech Pvt. Ltd. Gurgaon: Significant decline in business revenue, liquidity (cash flow) crunch, logistics (delivery) issues persist. 
p.       Kapil Chaudhary ZENBI International (P) Limited: Not much impact on business, we got many new orders for sanitizers and FMCG Sector.
q.       Vinay Verma Label India: Our bar code business suffered, and we were not supplying to food or pharma, so had to wait. Fortunately, the sanitizer label demand has helped us back to work in a limited way.
r.        Mukesh Goel, Gopsons Noida: Few of our core sectors are down and expected to resume up to 80% pre-covid levels only by Q1 FY21-22. During lockdown phase, we were operating at minimal strength. We trained our employees to run multiple machines, larger benefits of which we are realising now. With multitasking, we have created a reserve pool of employees to meet any unforeseen situation or another lockdown if it happens.
s.        Ajay Mehta, SMI Coated Products Mumbai: The lockdown has impacted everyone in the world, we are no exception. It is unbelievable that we have mostly been at home for the past 100 days. Personally, it has been a great opportunity to spend time with family, especially my grandson whom we have seen grow from 5 months to 8.5 months. On the business front it has been a challenging and satisfying time to keep all motivated within and outside SMI!
t.     Nirav Shah Letragraphix Ahmedabad: Lockdown has impacted the overall mind-set of people. We were also impacted in the beginning. However, on 4th day of lockdown-1 we received all necessary approvals to start the work with minimum possible capacity. Our staff members also quickly accepted the change because of which we could come back to operations in short time. The adverse situation has taught many lessons. Instead of waiting for post Covid scenario, I wish people accept situation and work towards betterment. 
Almost all the respondents have lost sales, have been impacted adversely for cash flows or profitability and are now working with reduced workforce. They are learning to live and formulate processes to use the adversity as an opportunity to cutdown manpower while retaining same productivity.
2.       To what percentage have you resumed operations?
Surprisingly amongst the 20 respondents only four companies have resumed 100% production. The rest also have resumed but their levels vary between 50% to 80% the industry average can be estimated at 65-70%.
3.        How are you implementing safety and social distancing norms?
Most of the respondents have adopted the standard operating procedures however some have gone the extra mile by implementing more than the SOPs. Raveendran of Seljegat says the factory is sanitized 4 times in a day and toilets twice a day. Workers are required to wash hands with a mixture of Neem and turmeric ground together besides with provided soap and sanitizers before entering and leaving premises. Plus, on state govt. recommendation every employee including owners are required to drink an ayurvedic drink consisting of Ginger, Pepper and other ingredients once a week. SMI has made extensively elaborate arrangements for sanitizing the premises, untouched door operations and spraying repeated as also restricting visitors to a bare necessity. Kumar labels has also made somewhat similar arrangements both these companies have made videos of their endeavors and these are available on youtube. Many companies have staggered the production in to two shifts with same number of workers to achieve social distancing.  This does seem to offer an advantage of getting more production from a reduced workforce. Machines have been relocated wherever possible. Label India, Delhi was operating their unit on 2 floors, they added another 2 floors to attain social distancing. Collective Coffee and lunch breaks are a thing of past. Machines are kept running and workers are given time one by one for coffee, tea or meals to maintain the distancing. Obviously, this is advantageous as down time decreases.
4.       Are your employees back in full strength? If not, what percentage have re-joined?
The answer to this indicates the extent of problems of worker migration, as none of the companies have 100% workers rejoining. 50% to 80% workers have rejoined and as for office staff most companies are asking them to work from home.
5.       When do you think you will reach full production?
Most printers except one or two, all have expressed that it will take some time to come to full production. This may vary from 2 months to 4 months. The infrastructure and capacity to produce is intact with the printers but there are so many other factors that impact the return to full normalcy. Since retail is greatly impacted and lockdown has been imposed across the country, demand is down and will take time to pick up to pre-Covid levels. Added to this, the financial crunch due to the no operations in the lockdown period has hit all the value chain from suppliers to printers to print buyers impacting their cash flows. Increased capacity with reduced demand and a pile up of payables like instalments taxation and other statutory dues may further add to the woes of label printers, it thus appears that return to normalcy will be gradual.
6.       Will you work as you were before or will adopt more workflow automation and reduced workers?
The only positive side emerging from this pandemic is that printers are finding possibility of working with reduced number of workers. The realization has made all respond positively towards the imperative need for automation both in production and workflow management as some of the most expensive inputs are labour, real estate and wastages. Automation will help in reducing these.
7.       Do you think industry at large will implement better housekeeping?
Most people feel that it is a necessity in view of the spreading infection. Enlightened and progressive industrialists feel it was a need of the hour. They all agree that it will be implemented. In words of Priyata Raghavan, “Yes a cultural change is expected to bring this in.”
8.       Do you foresee expansion in this financial year?
There are printers like Mudrika, Prakash Labels and others whose new equipment ordered earlier have been installed or is in way, other than that there appears to be an emphatic no for new investments in capital equipment this financial year. However still, printers like SelJegat, Kumar Label and Mudrika feel that if they must implement workflow automation, investments in allied equipment is an imperative, they will invest wherever and whenever needed. SMI has already made substantial expansion last year. Vivek Kapoor says, “yes we will be replacing equipment with latest technology rather than expanding”. All the same, the underlying sentiment cannot be ignored that if the market dynamics demand expansion, “then why not?”
9.       Will you travel for any industry exhibitions this year?
19 out of 20 respondents said NO to this, evidently the scare of catching this deadly infection, is a big deterrent.
10.   What is your vision on the industry working in the post covid time?
All across, the general feeling is that the industry needs to change and go into introspection. Housekeeping, sanitization, automation, organized workflow and lean manufacturing will not just be words spoken at conferences but will find a new meaning for implementation even in the MSME units. Rajiv Chhatwal of Kwality says, “Post covid industry should mature more. they will invest wisely, look at reducing overheads and improve profit margins, business models will surely change.” Manish Hansoti of S Kumar says we need to learn to save and park funds for a rainy day to face such calamities. Priyata Raghavan and Shakti Jain feel that post covid also it will be digital engagement with customers and suppliers. Personal contact will be limited.  Anuj Bhargava says it will henceforth be “Digital-Digital-Digital!”. There are others, those who feel the changes are temporary. Ajay Mehta of SMI sums it, “here will be some shift in consumer pattern, economic downturns are inevitable due to lockdowns as well as due to huge loss of jobs in different segments. Having said that, lot of new opportunities are opening up. We are confident that our industry will come through very well in comparison. We see possibilities of growth of the market in coming 12 months’ time.”
11.   Will the changes coming about be permanent?
The industry in unison feels there is nothing wrong in adapting these changes that will make workplaces safe. Just one or two respondents feel that some Indians by nature would like to get back to where they started but by and large as Ajay Mehta says, “Only change is permanent.” Constantly the industry needs to bring about more changes to become more efficient leaner, productive, sustainable and safe. The changes will be permanent for all those who understand the right way forward

Written by Harveer Sahni Chairman Weldon Celloplast Limited New Delhi, India 1st July 2020

Printing magazine are permitted to reproduce the above article by giving due credit to author including the blog address http://harveersahni.blogspot.com  

Friday, May 15, 2020

Self-reliant India: Response of and options for MSME Label converters



On the 11th of May 2020 an embattled Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, fighting a mammoth pandemic Covid-19 on one hand and facing a dwindling economic scenario on the other, made a clarion call to the nation, calling for his countrymen to support his vision for Atma-Nirbhar Bharat or self-Reliant India. He mentioned the five pillars of Atmanirbhar Bharat as: Economy, Infrastructure, System, Vibrant Demography and Demand. A natural human response to any form of attack is to go on defense however it is dynamism and daring spirit to prompt the nation into an offensive with long term growth perception. It reminds one of what George Washington wrote in 1799, “That offensive operations, often times, is the surest, if not the only (in some cases) means of defense”. In simpler terms “offence is the best form of defense”. The five pillars of the Prime Minister’s vision of a Self-Reliant India were also explained as.

1) Economy, which brings in quantum jump and not incremental change
2) Infrastructure, which should become the identity of India
3) System, based on 21st-century technology-driven arrangements
4) Vibrant Demography, which is our source of energy for a self-reliant India and
5) Demand, whereby the strength of our demand and supply chain should be utilized to full capacity

To achieve the vision, a huge financial package is also being put in place to support and encourage the people, industry and other institutions furthering the cause.  Stressing on the imperative need for going local in mind, he stressed the “make in India” concept to escalate inherent strength of the nation. If the instilled red tapism that has prevailed in Indian bureaucratic system and has refused to die down over the years, does not create hurdles in disbursement to the beneficiaries specially the MSME sector, the large cache of technically educated English speaking manpower in democratic India can deliver the expected results. Expressing his reservations Chennai (South India) based A. Ramesh, owner of Sree Krishna Labels & Solutions Pvt. Ltd. says, “Most MSMEs will be restarting from ground zero and Govt support package has still not reached the banks and it is in the bank’s hand to decide”. This sentiment has been expressed by others as well. As for “going local” or “make in India” concept, as explained by the Indian finance minister on the following day of Prime Minister’s speech, clarifies that it does not mean that the country wishes to be in isolation. It translates into achieving freedom of dependence from global brands for everyday consumption of materials which our youth can provide if their entrepreneurial capabilities are encouraged to produce. It remains to be seen if this package is what will make the industry stand up and applaud and move on.

The Indian self-adhesive or pressure sensitive label industry is completing almost 50 years of existence. In the early years, the production was either manual or simpler and evolving technologies of that time were being used sparingly across India. It is only in the last decade that the industry has risen to global standards in installing technically advanced label printing, decorating, and converting presses comparable to the best in the world. Since most label printing companies are MSMEs, they have faced a big adverse impact of lockdown following spread of pandemic Covid-19. They are mostly family owned first generation entrepreneurs who do not have large industrial groups backing them. Now if they get the financial aid as communicated by the government, it will be difficult and long before the industry bounces back. However, at this time the support as given, is not a compensation of losses incurred by industry, Government is only giving loans that will attract interest and add to the burden of the entrepreneurs. It may be enhanced business for Banks but a burden on industry. From the difficult experience gained during this lockdown, it may still make sense to take the Prime Minister’s appeal seriously towards becoming Atmanirbhar. Surely it does not imply going into isolation shunning everything or all technology that is foreign. Surely it means we use the best capital equipment available across the world to produce end products that are largely local in content. If Indian equipment suffices the need, it should be preferred. However, the industry needs to aim and create products in their factories that are of high standards and eliminate the need for imported products.

Label industry around the country on the contrary is unhappy and distressed at government’s
LMAI President Kuldip Goel
response and decisions to sufferings they are facing and will be facing an even bigger challenge of reduced demand in coming months. The author interacted with label industry constituents in all geographical zones of India and the reaction every where was somewhat similar. Kuldip Goel, President LMAI (Label Manufacturers Association of India) said, “I don’t see any benefit in the package being offered. A Loan being given and repayable in just 4 years is not the support that MSMEs need for losses that they incurred in lockdown facing this pandemic. The instalment and interest will be huge and add to the woes of MSMEs in a burdensome time”. Leading Label stock manufacturer Ajay Mehta Managing Director of SMI Coated Products Pvt. Ltd. is also apprehensive about the losses due to the lockdown, he says, “The governments financial support package is a reflection of its policy of Atmanirbhav, the confidence it has on the Indians to be able to take things ahead, despite all the constraints, by providing funds to take care of the liquidity crunch and not delve into the compensating the losses already  made in these months, as well as what losses would be incurred in the coming months.” Manoj Kochhar of Holoflex Kolkata in the East of India feels there is no direct incentive given, the biggest hit is due to this pause in operations. The Government should have at least made the loans interest free and for longer tenure. It is not easy to deal with banks as they have ways to become selective and find loopholes to refuse or reduce support. Harish Gupta heading Sai Com Codes in Rai, district Sonepat in the Delhi NCR is quite upset at the governments package, “We have been pushed back by two years! The support package is an eyewash and joke on the industry” he says and adds, “Ask anyone if he can easily get a loan from bank, they will make you cry”. He is also worried that workers who went back home are starving and they have no support, they now wish to return but there are no means to come back. LMAI General Secretary Rajesh Nema of Pragati Global Indore in Central India expressed, “Lockdown has taught us to live our life in a simpler way. Govt's package would indeed increase liquidity in hands of entrepreneurs but the interest burden is going to be there. The Govt should have waived off interest for 3 months or at least reduced income tax to lessen the burden.” Sanjeev Sondhi of Zircon said, "Two things are killing; cash flow and manpower shortage. Government initiative looks a big puzzle if you can solve it, you may get something in the end". Accepting life as it comes Harish Gulati Managing Director Alpine Containers Jammu in the northern most part of India said, “The biggest impact of lockdown has resulted in bringing economy to its knees which is beyond any body’s imagination and taught many new lessons out of management books. The tough time is going to be a new normal for quite a long time.” With a divergent response
Raveendran Selvarajan Managing Director at Sel Jegat Printers Private Limited Sivakasi in South India states, “In present circumstances Government has made a good effort to bring about liquidity in market, If the intended support reaches the industry, it will bring buoyancy back into markets”. Summing up Jigesh Dani of Maharshi Labels, Ahmedabad western India says, “Justice delayed is justice denied!” he explains that the corona virus erupted in December 2019, government should have gone into planning to reduce stress on workers and industry, it would then have not led to migration of workers. If you look at the financial package of 20 Lakh Crores, the cost to Government is just 2500 Crores! Please see the table at the end of this article.  Even out this amount meant for them only 20-25% will reach the targeted MSMEs. A small single owner entrepreneur does not have the capability to cope up with the formalities that banks ask for and they finally get tired of pursuing and give up. By the time, the support does eventually reach some, they will be deeper in RED. If the government is earnest in supporting, then they should have transferred the monies straight into accounts…this delay is denied justice.”

To recover from this catastrophe there is need to look within and find the strength as Albert Einstein said, “Adversity introduces a man to himself.” To re-engineer your business we must adopt an operating structure of financial discipline. The adherence depends on profitability and cash flows. The production may appear to be profitable, but a negative cash flow will hamper the march toward self-reliance. Printers need to balance the inflow and outflow all the time and ensure its positive status, it may sound difficult for MSMEs but the present situation has made us realise that we have to be focused on quality customers and not quantity. The latter if not taken care of, will adversely impact your own status in terms of quality as buyers. Costing needs to be in check, for some persons this may translate into integrating backward and forward. Some big label companies may toy with the idea of producing labelstock to cut costs, but that would be counterproductive. It will be prudent to stay with core competence and keep achieving excellence in what you produce. It will also help in maintaining a focus of achieving a quantum jump. The reduction in cost must be in terms of wastages, down time, reduced human intervention, better inventory management and effective logistics. Label stock is the major part of a self-adhesive label and it involves a lot of imported papers. In an effort to localize, our Indian stock producers need to take initiative to reduce the imported content of labelstock and consider using alternative liners and indigenous face materials. They need to interact with paper mills to achieve the localization of these specialty papers. Label printers with support from Labelstock producers need to impress upon print buyers to opt for indigenously produced label materials reducing dependence on imported materials which are not really a necessity.

This leads to the need for better infrastructure and equipment which is a onetime capital investment, amortization of which is quicker as you produce in quality and quantity without wastages but if the equipment is wanting in parameters the impact of higher cost is ongoing for all jobs resulting in reduced profitability. There is now need for printers to implement automation and workflow management. Materials must move in a planned manner without hindrance in the given floor space. Equipment with highly advanced automatic registration control ensuring reduced wastage and setting time help in cost control. Order receiving from customer, approval and processing  for production, make ready (like ink preparation-plates and dies), just in time raw material ordering, final printing, converting, packing and finally logistics to dispatch all with real time targets can all be done through software. The progress of any order can be tracked by the customer, all departments concerned and logistics handlers who are involved with the process. There is virtually no need for huge inventory as materials are received just in time at allocated times and are lined up at designated presses for converting without need of extra worker moving around on shop floor reducing dependence on them. This may look expensive but as mentioned these are one-time costs that get amortised quickly as you produce more.

Systems are which make life easier for the management in label companies. May it be HRD, time management, sales/marketing, customer care, production, order tracking both inward and outward, etc. should all have pre-set systems implemented through proper software that can be accessed by whoever it pertains to with it being limited to his or her area of responsibility or concern. Successful will be those companies that are driven by systems and not by persons. This will surely leave enough time to innovate, create, network and much more to be a part of a vibrant demography.

As the economy of the country if and when it improves and there is more disposable money in hands of consumers, the demand will rise. Demand that has nosedived due to lockdown has impacted economy heavily and created a difficult situation for the label industry which has a direct link to sale of consumer products that need labels and packaging. The present boost promised by the Prime Minister is expected to bring the consumer back to the shopping arenas uplifting demand. Currently Label printers need to deliver well, quality of a label and its ability to motivate an end customer to lift it off the shelf gives a fillip to demand. It is a difficult unprecedented happening that has occurred in our lifetime and we wonder how long it will last? It is now duty of all concerned to contribute their might in bringing back normalcy, there is of course the big condition of receiving governments promised support in time with ease and not loaded with conditions.
 Written by Harveer Sahni Chairman Weldon Celloplast Ltd. New Delhi May 2020


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