Harish Gupta, Managing Director of Sai Com Codes Flexo Print Pvt. Ltd. Rai, Sonepat has registered amazing growth in self-adhesive labels industry in India. Born and brought up in the North Indian city Jammu, a city on the banks of river Tawi, the winter capital of the Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir. Three generations of his family have lived in Jammu, his father R D Gupta has been a banker most of his life. He retired as General Manager of the J&K Bank and later took responsibility as Chairman of State Cooperative Bank. Harish, his only son besides two daughters, finished his schooling in Jammu and followed it up with a B. Tech in electronics plus MBA in marketing from Pune University. He got his first job for selling metal containers as a part of campus placement, but Harish was envisioning bigger avenues, so in just two months he quit that job and came to Delhi. He wanted to set up his own venture.

A close friend who was a successful offset printer suggested narrow web label printing to him as it was a growing line, together they had discussed printing industry at length. Harish spent long hours with his friend understanding printing business and finally decided to take the plunge. His friend had impressed that flexo narrow web self -adhesive labels was the future growth area, which convinced him. In December 2005 Harish set up his maiden venture Com Codes in Badli Industrial area Delhi. He bought a Mark Andy Scout label press without any family support, no one in his family was in business so could not provide any inputs, however a lot of

encouragement and motivation came from his father. He had no knowledge about flexographic printing or the presses, but since he was decided on the project, he extensively searched the internet. Learnt about flexo printing by surfing the internet, he even purchased his first flexo press without even seeing the press but by only seeing it online and studying the catalogues.

The first one and half year after installing the label press was extremely challenging to run due to lack of knowledge of flexo printing process and experience in the field. Biggest challenge was, getting trained manpower as there were few people available in 2005-2006. Even good quality plates were not accessible locally. Most of the first year was spent studying the flexographic printing technology on his own. As he believes that to be successful, he needs to acquire the knowledge himself. He was hardly selling during the learning process as they did not know how to run the press properly. It looked like a big mess such that Harish got fed up and started contemplating how to get rid of the setup. One day in pensive thoughts at home, he reminded himself of the phrase, “Nothing is impossible” he again started training himself from internet programs. He undertook a seven-day course to learn flexo printing, he started first to learn printing and then being an electronic engineer, he then began to understand the machine operation and its nuances. Those days the machines only used hot air for drying the print, there was challenges in reproducibility and consistency  as viscosity of inks would change during printing resulting in variations in shades of print. UV inks offering instant crosslinking and drying came later. Due to the issues and hardships faced in initial years,  2007 to 2010 was a period of  very slow progress.

He still reminisces that in 2006 he ran into a big fiasco in printing. They had gotten an order for printing on PE film, the order quantity was six thousand square meters. They printed the entire quantity and when they started slitting, they realized that the ink was rubbing off, when touched by hand. It was then they realized that they needed to print with UV inks and not water-based inks. Plus, there was necessity for Corona treatment and top coatings for getting the printing right on filmic substrates. The entire quantity went waste as they could not supply the defective material and the order got cancelled. This was difficult learning. They understood at that time that with the present equipment they could only print paper labels, so started advising customers who wanted filmic labels to opt for laminated paper labels. By 2009 they did get support from an ink supplier to print PE labels with water-based inks, but they needed to cure the labels for longer periods, but then delays in supplies and lack of perfection in manufacturing process is not the right situation for rapid growth. This was at a time when the industry was evolving and moving towards “just in time” deliveries with reduced inventories. By 2010 Harish had become sufficiently adept in flexo printing and it was time to move ahead and invest in equipment the way he understood the technology. Presently they did not have equipment to support their foray into filmic and other specialized labels.

The first one and half year after installing the label press was extremely challenging to run due to lack of knowledge of flexo printing process and experience in the field. Biggest challenge was, getting trained manpower as there were few people available in 2005-2006. Even good quality plates were not accessible locally. Most of the first year was spent studying the flexographic printing technology on his own. As he believes that to be successful, he needs to acquire the knowledge himself. He was hardly selling during the learning process as they did not know how to run the press properly. It looked like a big mess such that Harish got fed up and started contemplating how to get rid of the setup. One day in pensive thoughts at home, he reminded himself of the phrase, “Nothing is impossible” he again started training himself from internet programs. He undertook a seven-day course to learn flexo printing, he started first to learn printing and then being an electronic engineer, he then began to understand the machine operation and its nuances. Those days the machines only used hot air for drying the print, there was challenges in reproducibility and consistency  as viscosity of inks would change during printing resulting in variations in shades of print. UV inks offering instant crosslinking and drying came later. Due to the issues and hardships faced in initial years,  2007 to 2010 was a period of  very slow progress.

He still reminisces that in 2006 he ran into a big fiasco in printing. They had gotten an order for printing on PE film, the order quantity was six thousand square meters. They printed the entire quantity and when they started slitting, they realized that the ink was rubbing off, when touched by hand. It was then they realized that they needed to print with UV inks and not water-based inks. Plus, there was necessity for Corona treatment and top coatings for getting the printing right on filmic substrates. The entire quantity went waste as they could not supply the defective material and the order got cancelled. This was difficult learning. They understood at that time that with the present equipment they could only print paper labels, so started advising customers who wanted filmic labels to opt for laminated paper labels. By 2009 they did get support from an ink supplier to print PE labels with water-based inks, but they needed to cure the labels for longer periods, but then delays in supplies and lack of perfection in manufacturing process is not the right situation for rapid growth. This was at a time when the industry was evolving and moving towards “just in time” deliveries with reduced inventories. By 2010 Harish had become sufficiently adept in flexo printing and it was time to move ahead and invest in equipment the way he understood the technology. Presently they did not have equipment to support their foray into filmic and other specialized labels.

In 2011 Harish bought his first Nilpeter eight colour, all UV label press. Thereafter the first big job order  came to them from Patanjali Ayurved Limited, whom they had started supplying in small quantities from 2006. Being an ardent follower of Sai Baba, at this time he changed the company’s name from Com Codes to Sai Com Codes Flexo Print Pvt Ltd. This was their take off point and there was no looking back, whereafter he started buying a new press each year.

Initially they started by focusing themselves to the agrochemicals industry and by the end of that year they became the most prominent label manufacturer in that segment with Harish having personally indulged and motivated these customers to switch over to self-adhesive labels from wet glue labels. As business grew and their customers were setting up units in various locations, they proposed for Sai Com Codes to also set up units at these locations near their new manufacturing facilities. This was a pressing need considering better coordination, better inventory control and being at the customers’ doorstep for faster response time giving better service, ensuring  business continuity and growth.

Sai Com Codes is now a multilocation group with two units in Rai, Sonepat, one in Guwahati and one in Vapi. They are already planning one flexo unit in South India so that they are present in all geographical zones of the country. They operate out of around 100,000 square feet of total shopfloor area with three hundred strong workforce, eight flexo presses out of which seven are Nilpeters, one P7 and two digital presses. Four flexo presses are installed at Rai in the North, three in Guwahati in the East and one in Vapi in the west, all units are employing flexographic printing technology.

The second unit Digistik in Rai, Sonepat is a separate Sai Com Code group company in another premises. Digistik is Harish’s move to bring in digital printing of labels in his range of offerings. When he observed the growth of e-commerce and the increasing trend of retail business going online, there was an evident need felt for short runs with variable and personalized printing. He also envisioned that the new literate generation is giving a fillip to demand by establishing startups, these startups need short runs of labels and packaging to manage their inventories and not have finance locked up in stagnant stocks. He decided to invest in top-of-the-line digital printing, primarily with startups in mind. The best and natural brand recall convinced him that he had to start with HP Indigo. There is no way he could have supported the need of these startups with only his analogue printing setup. He studied the digital label printing technology and was convinced that for future growth and to cater to the short run demand, digital printing capabilities was an imperative. An HP Indigo press was acquired in 2020 and installed at Digistik. They added another Konica Minolta digital press and plan to further enhance their digital printing capabilities by investing in another bigger HP Indigo next year.

Harish is of opinion that continuous expansion is necessary for any vibrant organization, stagnation is counter-productive and that flexo and digital will coexist to aid rapid growth in labels and packaging. Therefore, he has plans to make further investments in both analogue or flexo as well as in Digital capabilities. As for analogue he is looking at using hybrid or combination presses to achieve complex results for demanding brand owners rather than simple flexo jobs.

Change is the only constant and bringing in newer technology in each manufacturing process brings growth and aids innovation with creativity. All these new and diverse technologies will coexist and be complementary to each other in the way ahead. Future plans include continued expansion of capacity to make growth an eventuality. “We will treat  the analogue and digital as separate units and soon we will try and replicate the multi locations model separately for digital as well” says Harish. He further adds, “Very soon another digital unit will be announced. In 5years we will strive to at least double our sales”. As for moving to become a multinational manufacturer,  he feels India is a vast country with a big population having enormous potential. “Let us first achieve the maximum here, we consider that option, at another opportune time” he asserts. They wish to remain focused and specialize in labels, which itself is a big segment that has grown towards different tangents like shrink sleeves, wraparound, IML and a lot more. They are working on various projects, but personalization and innovation remain a preference indicating more indulgence in Digital label and package manufacturing.

Talking about the impact of the pandemic, Harish mentions that during Covid they also suffered like all, in terms of materials shortage, workforce migration, lockdowns, management challenges, movement of goods, etc. However, investment in Digital capabilities  came to their rescue as they could produce without the need for flexo inks, plates and many operators. It will take some time for the bulk of label industry to return to regular functioning like in pre-covid times. That is why it is now felt that a future without digital capabilities will be a shortcoming. On the onset of covid, inventories were already there but replenishments were lacking or missing. Those days many units kept on working so the impact was there but still manageable, once the impact had somewhat subsided and businesses started opening, by April or May 2021, label industry faced shortages, increased prices, imports became difficult due to container shortages, all this has put extreme pressures on the label manufacturers in the current fiscal year. As per Harish this situation will prevail until December 2021 or until all covid related restrictions are lifted and people are back to jobs, free to visit markets, schools and colleges are opened and travel, both domestic and international, becomes unrestricted. This is so because all industries are somehow interconnected.

Harish’s wife Pooja is a home maker they have a son and a daughter. His daughter Jayini is studying to be a doctor and presently pursuing MBBS 3rd year. Their 13 years old son Tejas is still in school and a sports enthusiast.

Speaking about sustainability Harish agrees that it is a major concern for which they must adopt a system to manage waste. They are considering diverse options that would aid recycling. Linerless should come as it is a necessity which will decrease the tonnage going to landfills, it must be convenient and user friendly. Once they are convinced on the production and usability of linerless labels, they would definitely consider investing in the technology, as they are concerned about environment being safe for generations that follow.

Written by Harveer Sahni, Chairman Weldon Celloplast Limited, New Delhi September2021

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