Label printing technologies have undergone a sea change after the onset of 21st century. In the beginning of new millennium, the flatbed and letterpress processes made way for the narrow web flexographic printing which eventually grew to become the most preferred print technology for labels. With technological advances in prepress and plate-making process, Flexo print quality became closer to offset. This was followed up by hybrid printing using flexo, screen, gravure and later also offset printing in a single pass. We have been seeing the convenience of desktop office printers, inkjet or laser but they remained that way for long and were not used for high quality labels in roll form. It is only in the second decade of the 21st century that digital label printing began evolving. By middle of the decade, it was growing substantially in the western part of the World, yet but in India it did not find many takers.

 

In May 2015, I reviewed and wrote about the indulgence of Indian label industry in Digital printing equipment, I interviewed leading label printing companies of that time in an article titled; “Label Printing in India, digital has to wait”, available at the link;   https://harveersahni.blogspot.com/2015/05/label-printing- in-india-digital-has-to.html

In the summation I wrote; I am quite amazed by the similarity of responses from most of the persons who responded. All of them had expressed that the cost per print in digital does not prove it to be a viable proposition, considering the prohibitive cost of the equipment and that of ink and consumables. The undercurrent in all expressions is that digital printing as things stand now will not be the mainstream technology. It will co-exist with existing technologies and will be used for specific demanding needs. As for the time frame before digital printing becomes largely visible and used in label printing in India, they said it varies between 3 to 5 years. So, for the time being, “It has to wait a while!”

 

Two years hence, on May 7th 2017 I did yet another survey and wrote my article titled, “Digital label printing in India, the journey has begun! Self Adhesive Labels Industry In India and The World: Digital label printing in India, the journey has begun! (harveersahni.blogspot.com)My estimation was as follows: By latest count, the population of leading brands of digital label presses in India had reached twenty-two in number. This was besides the low value small printers that some companies may have acquired. Now this was a fairly impressive figure when just until over a year back the industry felt that digital has to wait. Estimating the size of the digital label market, I calculated the total consumption in the industry for digitally printed labels to over 52 million square meters per annum, which translated into to almost 5% of the total self-adhesive labels in India to be printed digitally. This surely indicated that for digital label printing in India, the journey had begun!

 

 

European Label Industry Association Finat had revealed in a statement that European digital label press installations overtook conventional press sales for the first time in 2017. The journey that began, has now progressed to be on a growth path. In fact, repetitive purchase confirms that the technology is not only here to stay but also attain steady growth.

 

 

 

 
In the present private survey or research in respect of digital printing of labels in roll form, done personally by me, I have arrived at interesting results. The data being presented here is entirely my own estimation and I have not depended on any already published authenticated information. I have interacted with the following renowned brands to arrive at figures that I present in this article;

 

Domino

Durst

Epson

HP

Konica Minolta

Monotech

Screen

Xeikon

 

The number of digital roll label presses of leading brands in India has expanded from the 22 in 2017 to 51 in 2022 registering a CAGR (Compounded Annual Growth Rate) of 18% as regards the number of press installations. Out of these HP Indigo accounts for 16 presses  which include two 25K which find usage both for labels as well as for flexible packaging and one HP Indigo for Lamitubes, Konica Minolta 10, Monotech 8, Domino 3, Xeikon 2, Durst 4, Screen 2, Epson was 5 machines as assessment done in 2017 since they did not respond I believe there have been no additions thereafter. Two water-based  inkjet presses from Astronova are also in the tally of 51 presses. If we consider just the numbers, Hp has 32% share of the installations, Konica Minolta 20%, Monotech 16%, Durst 8%, Domino 6%, Epson, Screen and Astronova account for the balance . However, this is not a real indicator of the quantum of investment by label printing companies in digital printing technology. I have done the calculation on the approximate costs of these equipment, the total investment in digital roll label equipment is more than Rupees 215 Crores or about 28 million US Dollars.  HP being the most expensive equipment of the lot, accounts for a whopping 66% of the investment made in value  while all others remain less than 10%.

 

Considering the geographical spread in number of installations; 36% of the established brand installations are in the West of India, 36% in the North and 11% in South. However, in terms of value,   the West leads the way, followed by South. As for label materials consumed, in 2017 I had calculated that 52 million square meters of labelstock was converted by digital printing. The consumption with increased investments and faster speeds appears to have more than doubled to over 109 million square meters registering a CAGR of 16%. As indicated by the people I interviewed there are many more installations being planned that will ensure continuous growth in this segment of label printing and converting.

Digital printing means web to print; it is an exciting process as compared to the analogue or conventional printing, yet it brings with it, challenges that translate it into a not so simple process. A technology that was initially being promoted as a complementary technology to conventional printing has reached a stage of being referred to as a competitive one. With presses going wider and running at higher speed and consumables getting affordable, it will not be long before it becomes a contemporary mainstream technology . However, those who have had the success and have understood the nuances of digital printing, are looking at expanding further in this segment of printing. I sought comments from many who have invested into digital capabilities and their responses make interesting reading.

Denver Annunciation, Janus International:  Janus International are pioneers, they were the very first label manufacturing company who invested in an HP Indigo press at their Thane facility. The brothers Denver and Janus are very enterprising. They have offset, flexo and Digital printing capabilities, all of which are doing well for them. They are a company who are growing beyond the inflationary growth. Being  manufacturer of beer and liquor labels, they wanted to do something different, and they took the challenge of investing in digital label printing. Since HP was the only established supplier of digital presses at that time with a proper setup, it was natural for them to install an HP Indigo press. Denver says, “Digital helped us cater to smaller businesses and widen our customer base while our other capabilities drove in the volumes.”  According to him digital does provide opportunities for creativity but it is not a standalone equipment that will deliver. You need different prepress and post-press finishing setup. It also involves additional resources that add up to per unit cost like requirement of same amount of manpower for packing, delivering and invoicing smaller shipments. Despite this adds Denver, “it gives a fair return and we will definitely look at expanding our digital capabilities“. Referring to their experience with digital Denver says, “Initial challenges were there, it has been a long journey, but surely enjoyable”.

Anil Namugade, Trigon Digital: Trigon Digital has been in the news in recent years for their multiple investments and expansion in the state of art digital equipment. Anil Namugade Managing Director of Trigon while answering why he opted for digital says, “Good label finishing and converting for me is like oxygen to heart, blood and brain for creativity.” Trigon has invested in multiple digital equipment and the biggest of them an HP Indigo 25K, his second HP Indigo after the first 6900. He asserts that digital has helped them grow, as since their inception 14 years ago they have been using only digital technology. Their business has been growing. Anil expresses, “digital is a mindset, we need to have a bit different approach in understanding the customer’s requirements and our capabilities to serve them.”

Honey Vazirani, Leap Digiprint:  Honey and Vikram, both directors of Leap Digiprints, spent 25 years in labels and packaging industry working for Paper products Ltd. later renamed Huhtamaki PPL Limited after acquisition by multinational Huhtamaki Oyj, so packaging is what they knew best. Wanting to be more futuristic, ecofriendly and wishing to initiate a small boutique business of their own, they made the choice to setup their maiden startup venture in Noida NCR Delhi. Selecting a strong digital print partner that time, HP was the best choice. The technology has helped them grow, giving the desired results from producing variable and short run of labels. Says Honey,” The turnaround times, print runs of 100-200 meters, variable printing…all the capabilities that attracted us to digital are still clear advantages.” Further she  adds, “Overall it has been good experience. However, it is not as trouble free as one would expect it to be. Also, the costs and pricing need to be handled effectively but unfortunately the downstream conversion for labels (post digital printing) is not as well developed as it should be to support short runs”

Harish Gupta, Sai Digistik: Harish Gupta led Sai Digistik has invested in two digital label presses HP with liquid toner & Konica Minolta with dry toner technology. According to Harish, the dry toner technology has limitations of only CMYK printing, no white and printing on limited substrates, so we have both liquid toner and dry toner printing capabilities to have the best of both. Cost of digital printing is high, it was very good working with digital during pandemic phase-1 when manpower was short, and requirements were instant. Short runs are easy to handle, and we got focused to help startups for their smaller needs with our motto “Startup for Startups.” With no need of plates and make ready etc., the turnaround time is less, yet it is not a simple technology, one needs to study thoroughly before investing. Cost of producing labels is higher as compared to flexo, but it is felt that, as we grow in volumes the costs of consumables will reduce. However, as we see the trends globally, with manpower becoming a challenge and reducing length of jobs, digital is bound to grow and find preference.

Surendra Shriyan, Maa Flexi-label: An offset printer who realised that volume-based production has decreased with more variables and short runs, in the given scenario digital is the future for good printability and  fast turnaround time. They opted for HP Indigo label press. Being new entrants, they are exploring exciting possibilities but feel pricing in digital is a challenge. After observing the changes in the western world regarding the digital label printing, even though they are convinced that it is futuristic, yet they say, “It is not all, a bed of roses.”

Nilesh Jain, Mahavir Impex: They opted for a Durst UV Inkjet label press for its print quality output without applying any primer on most substrates. Nilesh expresses that digital has helped to achieve desired results within minimal time and reduction of undesired wastages. They feel it will become the predominant technology , but the results from different digital print technologies (dry toner/liquid toner /UV Inkjet etc.) would not give a uniform and similar print result on various substrates. The advantage of digital for them is outstanding quality achieved at good speed and reduction of waste with no investment on plates and other expenses.

Manish Hansoti, S Kumar: Narrating his experience with digital label printing, Manish Hansoti says; “Looking to cater to demand of small quantity, variable printing multiple S K U’s and label on demand, we have invested in a Screen digital label printing press. We had assessed all technologies and found Screen ink jet printing technology was a better fit for us as we wanted to print labels with less ink coverage for specific customers. The cost of the ink in this process was found lower as against dry toner FASMA/click charges. We consider digital technology as part of customer service because in small volume there is no chance of making topline but can get customer satisfaction. The technology will grow if the capex goes down and ink price or click charges drop, then there will be big changes in global printing scenario. Short run or variable printing is profitable but there is limitation in getting many such orders, so we always have spare capacity. We do not see another investment in digital until costs of inputs come down.”

Priyank Vasa from Unick Fix A Form: “The Domino N610i digital label press was acquired by us in 2018. Wanting to free up our flexo capacity to improve turnaround time and job throughput, we started exploring options. We narrowed down to the Domino N610i because of Domino's strong presence in India and its service network.

Evaluating its media compatibility, color matching, accuracy of pantone reproduction, ink cost analysis, it looked the right press for us. The press was commissioned in the beginning of 2020. Dealing with a modern technology we knew there lies a learning curve ahead. In the present-day scenario, we have been able to take up new business both for flexo and digital. Digital has added to our sales where we are able to completely leverage the opportunity cost which could not happen in flexo. We do not limit use of the digital press to small runs. It has also opened new avenues for us in respect to products like IML, Shrink sleeves, Cartons and VDP.”

 

Vinod Vazhapuli, Skanem IndiaHaving run a very innovative campaign for the FMCG company Reckitt Benckiser(RB) Vinod Vazhapuli Managing Director of Skanem India is very optimistic about including more digital printing capabilities in his company’s expansion plans. Skanem  had been a part of Dettol’s unique packaging commemorating Covid warriors. Please see my blogpost titled Dettol Labels used to salute "Covid Warriors"! Skanem India, a part of Norway headquartered Skanem AS was one of the two approved vendor of RB who were roped in to execute this special campaign of Dettol customized labels. The deliberations for this campaign started when Reckitt approached Skanem in second week of May 2021 and discussed the possibility of creating one hundred variably printed unique labels. Having an HP Indigo press, the capability was there. They were given an order for two million labels. It was a gigantic task as there were one hundred artworks. RB wanted the right pantone shade of Dettol and the job had to be done in speed, so Skanem requested RB to give them the artworks also in CMYK because to match the green Dettol shade as close as possible to the required shade it is necessary to have the prepress right. The approvals were done online and the material delivered in time. That is the power of digital, the rest is history.

 

Rajeev Chhatwal, Kwality Offset: Rajeev sums it all well, he says he sees a good future for digital label converting. Printers need to look at this technology positively and separately without drawing a comparison with analogue or current capabilities even though it is a business that needs to run parallel with your current profile of business. One of the biggest advantage of digital is that it helps one to increase customer base. A larger customer base, if attended well, ensures continued growth. To find success in digital arena one needs to accept that there is a definite learning phase and one must provide for contingencies while planning and be prepared for them. Rajeev says, “It is a business that has a bright future in which the fittest, the one with guts and endurance, will survive and excel. It is a business that provides impetus to your present business and when you do short, variable and personalized run for a customer, you have a happy customer! In a young Indian population becoming spenders, ecommerce is looking up, does it not ensure positive growth of Digital which permits variable and personalized printing? Are we not looking at the numbers of startups on rise? My next investment, maybe a year down the line,  will be digital, I invested in a Xeikon with dry toner technology, which I am happy with, I will probably go for a UV Inkjet next to expand my capabilities”.

 

The author is grateful to the people without whose help and inputs this compilation may not have been possible. Those whose support I got, include Umesh Kagade and entire team of HP, Shayak Mukherjee of Konica Minolta, Ajay RaoRane of Domino Printech, Vikram Saxena of Xeikon, Jimit Mittal of Monotech and Ajay Agarwal of Insight Print Communication for Screen and Venkatesh Selveraj of Printronics for Durst.

Note: Printing magazine and portals can republish the above ONLY after giving credit to the author Harveer Sahni and mentioning blog https://harveersahni.blogspot.com 

 

Written by Harveer Sahni Chairman Weldon Celloplast Limited New Delhi India April 2022

This is the final part of History of Indian Label Industry” up to third quarter of 2019 written by the author. The history would look incomplete if mention was not made of those who started their label journey from scratch or very humble beginning and then rose to a pinnacle achieving success not only in the home market but also internationally and continue with their journey to greater heights.

From the start of new Millennium in 2000 until the time of writing this part of the history, enormous changes have come about in the Indian label industry. Label printing companies who started from virtually nothing, grew and spread to multiple locations. Some of the bigger ones on the way, decided to sell out to or partnered with foreign companies who were entering the Indian market for label manufacturing. Label, being a miniscule portion of the total packaging cost of a product, does not deliver very large turnover as compared to that of package printing or flexible packaging companies.

However, it does generate relatively higher profit margins than that of high turnover package printing industry. For this reason, we did not see any label companies in the earlier part of the new Millennium who could reach a coveted target of Rupees 100 Crore or a Billion Rupees as annual sales turnover. However, some packaging companies or multinationals who invested in labels as well, were above this figure. It was incredible that at least three Indian startup companies who started their business purely with stickers that later evolved as labels, grew to cross Rupees 100 Crores turnover or more in 2018-2019.

First among them is Manish Desai led Mudrika Labels. Sandeep Desai working at a greeting cards company started trading in stickers that he outsourced in 1975 and a year later he started screen printing them at home. His 10-year-old cousin, Manish was always excited to see stickers being made. In 1977 Sandeep moved his sticker manufacturing to a 500 square feet factory in Malad.

In 1985 they started outsourcing pregummed sheets and get them printed on offset to finally finish them to be stickers at their factory. They grew and expanded into packaging, making cartons and corrugated boxes. Sandeep eventually moved into packaging and the young Manish who had labels in his heart, in 1996 expanded into labels with Kopack label presses and later many Gallus presses. He further expanded integrating backwards to produce self-adhesive labelstocks and collaborated with a Korean company to produce heat transfer labels. By 2019 Mudrika labels were working out of 100,000 square foot shop floor, 550 workforce to achieve a Rupees 160 Crore (1.60 Billion Rupees) annual sales turnover.

The second person to achieve this Kuldip Goel of Any Graphics started from very humble beginnings. At a tender age of 14 years he started making stickers by screen printing manually himself to earn some money while still in school. He did this in his one room home. Despite extreme hardships in life he remained honest and focussed on providing the best in quality and indulging in innovation. In 1989 he started his maiden venture Stickline in Noida. By start of the millennium Kuldip’s company Any Graphics was recognised as one of the best label manufacturers in quality and one that never cut prices to get orders but prove their innovative capabilities to convince customers. From mere screen printing he went on to add dome labels and letterpress printed labels in his portfolio. In 2009 he moved to a 100,000 square feet clean sanitized dust free factory adding, Heidelberg Offset Presses, Orthotecs and a fully loaded Omet flexo and screen combination label press. He also became one of the largest makers of rigid boxes.

By 2019 he had crossed the Rupees 100Crore sale without compromising profit margins and becoming one of the most awarded companies in India. In 2019 he commenced construction of a certified green factory spread over 15000 square meter plot size and 250,000 square feet shop floor.

 The third printer who grew in similar pattern, a stout follower of Lord Shiva who greets people with, “Jai Bhole Ki” (Victory to Lord Shiva, lovingly referred to as Bhole) Sanjeev Sondhi, started his career as a medical Representative and carried on in the profession switching jobs until 2005 when he decided to trade in Barcode labels, printers and accessories.

He was looking for bigger things in life! Two years later in 2006 he launched his maiden start-up venture Zircon Technologies India Limited with a Mark Andy 2200 Label press in Dehradun. Being a salesperson himself he drove the company in fast mode expansion and in a few years added multiple Mark Andy and Omet label presses which include the high-end combination Omet Vary flex 430mm. In just 15 years of inception Zircon crossed the Rupees 100 Crore reaching 120 Crores annual turnover mark coming purely from label manufacturing, “a record in itself”! While other successful label companies at this stage would look for foreign suitors, Zircon in 2019 was the first totally indigenous label manufacturing company planning to go public to raise capital for future expansion. They got the approval from SEBI in November 2018 with plans to open a 90-100 Crores public issue. Waiting for an appropriate time to launch their public issue Zircon continued to grow and invest in expansion. Sanjeev hoped to invest 80 percent of the receipts in expanding labels business while the rest in other allied products. Sanjeev was even looking at inorganic growth by indulging in Mergers and Acquisitions. With 3 factories in Dehradun and one in Chennai Sanjeev Sondhi aims to grow multi-fold with blessing of Bhole (Lord Shiva).

Having achieved such success through sheer commitment and hard work it is natural for companies like the three mentioned above to look at other avenues in synergy with their business to achieve a faster growth. All the above, while they continued to be proud of their beginnings and aware of the evolution, started to study or invest in new technologies. 

 We had reached a time when multiple labelling technologies surfaced, and future had many surprises in store. From the primitive times when a label had to be either tied to a product or riveted on to it or affixed with a wheat flour paste, we believed to have reached a pinnacle when self-adhesive or pressure sensitive adhesive labels that were developed and grew to establish as a predominant labelling technology. Initially it was the manually applied wet glue adhesive paper labels that were in use. With development of starch and dextrin-based glues and availability of automatic wet glue labelling equipment, wet glue labels became the most widely used method of labelling. Most of the organised industry employed packaging lines incorporating wet glue labelling. It was used in all segments like pharmaceuticals, Liquor, cosmetics, oils and in fact most of the products that were packed in glass bottles or metal cans. When plastics, mostly HDPE (High Density Polyethylene), started to evolve as a preferred packaging material for glass bottles and cans due to ease of manufacturing, reduction of freight due to lighter weight per can, possibility to produce in different shapes and colours, labelling with starch or dextrin based adhesive became a challenge. This change was taking place during the 1970s and 1980s. Since HDPE is a low energy material, paper labels with water-based adhesives made from various gums, starches and dextrins would not anchor on to the containers or would fall off in transit. Labels with pressure sensitive adhesives or stickers had already started being made initially by screen printing methods and later by offset printing, these labels would stick well just by application of pressure. They did not have to wait for drying and could be packed instantly after labelling while the wet glue labels would have adhesives oozing out on the sides and attracting dust and shifting in packing process, adversely affecting the aesthetics. More and more companies were opting for these stickers.

Towards the end of last century self-adhesive labels evolved in roll form and the automatic labelling equipment for pressure sensitive adhesive labels became available. Many companies did resist shifting from wet glue to self-adhesive due to the high cost of label applicator replacements.

This is a big challenge that the likes of printers mentioned above faced and yet with their firm resolve they became a part of the change that brought them success. As the retail became dependent on customer choices and there was need for better decorated labels, self-adhesive labels became the preferred labelling technology and grew at fast pace. In between screen printing on containers also started but a slow process that did not have much decoration as compared to printed labels, it did not grow as a preferred process. Self-adhesive grew so much that it became almost 50% of all the labels produced in India. As we entered the new millennium and started looking also into future the thought process for future of labels is becoming extremely diverse and evolving in different tangents. Shrink sleeves came in to take away a big market share given the possibility of 360 degrees visibility. Wrap around labels also became extensively used in the beverage segment. Heat transfer label technology that had originated as Therimage Label technology developed by Dennison Manufacturing company in USA in the 1990s did not flourish then because Avery, who acquired Dennison, did not promote it as it was not in sync with their core business of self-adhesive labels. Once the patents expired, the Heat Transfer Labels or HTL reappeared in the second decade of new millennium and started growing. In mould labels is another labelling technology that had found usage in many segments and started registering growth in large volume usage. At this time, I try and link the changes to the three above who understood the need to expand the scope of labels in their business portfolio. While Mudrika as I mentioned invested in heat transfer labels, Any Graphics into innovative labels and rigid boxes and Zircon also started moving into brand security and innovative packaging including spiral wound containers.

Around this time environmental concerns also impacted the self-adhesive label industry as almost 50% of the converted product is waste going to landfills. Much work was being done on this to reduce the liner tonnage by opting for thinner filmic liners that can be recycled and by developing linerless labels.

Digital printing on to the products is another technology that may replace some of the usage of self-adhesive labels. All said and done, the sheer market size in India and the inertia, brings business to all label technologies and for this reason the self-adhesive labels market continued to grow at double digit rates. The industry will keep evolving both in terms of quality and innovation as also taking environmental concerns in its stride.

In over a year, as another decade ends, the author will update the history on the outcome of such endeavours. The total History as chronicled by the author until now is now available on this blog on links as below:
Part 1: https://harveersahni.blogspot.com/2010/08/history-of-indian-label-industry.htmlPart 2A: https://harveersahni.blogspot.com/2019/07/history-of-indian-label-industry-part-2a.htmlPart 2B: https://harveersahni.blogspot.com/search?q=History+part+2bPart 2C: https://harveersahni.blogspot.com/2019/08/history-of-indian-label-industry-part-2c.htmlPart 2 D: Above
Written by Harveer Sahni Chairman Weldon Celloplast Limited New Delhi July/September 2019
Note: No one is authorised to reproduce, copy or reprint this article until permitted by the author in writing.