"Indians are making a transition to emulsion-based technologies," says Sandeep Zaveri of Total Print Solutions

Ramu Ramanathan
Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Sandeep Zaveri is one of the young guns in the label industry. Armed with a printing technology degree from the London College of Printing and a Btech in Business and Finance from Birmingham University, he was part of his father's unit. Recently he set up Total Print Solutions in Navi Mumbai.

Total Print Solutions is a facility for manufacturing pressure sensitive labels and tags. The firm recently installed a 13-inch width flexo press with seven-colour - all UV stations, inline laminations, two die-cutting stations and an attachment of a conveyor to print labels.

In addition to the unit, Zaveri is a key mover of Label Manufacturer's Association of India's (LMAI), Young Manager Forum. Its main criteria is to tap label converters below 45 years of age and motivate "the younger generation into action". After a successful LabelExpo in December along with Label and Labelling magazine, LMAI is busy with a national technology conference in July in Goa besides supporting an event at SIES college in Nerul on 24 February.

Sandeep Zaveri (SZ) had a face to face with Anand Limaye (AL) and Ramu Ramanathan (RR) in the PrintWeek India office.


RR: There are estimates that the regional market is at 13,500 million sq/mts of label material, or 33% of total global label demand. Glue applied and pressure sensitive labels together dominate the market with shares of 43 and 37% respectively. Sleeve labels at 12% of the market is a reflection on Japan’s taking the lead in that sector, while in-mould is very much a niche at just 1%. From this point of view, what is your assessment of what is happening in India?
SZ: Pressure sensitive has grown. And people are getting educated. Everything is getting automatised. So the label trend is shifting towards pessure sensitive. Also, continuing innovation in the development of application and end use segments for labels is being driven by global brand owners and retailers’ investment in local operations. If you look at the raw material part, earlier we didn’t have the right kind of support. Now we've top players in the segment. This has made a difference since they supply us the right quality at the right time and what you need.


RR You've been with the LMAI since 2002. What has changed?
SZ We see the association is doing well. We are getting good support from the industry and the good part is that there has been a lot of interactions with competitors. Earlier people would not interact, nor come forward and exchange their views, thoughts. Now things have changed.


RR So things are much more open now?
SZ We are trying to host a website which is going to be interactive website. This will be a portal for members who want to interact, or sell something, or buy something, or exchange their thoughts. Like a label converter's forum. That is going to be very easy. And now with the guidelines of Finat, we formed a young managers club. We're are trying to conduct workshops every month. This includes training the stores guys and marketing people. In our industry, I don’t see good marketing.


RR The reason to invest in training is because the industry is growing?
SZ Yes. Also the way the industry is growing. Applied glue labels and pressure sensitive labels dominate the market. Then there is sleeve labels and applications like in-mould which is very niche at the moment. And although offset litho remains the dominant print processes used for label converting in India, the market is investing in narrow web flexo technology, provided by imported presses and an increasing level of local, lower cost manufactured UV flexo machinery – which has become of interest to our members in India. That's the work in training and the workshops and the forums.


RR Has LMAI captured any data in terms of installed press capacity, how many presses are being installed, how many imported, how many refurbished, how many foreign, how many Indian? Is there a better oraganisation of data in the label segment?
SZ I think we will have some data by February end, because we are working on a directory. The directory is based on data capture among our members. We are asking them how many presses they have, what kind of technology, employee strength, and turnovers. There has been a lot of confusion about these growth projections. Some people say there will be 200 machines for 2011, and even 150 presses. I think these numbers are unrealistic and exaggerated. It's a strategy to boost the prospects of foreign interests in India. At LMAI, so we don’t want to do that. We are concerned with the ground reality and to be as close to the exact figures.


RR What has been the member feedback?
SZ I shot off an email to all the members. Initially, they were a bit hesitant to share turnovers and discuss balance sheets. Also people don’t want to say they have a Chinese machine. They just highlight the process. Be it: semi-rotary, flatbed, screen or multicolour.


RR How many members does LMAI have at the moment?
SZ 170 members. When we took over, two years ago, that is me and Vivek Kapoor who is the president, we had 70 members. In the past two years, it has shot up by 100. Most of these are narrow web flexo press owners and the balance are letterpress units.


RR So the letterpress industry is still doing well?
SZ Yes. They do all kinds of work. Letterpress with Iwasaki and Orthotec machines. It is mostly due to the speed. Plus no one wants to enter into the ancillary cost which is prevalent in flexo. Now, the technology is being upgraded. Couple of these machine manufacturers have stopped production of letterpress.


RR But the big story is narrow web flexo. What is your sort of understanding, of what you are seeing?
SZ We had these awards show, the one in Delhi in December. We have this award show every two years, the LabelExpo. At this award show whoever wins goes to the world label award show. Last year we had about 80 participants and had international judges. This year we have about 180 participants. And the quality of labels were fantastic. We were completely astonished to see the quality of the labels. So quite clearly, the quality is on par.


RR How do the awards work?
SZ It is only for members. Each member can give two entries. We have 27 categories in labels. So that’s screen printing, letterpress, flexo process, combination press, winery labels, etc. These are Finat guidelines. So it is standardised.


RR And yet, despite the continued growth of the Indian label market, there is a relatively small consumption of high value film – even countries like Vietnam have a higher percentage of filmic PS use than India.
SZ True. This could be because of the restrictions on global retail groups investing directly (FDI) in India. This makes it hard for brands in highly globalised end-use segments – notably toiletries and cosmetics, where most high value film is consumed – to realise their full potential in the Indian market. According to a report, food accounts for only 2% of PS consumption in India against almost 30% in Europe. This also explains why pharma, a huge local industry in India, accounts for most of the PS labels consumed in India.


Anand Limaye In commercial printing or book printer, printers tend to offload their work to other printers. Has it happened in the label industry or you procure orders to feed your machines?
SZ Earlier what use to happen in the label industry or rather I would say in commercial print is, people didn’t know each other because there was no forum to meet. Now most of the LMAI members are meeting. So these things have started emerging. And so, there are a few printers who offload. For instance, if I've got extra work I can offload. One reason is the younger members do not feel threatened. They are well-versed with the technology, they are quite open and frank. This is quite unlike the generation before us, who wanted to keep things to themselves and not disclose business strategies. So things are interactive. You are the boss, you come in my factory and see what you want. So things are improving and things will improve I think.


AL What about issues like anti counterfeiting, patenting and non disclosure contract with the print buyer or end user? Does that prevent offloading?
SZ It doesn’t make a difference. It’s all in your mind. I have worked abroad, I have studied abroad. I keep travelling which I am sure everyone does. I don’t see any demarcation. You can be very secretive but today things are quite open. You go to a top MNC, and they have a list of printers who are doing their jobs, so it does not really make sense. It is your quality service and your rapport with the production packaging guy.


RR Talking about narrow web flexo technology, what are the shifts which you see?
SZ I heard an interesting bit of statistic that the consumption of PS labels in India today is exactly the same as in Europe in the early 1970s, at 0.2%. But in India it will take far less than 30 years to reach current European levels of PS labels consumption. The other trends are: Indian laminators are making a transition to emulsion-based technologies and away from solvents. Furthermore filmic release liners could play a big role in India due to the recyclability factor. And finally, there's high-end prepress, automated ink mixing and unwind/rewind automation systems which converters are adapting to increase efficiency.


RR And the kind of tech support they give overseas; is it because the volumes are higher and they are able to scale up?
SZ I think they are more open, overseas. As you rightly said, once there is quality control, and a real need to reduce waste in the converting plant, then the ink company will service at the same level. So I guess things are going to improve. We will have to improve.


RR Since you have been talking of openness, and a new breed of professionals, who amongst your peers would you rate highly. Who according to you would be the top companies to watch out for?
SZ Looking at the quality, Wintek is very good. Webtech has developed a lot, they have invested into a lot of technologies, including digital and automatic systems. Any Graphics is phenomenal. This time, they won many LMAI awards. Electron Graphic at Ahmedabad is good. Then there's Zircon who have done some solid work in microtext and holographic security designs.


RR Other than quality standards, the other trend we see is the need to go multi-locational. Your comment.
SZ Multi-locations is for the convenience of the end customers. Otherwise I do not see any advantage in having multi-locations.


RR The argument is: have one strong mother plant and ancillary units in far away towns with tax rebates to support it.
SZ I don’t agree. I do not have a unit in Baddi. Perhaps I am not doing as much work as the other guys who have a unit in Baddi, but I am supplying labels to Baddi. It’s easier, because having a base in Baddi and showing them that I have one machine and giving orders. My point is, I would rather restrict my activity to one plant. I think the clients are more interested in getting the right quality, right time and right service. And above all, right price.


RR How does one explain it. Some of your competitors doing it?
SZ I have no clue how it works. I see companies having extra turnover and then the amount of machines that they invest and install high-ebd equipment. This is equivalent to their turnovers. So, I don’t understand how the mathematics works out. I have no comments on that. People have their own ways and means of doing it.


RR Offset still dominates in terms of percentage. When will the technology shift transpire?
SZ I think it should start shifting when people have a good understanding and right pricing. For example, the ink pricing in India is three times more expensive in conversion. These things are important and the support from our vendors is important.


RR Offset v/s flexo?
SZ If you look at a flexo label, and an offset label, it is at par. Whenever it is as good as offset, the reason is the education and the understanding of the technology. I have seen the flexo industries in Europe and USA, and the flexo labels are fantastic. Why is that? Because the ink guy is ready to help you out, is ready to stand next to you. You've the best of substrates. In fact when I got into flexo, I didn't know that there are different plate qualities to print half-tone and solid i.e. soft, medium and hard. This pre-press knowledge was grasped on the job. But it's so crucial. After all, if you do the right mounting, put the right plate, right anilox, you cannot go wrong.


RR Offset v/s flexo in terms of cost?
SZ Cost is important. Offset is viable. However, I feel, for high-volumes flexo is much more viable. The reason being, everything is in single pass. Be it printing, UV, die-cutting, punching. Because in offset, it cannot happen.


RR Also with flexo everything is going in-line on the press, therefore the length of the press is becoming longer.
SZ True. I have a seven-colour press, which has a 13 inch web with two stations of punching, lamination. I can print up to 350 gsm. Now that is a novelty. At the Label Show we saw people opting for eight-colours, corona treatment, screen unit. It makes sense. If you have everything online, it’s cheaper, you don’t have to keep unwinding and adding one extra process to the job.


RR People are investing in UV presses. How significant is this trend?
SZ I would not call it a trend, I have a seven-colour a flexo press, of this six-colours are water-based and the last station is UV. A similar press could have all UV stations. And so, it depends on the kinds of jobs you want to do, because UV is definitely easier to maintain, The clean-up time is not there, you can leave the inks, long run jobs are much better due to the mileage that you get out of inks.


RR Even though they are expensive ...
SZ Yes, but they are much better than water-based inks. And so those are the advantages, and you can produce much better results in UV. I wanted flexo. And I opted for a six + one configuration. I didn't want to get into UV and run into huge investments with high costs, so this what I did and I did not find any difference. For longer jobs, UV is much cheaper.


RR What about press make-ready. Earlier we struggled with dies and tolling and web tension. That has changed too ...
SZ Tooling and inks are available locally and plus the cylinders are very precise. This was not the case earlier. We get the dies in 3-4 days through courier from Spain or Germany.


RR What about flexo plates? The old debate of in-house was out-source?
SZ I was thinking about having pre-press in house. It’s a debate. I would say let people do what they expertise in. I try to concentrate on printing. There are firms like Numex who understand pre-press and service us at Navi Mumbai. I say ;eave pre-press to the experts


RR What are the new things at your company?
SZ We are into labels. We have seven machines, letterpress and two flexos. We do garment tags, which is a completely online process. So in a day about 10-lakh tags


RR You shifted to Navi Mumbai three years ago? Why?
SZ Because of the space. Now, we've a 15,000 sq/ft plot and a building with 50 people. Ideally I would like to get much more systemised. Not by buying softwares but by training people to have the right attitude, we will not accept orders very typically. Earlier we used to do so in Wadala. Accept verbal orders. But now it has to be in writing, plus a sample of the job.


RR Did clients accept it?
SZ We had many people from the textile industries who were hesitant. But it has helped me a lot. Because once the system was in place, I trained my people. Now, once we have a job, we write jobs, its serial numbers, docket number, and so on. The number describes everything about the job. From where we get the plates from, the approval, the job history. We have access to the entire schedule. It makes life easy.


RR How much would you be converting now?
SZ I think on a month two-lakh sq/mts.


RR And how much of inventory do you keep?
SZ Not much. I buy my stock from SMI, which is in Ambernath, so I get it in three days. Their godown is in close proximity, and so it is very convenient. The corrugated guys, the inks guys. Today everyone is in Navi Mumbai.


RR What about fulfillment stage - once the material is ready to move out?
SZ Ideally it should be a day, but sometimes it doesn’t happen in a day. As of now for the dispatches and the quality checks, I have manual checking. I am planning to get in inspection systems very soon. I have been talking to vendors and negotiating.


RR How would you rate India, in terms of volume?
SZ We do large volumes. But I would rate my company as medium size in quantity. I would define a typical job run to be 30,000-40,000 sq/mts. And I would say 25,000 sq/mts as mid volume. It's quite a lot.


RR What is your prediction about digital?
SZ The industry is growing. Machines are getting cheaper. Technology wise, printers are aware. I have seen a lot of offset printers getting into flexo and switching over back to offset because it is very difficult to get into flexo. Flexo is definitely the technology and digital is on the anvil too. Digital is the market. I think it can bypass flexo too. Because in digital, short runs are there, long runs are there. Someone has to take a good hard look at costings and provide the right knowledge to the end-users.


RR Will you invest in a digital press for labels?
SZ If I have 10 machines of flexo, then adding two more digital machines would not be a big deal.


RR Now coming to LMAI, what will be the highlights for 2011?
SZ Firstly, we will be hosting a conference soon. In this two-days conference we are planning to have sessions where we don’t want foreign speakers. Our aim is to address real-time issues which Indian label converters have, and their problems. We want to understand firms which have one press too. Also, as mentioned earlier we are going to publish a directory. And with the help of the LMAI and the young managers club, we are going to hold workshops every month which relate to day-to-day problems


RR What kind of role has Finat played in all this?
SZ As of now with LMAI, I don’t think Finat is involved. But three years ago, with the help of Finat we had done a Euro-exchange meet. We had European printers in Delhi. We had an interactive session. We registered printers from India.


RR Was it worth it?
SZ For me, it was a waste of time because those printers were very big. Secondly they were in India to buy out. I said sorry, I do not want to sell myself. Some wanted to sell their secondhand machines here and do work on our property. That didn’t make me happy. But one good thing that I learnt was the administration part. During the interactive sessions, I told them I am not interested in knowing your turnovers, I want to know your administration part. I want guidance from you.


RR You've travelled around the world? Where do we stand, in terms of label manufacturing?
SZ I would say almost par with the Europeans.


RR And the hurdle that we have to overcome to become the best ....
SZ The right attitude!


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