India. Everything is possible

This may seem crazy but before heading to Dusseldorf later this summer to see the latest, fastest, most whizziest printing tech at Drupa, I first went to India, starting off in Mumbai for the Pamex show and a dose of reality at the sharp end of commercial printing. 

India is a country in flux, with change everywhere and its people in a huge hurry to develop as fast as possible. There are huge building projects everywhere, new metro systems being put in, new highways and high rise blocks springing up everywhere. There is dust and chaos and people constantly hustling, desperate to sell you something, anything. And there is noise, from car horns, and whistles, and large trucks and more car horns constantly blaring. 

But most of all there is life, bursting out of every corner, an irrepressible thirsting, thrusting, vibrant, rough, multi-coloured lust for life that is exhilarating to be part of. India is forging ahead with plans to attract more high-tech investment, including semi-conductor fabrication. The country has established a $10 billion chip manufacturing scheme, which offers up to 50 percent of costs in an effort to attract investment into this sector. And it’s working, with reports that the Israeli chip manufacturer Tower Semiconductor is proposing to build a chip plant in India for around $8 million, according to the Indian newspaper, the Sunday Express. 

India has also joined the American-led Minerals Security Partnership, alongside the UK and EU. This aims to counter the Chinese dominance in the supply of rare minerals. There’s a strong automotive sector and the country is also investing in battery technology. It’s still dependent on Chinese batteries but the prices of electric cars are coming down.

There are a lot of hand painted trucks on the highways, sometimes with helpful messages to blow your horn or use dipped lights at night, and sometimes just with decorative and highly individual patterns. But the logos and brand advertising are also hand painted onto the sides of the trucks with very little evidence that India has yet embraced digitally-printed vehicle graphics, surely a huge market that’s largely untapped. On the other hand, many of the people I spoke with said they liked the hand painted nature of these graphics and the fact that each was slightly unique. The same aesthetic also applies to advertising on highways, with marketing messages painted directly onto concrete bridges and walls.

But Pamex, which is mainly focussed around commercial print, is perhaps not the best place to see large format printing, especially since Sign India will be running next week in Mumbai. There were a few large format devices at the Pamex show, with both Roland and Mimaki machines in evidence, while Arrow Digital showed off an EFI Pro 30H Hybrid and Monotech had a Pixel Jet UV flatbed. Otherwise, there was a lot of smaller digital production printers and offset printing, mostly plates and platesetters, as well as post press equipment, which I will come to in a follow-up to this story.

Kodak India, from left: Bhalchandra Nikumb, sales director; Masanori Koizumi, vice president of sales for the Asia Pacific region; and Tapan Paul, business development manager for software.

But I’m going to start with Kodak, which offered an interesting overview of the Indian market. The company had a relatively small stand with pictures rather than actual kit to represent its portfolio. Masanori Koizumi, Kodak’s vice president of sales for the Asia Pacific region, says that Kodak has fully recovered from the Covid pandemic but notes: “In order to focus on the most important parts of the business we sometimes had to abandon some legacy areas like Nexpress and some CtP and plate products and to narrow down the portfolio to get through the difficult times with Covid and the market challenges”.

He added that Kodak is equally focussed on both the offset and digital print markets: “We are investing in the key product areas.” Consequently he says that Kodak’s Drupa offering will concentrate on the new Ultra 520 single pass inkjet press printing onto a range of different stocks. 

He added: “India is a kind of dreamy country. I see the market shrinking in Japan, China and parts of the Asia pacific region but India is still growing and the printing industry in India is still growing. So I see a bright future here.”

Bhalchandra Nikumb, sales director for Kodak India, says that Indian customers are generally more interested in Kodak’s CtP range rather than its inkjet printers, adding: “The newspaper market is coming back a little from the Covid reduction. There’s a lot of advertising and that is helping the bigger newspapers to come back.”

Kodak has also found that the book printing market is recovering with Koizumi noting that Indian book printers export heavily to other countries so they are less dependent on the Indian market. He says that book printers are more interested in short runs in order to cut the cost of warehousing printed stock. It’s also worth noting that Kodak does have a lot of inkjet printheads installed in India, mostly on digital solutions for book printing and transactional printing.

Aniket Rane, a colour management consultant

I also bumped into Aniket Rane, a colour management consultant, who explained that India is a very cost sensitive market, noting: “Whoever can give you the lowest price will get the work.” He says that the Indian market became saturated after 2015 so the prices dropped too much to make a decent living, adding: “You need volume to get the lower price.”

There was plenty of evidence at the show of printers turning to post-press embellishments to add value. However, Rane says that it’s harder for smaller companies to use effects and embellishments because the cost of the embellishment machines requires a further capital investment: “In India you have to be careful whether it will be ready affordable in the long run because the interest rates are very high.” He explains that in theory the interest rates might be around 6 percent but that in practice most printers will end up paying 12-13 percent. Nor is leasing a good option as this can leave printers tied into a long contract, which can end up being even more expensive.

This also explains why many of the digital solutions offered in India appear to be targeted at the entry level market. Gurjit Singh Dhingra, assistant director for marketing and sales for Canon India, told me that the sales in India are split roughly 50/50 between conventional and digital equipment. Canon itself showed off its V-series ImagePress production printers, including the latest V1350. Elsewhere, Xerox brought a broad range of its smaller MFDs together with an Iridesse, while Fujifilm showed off its toner-based Revoria presses, including both the PC1120 and the monochrome EC1100, as well as several of the smaller Apeos printers that are primarily aimed at the office and corporate imprinting markets. 

Sharp showed off a new monochrome production printer, the MX-M1206, which takes sheets up to SRA3+. This is aimed at the busy office/ light production markets. The resolution is 1200 x 1200 dpi. It can print at up to 120 A4 simplex pages per minute and there’s a second variant – the M1056 – which is identical except that the speed is limited to 105ppm. Naturally, the speed halves for duplexing.

There’s a range of finishing options including a folder, that’s capable of C- and Z-folding as well as accordion and half folds, plus a booklet maker that can put staples in the centre, sides or corner. There’s also an inserter that can be used to add colour covers to black and white pages. There’s a choice of software, with a basic RIP developed by Sharp or a more comprehensive Fiery front end.

Deepak Victor Clifford, senior manager for production printers for Sharp Business Systems India

Deepak Victor Clifford, senior manager for production printers for Sharp Business Systems India, says: “We have just launched this product and are in the process of launching a colour one.” He adds: “Our main focus is on education and corporates.”

He estimates the colour model is still about five months away. He says that it is essentially a CMYK variant of the monochrome device, but takes a different sheet size up to 13x19ins. This appears to be the BP-90C, which is already available in Europe and comes in two models so that users can choose a maximum speed of 70 or 80 A4 simplex ppm.

Sharp has a second, much larger colour printer, the BP-1200S, which is a rebadged Fujifilm Revoria PC1120. This model was shown at last year’s Printing United show in the US. However, Clifford says: “We have already started selling that product in the US market. But we don’t know when it will be in India.”

Clifford says that Sharp has been in India for more than two decades, pointing out that the company also sells air purifiers and interactive displays as well as office and production printers.

Monotech, which is one of the largest and best known Indian OEMs, has developed an entry level embellishment device under its own Pixel branding called the Pixel Glow, which it claims is the first digital UV and foiling device to be produced in India. Tej Prakash Jain, managing director of Monotech, explained: “It’s a fully digital solution with inkjet heads to put the UV ink down on the print. We put a registration mark on the print, then there’s the auto feeder and after that we have the foiling and the transfer.”

The Pixel Glow is fitted with Ricoh Gen5 printheads. It uses a fairly standard approach to the transfer, by partly curing the UV inks so that the ink is still tacky enough to grip and pull the foil off where needed.

Monotech is also a distributor for Scodix so the Pixel Glow gives the company options for both ends of the market. Monotech also showed the PixelFoil, which is designed to add foiling effects to screen printing. This is available in 24 and 32ins sizes

Tej Prakash Jain, managing director of Monotech.

In addition, Monotech, which is a distributor for Ricoh, also showed the Pro C7500 and C9500 toner production presses. Both of these were announced worldwide last year and have proven to be very popular in India, particularly the C7500, which has a fifth colour station with a choice of colours and effects including metallics. Jain says that he is hoping to bring the new Ricoh inkjet models to India but is waiting while Ricoh continues its roll-out and early sales, adding: “The issue will be the capital cost in India.”

Konica Minolta had a large and busy stand, split into several distinct areas. This included a C14000 production press that seemed to get a lot of attention. Manish Gupta, senior product marketing manager for Konica Minolta India, says that there are two KM1 inkjet presses in India but that the majority of customers opt for toner devices, adding: “Because the cost is lower and customers mostly look at capital costs. The interest rates are very high so the cost of money is very high. They don’t worry about the labour costs.”

There was also an AccurioLabel 400 narrow web press. Interestingly, this was fitted with winders from the Chinese supplier Brotech Digital Graphics, rather than the GM winders that Konica Minolta normally favours in Europe and the US.

Gupta says that the label market in India is growing, noting: “In the early stages the commercial printers were adopting digital but the label customers were slow. Maybe over time as the profitability goes up then will adopt digital faster.”

Konica Minolta demonstrated this MGI AccurioShine 3600 complete with iFoilOne option.

Konica Minolta also used the show to promote MGI’s digital enhancement devices, with an AccurioShine 3600 with iFoil One option on the stand.

Hisatomo Nii, assistant manager for Konica Minolta’s Industrial Print division, told me that Konica Minolta is facing stiff competition from other Japanese digital printer vendors and that the MGI devices could help give its customers an edge over their competition. He points out that the A3 format is enough for most customers. 

Gupta says that the MGI devices can be used with conventional print but estimates that 75-85 percent are sold to digital printers, adding: “The majority of these are Konica Minolta customers because we have the relationship but they also go to other digital manufacturers and conventional presses as well.”

There were a lot of very good samples shown to illustrate that short run jobs combined with special effects could create high value products to offset the capital investment needed. This included, for example, bottles with shrink sleeves and hot foiling added on top of that, as well as some highly decorated trays that resulted from a hydro transfer method where the image is transferred in hot water, so that the carrier substrate melts away and the image bonds to the object via a binder coating.  

Nii says that the most popular MGi device in India is the AccurioShine 3600. He showed me a box produced for a customer selling sweets at the airport, adding: “They saw a 300 percent growth in sales when they added spot varnish to the box.”

Madhu Sudan Dadu, the founder and managing director of ColorJet

ColorJet was listed amongst the exhibitors but the stand actually belonged to its Indian distributor, Apsom Infotex, which mostly showed a range of Roland DG rollfed printers. However I did have the chance to chat there with Madhu Sudan Dadu, the founder and managing director of ColorJet, who explained that Pamex is not really the best show for textile printers. 

Dadu explained: “India is a textile country so the majority of our sales is in India, for reactive and viscose. We started with manufacturing of reactive printers and we were more in the entry end. Now we have a high speed productive machine with 32 heads.”

The high speed printer, the Earth, was shown at last year’s Itma show and has been designed as a more sustainable solution. There’s a choice between 16 and 32 printheads with the heads themselves coming from Konica Minolta (though ColorJet also works with Kyocera for heads).

Naturally Colorjet will return to Amsterdam next month for the Fespa show so I expect to cover the company in more detail there. That said, Dadu did point out that the conflict in the Red Sea area is affecting shipping, which is making it harder for him to get machines to Amsterdam in time for Fespa. This is something that many vendors from outside Europe will have to take into account, for both Fespa and Drupa.

In the next part of this report I’ll cover some of the narrow web solutions that were shown in Mumbai along with more context on working in the Indian market.


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