I must here appreciate and commend Amar Chhajed of Huhtamaki PPL-Webtech labels for his foresight when he said digital printing in labels will become evident in 2-3 years. He said this in May 2015 and two years hence as we are in the third year since then, we note that some big time investments are being made in digital printing in labels.
Digital printing in labels has been registering continuous growth in Europe, followed by that in North America. In my reporting on the last drupa, I had quoted Adrian Tippenhauer Managing Director of Rako Etiketten Germany. According to him the last 36 label presses acquired by them out of the 100s that they have, are all digital presses. If the Labelexpo Europe and drupa are indicators, the visitors to these shows can very well imagine the way forward. Digital was the most predominantly exhibited technology at these events. HP became the biggest exhibitor at drupa with an almost 5000 square meter hall showcasing their digital offerings. Other leading suppliers of digital label presses were all there.
So the writing was on the wall that it would not be long before the trend starts to flourish in India. Indian label printers have been very cautious towards investing in digital printing of labels. However as they say, you cannot stop an idea whose time has come. When I researched and estimated the size of digital label market in India, the findings became interesting. By latest count the population of leading brands of digital label presses in India has reached 22 in number. This is besides the small low value printers that some companies may have acquired. Now this is a fairly impressive figure when just a year back we had the industry largely saying that digital has to wait.
Estimating the size of the digital label market I made some assumptions. The average width of the press was taken as 330mm (as widths vary from 250 mm to 370 mm), printing speed is calculated at an average of 30 running meters per minute, because it varies from 20 to 50 meters per minute for different brands and working hours assumed at 12 hours per day. This amounts to a total consumption in the industry for digitally printed labels of over 52 million square meters in a year. Self adhesive labels form the largest part of total label market which include besides self adhesive labels, shrink sleeves, wraparound labels, wet glue labels, in mold labels, etc. In October 2016 I had estimated the total Indian label industry size (mostly conventional) at almost 900 million square meters per annum. This translates into to almost 5.8 % of the total self adhesive labels in India to be printed digitally; conservatively we can assume the figure to be 5%. This surely indicates that for digital label printing in India, the journey has begun!
In the last edition of LMAI’s magazine Label Legacy, Gautham Pai Managing Director of Manipal Technologies said, “Digital printing offers a plethora of opportunities for both the suppliers and the clients. With the Indian market trending towards more customized products, a large number of brands, shorter turnaround times and more ecologically sustainable solutions, Digital printing would prove to be one hallmark technology for the label Industry.”
Manipal Technologies has an HP Indigo installed at its subsidiary UPSL in Chennai. The deterrent so far for the label industry to invest in digital printing equipment has been the high cost of consumables and the end price to consumer including margins, as not being acceptable. However the evolving retail selling patterns and consumables becoming more affordable, the technology is now more relevant. As run lengths continue to shrink, short runs being more in demand and customization or personalization needs become imperative to modern day marketing; it is driving printers to think digital. Added requirement for variable data on the labels that helps companies to track and trace their products, brings about the compelling need to complement their analog printing with digital printing.
In words of Narendra Paruchuri of Pragati Pack Hyderabad, who has installed an HP Indigo WS6800, “One of things that all of us must understand and appreciate is that both digital and analog will co-exist. Digital’s greatest advantage is variable data printing. Short runs are cheaper. So the areas are clearly ear marked.” Digital printing of packaging and labels is growing at an enormous pace in the western world. We have touched the tip of an iceberg; it will not be long before the trend picks up in India as well.
The ease of use and consistency in print reached in this technology makes it interesting for established printers to indulge. Pravin Savla of J P Printers Mumbai is ecstatic that he invested in an Epson Surepress. He says, “I can print good quality on a variety of substrates using the computer to print capability. He caters to his customer base that demands short runs with so many design changes and is still profitable.” He further adds that reduced need of manpower helps him manage well with ample time on his hands. He says conventional flexo and letterpress technologies are time consuming and have hidden costs.
Yet another Epson customer Arvind Shekhar of Sai Packaging Bangalore says, “We have had good experience for short run jobs defined as less than 20,000 labels for bigger size and 50,000 for smaller pharma labels and we have never had colour consistency issues with Epson.”
Adding to the views of Narendra Paruchuri, Arvind states, “I don’t' see it as a standalone ROI. When you see increased sales on flexo plus plate costs saved; then the ROI makes sense.”
Denver Annunciation from Janus International, perhaps the very first label printer to install an HP Indigo label press, says, “Yes, the technology has evolved a lot and we are seeing the crossover point shift higher."
While those in the process of acquiring capabilities in digital remain tightlipped, others like Raveendran of Sel Jegat Sivakasi, Manjunath of Global Printing Bangalore and Rajesh Nema of Pragati Graphics Indore say they are studying the technology and will invest in the near future.
While calculating the number of digital label presses in India, I have not taken into account the presses that are not operational. Out of the 22 presses, the bulk of the share goes to HP Indigo that employ Electrophotography as the print process, which is similar to offset printing using liquid inks.
Electrophotography and inkjet are both improving in quality and speed, and evolution and further developments are challenging the dominance of other printing processes like offset, wide web flexo and gravure. Thirteen presses amounting to 59% of the total digital label press installations in India are HP indigo. This is followed by five Epson SurePress L-4033AWs that use water-based inks and is suitable for segments such as pharmaceutical, cosmetics and food, amongst others. The press uses a seventh white ink to print the transparent no-label look, as well as metallic labels. The opaque white printing on materials, such as clear film and metallic substrates, has the flexibility of printing white first or last. Epson accounts for almost 23% of the installations, two Xeikons account for 9% and one each from durst and EFI accounting for 4.5% each.
59% of all the digital label presses installed are in the West Zone, 23% in South and 18% in North. Out of the 13 HP Indigo label presses working in India, seven are installed in the West: One at Janus International Mumbai, one at Diadeis Alia (formerly Alia Creative Consultants) Mumbai, two at Astron Packaging Ahmedabad, one at Essel Propack Mumbai, one at Trigon Digital Mumbai and one at Skanem Interlabels Mumbai. Four HP Indigos are installed in the South: one at Pragati Pack Hyderabad, one at Pravesha Hyderabad, one with Huhtamaki (SGRE Labels) Bangalore and one at Manipal Technologies (UPSL) Chennai. Two of the HP Indigos are in North: One at Hora Art Centre Noida and one at Moser Baer Noida (working). Out of the five Epson SurePresses, one is installed in the South at Sai Packaging Bangalore others are in the West zone with one at Trigon Digital Mumbai, one at J P Printers Mumbai, one at Syndicate Printers Goa and one with a customer in Pune. Of the two Xeikons installed, one is with Huhtamaki PPL-Webtech Labels in Mumbai and one with Kwality Offset New Delhi. The only EFI Jetrion installed is with Reynders in Chopanki in the North and the only Durst is with Astron Packaging in Ahmedabad. I have accounted for most of the recognized brands of digital label presses in India.
Further of data I have compiled shows nine out of 20, i.e. 45%, of the companies who indulged in digital label printing are either multinationals or corporates and the remaining 11 are family-owned businesses. It is interesting to note that at least seven out of the 11 companies have the young generation next either in command or actively involved in day-to-day affairs of the company. So evidently it is the corporate mindset or the youth that is driving the march into digital printing of labels in India.
About the author: Harveer Sahni is Managing Director for Weldon Celloplast Limited, based in New Delhi, India.