Dina reigns in Chennai KM-1 revolution

Sitting in his new three-storeyed KM Tower, which houses South East Asia’s first Konica Minolta B2 AccurioJet KM-1 inkjet press, M Dinakaran, managing director of Dina Color Lab, one of Tamil Nadu’s fastest growing digital print chain, talks exclusively to Sriraam Selvam, about the press, its possibilities and the revolution he hopes to trigger.

First of all, congratulations on this monumental investment. I think the first question on all our minds is what prompted you to choose KM-1?
First and foremost, the trust we have in Konica Minolta (KM) was the key factor in this decision. When we decided to invest in a B2 digital press we did look at other options but noted that they suited the photo segment and our requirement was an all-powerful press which is proven in commercial. Incidentally, the KM-1 we were told that works well for commercial, photo and does one better and can be utilized for packaging printing needs too. Considering the fact that we are one of the leaders in the photo printing segment and surely catching up in the commercial digital market we thought the KM-1 presents a window, rather large one, to enter the digital packaging segment too.
How does the Accuriojet KM-1 fit Dina’s business model? Hub and spoke? Applications? What size of the job will qualify for KM-1?
Well, we did not have any specific purpose to buy the press but once we had made the decision to buy it, we came up with a series of ideas. Since it utilizes UV inks we are going to be providing photo printing that is long lasting. In fact I’d say its chances of fading are almost zero, unlike any other printing process available in the market. In commercial market also it presents a unique opportunity with KM’s pricing model. It is ink-based and not the prevalent click charge model which is variable and reduces the cost derived based on coverage area. This allows us to compete with any print business.
Does this change your current pricing model in any way?
We will soon be launching a franchise model across Tamil Nadu. Initially, it will begin as an experiment where each and every district will have a franchise for photo jobs. Then another model for digital commercial/offset jobs which will be about collecting the requirement and sending it to a central office by evening and the delivery will be at the doorstep the next day. We will be providing crown size (15×20-inch) at seven rupees per copy which is similar to our commercial digital print pricing and hope to capture a larger market with this pricing. We expect this to take off next month. We are also providing our machines to corporates on a rental basis.
Tell us about the decision making and what sparked this purchase?
This project started when I noticed few of my peers procuring offset presses to add capacity. My initial thought was to buy four to six offset presses – one for each major center or buy a B2 digital press and support all requirements from the hub. I spoke to the major players, mainly KM and HP. Both of them recommended digital technology with the future in mind and also since they know my style of business too. Some of my team members checked out the Indigo 12000 too. My challenge with the Indigo 12000 is the sheets that are right out of the press are not sellable prints. Having said that, the Indigo 12000 is definitely good for photo prints QUV ink means KM-1 can print onto offset standard papers and also plastics.
Are you looking at label and packaging applications with this machine?
Of course, like I said one of the factors for us choosing the KM-1 is its versatility, its wide range of media option and not to forget its capability to print on media up to 600gsm gives us the opportunity to enter the packaging segment. We have even gone ahead and procured a digital cutting table for packaging sample making. Short-run jobs for packaging is also in progress over the last few weeks.
Any other print segment that you have thought of?
Short-run book printing is also a segment which I believe could bring very good business to us. Again, the pricing model (ink-based) will help us thrive in this market. I will go a step forward in saying that (short-run) book printing in itself will be revolutionized by KM-1 and you will see more books produced with color than ever before when compared to single-color books that are prevalent now.
Can you explain how and why book printing will change?
First, the biggest size that can be printed is six letter sizes or 12 A5 sizes which is the regular book sizes. Second, the cost of color printing in the regular production presses is higher compared to this press. Lastly, the charges are based on yield wherein books consist of a lower quantity of yield thereby making it viable for book printing.
Have you analyzed the difference in costing for book printing?
Of course, we have not only arrived at the costing but also shared it with our customers and signed a few contracts with top publishers we have never worked with before for color books. In the normal click charge-based costing, you would be charged Rs 4 per click for a press bought at Rs 40 lakhs whereas we will be able to charge the same Rs 4 for A3 size to a customer, which is why I mentioned earlier that we are going to see more colour books and the segment is going to be revolutionised. This will, in fact, be the lowest price offering in the market.
What about the printing in volumes?
KM-1’s huge volume capability also contributed to the cause. At a capacity of 3000 sph/ of B2+ size we are more than confident of handling any demand. We are putting to use our existing MGI JetVarnish for embellishing the book wrappers. To ensure the turnaround times are lowered, we have even moved our MGI JetVarnish to the same facility. So, right now we are producing jobs printed on the KM-1 and book wrappers enhanced on the JetVarnish.
Do you see advantages for the KM-1 over the B2-size offset press?
I do not know much about the offset business but my understanding is they do about 20-25 jobs per day. These are typically short-run jobs of about 1000 to 2000 copies and 60% of the business is below 1,000 copies. So, in the case of KM-1, up to 500 copies can be printed at offset cost and that too without makeready time or cost. I’d in fact say we would be cheaper for the 400-500 copies jobs in terms of cost. The customers can walk-in and get it delivered on demand unlike a minimum of day’s turnaround time for offset. In fact, keeping up commitments is one of the hallmark of digital houses and we will be able to do that even better with this press.
What about the oft-spoken inkjet versus toner printing?
I’d start with the main difference – colour gamut. The toner technology, I think, still has broader colour gamut, which is why it does not work well for the photo segment. Also, like I’d mentioned the prints from the KM-1’s UV inks are longer lasting while toner print quality tends to fade. With these advantages, we are still able to match toner print prices of above 100 copies. We don’t want to be a competition to our own business (laughs). In terms of quality, the output from the KM-1 is much better than the toner prints.
Can you elaborate about the experience with UV inks?
I would be repeating myself but the fact that the prints from UV inks are long lasting and has minimal chances of fading is the topmost advantage. It also prints on almost any media, even specialized media like Tyvek, MetPET, which cannot be used on any other digital press. Even though HP Indigo can print on Teslin, we have noticed that it tends to crack on fusing (for making id cards).
We haven’t faced that issue with this press so far thanks to the ink being used. You can say the UV inks are KM exclusive but I have confidence in the company especially with the fact that they have installed more than 30 KM-1 machines throughout the world.
Tell us about your site visit to see the KM-1 in action and what impressed you the most?
We visited KM’s Japanese demo center in November with a long list of questions ranging from the technology, the inks, and the resolution among others. We had collated based on my interaction with competitors, fellow printers, suppliers and print engineers. The most satisfying aspect of the visit was that KM’s team had answers and solutions to all the questions that I threw at them.
Can you give us specific questions that you posed to the KM team?
I was told that the prints from the KM-1 produced a very small tail on the dots printed instead of it being a perfect round. This I was told was because of the speed of the press. I noticed this on the sample print they showed me and I immediately took this up with the engineers there. To my surprise, they acknowledged the anomaly and within an hour of our discussion it was rectified and we haven’t faced the situation ever since. Since it is a new technology I see that there is room for improvement and KM is doing exactly that – perfecting it with every passing day. In my personal experience, after Kodak, I find Konica Minolta to be the only company which keenly listens to customer feedback and takes swift action.
Now that the installation is over, do you think you made the right decision?
Of course! In fact, the quality has vastly improved from since my visit to the demo center in November. I have noticed improvements in software, firmware etc, making the prints better than the ones I saw in Japan. Back then, we saw photo prints mainly with matte finish but now it is able to do glossy finishes too. Even the first print of a job is sellable thereby keeping wastage to a bare minimum. We are hoping it continues this way even with continuous production. This is a very significant factor and improvement to the press.
Any other improvements post-installation that you have noticed?
One significant improvement that I noticed is about the alignment on gathering post-print. During my visit, the gathering was not aligned to the same section, it was different and needed manual intervention to set it right. I had pointed it out and stressed to the team that at this output size handling the media would not be easy.
When they delivered the machine that aspect was taken care of with an aligner. This is exactly what I mean by KM listening to clients. They have gone one step further by deploying an engineer for a month to ensure we have the handholding to test the different kind of media and provide us with necessary solution. I don’t think other companies make such effort.
Can you talk about a job that you have printed on KM-1 so far?
We usually do 12,000 to 14,000 albums per month and we also add a B2-size laminated frame and a calendar along with every album. We printed this set of calendars on the KM-1. The biggest challenge we would have faced in any other B2 press was that of laminating every photo printed for the calendar, whereas this print is both scratch-proof and waterproof. This allows me to sell the print as is without any post process like lamination or UV or aqueous coating etc.
What has been your experience testing with varied media?
We have tested more than 30 different media and have found all the results to be satisfactory. I think the reason of its effective handling of media is because the UV inks do not indulge with media and sits on top of the substrate thereby making it almost media-agnostic. Most of the other technology fuses the ink to the substrate which results in several challenges.
B2-size inkjet is said to replace the 20×28-inch size commercial offset printing. This is what toner digital printing (electrophotography) was also expected to do but that never happened. What kind of transformation do you think Dina’s KM-1 will bring about in Indian commercial print sector and how?
I think the transition to digital is already happening with a majority of the short-run jobs moving to the digital technology. I think with further improvements to the KM-1 and I think inclusion of a continuous feed would further reduce costs. The ability to provide personalization and area segmentation for advertisement has only increased the need to go digital.
Any challenges that you want KM to address in the press?
There was the challenge of lamination but that has also been addressed. The team from Max Specialty Films has carried out special R&D and have produced a special product for KM-1 which will now work for all UV inks. Though the print per se does not require lamination, there is a customer demand for the super glossy finish, so we need to provide the requisite solution and I am glad it has been taken care of.
How has the market and your customers responded to the KM-1?
We started the process several months back and now we have started production for those customers too. Apart from that we have had walk-ins who were so impressed with the output and have been giving us continuous export orders of minimum 100 copies per design in the last couple of weeks.
How does the rental model work?
Depending on the print volume, we send the suitable press to the customer and charge them based on time-frame and volume.
What kind of software support has KM provided with the press?
It is a proprietary KM controller for the servers which has excellent ripping quality at par to the machine’s rated speed. As for color management, we have not had the need to recalibrate or adjust and the output is still at the expected quality. The press has an inline densitometer and KM is adding an external calibrator FD-09 to aid with the color management.
Any thoughts on the web-to-print model?
We have invested in KM’s web-to-print software which will soon be launched for B2C, B2B and corporate clients. While B2C is already popular, B2B will see other print shops, and our franchisee etc upload the job and get it delivered from the nearest Dina Digital Print center across Tamil Nadu. The corporate module will allow a company to have a login to print its business cards, letterheads and covers wherein the employees of the company will have a personalization software to design their own cards etc.
Are you on target for your 20 commercial print centers for this year?
The goal line has actually moved. Including this, we are now 15 centers strong and a few more are expected to be added in the coming weeks. I think the target now is to reach 40 centers as soon as possible.
What are your print volumes now?
At the moment we are doing more than 40,000 sheets per day for color prints and about 70,000 to 80,000 prints for single-color prints. Incidentally, the print volumes for our photo printing business has also grown significantly since every centre doubles up as a hub for photo printing jobs. I think what was envisaged 10 years ago of photo and commercial printing becoming one is finally taking shape. Inkjet, which was spoken of as becoming the true revolution in digital print is also finally in place.
From being an established photo print provider, how did the jump to commercial print provider happen?
Like you said, we were only into the photo printing segment. I knew Vasu (SR Vasudevan, regional manager of Konica Minolta) from his Monotech days and one fine day he was at our office dejected after losing an order for the Bizhub 1085. A long conversation with him led to another and I asked him to give me and my centre managers a presentation of the opportunity in commercial digital business. It was he who christened Dina Digital Prints. That machine (1085) which was ordered and ready for the lost order was then sold to us and that became our first commercial digital press. When it was delivered we did not even have a proper location to install it. The first two months were challenging since we did not have the expertise or know-how of the segment but then we decided to take a punt with a second machine at Trichy. That centre was a huge hit from the day one and set the tone for us. We even ventured to the print hub of Sivakasi where no one gave us a chance but now it is one of our most successful centres. Currently, we have more than twenty commercial digital presses from KM.
Tell us about this phenomenal growth you achieved?
I wouldn’t call it phenomenal or aggressive, we have to work as hard as possible every day and that is all we have been doing. I still think there is so much potential and opportunity and hopefully, we are not slow to tap them. The competition in Chennai I think is unhealthy but we have to take it in our stride and look to doing our best. I think the leader should be almost twice the size of his nearest competition.
Have you achieved the position of the leader?
Not at all! I think like all of our competitors we are working towards that goal and maybe when we have more than 40 centers we will be close to that position of strength. It is dependent on various factors including support from KM, technology, economical condition and political climate.

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