“If you look at the converting industry’s history, up till now it was dominated by rotogravure printing machines. Around a few thousand rotogravure printing machines are running in India, and at the same time around 100 CI Flexo presses are running in the country. But if you see the trend in Europe, it is more towards the surface printing and more towards the monomaterial packaging and nearly 25% could be with the CI Flexo presses. In India also, we would be following that trend in the coming days. Echaar invested all their energy into the development of CI Flexo machines for the first time in India,” observes Utpal Pathak who has recently joined Echaar Equipments as senior manager business development. Pathak, aged 56, is a veteran with over 30 years of experience in the flexible packaging industry. He is not only a mechanical engineer but also a plastics engineer.
At the recently concluded PackPlus exhibition from 7 to 9 July at New Delhi’s Pragati Maidan Kirti Panchal, managing director of Echaar Equipments noted, “As our business and market reach is expanding, and we are getting more and more business opportunities – we feel that we need to expand our team, not only for sales but also for after sales support because any manufacturing organization is known by the kind of sales and service support that they provide. For Northern and Western India, we have Utpal Pathak with us and in similar capability we have R Adwin, who is going to look after the five Southern states and also the Sri Lankan market. Our strength is increasing not only from the machine building side, but we also have added personnel now who have vast experience in plastic materials, films and flexible packaging.”
Transformation of the Indian hygiene segment
According to the latest data from MarketResearch.com, the Indian personal hygiene market generated total revenue of US$ 3,612.5 million in 2020 (approximately Rs 28,816 crore), with a CAGR of 8.3% between 2016 and 2020. Rapid urbanization, large population, increased awareness due to Covid-19 pandemic and social media forums and increasing disposable income have lead to the steep hike in this segment.
“The hygiene industry is coming up very well in India because the country is changing. More machine directed oriented (MDO) units are part of blown film lines coming to India, and the flexible packaging converters are able to produce a very high-quality LD film using MDO units, which can replace polyester. These MDO printed films have very-high transparency like polyester and are set to change the course of business but it will take time as India’s capacity and investment in polyester is huge.
“Eight MDO film lines have come to India and more are on their way. The sooner you have the MDO lines, the sooner people will go to PE lamination. Our machines are capable to handle and print on the LD films produced on the MDO lines. There are companies in India who produce these LD films on MDO lines, even though a single MDO line means a straight investment of Rs 30 crore,” adds Ramesh Panchal, chairman Echaar Equipments.
“Our CI flexo machine can handle the thinnest paper – it can print stretchable film or breathable film, then you can easily print on any thin paper. Of course, there is a challenge with the thicker paper, so we can print 200 to 220 gsm board. What Echaar demonstrated during its Open House and in various customer trials is that our machines are capable to print on any challenging substrate and the most common substrates,” adds Kirti Panchal.
Echaar machines are now able to print on 20 micron LD film which is primarily used for the outside wrappers for diaper production and many other hygiene products. The 11 gsm breathable film, which was earlier imported, is now being produced and printed in India. “India is a big market, so we can save a lot of cost and even if we save one product from being imported, it translates into a lot of foreign exchange saved,” he adds.
As good as offset
The older brother, Ramesh Panchal speaks about the gradual shift from plastic to paper for some packaging materials in India, “I think it is going to happen in a large volume, we are going to convert a very big volume of flexible packaging into paper substrates. Paper is the in thing – many people come up with paper bag making but more and more solutions are now being offered. Eventually, it is up to the brand owners to shift to paper.
Echaar’s machines are capable of printing on both film and paper. “Echaar’s new machines can print on paper equally good as offset so that you cannot distinguish if the job is done on offset or CI Flexo. We are providing one machine which is extremely versatile and can do everything – labels and packaging printing. For the Smart machine we have received the first order from an Ahmedabad-based company. We are offering a smaller width, the advantage of which is that it will do both labels and flexible packaging. If someone is making an investment, both his purposes are solved,” explains Kirti Panchal.
“If you compare the investment to the production output, a CI Flexo is more economical than offset machines. Offset machines are very costly compared to these machines and you are getting the quality. We are putting all our efforts in educating converters about CI Flexo – we are participating in packaging and printing fairs and exhibitions and seminars both nationally and internationally.
Nevertheless, it will take time for people to learn what is CI Flexo and its capabilities through trials. Big companies, of course, know because they have good knowledge exchange, but smaller brands and converters are sometimes not able to come away from their business due to time limitations, but these type of forums can help them,” he adds.
Sales are happening
Echaar Equipments took almost two-three years to launch its first machine – the Flexodelight HL 400 because it was not only making the machine but also learning the technology. The first machine was successfully supplied to Kalyani Packaging in Kolkata, where it is now operating for more than a year. In the meantime Echaar has built a second machine – the Flexomaster 500. The company has sold two of its machines recently – one CI Flexo to an Ahmedabad-based company and a stack flexo machine for a Bangalore-based company.
“Currently, one machine is ready to deliver to the customer and three machines are under production. The Ahmedabad-based company did a thorough verification of our machines through a complete trial. The company also tried CI Flexo machines from international companies in Germany, Spain and Switzerland, and got back to us and said that, ‘the quality that we were printing on this machine was amazing, and with the price that you are offering, it is a good thing for India,’” the Panchals recount.
“Our machines are 35 to 45% more economical than the European machines especially if you see the build quality and dryers and automation features, plus for European you have the import duty, freight charges, service cost, and parts replacement cost. Here, with local service support you get the machine. We offer many advantages, but customers will come slowly as they take time to digest a new company.
“We are not only building the high-cost machines, we are also offering quality stack flexo machines. Echaar is going to be a supplier to all segments in the coming future including lamination, gravure, stack flexo and CI Flexo,” Kirti Panchal, the younger brother concludes.
The company is now trying to set up a knowledge and customer experience center which can help the converting industry to take a step in the right direction. The experience center will share the firm’s experience and knowledge with converters who sign up for their consulting services.