Walking theTalk with Printcare

Sri Lanka’s leading packaging company invests in India


the world’s third largest tea tag maker. The board packaging plant designed by a Dutch architect and constructed with exposed wire-cut red brick and glass contained a pressroom with gravure
We first visited Printcare in Kelaniya on the outskirts of Colombo in 2003. We were totally bowled over by what was at the time, the world’s third largest tea tag maker. The board packaging plant designed by a Dutch architect and constructed with exposed wire-cut red brick and glass contained a pressroom with gravure, flexo, and offset presses running side-by-side. This was the first time we had seen the three technologies running together, and it added to our inkling that what we were seeing was the future.

The modernity of the plant was visible – fewer people in the production environment with perfect housekeeping. One of several automated multicolour Heidelberg presses was screened off by a grey curtain – being taken apart for preventive maintenance in a six-monthly routine that could take up to a fortnight so that the machines could be run with maximum performance and at full speed 24 by 7. We saw Printcare’s factory trained engineers and technicians working on even small-geared parts for cleaning and checking. A small part of the return on Printcare’s annual expenditure of 5 million Sri Lankan Rupees for employee training.

The hardware at the time included two gravure lines and eight narrow web flexo lines specially converted and equipped for the printing of tea tags, sachets, and envelopes for tea bag packaging. The gravure cylinders were imported from Germany and the cutting and creasing dies from Switzerland. The offset presses for printing the tea cartons (amongst other export packaging products) included 28 Heidelberg units with a brand new CD102 press that had the first CPC2000 system not only in Sri Lanka but in the subcontinent. The die-cutters included Bobst SP102 autoplatens.

The prepress was industrial strength on the back of Esko software with digital flexo plates imaged on a CDI imager at JDC Graphics. At the time Printcare was formalising its joint venture with the UK based repro house Jennings. In the background we could discern Jennings-Printcare taking shape with the order being placed for a Kodak (Creo) Trendsetter thermal CtP along with ArtPro.

We visited Printcare again in 2005, almost eight months after the Tsunami that affected many parts of South East and South Asia on December 26, 2004. Just after the devastation of Sri Lanka’s coastal towns by the enormous tidal wave, Printcare’s Managing Director, K R Ravindran was invited to make a presentation at the Eighth World Print Congress in South Africa on “Ethics in Printing and Packaging”. Ravindran was the only South Asian we know of who actually attended the WPC8 in CapeTown.

In the May 2005 issue of Business Today published in Colombo, Ravindran recounted that he had told the quadrennial gathering of print heavyweights about how Printcare is run – “We strive to run an ethically correct organization in all our transactions with workers, customers, suppliers and shareholders. We’re absolutely transparent in much of our dealings. For instance everyone in the company, via the system, has access to the figures of basic aspects like car running, telephone usage etc. from the MD to every employee.

At monthly meetings everything is discussed so that everyone knows everything in this company. I feel transparency is the best means of ensuring controls. Because of our ethical approach, we have no trouble with any government divisions.

“Further, you have to appreciate that we deal with various customers that are competing with each other in the tea market. There is a saying that apart from the tea auctions, the only other place where the tea people meet is at Printcare. Thus it is important that customers believe that we run an ethical business. We will not forsake a small customer for a big one. We maintain a high level of privacy and confidentiality in all our dealings and our standards of ethics are exceptionally high. We’re very clear that our primary loyalty is to our own principles. For example, if we have an order for a design which we think infringes of another company’s trademark, we will not only, not manufacture it, but we will tip off the respective customer immediately. We have done this in the past and our customer has actually taken legal action against the errant company as a result.”

Apart from the WPC8 presentation Ravindran, an active Rotarian, showed us the photographs and plans of the schools that he was engaged in building in the Tsunami ravaged areas of north, east and south Sri Lanka. He had just returned from visiting the UK where he went to many of the schools that had collected and donated the money to perhaps the single largest Rotary project in the world meant for one country. While thanking them personally he showed the new school buildings to the children. As chairman of the US$ 12 million Rotary school building project that was largely funded by a partnership of Rotary International and the Standard Chartered Bank, Ravindran made it clear that these schools would be of the best quality.

Ravindran also showed us some of the new developments at Printcare. Among other acquisitions there was a new die-cutter and a new Security Printing company that had been started to print lottery tickets and prepaid telephone scratch cards in collaboration with an Australian partner. Ravindran showed us the separate high security facility that had been built to house the narrow web Gallus with twelve stations, including three rotary screen stations, and a high-speed industrial inkjet head. During our visit, the Gallus was still under commissioning.

We also visited Packages Lanka Limited, a joint venture of Printcare Ceylon Limited, Packages Limited of Pakistan, and the International Finance Corporation. The approximately US$ 6 million investment was used to establish the largest flexible packaging plant in Sri Lanka. With an 8-colour Rotomec gravure line and a 6-colour Schiavi wide web flexo press, the plant was capable of producing 30 million square meters of flexible packaging annually.

September 2007
On our third and most recent visit to Printcare (its name now changed to Printcare Plc) we saw yet another company of the group that is now taking off and located in a rural setting in the midst of a village about five kilometres from the plant in Kelaniya. This is Printcare’s commercial printing company that was meant to take away some of the non-food related packaging printing from the main plant and which also engages in the commercial printing of long run school books and high value coffee table books. Moreover, the group is also a leading printer of greeting cards and has always been an important silkscreen printer for T-shirt exports.

At the Kadawatha plant, we saw the same emphasis on community service and the building of relationships with the village neighbourhood with Ravindran’s credo “that the community should benefit because we were here.” This company uses some of the multicolour Heidelbergs that have been moved from the Printcare packaging plant and has also recently installed a brand new Heidelberg CD74 6-colour plus coater press with full automation and closed loop colour controls. The new press is in fact a part of the investment in this plant to produce non-food packaging. This includes cigarette packaging for BAT who decided to move the packaging for the Sri Lankan market back to the country.

Although for cigarette packaging it is not easy to match the quality and cost of gravure gold that most premium brands require, BAT seems to have taken a deliberate decision to move the work from gravure to offset.

Super Brand comes to Coimbatore
This year Printcare has been picked as one of the Business Super Brands – the only printing company to achieve this Super Brand status in South Asia. The other important news at Printcare is the impending launch of a company in South India. The company’s implementation of a plant in Coimbatore is at an advanced stage and it could start production in Q1 of 2008, initially producing material for tea bags. As a part of PrintCare’s multi locational and international expansion the company has recently implemented the SAP5 ERP system.

Ravindran is very clear (as are many other printing and packaging companies) of the distinct advantages of being a Colombo based company. The efficient world-class port is not only good for importing internationally sourced raw materials and exporting print but also an excellent gateway for print buyers and a terrific hub for exports from all of South Asia!

The Covid-19 pandemic led to the country-wide lockdown on 25 March 2020. It will be two years tomorrow as I write this. What have we learned in this time? Maybe the meaning of resilience since small companies like us have had to rely on our resources and the forbearance of our employees as we have struggled to produce our trade platforms.

The print and packaging industries have been fortunate, although the commercial printing industry is still to recover. We have learned more about the digital transformation that affects commercial printing and packaging. Ultimately digital will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future.

Web analytics show that we now have readership in North America and Europe amongst the 90 countries where our five platforms reach. Our traffic which more than doubled in 2020, has at times gone up by another 50% in 2021. And advertising which had fallen to pieces in 2020 and 2021, has started its return since January 2022.

As the economy approaches real growth with unevenness and shortages a given, we are looking forward to the PrintPack India exhibition in Greater Noida. We are again appointed to produce the Show Daily on all five days of the show from 26 to 30 May 2022.

It is the right time to support our high-impact reporting and authoritative and technical information with some of the best correspondents in the industry. Readers can power Packaging South Asia’s balanced industry journalism and help sustain us by subscribing.

– Naresh Khanna

Subscribe Now