Prem P. Vishwakarma, director, Robus India| carton
Prem P. Vishwakarma, director, Robus India

We recently visited Robus India at its Greater Noida plant to meet with the management team, led by Prem Vishwakarma. We learned that this is essentially an engineering-led and engineering-based company. Vishwakarma himself has extensive experience and knowledge of carton converting that he acquired in his many years in technical positions with one of the industry leaders.

The company is built on the insight that the Indian packaging market is entering a rapid growth phase, including monocartons, litho laminated cartons, and corrugated cartons with specific constraints and requirements. He feels that this market could be well-served by unique customized products such as die-cutters and folder-gluers that bring in new technology and automation but at prices that make the equipment viable for its useful life.

Robus folder-gluers are capable of executing variety of carton designs

In other words, a piece of equipment such as a sheetfed diecutter, if it works well, is likely to last for 20 to 30 years with routine maintenance, but its features and technology will likely become obsolete – or at least not state of the art in perhaps 10 or 15 years. Thus, Robus India, with its hands-on engineering design and maintenance support, sees itself incorporating some useful features incorporated into die-cutters and folder-gluers manufactured in China by leading manufacturers. The die-cutters, which include some design changes by Robus for the Indian and other emerging markets, are made by one of the largest manufacturers of such equipment in Guangzho – Dayuan.

The folder-gluers and film laminators, which include automation technology and components provided by Robus, are manufactured in Shenzhen by another manufacturer. The automation components are incorporated at the manufacturing site itself for complete integration and testing. Robus itself manufactures some ancillary equipment that makes various high-speed folders more productive on the delivery side. These are already performing well at a couple of the leading carton manufacturers. Vishwakarma tells us and asserts that the Robus supplied folder-gluers are extremely capable of executing a large variety of carton designs.

Learning in the pandemic

According to Vishwakarma, the pandemic has been an excellent opportunity for Robus in terms of service and support. He says packaging converters preferred suppliers with local servicing and engineering capacity and ready spare parts because of the travel restrictions.

He says that he could help many converters who had imported die-cutters and folder-gluers but could not get hands-on engineering support from overseas. Some of these servicing and maintenance customers have also become prospects and customers of equipment supplied by Robus. “These customers understand the meaning of service. We have been able to give these customers training, which we are very good at, even to major converters who have equipment from other manufacturers. The importance of having a spare parts inventory has also sunk in.”

He says that before the pandemic, there was some fear among converters about the complexity of automation. “However, Covid-19 has brought home to them the need for doing with less human resources. Now they are step by step wanting to automate more processes such as cutting and blanking machines because if a particular operator is not there for any reason, the less dependent and the work will not stop.”

Vishwakarma says the pandemic and lockdown have given some of the converters the time and space to rethink their business. He says, “There is a change in the way in the converters are looking at automation. They are aware that this is a huge period of growth, and at the same time, they see that technology will change 180 degrees in 7 or 8 years.

They are now looking for machines with the latest automation but with good local support at a lower price where they can realize their return on investment much sooner – since they may have to replace the machine in perhaps ten years or even sooner. This saving on Capex can be brought into their working capital and should have a positive effect on their balance sheets.

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The capacity for flexible film manufacturing in India increased by 45% over the past four years. With orders in place, we expect another 20% capacity addition in 2024 and 2025. Capacities in monocartons, corrugation, aseptic liquid packaging, and labels are growing similarly. As the consumption story returns over the next six months, we expect demand to return and exceed the growth trajectory of previous years. The numbers are positive for most of the economies in the region – and as shown by our analytics, our platform increasingly reaches and influences these.

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– Naresh Khanna (25 October 2023)

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Naresh Khanna
Editor of Indian Printer and Publisher since 1979 and Packaging South Asia since 2007. Trained as an offset printer and IBM 360 computer programmer. Active in the movement to implement Indian scripts for computer-aided typesetting. Worked as a consultant and trainer to the Indian print and newspaper industry. Visiting faculty of IDC at IIT Powai in the 1990s. Also founder of IPP Services, Training and Research and has worked as its principal industry researcher since 1999. Author of book: Miracle of Indian Democracy. Elected vice-president of the International Packaging Press Organization in May 2023.

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