Datta Deshpande is the CEO and Owner of Pratham Technologies out of Pune, in India. Pratham Technologies is focusing on the production of folding machines for thin-paper, and small formats – with a focus on the inlay notes found in pharmaceutical packages. Datta Deshpande has a strong focus on a quality product, and mention in the interview, that Pratham Technologies only see two-three competitors in this segment. With over 5.000 installations globally, the company have to build a reputation for delivering high-quality folding machines.
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This is Morten Reitoft from INKISH.TV and today I have the honor of talking to a gentleman. He will tell you his name in a second, but he is from India. India is the world’s largest democracy. And besides being one of the biggest and most populated countries in the world, it’s also a fantastic place because it’s one of the few places where all sectors of the printing industry seems to grow forever. I was at the Print Pack Show in Greater Noida a year ago, and I was told that there’s more than 250,000 printing companies in India. Today we’re going to talk to a vendor producing folding machines, and other nice equipment, and have a very good ambition of becoming one of the leading manufacturers in the world. So, Mr. Datta, can you please introduce yourself?
Thank you, Morten. First of all, thank you very much for giving me this opportunity. I’m myself is Datta. I am CEO of Pratham Technologies based in India. We are there in this industry since last 30 years. We manufacture paper folding machines and our specialization is in the small miniature folding machines, which are required for the pharmaceutical leaflets, that our application. We call it inserts and outserts.
Inserts and outserts?
Yeah. We manufacture those machines. We started with a very small tabletop machine, but now we are producing large machines like complete outside set-up. You must be knowing outside, with how complicated it is-
Yes, of course.
… for the folding and all. Along with that, we have our own vision camera systems and the systems, now we are exporting all over the world, USA, Canada, UK, Spain, Israel, India. India is, of course, our largest share, here in India.
Yeah. I can imagine that.
Yeah. In Africa and a lot of places, we sell our machines.
Actually on your website, you say that it’s more than 4,500 installations. That is a quite big number, isn’t it?
Yeah. Actually the website is not yet upgraded, but it should be now more than 5,000.
More than 5,000 so-
And one of the things I like about both your website, and also your mission on your website is that, you have decided to excellent in technology and become one of the best manufacturers of these folding machines. From your perspective, when you started these 30 years ago… I mean, of course, the market has changed a lot in this time of period also for you as a company. But can you tell a little bit about your history, how you got started and how you ended up where you are today?
Oh, great. Actually, we are techno-entrepreneurs, myself and my partner. We started this in 1988 as office equipment company and we came-
Oh, really? Okay.
Yeah. And we come across letter-folding machines and letter-folding machines actually we wanted to produce. But then we found lot of requirements from printing press, to fold these pharmaceutical leaflets. And then we started from tabletop folding machines to industrial type of folding machines for printers. So, that’s a big journey. We introduced our machine in 1995, in New Delhi for the first time in India, and before that, we sold few machines on trial basis in Mumbai. But then, we kept on focusing on this particular niche line, because we found there is lot of requirement and people are really interested to buy such kind of equipments. And in 1992, as you know, India opened economy and we could see a lot of good folding machines from abroad and we then tried on developing and we decided… We participated in Drupa in 2004 for the first time and-
Wow. Was that the first time that you went international to show your products? Was that Drupa 2004?
Yes. Between 2002 and 2004, it was a large, completely change for us, in terms of products, in terms of our management systems, everything. So, that decision was a big decision for us, and it really helped us to progress from one level to another level. And then of course, from there when we introduced in Drupa, then there is no looking back. We are expanding our market every year.
So were you supposed to be at Drupa 2020 as well?
So now you have more time to develop even further, before you go into the ’21 show, right?
We have to look at the good sides, right?
Yeah. To me it’s a positive side of that. Yeah.
So, you would say that your entrance to the international market, that was because of Drupa and as you said, there’s no looking back. Does that mean that going from being a local supplier to the Indian printing industry, you are… How big percentage do you export today?
Export today is almost like, half of my sales comes through export, and half of my sales comes through domestic market.
When you look at going international and being in an Indian company, I guess that in folding, you have competitors, like so many other people have competitors. What is the main reason to invest in your equipment?
From printer’s perspective?
Okay. So, this is a very specialized line. When printer get the orders from pharma companies for supplying cartons and leaflets, so usually that is coupled, always carton manufacturers, they produce leaflets. And particularly if you say in Europe and USA, because of the statutory regulations, they have the large papers are to be printed, and folded into very small size, because they want to fit it in a small size carton-
And that is exactly what you’re capable of doing.
Yes. And this is a very specialized line where you need to fold on 40 GSM thin paper or sometimes 28 GSM thin paper. So feeding those papers accurately, folding on the folding machine, and all this is a tough task. It’s a technologically really a challenging thing.
As you said, you have an engineering background yourself. So I guess that it has helped you quite a lot in developing the products, and make sure that both the paper transport, and the foldings come out perfectly, right?
Yes, definitely. Yeah.
When you entered the international market, was that something that you found out that you needed to, I don’t know, in Europe you have the CE for electrical things. Is there a lot of regulations in how you produce things when you go to market outside India or how did that come across?
Yes. All our equipments are CE marked. We got every equipment, when we design, and produce that equipment, before going to market, we do CE testing here. It is available in India. So, all these testing labs are there. So, we get it tested and even in India we sell CE marked products.
I was not questioning that you were not doing that. I was more like, wondering that if you say that you have a history that is 30 years old, and you started doing office folding, and then you went into pharmaceutical folding. I was just wondering that the moment that you decided to go outside India, suddenly rules and regulations are changing, I thought.
Yeah. Of course. But that’s good thing. Actually, we have learned a lot of things from that, because those are basically for the operator safety and all.
Yeah. So, that basically means that when people buy your equipment in India, they just get a better product basically.
Yeah. Better products. Of course, yeah.
When you sell your products in the global market, do you work with the distributors or do you sell directly to printing companies?
We sell directly to printing companies at the moment. But we have established one contact in Germany, and from Germany we will be taking care of European market, through one company based in Germany. And another is, in US also we have tied up with one distributor, and we’ll start selling actually equipments in this year along with them. But till now, we are supplying directly.
Okay. So when you sell folding equipment like the ones that you produce, is it service-intensive? I mean, do you need to have a lot of technicians in the market to service the machines? Or is it something that people do themself, or how does that work?
Yeah. Right now Africa, India or all other countries, we service our products directly. We can do it up to Europe. So for America sector, totally for Canada and USA, and we have supplied some machines in Puerto Rico side and all. So, there we have already appointed our service agent, and who is supplying all the parts, we have kept the stock over there, who supply part and we have trained manpower already available in USA. In Europe also, the dealer which we have finalized has taken the training. Only thing is now, we have to keep some stock of our spare parts over there. That’s all, we are already geared up to give all the after sales service in Europe and America sector. Yeah.
So that sounds that the never looking back before Drupa 2004, is just continuing your business. It seems like you have a very good future. So what is your expectations? Is that just growth or what, how do you see the market?
No, not only growth in the financial terms but we also look at the quality of the organization, quality of the products, and it’s overall balanced growth we are looking for. It’s not like just one side growth of financial.
So you’re not so busy, you have the time for full growth. That’s what you say. Right?
Definitely, and right now we are getting a lot of time to think about it, because of this COVID-19, sitting at home.
Yeah. I think that everybody… I’m sitting from home, are you sitting from home too?
Yeah. We are totally locked down. We cannot move out. It’s curfew here.
No. It’s the same here. We can go out for grocery shopping, but that’s the only thing we can do. My kids are home from school and this idea of making films of via the internet is something that we have never done before because normally me and my team, we go out and do films from print shows and from printing companies and from vendors. So this is also very new for us.
But see, if it wasn’t because of COVID-19, I wouldn’t have met you, so far it’s been good.
Yes. We are also learning a lot of things to do remotely, and we are also taking this as an opportunity to do a lot of meetings internally also through Zoom meetings, and Skype meetings and all.
So Datta, if you look at the future of… I mean, I think that one of the things that is nice about your segment of the market is that, I can’t imagine that pharmaceutical packages, and regulations don’t want to have in-lays, on printed paper in the boxes. So I guess that you have a long future ahead of you, don’t you?
Yeah, I hope so.
What is the competition like, do you have a lot of competition when it comes to these kind of folding for this very thin paper, or is it a relatively exclusive market for you?
I can tell you there are hardly three people in all over the world, who make such kind of machines like outside folding machines. And two of them are from Germany, and we are from India.
I have never heard a fourth name all over the world.
Okay. So, the only thing that you basically need to do is make sure that as many people as possible know about you. So, every time there is an opportunity to offer your products and services, that is the opportunity. You’re not limited to a lot of things, because you have already regulated on the electrical motors in the folding machines, and I think that what I really liked about, as I said to you that’s on your website, is that you focus so much on having a high quality approach. And the reason why I’m asking this is because sometimes, I think that there is a tendency to believe that everything that comes from India is cheap. But, you are focusing on good.
Yes. Actually, people expect a lower price, at least 50-60% price from Indian products. Yeah, that scene will not change immediately. We will need to ensure people, that you are not just buying some cheap products here.
No. Because it’s a-
You will get good price-
Yeah. You get good prices, but you get also the good quality and that makes-
Also the good quality. Yeah. That will come through proving ourselves in the market. Yeah.
Yeah. But with more than 5,000 installations worldwide and participating in global events, I guess that you have opportunities to show people that it’s reliable products and high quality that you’re delivering.
So, as long as we are locked down here with the COVID-19, are you developing new machines and new ideas or what are you spending your time on these days?
Actually, we are in a phase of expanding here. So, we were in a process of having our new factory, new manufacturing unit and everything and in between, we stopped right now.
Okay. You had to.
So, our main focus is right now, not to make a different products, but actually to strengthen our manufacturing process here in India. So, our focus is right now to do that, rather than going into different products and all. So, this year we’ll be focusing mostly on the expanding our market towards USA, which was not done. I mean, last year we sold a few machines to USA, then Canada because we were always finding it difficult logistically to supply there and provide services. But now, we have our representative over there. So that’s why we are trying to strengthen our production also. Because right now if you order machine, then I cannot supply it, delivery period is about three months, which we need to bring it down to one month. Our competitors also give the delivery in three, four months, but we want to make it as a competitive advantage. Yeah. We are always working-
Yeah. And how big is your company? How many people works for you?
Now, the total count is about 70 people, seven zero.
Okay. Seven zero and they’re good people?
Yeah, good people. Of course, it’s all engineers, then workers, then managers. It’s all the… And manpower is not a problem for us. It’s not like Denmark or-
No. I’ve never heard about a demand or supply problem with human in India. So, that’s good.
But nice people.
Committed for our company.
Yeah. I have of course not met your people, but I have a lot of good Indian friends, and our software that we use for English, is developed by a very nice group of people in Punjab. So I go there from time to time, to talk to them and it’s always nice to meet Indian people.
Oh, good. Thank you very much.
Mr. Datta, it was such a pleasure to meet you here in this recorded over the Skype, because we are using Skype for making interviews. When you go to a trade show the next time, I will be for sure looking for you, because it could be nice to see your machines. It could be nice to meet you in person. So, I will find you, I promise you.
Yes. You are always welcome here, Morten. Thank you for giving me this opportunity. Nice talking to you always. It is my pleasure.
My pleasure also. Thank you very much.