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"I come from a village named Harissa, which has 6000 residents and 28 printing presses," laughs Georges Chemaly, general manager of Chemaly and Chemaly Printing Press in Lebanon. "We are first generation printers, and we have sub-divided our print operations among my three brothers and myself, according to our field of specialisation. So, while one of my brothers looks after pre-press operations, another takes care of production, printing, finishing etc while I am the general manager and assistant of my father who is the chairman."

Chemaly & Chemaly was established in 1952 by Chaker Chemaly, who was the first to introduce offset printing into the ME region. SaysChaker Chemaly, "It was a tremendous experience being able to witness and reap the progress of printing over the last 6 decades, since my graduation from Saint Paul's School of Printing in Harissa, to the establishment of Chemaly & Chemaly. Today, we no longer have to print or bind manually. Machines have gone from one to twelve colours, and the options within the options are incredible. Back then there were no manuals of workshops that trained us on new machines, so we had to rely on intuition and try our luck."

Commercial printers, Chemaly & Chemaly offer a wide repertoire of print jobs ranging from luxury and coffee table books, security printing, magazines, school books, even postage stamps. "We can take jobs of printing one book to one million books. So, we have invested in 5, eight colour sheetfed machines, including 4 Heidelberg Speed Masters, 3 KBA's including an 8-colour- a 6-colour and a 4-colour, along with Ultraset 72 web machine and Harris M 1000-X. Our short run customers are serviced through Xerox DC 5000 AP, while the outdoor demands are met with Annapurna MV which is used for uncoated rigid media such as corrugated boards, rigid plastics, exhibition panels, wood, PVC etc., and roll media like paper, canvas, film and vinyl," says Georges Chemaly.

Dwelling on the changes in the printing industry, Georges says that advancements in technology has made printing very flexible, changes can be incorporated at the click of a mouse, problems can be rectified very easily. "Previously if 3000 pages had to be printed, it would take a week, while now 4-6 hours are enough to produce full colour pages. The speeds at which jobs can be executed is amazing."

Comparing the print industry of UAE with Lebanon, Chemaly says, "Printing originated in Lebanon in 1588, and most units were family owned, so the son would more often than not learn from his father, rather than any institute. We at Chemaly also published a 1200-page book, '400 years of culture and liberty' tracing the development of the print industry in Lebanon."

"We are not afraid which direction the industry will take in the next 5 to 10 years, whether digital, offset or any combination, we are prepared with machinery and technology. Our policy of service, quality and broad based consumer base has ensured that our press is working inspite of the global recession. We have been exporting to Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana in Africa, while France, Germany and Spain form our customers in Europe; for the Middle East markets we print for Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and sometimes Dubai as well.

Chemaly & Chemaly received a certificate from Guinness Book of Records for printing the largest magazine in the world on an offset machine. The recognition was received in 2003, for the 96-page book which had 70 x 100 centimetre dimensions.

Following a policy of 50% advance, Chemaly did not face much of a problem with defaults in payments. However, Georges does opine that there are too many presses in the region, leading to a situation of over supply. 'Since Lebanon is a free market, there are no limitations on the number of units that can be opened, so competition does tend to increase."

Georges Chemaly signs off with a word of caution. "Customers these days are much more aware which is good, however, printing does not mean only the cost of paper, there are a lot of other costs- obvious and hidden. For example the cost of a car cannot be only valued at the cost of 2 tonnes of metal! While technology has advanced such that speeds of print jobs has increased manifold, such technological advancements come at a cost. What I have been observing in the last few years, is that customers are becoming too demanding and impractical on the cost front, as a result smaller and less professional print shops may be forced to take up jobs at very low or below cost margins, which will affect the market and the rest of us. This ripple effect could spell doom for a lot of printers, which is not a good sign."

HIGHLIGHTS
  • Chaker Chemaly established one of the first sheetfed printing presses in Lebanon in 1952
  • In 1998, Chemaly & Chemaly moved to a new 14,000 sq metre premises in Jisr El Basha, Beirut, Lebanon
  • The print shop employs 225 operators