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We were the first printers in the region to invest in Heidelberg's CD machine," says Babukutty. "We have always bought machinery only when we are sure that the investment is justified. Our growth and investment has been slow but steady."

T S Babukutty, general manager of Al Mawrid Printing and Advertising has held the position since 1985, when the print shop was a small start-up unit employing 15 people. "My first job was in India and later I migrated to Nigeria to take up a teaching post. I have no print related qualifications and am a printer by work experience. When I joined, we did not own a multi-colour offset machine, but only a single- and two colour equipment."

Explaining the changes he has seen in the printing industry, Babukutty says, "Printing has moved from composing to type setting, from there to colour separation which relied on the skill of artists, and small changes could lead to a lot of additional work. Printouts then were taken on the more expensive bromide paper. Creating designs, showing colour options or gradations too required hours of manual labour. In the earlier days we would get our colour separation jobs done from Singapore. From there, print has moved to the computer, automation and digital age. Speeds have increased from 4000-5000 per hour to 18,000-20,000/hour. Other changes in the industry are the increased demand from the packaging segment, while commercial print jobs are declining. Currently, in Dubai, capacity is more than demand. That means only the professionally managed units will be able to survive."

When questioned whether Al Mawrid would invest in offset machinery, Babukutty confesses, "In the current scenario we would not. Last year, we invested AED 6 million in offset, and this year we have purchased flexo and gravure technology." Al Mawrid recently acquired the Gallus ICS 670 press and associated prepress equipment for €4.5m at Drupa this year.

Dwelling on the most memorable moment in his career, Babukutty answers, "The day we won 6 awards at the first edition of Dubai Print Awards, it was remarkable, since we were not expecting such a rich haul. Success to me is the honest relationship we share with our customers and 24/7 accessibility that our clients are used to while dealing with us. Success is also teamwork, loyalty of our staff to the company and meeting deadlines.

We have grown into becoming a one-stop-shop, whatever is required to print on paper or board, we can do it in-house."

Expressing his opinion on the difference between print industry in UAE as compared with others in the region, Babukutty says, "The print industry in UAE is among the best in the region, not only due to investments in latest technology but due to support of government in creating required infrastructure and business environment. Today, if you go to any exhibition, you will find some UAE printer owning the latest equipment displayed at the show. One can safely say that Dubai quality is an accepted world standard."

On the challenges faced by the print fraternity, Babukutty opines that 'unhealthy competition is hurting us all. The need of the hour is a strong printers' association. We do not need a parallel to Printing and Publishing Group (PPG), but need to give this existing organisation more teeth. Additional numbers and activities would add to the stature of PPG. Among the other challenges are reduced print runs and digitalisation of print. Though there is no room for growth in commercial, packaging is showing promise'.

Al Mawrid contributes about 5% revenue to the total income of Thomsun Group, and receives about 10% in-house jobs from its supermarkets and other associate companies. "Initially, this print shop was established to print labels for Thomsun Group's music cassette business. Those days, we had a high percentage contribution from in-house jobs. But now the capacity of the press has increased manifold, and in-house jobs are a miniscule part of the turnover. The music cassette business has been phased out years ago."

Babukutty concludes saying that though print still has a good future, UAE industry was full to capacity and there was no room for new entrants.