Soma Optima changed the know-how of the flexo industry, says Pavla Kusá

India seems to be a solid choice in Asia for Soma. With packaging on the ascendancy, and a perceptible shift from gravure to flexo, Pavla Kusá, commercial director, Soma, looks forward to the Indian market and creating innovative solutions. Pavla Kusa and Suhas Kulkarni in conversation with Ramu Ramanathan of WhatPackaging? magazine

07 Nov 2023 | By Ramu Ramanathan

With the launch of the Soma Optima in 2013, things have altered, especially about flexo technology

Ramu Ramanathan (RR): What is the overall outlook for Soma for the Indian territory?
Pavla Kusá (PK):
Approximately two years ago, when we had to choose a territory in Asia with the biggest potential in terms of growth, at that time, India seemed to be the best choice. Flexo is on the rise in India now. Nobody refutes flexo anymore as it shows huge potential. At Soma, we are working to make a strategy on “what is next?”

RR: Any Soma model that specifically caters to the Indian packaging market?
PK:
Yes, there will be a special model. This model is going via the last stage of development in our factory at this moment. It is a model that was designed after listening to the market needs of Indian flexible packaging converters. This model will be launched in 2024 before Drupa.

RR: Until Drupa arrives, what is going to happen?
PK:
Right now my team and I are in India. We are visiting many of the Indian converters and trying to understand their business model. It is important to understand the challenges the industry is facing. In 2013, we launched the first dedicated press to short runs, named Optima. Today, it seems short run is the most frequent topic among Indian converters. It means that Soma is several years ahead of having a product, which is competitive in the short runs. I would define this press as almost a digital-flexo machine.

RR: Is this the Optima?
PK:
Yes. Optima provides competitive benefits for short-run operations. We believe this press gives a real competitive edge to those converters who print from 2,000-metres or more up to 10,000-metres, and need to organise effectively between eight and 12 changes of the job per shift (in Europe, it is eight hours). However, the press can also be successfully used for long runs and shrink sleeves.

RR: What are the challenges faced by converters?
PK:
I think the biggest challenge for every converter is to keep consistent quality under conditions to continue profitability in its business. Flexo guarantees quality, and it guarantees you utilise your press to its maximum efficiency and, therefore, maximum profitability.

RR: You mentioned Soma has a dedicated solution for the Indian market. What’s the rationale behind it?
PK:
The Indian market is like a pyramid. At the top of the pyramid, there are the big players, who have been operating in this space for 20 years or more, and who are seeking to achieve efficiency and competitiveness like their counterparts in Europe and America. They seek solutions with a higher level of automation. In the middle, there is a big group of converters who struggle with gravure or old types of flexo machines to be competitive with short runs. The bottom of the pyramid consists of those who look for the ease of converting to flexo. We provide dedicated solutions to all types of groups.

RR: At Soma, what is your definition of a short run?
PK:
Based on our consideration, we believe that short runs are everything between 1,500-m up to 15,000-m. The European and Latin American markets face such short runs. As I had a chance to understand the Indian situation, their short runs crossed over 15,000-m, up to 40,000-m.

RR: What are the widths for short runs in CI flexo?
PK:
The most frequent in this segment is 880-mm or 1,050-mm. In India, there is another segment, which is flexo in narrow-web. From this segment applications such as shrink sleeves, pouches or wrap-around could be considered. Soma Optima has three variants for these applications; of width 680-mm, 880-mm and 1,050-mm.


Pavla Kusá, commercial director, Soma

RR: Suhas Kulkarni, you are an Indian flexo veteran. What are the conversations you are hearing?
Suhas Kulkarni (SK):
There is an apprehension in the mid-web segment, as well as the converters.

RR: What kind of apprehension?
SK:
There is a perception that a CI flexo press is a huge investment, and it requires higher capital investment and manpower. If you notice, everybody is looking for short runs, and therefore, they are opting to invest in smaller CI flexo presses. Even at Multiflex in Chennai, when you look at the machine, it is no longer a big chunk of metal, but it is a very easy-to-operate nimble system.

RR: Can you please elaborate?
SK:
This discussion has been going on for the last ten years. About how the narrow-web machine manufacturers can improve their capability to handle unsupported films. The system where you have one central impression system is ideal. So from a technical perspective, a CI flexo press is easy to handle.

RR: What is Multiflex leveraging from the Optima?
SK:
Multiflex does conventional flexible packaging, and even in-mould labels. It works into segments like hygiene, which is tricky, as well as short-run applications for food. When we talk about multiple SKUs, even Haldiram’s has a start-up with smaller SKUs to meet the local requirements of its local regional flavour. Therefore, there is a huge requirement for short runs for pouches. And Multiflex caters to this segment in South India. 

RR: Today, there are a lot of manufacturers who sell machines, but from what we hear from the market, the service support in India  is poor. How is your support system?
SK:
We believe in providing support service even before the machine is installed. The point is, we need to have service and demo centres made available for the customers and also to meet a customer’s psychological barrier. At Soma, we aim to provide machines with such capability which don’t need any support. But having a support centre or a system is vital.

PK: I believe that we created a structure based on the extensive knowhow of flexo in this country. My impression is that any company in the flexo industry, be it the ones who provide services, maintenance or troubleshooting, with regards to our customers, are masters of the flexo technology. Hence, we say, Soma provides a 360-degree solution. In the end, it's the right approach for customers in India.

RR: What is the history of Soma? Who are the founders, and the generations that followed?
PK:
The company was established 33 years ago, by my father who was a passionate mechanical designer. So we deployed his knowledge and capabilities of engineering and creating blueprints and plans. Our vision was based on having a high-tech final product, with no compromise in quality. As it has happened many times in life, it was an accident that led our developing team to focus on flexible packaging. But it turned out to be a lucky decision as it brings my father satisfaction in the fact that flexo is a high-tech technology where our team of technical departments can maximise their abilities. Where Czech’s golden hands can prove to the world what Czech quality means.

RR: When was the first technology which Soma introduced?
PK:
The first CI flexo press was developed in 1995. This press is still working in a Czech paper company. Mind you, it is a very old press and a geared technology, but it is a very stable press. This company, after 20 years of having the first Soma press, invested in a state-of-the-art Soma model, Optima Two. This year, there was continual development to cover the full portfolio of CI flexo machines. During this time we added slitting, lamination and mounting technology and offered a total package for every print shop.

Things have speeded up with the launch of Soma Optima in 2013, which has changed the know-how of the flexo industry. This model has initiated the rapid growth of the Soma brand worldwide. But our foundation from the beginning has been solid in-house R&D capabilities, focus on the long-term quality of any individual parts within machines, and family-owned commitment to any customer who decides to trust our brand.

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The packaging industry is confused by recycling and sustainability rules in India. What is the biggest challenge?

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