Printing and Packaging Industry in Kenya and East Africa: Typotech Imaging Systems Ltd

Alfred Kandarah gives an overview of the printing and packaging industry in Kenya and presents Typotech Imaging Systems Ltd, a company established in 1997 which started out by offering consultancy services on production, equipment and workflow needs to the printing, publishing and packaging industries. Additionally, Typotech now supplies prepress, press and postpress consumables, equipment and workflow solutions.

Interview with Alfred Kandarah, Managing Director at Typotech Imaging Systems Ltd

Alfred Kandarah, Managing Director at Typotech Imaging Systems Ltd

What is your assessment of the sector in Kenya? What are the latest trends? Is the sector competitive?

The Kenyan print and packaging industry has come a long way. Having been in this industry for the last 30 years, we have achieved quite a few milestones. The industry is fairly advanced now. We have moved from a manual system to highly automated systems in the companies that are in the market now. Any kind of product you would get in the western world can be found in Nairobi. Kenya is the hub in Eastern and Central Africa as far as the printing and packaging industry is concerned. We have some of the latest brands of equipment. Virtually any type of work can be done here. Technically, we can match any part of the world.

How do you distinguish yourself as a company? What solutions do you provide?

We are looking at security printing as a special niche market. We are also looking at digital printing because the on-demand printing is here to stay. It is not a competition or a replacement for conventional printing. Digital printing is a supplement.

As a company, our strength has been prepress. We focus essentially on prepress equipment, workflow and consumables. Anything you print will depend on what you have originated. If you have a poor-quality origination, then that will reflect in your duplicates down the line. We have represented Kodak over the years and we still do. In the area of prepress equipment, we are talking about computer to plate technology. The legendary Kodak Trendsetter technology is the buzzword as far as CTP is concerned in the region. Over the entire African region, we have had over 55 units in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia to date. When we introduced the computer to plate technology in 2006, the whole region was using analog prepress technology. Computer to plate has now been embraced so well, specifically the Trendsetter brand of CTP technology. We have been marketing this brand for almost 20 years now in the region. You do not need to be an extremely well-trained person as far as workflow is concerned. The days of color management solutions whereby you needed a color expert to do your color separation and define your colors is now gone. Anyone who has been trained in elementary design process can use the technology and achieve very high-end work and complex jobs because the workflow has simplified that process. We pride ourselves in having introduced this technology in the region and that it has been embraced, specifically the computer to plate technology which is the dominant prepress technology here and the Kodak Prinergy Workflow which is one of the most prominent solutions in prepress in East Africa at the moment.

What is the key differentiator?

They have passed from analog to digital, but the key differentiator here is that there are so many other digital technologies in the marketplace. When you go to print, you want to be sure that the product you print today and the product you will print next week are exactly the same. You must have consistency and stability in the production process. It must be very predictable.

What kind of clients do you have? What do you offer to them?

We have general commercial printers, printers you go to to print a calendar, annual report, or magazine, and any other general print requirement. Then we have industrial printers. These are the clients who manufacture the intermediate products used by other industries: the label manufacturers, the packaging manufacturers, etc. These feed other manufacturing sectors. The newspapers’ needs are very different from the others. They need speed, so time is of the essence. They must be in the market when they need to be in the market so they must be up and running all the time. They need special attention because every minute counts. They have to go to press very late to enable them to capture the news of the day and they must be out in time to get to customers before they wake up in the morning. A special unit we are focusing on is security printing. We have special products for this area because we have point of issue security solutions. There are a lot of vital documents that are needed every day, such as school and college certificates, other special documents issued by the government, and there are all kinds of fraudsters out there always trying to imitate or produce fraudulent documents. So, we have special solutions that are used at the point of issue for any vital document. We will be rolling this out at the right time to various government agencies and other institutions. The way the industry is going now, the key growth areas are essentially the industrial sector. The younger generation hardly buys newspapers so the print volume in the newspaper sector has gone down. There is more advertising online than in print which has also affected the volume. Everything is online now rather than in print. We are very conscious of that. We have to look for the growth area which is the industrial sector, specialized areas like security, and other areas like packaging. Packaging is very key to us now. Any time we look at a sector, we look at it from prepress to press to finishing.

What is your international reach?

Our head office is in Nairobi. We also have three branch offices outside Kenya in Kampala, Uganda, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Because of the controls, the office we have in Ethiopia is actually our partner office because we cannot do trade in Ethiopia as a foreign company so we work through a local partner. Most of the supplies we ship from the factory directly to the end users, be it equipment or consumables, and our local office does the liaison functions. Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania customers are serviced direct from our country offices.

Are you looking for technological improvement and partnerships with other companies?

We have made a decision as a company that going forward, the only way to remain relevant and be competitive is to link up with some of the big players out there. There is no way we can sit back here and assume things will be fine. We need technology transfer. We need at any given time to be at the high end of technology. We need to have highly skilled technical staff. Of course, we do have a technically skilled team as a company but we are looking at partnering with some other multinationals that have long-term experience, especially in the areas of industrial printing and packaging because that is a major area that we have to play in. We are looking at security printing as a special niche market. We are also looking at digital printing because the on-demand printing is here to stay. It is not a competition or a replacement for conventional printing. Digital printing is a supplement. We are looking at partners in that area which will ensure that we are always at the high end of technology. We also need to be able to have economies of scale. For us to grow and cover the region effectively, we need to learn from others. Instead of having 100% of 100 units, it is better to have 10% of one million units.

Are you looking for investors?

We are two directors – Carol Kandarah (who is both my “boss” & wife) is the Operations Director and myself. We have made a decision to open up. We have to do some internal work first. We will not go far in our growth by borrowing from the bank. We need to be partnering with people who are willing to invest and those who have faith that these technologies are here to stay and that the region has good potential. We are looking for partners that we can sit down with, discuss, review the market, and share our vision with. We have a very clear strategic plan for the next five years. We are looking for partners who will walk with us through this. The issue is not only finance. We would be very keen to link up with players within the industry, those who not only want to put in money and wait for return, but people who have long-term interest in the industry. Players could be marketing equipment manufacturers at the global level who want to expand into the region. We are ready to link up with them. We want to work together not just for the next three to five years, but for the long-term. Capital investment is good, but that is just one part of the story. We want partners who will bring in that technical knowhow, who will uplift us technologically, and who will help move the industry to the next level.

What are your success stories?

Our largest success story which made me grow older by almost three years in one year was the Uganda National Examinations Board’s press modernization project. Three years ago, we were contracted by the World Bank through the Ministry of Education in Uganda to carry out a total overhaul of the Uganda National Examinations Board’s press because they were printing all the exams outside the country because of lack of capacity. So, we supplied the entire system from prepress, press, and finishing. It was state of the art equipment. It cost close to 3.8 million dollars and took about one year to complete. It was a huge project. We are proud that Uganda prints all their exams in house, there is no case of leakage, it is very tight. We and everyone involved are proud of the entire project. The project was covered widely by Garmmerler GmbH news, in the Edition 01/2015 out of Germany. We had five partners for this project (Kodak, Ronald Web, Garmmerler Perfecta GmbH & Durselen GmbH) supplying every piece of equipment and we had to assemble all these very intricate machines and intergrate. It is a big success story for us that we will continue to talk about. Another success story is that in 2010, we decided to go into Ethiopia which was a completely closed market with four times as many challenges. The country was 100% analog. All business went through the government. The government owns all the main enterprises, and print was not an exception. We went in and slowly, we have transformed the entire prepress system in Ethiopia. The country which was 100% analog ten years ago has now digitized. The universities, the large main government printer, and all the government printing enterprises have our prepress solutions. We are extremely proud that we went in and, despite the difficulties, we stayed put and helped to transform the industry. We did not make a lot of money out of it, but we are proud of contributing to taking the industry to the next level there.

What is your vision for the company in the medium term, three years’ time? What do you want to achieve?

Our target is very simple. We want to be the first port of call in this region. If you talk about investing in printing technology, packaging technology, putting ink on a surface, you should be thinking of us. We want to invest not only in the supply front but also in technical support because that has been our mainstay. We have invested heavily in our engineers and we have no equipment down in this entire region as a result of technical support. All our equipment is up and running and that has been our strength. We want this region to work with us.


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