Printing is no longer only paper-bound

The constantly evolving field of printing demands continuous updating of technology and keeping abreast with the industry. Dr TKS Lakshmi Priya, HOD, Departing of Printing Technology, Avinashilingam University for Women, tells Janani Rajeswari S about making their girls industry ready.

How would you define printing technology and its growth in India?

Dr TKS: Printing is the oldest and evergreen business that is a combination of art, science, and technology that caters to several sectors. The growth of this industry in India is significant, especially in the packaging sector.

The power of printing is vast, but of late, non-printing industries have begun to explore various avenues of the printing sector. The print fraternity should not merely hold on to the concept of ‘printing on paper’ and believe in the future of printing. I would say that three golden rules define the industry: (1) Printing is one of the oldest known businesses and it will last forever; (2) printing is evolving and we need to evolve with it; (3) We are the masters of printing and so we must support the evolution.

What are the courses related to printing available in India?

Dr TKS: In India, professional courses in engineering are available at undergraduate and postgraduate levels as B.E/B.Tech and M.E/M.Tech programmes specialising in disciplines such as Printing & Media Engineering, Packaging & Printing, etc. Diploma and ITI programmes in printing are offered across India. Several short-term certificate courses and vocational training programmes are available in pre-press operations and post-press operations.

Recently, the Government has introduced B.Voc. programme for vocational education to enable students to have a better understanding of the industry.

Avinashilingam University offers B.E. (Printing Technology), a four-year engineering programme exclusively for girls. The entry requisite is a Class 10+2 certification. Diploma holders can join the programme as lateral entrants in the second year too.

Despite being an upcoming field, why aren’t there enough colleges offering the course, and also people opting for the course, in India? Has the scene changed over the years?

Dr TKS: One reason why very few colleges offer the course is the need for a full-fledged infrastructure for practical classes – normally a fully operational printing unit. The challenge is in investing in machinery, keeping them operational throughout the year and updating them to keep pace with the industry. One possible solution could be establishing a printing press in the institution and making it accessible to the printing department. This strategy is feasible with the advent of digital printing units.

Also, the lack of awareness about the course is yet another reason. People generally relate printing only to ‘letter-press’ and take time to imbibe the pervasiveness of the sector.

Lack of extensive interaction among the printing fraternity also plays a small role. This fraternity encompasses the core and allied industries, associations, research centers, educational institutions, and support industries. In short, the lacuna is the absence of a professional body in this sector. However, All India Federation of Master Printers (AIFMP) has initiated several measures to set up a professional body and to create a common syllabus for printing institutions at par with the industry requirements.

As mentioned earlier, printing technology is a combination of many branches of science. Could you elaborate on it?

Dr TKS: Printing covers pre-press, in-press and post-press operations. But to understand these processes, a printing technologist must have basic knowledge of physics and chemistry to understand materials, colour concepts, ink. etc. Knowledge of electrical, mechanical, electronics and control systems is a requisite for understanding machines; management and entrepreneurial skills for an overall perspective of the industry; art, creativity and innovation for exploring the unexplored.

In our department, we create a passion for interdisciplinary subjects through special lectures or workshops on subjects such as ‘creating stick figures’, ‘tips on constructing a small printing unit’ and a two-day workshop on ‘labview for printers’, ‘use of Aakash Tablets’ and so on.

When was a full-time course in printing technology introduced in Avinashilingam University?

Dr TKS: It was the idea of Late Dr (Mrs) Rajammal P Devadas, founder of our institution. Having travelled to many countries, she identified four specialisations in engineering, suitable for Indian women – (i) Computer Hardware & Software Engineering, (ii) Food Processing & Preservation Technology (iii) Biomedical Instrumental Engineering and (iv) Printing Technology. With AICTE approval, the faculty of engineering was formed in 1996 under the Avinashilingam Deemed University with these four B.E programmes.

Being an all-women college and printing being a field wherein there are very few women, what are the challenges involved? What is the intake every year? Do all the seats get filled?

Dr TKS: The primary challenge is lack of awareness among public. People still think printing is merely ‘print-on-paper’. Parents look for a course that would take their daughters to greater heights including well paid jobs, possibilities of pursuing higher studies and securing jobs abroad or white-collared jobs. They fail to notice that by setting the right goals and with adequate preparation, printing would easily fulfill their dreams.

Secondly, parents needed to be educated about how industrial visits to printing presses, internships and trainings at a variety of printing units are essential throughout the course. Thus, their daughters needed to travel to other cities or states during the course.

As the first step, we conducted a meeting with the parents of final-year students in 2012 and found that the parents knew very little about what their daughters were studying. The event proved to be an eye-opener for the parents about the activities of the department. They gave their approval to industrial visits, conferences and taking up internships in places outside Coimbatore.

The annual intake to the course is 20. Earlier, more than 75 percent of the seats got filled up. However, in the past few years, more than 90 percent of seats get filled up.

How have scholarships encouraged more students to take up the course?

Dr TKS: Every year COMPRIA is providing financial assistance to 10 to 15 students. The students spend this amount for internships, projects and industrial visits, which otherwise they would not be able to afford.

How have you and your team tried to create awareness about the field and the career prospects of the students?

Dr TKS: Once admitted to the course, we ensure that the students get a feel of the industry and the opportunities available. Apart from seminars and conferences and IVs, we rope in external examiners for our practical examinations and project viva-voce who are experts from the industry. Recently, we have also identified paper valuators from the industry. This proves to be a great opportunity to interact for the students.

In addition, we also encourage the students to take initiatives to visit printing presses, paper industries, ink mixing units, corrugated board units, and testing centers, during weekends or holidays.

Such exposures have helped our students get an idea about the work culture, job opportunities, scope for improvement, and the possibility of carrying out a student projects.

Please elaborate on the course over the period of four years?

Dr TKS: Our university follows the Choice-Based Credit System (CBCS) in line with the AICTE/UGC recommendations. Being a university, we have the flexibility of updating the curriculum and syllabus as and when required as per the prescribed norms.

All courses in the first two semesters are common courses except one departmental course per semester. The second year comprises of foundation courses and an industrial training at the end of the semester. The third year deals with advanced courses, quality control, a self-study course, a general elective and an industrial training at the end of the semester. The final year courses include recent advancements, courses pertaining to industry, a Computer-based Test that is a consolidation of all concepts, and a two-phase project.

Over the years, we have observed that students tend to have a passion for computers and electronics. Hence, we give them sufficient training in designing, e-publishing, web designing, multimedia designs, fundamentals of programming microprocessors, etc. Thus, every year, a significant number of girls get placed in e-publishing houses.

The other career option is becoming customer co-ordinators. This requires complete knowledge of the processes from pre-press to packaging. In addition, communication skills, use of management tools, costing and scheduling are essential. We also place importance on these skills in our curriculum.

What are the facilities available in your department and how frequently do you update the resources?

Dr TKS: Saradalaya Press, the University’s press, is our real-time laboratory. We also have separate labs for computers, screen printing, quality control, and print finishing operations. The core courses, internships, projects and practical sessions give students a strong foundation in the basics. Extra-curricular courses like value-added courses, soft skill courses, optional orientation and training in entrepreneurship skills, etc. help the students to equip themselves in multiple dimensions. Apart from the set curriculum, students have trained themselves in a paper recycling plant unit and also at ceramic mug printing units.

An internship, during the two semester breaks, is mandatory. The final year student project usually is attached to the industry and a certification from the industry-mentor is crucial. The curriculum also includes a mandatory participation in NSS including a ten-day camp in a rural area. The department also regularly conducts workshops on simple printing/finishing operations for hearing-impaired school students or for school students in adjacent villages.

What about internships?

Dr TKS: A one-month in-plant training spans over two semester breaks in newsprint units, paper mills, e-publishing companies, printing presses, and packaging units. Students get trained in a specific department of the industry. The industry is identified either by the teacher or the student team. The nature of training is discussed and its intensity is worked out, mentor on both sides are identified, and the dates are fixed. Upon completion, each of the student teams prepares a report on the training. Sometimes, students even do mini projects during the internship. TNPL, The Hindu, Indian Express, Dinamani, Scientific Publishing Services, Chroma Print, Lovely Cards, Srinivasa Prints, Autoprint, Alaya Systems are some of the firms our students have interned at.

What are some of the challenges that women face in the field of printing?

Dr TKS: This is specific to our students – they are reluctant to join jobs with long or late working hours. Only a few are ready to work overseas and only if there are some relatives in that country. Most of them wish to work close to home. The challenge is lack of self-dependence and confidence, which is true in every other sector for women at large.

Do the students participate in activities and events outside the college?

Dr TKS: Yes, they regularly participate in the event ‘Imprint’ organized at Anna University, Chennai. They have also been attending the annual events at SIES, Manipal University and Guru Jambheshwar University and so on.

Tell us about the placements after completing a course in printing technology? Does the college offer placements? Tell us about the journey in improving the job prospects.

Dr TKS: Right from the start of the final year, the students begin choosing the industry, locality and nature of job they want to get into. They submit their resume and expectations to the department and in coordination with the placement division we make of list of recruiters, interact with them and conduct the recruitment process.

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