Book binding trade opts for automation in Chennai

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Notebooks being unloaded at Anderson Street. Bijoy Ghosh
Notebooks being unloaded at Anderson Street. Bijoy Ghosh

R. Balaji

Chennai, Aug. 21

PAPER traders concentrated in Parry's have attracted others in related areas of trade constituting a wide range of stationeries. Among them are the converters they convert paper to notebooks.

In the hustle and bustle of Parry's in Anderson Street, Bunder Street, Badrian Street and Malayaperumal Street there is a concentration of notebook manufacturers also known as binders. Like traders in other goods, the notebook sellers too are clustered here because of the proximity to raw material, paper, and easy movement thanks to the proximity to the railway station.

On these streets, familiar signboards Jeyalakshmi, KJM catch the eye, well-known to those who were in school in the 1960s and 1970s. These are brand names that students of that age would have seen scrawled across the notebook covers.

But with the schools now entirely taking over the job of distributing notebooks these binders produce the notebooks with the schools' names, while their own brands take up a little space on their outlets' shelves.

They have been in Parry's for several decades and with time haveadapted to the changing needs. Whether it is in notebook-making technique or marketing.

Also, like those in other trades such as chemical or paper in Parry's they are not averse to moving out to more spacious areas.

Mr K.S. Sekhar of Jeyalakshmi Binding Works says that at least 150 converters operate in Parry's and surrounding localities.

Some of the larger converters have sub-contractors who do the binding for them. But with increasing job opportunities weaning away labourers while the demand for notebooks is increasing there is a need to step up production.

So the binders have opted from automation machines that can produce up to 50,000 notebooks a day with less than a handful of labour. These units are often located on the outskirts of Chennai while the retail outlets continue in Parry's.

For the notebook manufacturers the main market segment is the schools. At one time the start of a school year meant that parents would flock to the shops in Parry's to buy the year's requirement of notebooks. Today, schools place the orders with the binders and distribute the notebooks themselves.

Counter sales have dropped to a fraction of what they used to be. With the size of schools increasing, and in some cases managements operating whole chains of schools, some of them buy tonnes of paper and just place the job order with the binders, says Mr Sekhar.

According to Mr Lalit Mehra of Ashwani & Co, the labour for the binders is from the neighbouring localities such as Royapuram, Tondiarpet, Korukkupet and Vysarpadi. The labour is also cheaper than those from other localities such as T' Nagar and Mylapore.

The demand peaks towards the year-end as the schools prefer to get their supplies by March or April. The schools following the Central Board curriculum want the supplies in February-March and the Matriculation schools in April - May.

With increasing automation the production season has shortened.

For instance, if the notebooks were to be bound in the conventional calico binding style the process of folding, stitching and gluing could take up to 3 days because the glue has to dry properly.

This semi-automatic process with four machines and 10 workers would process about one tonne a day. But with the new machines which use soft covers, a system the trade calls perfect binding, they produce about 4 tonnes a day.

The change is inevitable. Automation is the key to quality. Also, labour is getting scarce and more expensive.

A binder gets about Rs 175 a day and other labourers about Rs 80 - 100, he says.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated August 22, 2005)
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