Ceramic Printing is no rocket science but it is technical!
Mr. Low Kok Bee of MyMug Sdn Bhd started ceramic and glass printing in the year 1991. “Just before starting my own production, I was managing the production activities of an Offset colour separation lithography company in Kuala Lumpur,” says Low. He took that opportunity to explore the possibilities of ceramic printing. “The things that look easy are the ones which take a while to get the hang of – especially when you do it yourself, practically,” says Low. Though the market was not too big, the gift market was one segment that he saw future promise in.
He faced a lot of teething problems like there was no ink and paper supplier in Malaysia at that time. With zero experience, even the transfer of decals from the paper to the mugs was aa issue. Also, the firing process which has to be fired to fix the ink on the ceramic was another issue that they countered. “In the beginning years, we used to get our ceramic ink from Singapore and in fact the cost was very high.
We were also doing a lot of Ceramic Printing on Tiles, too until the 1997 crisis. But when we started with mugs, the gift market for mugs became an instant hit. Moreover, we manage to reduce the production time from 14 days to just 5 days due to the requirement of the market. By 1995 mugs were being imported from China and the trend still continues,” relates Low.
Within no time MyMug started providing custom printed dining wares to the F&B industry which again became a big hit with customers. “There was a time when the mugs as well was plates and utensils of ceramic were being manufactured in the country but today the entire lot is being manufactured and imported from China,” says Low. For this MyMug is providing printing of logos for the F & B industry
The process of printing that Low uses is not sublimation. He uses water transfer technology wherein the image is printed on the starch coated paper and is then transferred on to the ceramic wares and squeegee to remove the water from the starch coated paper leaving the image on the ceramic. Finally, it is fired to 790°C in-order to provide scratch-resistance and permanently to the product. The same process is used for printing even on stainless steel on a lower temperature.
“Today, we supply to Singapore, Myanmar, Vietnam and nearby countries. We have an approximate turnover of about 3 million ringgits. However, we don’t see much scope for capacity expansion; the industry is labour intensive and it is becoming difficult by the day to get foreign labour. The problem is severe. At times we have to turn down orders for want of labour,” he explains. There are also occasions when a client allows sufficient time and Low gets his order accomplished by outsourcing to China to save labour trouble. “But then gifting is an overnight demand market where the client needs the products on a particular date and if delivered later, it’s all a waste,” he adds.
Though it’s becoming ever tougher for Low to continue with the business that he has been proud to have pioneered in the market, he has been serving many customers who have been coming to him from the very first day. “Ceramic Printing industry as a small scale niche enterprise do have a demand in the market but with the consumers unaware of the toxicity of cheap melamine and plastic, we have a tough time educating our customers. Fortunately, we have got our loyal customers who wants the quality that we produced and they are our key assets,” concludes Low.