Each year we design new ‘kits’ (uniforms) for my cycling team and have them manufactured. During that quest, I’ve started to put premiums not only on quality but also on minimum order size and response time. The typical leadtime for custom pro-level cycling wear is about 8 weeks and several manufacturers have minimum order sizes of 10 units (which is not helpful to get replacement kits after the inevitable crash).
Like many other industries, the textile industry has been digitizing to allow smaller batch sizes and faster turn-around-times. Digital inkjet printing became the norm for small batch sizes. Sublimation still the higher quality but for larger batches. Apparently, the technology has now sufficiently advanced to bring the same flexibility to higher volumes (and hence lower cost per unit).
According to industry expert Debra Cobb, high speed developments now have led to new printing capabilities:
At ITMA in September 2011, the array of inkjet printing developments generated strong interest amongst attendees. While high-volume printing is generally considered to be better than 200 m2/hr, new printers have moved way beyond this benchmark.
Stork Prints highlighted their new Sphene 24 digital printer, which is said to realize speeds up to 555 m2/hr on virtually any fabric; including tricky substrates such as polyamide/elastane swimwear knits. Durst Phototechnik AG launched its Kappa 180 inkjet printer, said to reach speeds of over 600 m2/hr with a resolution of 1056 dpi x 600 dpi.
Xennia Technology’s Osiris high speed digital printing system, also introduced at ITMA, is said to be one of the fastest inkjet printing systems in the world. It is capable of printing up to 2880 m2/hr, with up to 8 colours; its speed gives mass market fashion printers a competitive edge by allowing them to react quickly to new fashion trends.
Xennia uses a flexible modular technology that adapts to a range of print heads so that each inkjet system can utilize the right print head for the application. In addition, these “will enable inkjet printers to apply functional finishes or conductive materials in a continuous process, opening the door to more integrated processing of technical textiles.”
And, they can deposit not only paint, but also other materials: apparently, ink jet printers seem to have broad potential:
The micro disposal inkjet technology is also applicable for the printing of flexible circuits. The additive process of inkjet printing allows the deposition of conducting, insulating, and semiconducting materials in precise quantities and positions.
According to Xennia’s Dr. Wegdam, “Combining textiles and electronics is clearly a trend with a big potential towards smart textiles.”
The digital micro disposal of fluids in a continuous process will also increase production flexibility and speed, creating greater economy in the dyeing and finishing process. Advanced production technologies such as digital inkjet printing may eventually enable the industry as a whole to compress the sourcing chain and control the costs of energy use, environmental management and raw materials.
So, another example of how new technology can integrate and disintegrate the value chain. It is promising for my cyling team!