FESPA’s Head of Technical Support, Graeme Richardson-Locke shares his experience of FESPA UK Association’s Textile Printing Now.
I was looking forward to attending FESPA UK Association’s Textile Printing Now conference. The event was held at the UK Textile Centre of Excellence in Huddersfield which, as the name suggests offers practical skills training and research facilities to the industry’s stakeholders. Looking at the speaker list I felt confident that I would learn from the experience and enjoy meeting a diverse group of colleagues from the textile community. With 110 seats sold, the organisers had promised an interesting spread of topics including graphene technology scientist, Tian Carey’s presentation on Wearable Electronics. The pre-event dinner gave us all a chance to enjoy some good Italian food and to talk informally about issues affecting the UK textile trade.
The conference was opened by Tony Moscrop, President of FESPA UK Association and Peter Kiddell, Association Director, introduced each of the day’s speakers.
Sadly, Mark Harrop, CEO of WhichPLM had to cancel his presentation on Digital Disruption in Fashion due to illness. Paul Noble of Bannerbox stepped in at the last minute to provide his perspective of the opportunities he’s experienced in the soft signage, banner and flag markets and the emphasis he places with his team on providing a great customer experience. The need to communicate effectively, included his view on visual proofing accuracy to eliminate any uncertainty has been refined to the point that errors are virtually unheard of keeping all stakeholders happy. Paul also reflected the benefits of focusing on who your target clients are and what their specific needs are before approaching them. This process has lead to some unusual wins for his business, one of his team plays in-line roller hockey, and through discussion discovered that there were no branded kit suppliers for the sport. Given that his factory already had the capability to dye sub print to polyester and to cut and sew then a new revenue stream could be created with ease. This has subsequently grown and presented new business opportunities into other related sports. Paul finally discussed the process of adding value to the businesses core fabric printing competencies and gave examples of how offering installation services and hardware generate further revenue whilst increasing their customers reasons for remaining loyal.
Tian Carey, Researcher in Graphene Technology from Cambridge University opened his discussion on his work over the last few years in developing wearable electronics. He illustrated the process of extracting graphene from graphite to form a printable ink. Further to this, he showed how he’d created printed sensors, resistors, transistors and logic gates, proving the building blocks are here to continue the development of clothing and fabrics with electronics built in. The opportunity to create clothing that has, for example, heating elements embedded without sacrificing soft feel is now closing in. Although you currently need to use a battery to power these capabilities, researchers are making great strides in creating printed batteries. Science fiction is, as ever, becoming science fact and these developments will no doubt create a vast array of new business opportunities for the textile community.
Robin East and his team from one of the events sponsors, CMYUK, reviewed the latest developments in fabrics for interior and soft signage applications. They offer an end to end solution from the supply of EFi Reggiani digital textile printers to name one, and the RIP platforms that drive them to supply some inspiring fabrics including ones with acoustic qualities for upholstering furniture for sound dampening in busy environments. They also showed great applications for water-based back-lit tensioned fabrics that present highly saturated prints that can be washed and re-tensioned without fading.
Next on the day’s agenda was the presentation by Bill Macbeth, Managing Director of the UK Textile Centre of Excellence. He explained the reality of the textiles industry’s undesirable position as the second worst industry for pollution globally after agriculture. The Centre has been involved with Pravin Mistry, President and CEO of MTI-X in creating a revolutionary solution to some of the textile processes which traditionally use large volumes of water, chemicals and energy to prepare textile surface treatments. The processes of achieving fire retardancy or water proofing can now be achieved using a dry process involving the use of plasma beam technology coupled with a high-powered UV laser to modify the surface chemistry. By introducing different mixtures of gases with the laser enables the material surface to be physically altered, for example wool can be made to be waterproof! The process can also be used to make printing surfaces more receptive to a range of printing techniques. There was some discussion as to whether it may become possible to modify cotton to enable it to be used in conjunction with dye sublimation printing.
Once Bill’s presentation was concluded a number of tours were run to show interested visitors the Centre’s work. By offering facilities that textile businesses use, it has become possible for the staff to offer training which reskills workers to help them find new employment. This has been very successful for the candidates who pass through, with the majority gaining full-time roles in textile production. The facilities also provide a prototyping service for weaving and finishing techniques for member companies, they also have a testing lab on site. During the tour, it was clear that the team are very dedicated, knowledgeable and enthusiastic in supporting their textile clients. It also presented another opportunity to share information amongst our textile colleagues which continued throughout the lunch break.
As if we hadn’t already been inspired enough, the afternoon session included an impassioned presentation by Gavin Thatcher, Managing Director of Stead McAlpin a long-standing traditional textile printer formed in 1835. Gavin offered a range of statistics from Smithers Pira that forecast high growth rates in the textile industry although the UK may struggle to keep up with other global producers. Most sectors, home, bath, bedroom, living room and curtains all show positive growth; however, kitchen and dining are forecast to decline at least in the short term. Having presented an optimistic view, he then took us through the core differences between rotary and flat screen fabric production and finishing including substantial detail from screen preparation to the final curing stages. He went on to explain within the context of his business where digital printing has a role to play. To wrap up, the run lengths of traditional printing methods are coming down with minimum quantities coming down to 100 metres from a standard a few years ago of 2,000 metres. Digital methods will continue to grow but reflect a small percentage of the overall market volume and Stead McAlpin will continue to position themselves at the top end of quality in favour of joining the race to the bottom of commodity production. The challenge may not be so hard for a company with such vast experience and trading history.
Debbie McKeegan, designer, digital print expert and FESPA Textile Ambassador shared her experience of the changes we face digitally printing textiles in a Personalised world. Debbie reviewed the historical changes from the analogue traditional printing world she grew up into today’s lead-time driven last minute ordering where consumers who aren’t necessarily motivated by the technical detail are looking to order small quantities of great fabrics within a day or so. The creative process originally required highly skilled artists to paint patterns which then resulted in beautiful prints, this was followed for a time by the Photoshop creators who could produce designs quickly but didn’t always exhibit the craft of the past. Trends change and Debbie reported that there is now a resurgence of these craft skills leading to some very exciting output that utilises the finesse of traditional methods coupled with current digital tools. In the past where 2,000 metres was the minimum order quantity to today’s print on demand culture, the role of digital has been highly disruptive and in many ways, has created a raft of new opportunities and spawned thousands of successful micro-enterprises. These new creatives are now having to equip themselves with the skills to bring their product to market online and to be savvy in the use of the essential social media tools like Instagram. Overall Debbie offered a positive sense of the possibilities that digitally printed textiles create and is excited to support FESPA’s Printeriors and Print Make Wear features at the FESPA Global Print Expo between 15th- 18th May.
Mutlu Chaouch Orozco, digital innovation analyst at WTiN shifted our sights to understanding the global development of digital textile printing. Currently digital printing is estimated to be responsible for a mere 3.5% of the 1.9 billion square metres of printed textiles produced around the world. Whilst nine printer manufacturers own two thirds of the market with high volume industrial machines the remaining third of the market use lower cost printers that are more accessible to small businesses. Mutlu then addressed the applications where digital textile has found it greatest use. Fashion apparel accounts for 42% of production, 9% for home textiles, 3% carpets and 46% covers textile print for super-wide format and soft signage. 2017 saw 4,000 new machine installations worldwide lifting the global printing base to 39,095 presses. The digital textile printing capacity has doubled from 955 million square metres in 2014 to it’s current capacity of 1.9 billion square metres. The pan European territory represents 37.8% of production capacity, equalled by Asia and followed by the USA at just under 10%. The balance is made up in order of scale by Brazil, Middle East, Africa and Australia. The forecast for growth remains strong with an anticipated installed printer base of 50,000 by 2021.
The World Textile Information Network certainly reinforced the message that this print sector will continue to grow apace and as it only accounts for 3.5% market share at the moment you can see why.
So after the statistically heavy, but none the less interesting global review we were handed over to Dr Simon Daplyn, Marketing Manager of Sensient Imaging Technologies. Sensient are a major manufacturer of digital inks and Simon’s aim was to invite us to consider which ink technology would best suit your brand. He explained that he gained a PhD in ink technology before moving into a marketing function so had suitable insight to cover this topic. He offered the delegates a really useful summary of the performance characteristics of dye based inks, across reactive, acid, sublimation and direct disperse to pigment binder based technologies. Most of the ink technologies require fixation using steam or heat requiring large volumes of water and energy. Sadly the opportunity to reduce these process requirements doesn’t seem to be coming soon. That said, it was still very helpful to gain a better understanding of why the technologies exist and that the choices are fabric dependent.
Simon presented some comparative data on environmental impact of traditional versus digital print processes and showed that digital can reduce electrical energy consumption by 57%, chemical use by 97%, and water by 62%. In terms of waste digital offers reduction of 85% and the C02 emissions by 95%. Simon encouraged delegates to consider the environmental impact of their production methods before finalising on the choice of printing technology to be employed.
As you can see, the day was very busy and full of interesting information. FESPA’s Profit for Purpose scheme supported the event through its Projects Committee, and is funding similar events around the world. The team at FESPA UK Association put a huge amount of effort into the conference and should be congratulated for creating a thoroughly satisfying event. Association members will be able to access the video content of this and many previous events that have been organised for different groups within the digital and screen printing community. Please consider the value to your business and look out for future events or sign up as a member. There is power in our community.
Check out our Print Make Wear, a live production environment that will showcase each step in the screen and digital textile production process from initial design to finished garments and accessories. To find out more about the Global Print Expo, see the full exhibitor list and to see information about how you can register to attend, visit the event’s official website: www.fespaglobalprintexpo.com
For free entry use code FESJ801 when registering.