I recently talked with Paul Brook from Global Print Solutions and Claudio Moffa (pictured above on right) of Sakurai about the development of an exciting innovation for wearable technology.
Global Print Solutions is UK company growing out of the use of innovative printing and functional textile garments that look set to revolutionise how we wear garments by integrating smart technology into our everyday lives.
We also talked to Claudio Moffa, UK & Europe Branch Manager from Sakurai, who provides Sakurai's perspective on the development of this innovative solution, and also his view on the future of the market.
Please explain about your background?
I have a garment manufacturing background. I started out at SR Gents in Barnsley. At the time, they used to be a manufacturer of clothing to large companies such as M&S (a large UK clothing retailer) and then the business went overseas. I worked there in various roles and it gave me a good background in garment production. I then worked for Bezier. We shipped a lot of inks around the world largely as the textile business began to migrate overseas to lower cost centres.
After that our business became consultants to garment manufacturers around the world to help set up and advise businesses on textile print. For example, an Indian garment manufacturer is skilled at making and producing garments but may outsource print, so we helped them to learn to introduce print in house and introduced different print techniques and printing methods. During this time I had set up another business called Global Print Solutions which was initially established to sell second-hand equipment printing equipment. I then teamed up with Mel Revitt who is from the promotional industry and between us we have taken GPS forward significantly.
So you have invested in Sakurai machinery, why are you investing in screen printing?
We are really excited about our development of a unique conductive transfer process that has led us to create something entirely new for incorporating within wearable technology.
We can see a really positive future with wearable technologies and functional textiles. And with conductive inks for transfers using Sakurai's superb screen printing technology we have developed something special we know innovations companies and their customers will really like. And this is possible with screen printing technology.
Tell us more about the application for wearables? What are wearables?
‘Wearables’, is the term given to an item of clothing that also has a functional purpose to it. This will be to provide the wearer with insight and data based upon their heart rate, their steps or even their VOC level. For example, activity trackers on the wrist will provide information for your steps, your heart rate etc.But what we are suggesting is that using our conductive transfer process to have a conductive circuit that is durable, stretchable and soft feel connected to innovation companies smart device’s so that it registers information related to activity and performance.
How is it done?
We screen print layers as a transfer and encapsulated within the layers is a conductive ink. The transfer is then heat applied to garments and this can measure information relayed from the body. So it can measure a person’s performance, pulse, steps and other data so that it can be captured accurately.
This printed functional technology isn't only confined to clothing. It could be used in footwear, with pressure points and could measure fine detail such as running style and how you jump, etc. It can give really valuable feedback to athlete’s to help them refine their technique and as an invaluable training aid.
Some would say this is already possible with existing technology, and to some extent this is true.
But the conductive transfer enables the manufacturer to produce a product that has a smoother surface for functional inks, consistent performance, versatile and capability of high-tech designs.
What is better with your system and not so good with the current processes?
There are some real advantages to our system for both the garment manufacturer and the consumer. As we use screen printing, this print could be applied at another location to a made up garment/product, whereas at the moment the smart technology has to generally be built into the garment at the source.
Our process is printed, so it is more flexible, lower cost, and faster to produce as it removes stages from production and reduces the need for manufactured components. The print does the work! We have already received a huge interest from some of the world’s biggest innovation companies and brands. So we are envisioning huge potential and huge production opportunities.
Normally, if you printed a circuit onto a fabric, there is a strong possibility this application could break. There is another method called TPU and you apply into the textile. But it has a plastic feel, and whilst it works, it is really not very comfortable or pleasant to wear.
In contrast, our process in non-invasive and very sympathetic to the wearer.
So is this achieved just by conductive screen printing?
Not quite, the process has a transfer as well as a conductive screen printing layer. This process is called 'conductive transfers’ and has become our brand name for the process.
Is this only used for sports applications?
This is our initial focus, but we think it can also help with medical applications. For example, patients get pressure sores in the bed and this technology can help to avoid this by helping Dr’s and nurses refine and improve care, with our conductive transfer system. Prior to this product, this smart technology would previously require fabric with conductive fibres inside to enable an electric charge to pass through. We have created a product that is flexible, and this process really works. It is really is down to your imagination and where you want to take it.
So, printing is crucial to the function of the product?
Yes, it is. What is important from Sakurai’s point of view is that the printing element has to be done with their screen printing technology because this is the best process. Many companies are of course thinking they should be going digital, but for this application, you need accurate quality which is only truly possible with the cylinder and roll to roll Sakurai machines, as they are absolutely perfect. The precision, speed and quality, make for a perfect combination. Not only that, the customer service and support is from Sakurai is second to none.
The market is really excited by it. This is part of the reason we will soon be relocating our premises, as we have invested in a Sakurai line, and a gas curing system called clean burn. We simply need the extra space to operate properly and meet a high demand for prototyping and production.
Tell us about the ink?
We have worked with the manufacturers into providing inks that are durable, stretchable and soft feel. Working closely with the innovation companies gives us the opportunity through R & D to develop further products for other applications. This is the great thing about screen printing, the system provides many possibilities for the process we have developed.
For example, when you make a cake, to ensure it is as tasty and as appealing as possible you need the best materials, technologies, and expertise. This is the approach that we have taken.
Because there are so many uses for this process, it could be used for automotive, furnishings, safety wear and fashion. The only limit is your imagination.
For example, you could eventually place a GPS tracking device into a child's item of clothing using the process. I'm sure this would appeal to many safety's conscious parents.
A number of the biggest brands in the world can see the potential. We are excited as they all see our process enabling them to accelerate their ideas.
How is Sakurai important to Global Print Solutions?
The Sakurai partnership is fundamentally important to the realisation of our vision. The support and expertise they have and their vision to open new possibilities links perfectly to ours.
It is all well and good just seeing an example and hearing the concept, but how do you physically make this equipment?
With the camera technology within the Sakurai system which ensures the precision of the print, it really enables high accuracy which is important when you produce products for big brands. So with the new unit we will have the Sakurai equipment we will be able to help companies innovate under NDA as well as produce product directly for them. We can, therefore, create the right approach to help companies integrate the process and then supply them with the ink and consumables.
To have the Sakurai team available to help we can show how it is done and alleviate any problems. It is all very well seeing it, but how can you do it? We want to show the possibilities.
We also talked to Sakurai and specifically Claudio Moffa about the company and how their technology and ethos is proving so successful.
Claudio, what do you aim to achieve with Sakurai?
Continued growth in demand for screen printing generally, and of course in Sakurai’s technology in particular!
Over the past two years and we have seen incredible growth in demand in Europe for our technology. For example, in 2015-16 we achieved growth of almost 300%! (From 11 units to 32) And we are expecting to beat that again this year!
For industrial screen printing, what do you regard as the main opportunity?
Industrial print is experiencing continued growth for screen printing. In a variety of industries, screen printing remains the key process due to its efficiency, quality, and speed, which cannot be matched by digital. The process is so good and the output such high quality, I cannot see a time where it is replaced. What GPS has discovered is that by working with Sakurai they have found the right solution to their specific goal with conductive inks for garments. And we were able to help them to discover and benefit from this development.
But for the wider market, I see there is still a need for education, as I do not think the full potential is being realised. Screen printing is the best printing option for functional and industrial printing applications such as automotive, smart technology, pharmaceutical, and packaging, and it can provide amazing special effects with specialist inks. This can also add a lot of impact to paper based print applications.
What trends do you see as important for the future?
There is no doubt a number of different industries are changing and what GPS has developed is a great example of this. For Sakurai to remain in the forefront of industrial screen printing it is important for us to work in partnership with customers to unlock new potential. This includes working on new projects, collaborating and producing new possibilities. I have a lot of confidence in the quality and the production speed of our machinery. We must continue to help customers like GPS to realise their goals. This collaboration is, therefore, exciting in its potential not just for profit but also the difference that it will make to people's lives.
Finally, what does this development with GPS mean for Sakurai?
I think that the development of applications that solve new problems are the future. Really that is what true innovation means. To create new possibilities that didn't exist before. The work we are doing with GPS highlights the strength of the screen printing process and the value that it can create. I expect that the interest in this new solution will be high as we know the kind of interest that some of the world's largest brands have in wearables. I am delighted that Sakurai will be part of this revolution and a key part of the development by providing GPS and the conductive transfer brand with the machinery and expertise to deliver the right solution.
UK and Europe Sales Manager
Sakurai Graphic Systems Corporation London Branch
T: ++44 (0)208 577 5672
For more information on Global Print Solutions check out their website https://www.globalprintsolutionslimited.com/