Guest Blogger, Ron Gilboa of InfoTrends takes us on a digital textile print journey across the Americas and gathers some interest insight from as far afield as China.
As I roamed the aisles at TexWorld USA in New York City last week I was impressed by the high level of awareness of digital print. On top of that, of the two dozen or so booths that I stopped at, about a third were actively using digital printing technologies. Held bi-annually, TexWorld USA is where fabric and garment manufacturers and local buyers meet to exchange ideas and place orders for the coming fashion season. Exhibitors from Asia, the Middle East, North America and many other regions showed textiles for use in clothing for women, men, juniors and infants. About 300 exhibitors from 17 countries were on hand at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City from January 19th to the 21st.
TexWorld USA 2015
The range of digital print implementations varied from strike-off (fabric swatches) to full commercial production. The attendees I spoke with cited a range of reasons for using digital printing including just-in-time manufacturing, short-run production, inventory reduction, and environmental impact. However all noted that enabling their customers to produce any design and meet tight seasonal production window was a big advantage. These are trends are not new, the InfoTrends team has seen this happening in the fashion industry for a while, but it is a clear sign that the industry is rapidly evolving to a structure that democratizes design and moves away from a model that relies solely on mass production techniques.
The following small sample of companies exemplify the impact that digital printing is having on the industry:
California Textil Mexico – California Textil is a design studio, manufacturer and importer of textiles from Mexico. Their latest foray into custom design and manufacturing included the purchase of an MS JP4 paper transfer sublimation printer. This system was installed late in 2014 and has been put to use in producing vibrant samples for the show and also in production. The new digital printer has enabled the company to address client needs for short turn arounds while maintaining high quality standards.
Digitex, China – Digitex, founded in 2000 in Shaoxing, Zhejiang China, has been producing digitally-printed textiles since 2001 and has seen growing print volumes. Their lead time for full production is 15 days from strike-off (swatch) approval to delivery to customer. Digitex is capable of printing about 130 million linear meters annually, of which about 15 million meters are digital prints. The rest, in order of quantity rank, are fabric dyeing, semi-digital (hybrid), and rotary printing. The array of samples was colorful and many interested buyers stopped at the booth to make purchases.
Digitex, China Digitally Printed Fabric
SA VE Tekstil, Turkey – As a traditional knitting and yarn production company, for many years SA VE Tekstil resorted to outsourcing their yarn finishing to third parties. This worked, but left some of the profit margin outside the company. In 2013 the company invested in a digital printing system. This strategic decision was aimed at providing value-added solutions in a timely manner while retaining profits in-house. Building on its rich heritage in knitting, the company tested their system on materials such as fabrics with high pile and a lot of fuzz. The results, as you can see in the photo below, are remarkable. The new digital textile printing system allowed SA VE Tekstil to change their manufacturing process and adapt their supply chain to take advantage of the new digital reality.
Springtex International Co., China –
Last but not least, a highlight of my day was meeting a visionary, Mr. Devy Lu, CEO and Creative director from Springtex in Ningbo, China. The company is vertically integrated, by which I mean it can handle all related production operations, such as dying, printing, cutting & sewing, and accessorizing, to produce finished high-fashion garments cost effectively. Since its establishment in 2003, Mr. Lu’s vision has been to optimize all of the manufacturing processes to get optimal costs to ensure profitability. Doing so involved optimizing the printing process to meet the changing demand for printed fabrics based on the final product order inflow. To meet this demand the company selected the MS JP7 as their product of choice. With a range of local Chinese manufacturers to choose from, the obvious question was why choose an Italian manufacturer like MS Printing Solutions? Mr. Lu said that the main factors were “quality, consistency and reliability.” Springtex offers a full set of ERP enabled end-to-end solutions to their customers supporting just-in-time manufacturing, elimination of unnecessary inventory, and custom high fashion on-demand production.
Many other exhibitors were at TexWorld USA but these four companies provide a glimpse into the digital printing revolution in the garment industry. With benefits like high quality output, positive environmental impact, and on demand production, one might wonder why digital textile printing isn’t more prominent. I posed this question to show attendees and the answers varied but in essence, the issue is cost.
It is clear that some companies have managed to get product cost down to a level that allows vertically integrated operations or smaller batch manufacturing of custom fabrics, so for many of these companies the cost of digital printing is not a large barrier. Yet for high volume buyers the picture is different. At a cost of more than $2 per meter for high volume textile printing, many digital print systems are not viewed as cost competitive.
The need to be cost competitive at higher volume is being addressed by equipment manufacturers who are developing single pass printing systems such as the MS Lario (introduced in 2011) and the recent announcement by SPG Prints of the Pike platform. It is likely that other equipment vendors will introduce products in this category at ITMA 2015 (November 12th to 19th in Milan, Italy). These systems enable high volume printing; however they also represent a potential multi-million dollar capital investment that textile print facility owners need to wrestle with as they plan their future strategy. Even so, the tide is turning and digital textile printing continues its growth. In our recent Worldwide Digital Textile Forecast: 2013-2018 InfoTrends estimates that this market will continue its 30% plus growth in print volume and print value for the next four years creating more opportunities for print providers and equipment manufacturers alike.
The InfoTrends Worldwide Digital Textile Forecast: 2013-2018 is available on our report store