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Addressing the Mask Crisis with the Mimaki TR300-1850C coater!

Mimaki technology is being used to process mask material that is both functional and fashionable to wear. In doing so, they are creating high quality masks to meet safety standards and regulations worldwide!

Many manufacturing companies have decided to convert production to contribute to addressing the COVID-19 crisis. In the textile sector in particular, print service providers have started producing masks and other kinds of facial protection, due to the sudden surge in demand and limited supply. So that masks, both medical and non-medical, can guarantee protection while being suitable for contact with the face, the fabrics used must meet specific technical requirements. Often many layers of different fabrics are used, including polyester, warp knits, standard knits and non-wovens. Two fundamental properties are needed to achieve maximum functional and protective efficiency: impermeability and sterility.

Mimaki technology meets these specific requirements with a highly effective solution for fabric preparation. The TR300-1850C pre-treatment unit, originally designed for inkjet printing applications, can now process mask materials, simply by using it with different chemicals. “Appropriate fabric preparation is essential for producing masks. At the moment this remains one of the trickiest aspects for operators in the textile sector”, explains Marco Vanzini, Sales Director at Mimaki Bompan Textile. “Although it was developed for inkjet printing, the Mimaki TR300-1850C coater has demonstrated its suitability for the specific treatments making mask materials sterile and impermeable.”

Part of the TR Series, an innovative range of pre- and post-treatment systems developed by Mimaki, the TR300-1850C digital coater offers a compact design for installation in any production environment. Easy to use, this roll-to-roll unit makes it simple to apply the coating: once inserted, the fabric passes through a padder, where it is implanted with the selected chemicals, then proceeding to successive phases through squeeze rollers and a dryer, before being rewound into a roll.

Using the coater to meet the mask challenge, fabrics can be treated with water-soluble antifungal, antibacterial and antiviral disinfectants, such as salicylic acid and bleach. As for impermeability, this can be obtained by dissolving silicone-based products in water.

“We are convinced of the potential of this solution, not only in helping to optimise mask production today, but also in opening up a brighter, more optimistic perspective for the steps ahead. It is clear by now that masks and facial PPE will be part of our everyday lives even after the worst of the COVID-19 crisis, in what is called phase 2. It will be important to be prepared, adapting production methods to offer accessories that are both functional and pleasant to wear”, adds Vanzini. “Fabrics pre-treated with the TR300-1850C coater can be decorated and personalised using Mimaki sublimation transfer printing plotters, meeting the demand for trendy accessories that is sure to come from the market.”

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Mimaki Innovation Keeps CottonBee Returning

When espoused entrepreneurs Michał and Ania Laskowski set upon a new venture to create a textile business, they had little experience in the business of textiles and printing but possessed vital expertise in e-commerce and an astute vision.

CottonBee founder, Ania, inspired the business when she observed there were no good resources for buying contemporary fabrics for her sewing hobby; overseas websites were the only option and ordering processes proved difficult. From this spark of an idea, Ania and today’s CEO Michał founded CottonBee in 2014. The vision was to sell ultra-short-run textiles – averaging just one metre in length – direct to consumers.

Five years on and CottonBee has transformed from a side hustle for these entrepreneurs to an established business that goes from strength-to-strength. Still engaged in small volume printing, the business today has 15 employees and has shipped over 28,000 orders to hobbyists and small businesses. From the outset it was obvious digital production was a must for the business as short run-lengths were essential. Recognising that their own knowledge of print was limited, Ania and Michał worked with local vendors to find a technology that would be simple to operate, whilst providing the vibrant fabric prints and fast turnarounds needed – at the right price.

“Mimaki was the first and only choice for us. We were a start-up business with a limited budget and didn’t need a huge amount of capacity to start with. However, we had strict criteria with regards to the print quality, turnaround times and we needed equipment that was easy to operate,” Michał explains. “The Mimaki Tx400 series was the only option at that time which delivered on all our requirements. Our only other alternative was a rebuild and we didn’t want the risk. We also felt Mimaki was a trustworthy brand and working with a company like that would mean continual investment in the technology and excellent customer service.”

A little later Mimaki launched its TP400 pigment inks and according to Michał “Everything improved, but especially dry and wet colour fastness and the vividness of colour. The quality compared very nicely even against large-scale industrial printers.” It was a welcome development for CottonBee’s remarkably tough customer-base, as Michał put it: “Consumers want a good price, good quality, good turnaround times: they’re super demanding. In fact, our single metre customers have the most exacting requirements!”

Having established the CottonBee business, Michał and Ania ramped up their approach after 18 months, expanding their target market to include small-scale businesses as well as consumers. Excelling in its niche, CottonBee continued to focus on small runs, attracting many small-scale ‘hobbyist’ businesses.

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Growth of Digital Textile Printing

Lower lead time, eco-friendly and design flexibility are the major factors driving the growth of Digital textiles printing globally.

 

Commercialised in early 2000’s, Digital Textiles Printing has revolutionised the textiles printing process in current time. DTP can be defined as any ink jet based printing designs onto fabrics with the help of digital based image. Since its introduction this technology has witnessed tremendous popularity amongst textiles printers across the world. It currently represents more than 1.5% of the overall printed textiles market which is expected to be more than 5.0% by 2020.

 

Digital textiles printing was initially used for soft signage applications, however with the advancement in the technology its applications diversified into textiles & clothing, home textiles and other applications such as tents, automotive textiles, boating products and many more.

 

Europe is the largest regional segment using DTP technology lead by Italy. The region accounted for 47.4% and 46.4% of the global DTP output in 2014, respectively in terms of volume and value. The region was followed by Asia-Pacific, North America and RoW with a respective market share of 26.7%, 15.7% and 10.3% in 2014 in terms of volume.

 

Digitally printed textiles output was around 563.2 mm2 worth $853.8 million in 2014. Digitally printed textiles output is estimated to grow at a CAGR of 28.1% in terms of volume to reach 2,519.7 mm2 worth $4,260.0 million by 2020. Asia-Pacific region led by India is expected to register the fastest growth amongst all the regions across all the regions. DTP output in this regional segment is expected to grow at a CAGR of 33.0% and 35.7%, in terms of volume and value between 2015 and 2020.

 

Applications of DTP technology segmented into four major categories, namely textiles & clothing, home textiles, soft signage, and others. Soft Signage application is the oldest and largest end-use application of the DTP technology. This segment represents roughly 44.1% of the market size in 2014 in terms of volume and is expected to be the second fastest growing market till 2020 growing at a CAGR of 27.7% in terms of volume. Textiles & clothing application held the second largest share, and projected to grow fastest with a CAGR of 29.4% in terms of volume, from 2015-2020.

 

Disperse & sublimation ink which is primarily used for soft signage printing applications represents the largest market share amongst all the ink types, this segment accounted for roughly 58.7% and 57.4% of the market size in 2014 in terms of volume and value. Pigment ink segment, which accounted for 2.5% of the market share in 2014 is expected to be the fastest growing ink segment and is expected to grow with a CAGR of 33.8% in terms of volume, from 2015-2020.

 

DTP has witnessed significant growth in the recent past and the trend is expected to continue in the future also. The major factor that is driving the growth of DTP are significantly lower time to market as compared to traditional printing methods, eco-friendly process, high design flexibility, reduced inventory obsolesces. Traditional textiles printing process takes around 6-8 weeks against 3-10 days taken by DTP. DTP helps textiles printers to eliminate the unnecessary steps and reduce the time in order to stay competitive in the fast changing fashion cycles which has also reduced the average run lengths across all the regions. DTP is also more environment friendly process consuming less power and water and leaving minimal industrial waste and CO2 emission as compared to traditional printing process, which makes it an ideal choice for the replacement of the traditional printing process taking into consideration its environmental impacts.

The key players in the DTP value chain are: Mimaki Engineering Company Ltd. (Japan), Seiko Epson Corporation (Japan), Kornit Digital (Israel), Sensient Technologies Corporation (U.S.), Electronics For Imaging (EFI) Inc. (U.S.), SPG Prints B.V (The Netherlands), Sawgrass Technologies Inc. (U.S.), Durst Phototechnik AG (Italy), Du Pont (US.), Dystar Group (Singapore), Huntsman Corporation (U.S.), Kiian Digital (U.S.) and many others.