From technical textiles to smart textiles
For Europe it was clear: the only way for the textile industry to maintain itself is through the route of process innovation and sustainability. As early as ten years ago Ten Cate unfolded its view on the (digital) future within this framework. In order to enable this revolution, the entire chain of value needed to be developed.
In the meantime Ten Cate mastered inkjet technology, partly through participation in different EU innovation projects. With this, the entire procedure was gone through from the scientific (research) basis to the applied research (development). The Eco-Innovation project of the European Committee, in which Ten Cate participates too, is mainly aimed at the last phase of market introduction. Currently Ten Cate has a strong technology position. The time has come to effectively market this position.
At TenCate Protective & Outdoor Fabrics in Nijverdal the first production printer based on digital inkjet technology was set up mid-2013. After a few successful production tests the manufacture of the first client-specific products was started in the first months of 2014. Digital inkjet technology zeroes in on the worldwide trend of individualization. Digital finishing through super-fast inkjet technology improves sustainability, flexibility and economic performance of the (technical) textile industry.
Digital printing of textiles is a fast-growing market. For good reason: it can be done increasingly faster and cheaper and offers many advantages compared to analogue printing. The transition is gradual however, because the technology is quite complex and is still susceptible to malfunction in continuous production. For technical textiles, which often have specific product properties, the development is slower than in, for example, the fashion business. In the technical textile industry one speaks mainly of coating or finishing instead of digital printing. With technical textiles it is mostly about digitally applying functional features. It will surely take years before we can talk of ‘smart textiles’, but the first thoughts about this are already strong.
Besides digital printing of colours, inkjet technology can be used to apply functional fluids, such as infrared reflection for military uniforms. With inkjet technology these fluids can be applied in a very controlled and precise manner. Because of this, the costly ingredients are not unnecessarily wasted. Moreover, because of the high degree of precision the exact same amount of coating is applied to all printed textiles, which ensures high and consistent quality. It is even possible to apply different functional coatings to either side of the fabric (see text box). Among other things, the outside of a garment could be waterproof, whereas the inside could feel soft and dry for more wear comfort. Functional coatings could also be applied in a pattern or only on certain parts of the fabric. Indeed, different functions can be added to the same piece of textile (see image: printed functionality).
TenCate Outdoor Fabrics’ client, Nyfan, a Greek producer of awnings, has decided to completely switch from screen printing to digital printing
With the applications of digital inkjet technology, textile can become ‘smarter’. In textiles mechanisms can be incorporated that record electrical, thermal, chemical, magnetic or other stimuli from the environment and react to it. If, by electronics, textiles can be adapted to the environment of the individual, or can express certain needs of people, the applications are limitless. Solution-oriented innovations are dependent on cooperation with the right partners in a specific segment. In theory, current nanotechnology also makes it possible, for example, that tent-cloth is given self-cleaning properties or for tent-cloth to generate energy through solar cells. Expectations are that in the future more and more technologies will be brought together to equip textiles as wearer of these.
For further growth of the market of digital inkjet technology it is, among other things, of importance that production speeds are increased. For this, the different components of the system (ink, printer head, software, machine design, etc.) need to be optimally fine-tuned to each other. Xennia Technology can play an important role in this and will have to cooperate intensively with various parties.
Further research is necessary before all mentioned applications are developed into affordable products. Xennia Technology will make an important contribution to this.
Xennia Technology’s inks are of high quality. In the current systems in which its products are used, they provide for much less wear of the printer heads and consequently they provide for fewer failures and stops. This leads to a considerably higher productivity. Because of this a strong relation is developed with Reggiani Macchine, a prominent builder of machines for the textile industry, partly on the basis of the high-quality properties of Xennia inks. The excellent performance of Reggiani printing systems is a strong business case for all those involved. On the basis of this business model Xennia wants to further expand its position in the market particularly through partnerships.