Spring 2010

Innovation in nano surface technology

On 18 February Xennia Technology presented its process demonstration model for the digital printing and finishing of textile materials. This new process technology is based on inkjet technology, and Xennia occupies a leading position in the field of digital textile printing relying on continuous industrial production rates.

Digital inkjet technology fits in strategically with the cornerstones of (Technological) Innovation and Cost Leadership, as far as the TenCate business model is concerned.  ‘We are on the threshold of a new era.’

Inkjet technology is a new nanoprocess technology for applying advanced functionalities on textile and other substrates. There are two aspects to this. Firstly, the size of the drop: nano. This means that coatings can now be applied that previously could not be, thus allowing unrivalled functionalities to be applied to textile substrates. Secondly, this development is intended to bring about a revolution in the field of process technology. Inkjet printing is an existing technology, but is hardly ever applied in an industrial production environment.

In addition to new technological opportunities, this innovative production process provides major environmental benefits and savings in energy. This was part of the reason for European support for this development.

Areas of knowledge
Xennia (Letchworth, near Cambridge) combines various areas of knowledge in inkjet solutions for various applications, such as the packaging industry, labelling and textile applications. These areas of knowledge are to be found in the realm of ink formulation, software (aansturings mechanisms) and hardware (print heads) knowledge. Xennia has entered into an alliance with Reggiani Macchine for the production of machines for textile applications. TenCate will be Xennia’s first customer in the field of inkjet finishing. Xennia’s business model focuses particularly on the development and marketing of modules and inks/coatings in a number of core areas, which make rigorous demands of flexible and reliable print solutions. Apart from the technical and other textiles sector, this includes in particular printed electronics, packaging, industrial decoration and security printing (identification, security, etc.).

The cradle
It is no coincidence that the surroundings of Cambridge in England are regarded as the cradle of digital inkjet technology. As early as the 1960s the engineering firm Cambridge Consultants was already carrying out research into continuous inkjet pressure for textiles together with the chemical company ICI. After some time these attempts were halted. Domino, a young Cambridge company, then started to work on developing continuous inkjet printers. There was a great deal of interest in this; a great future was foreseen for inkjet, but the technology was still in its infancy. That was 23 years ago.

Scientific expertise

Alan Hudd (managing director, Xennia) was there when it was all happening. He saw many people around him in inkjet development beginning for themselves in the early 1980s. The fact that the EU was gaining more influence, standardizing labels and prescribing the mention of use-by dates played into their hand. Nowadays there are more than thirty companies engaged in inkjet technology in the region – including Xennia. This company is, however, unique, with its scientific and other expertise and the fact that it offers all the modules required for inkjet technology. 

The managing director is delighted with TenCate’s involvement in the development of digital inkjet technology. The fact that TenCate is a company in technical textiles means that it is primarily interested in textile applications, even though numerous other opportunities and markets are emerging. ‘TenCate is encouraging us to focus on for example textile printing and industrial decoration.’

One-stop shop
Alan Hudd realizes that market penetration of this new technology will be gradual, even though there is enormous interest in it. Interest within TenCate too has in a short time become much greater than was first expected - especially from the Geosynthetics and Aerospace Composites market groups, which is encouraging, although this is a long-term process. First of all, applications in the field of protective fabrics will be further developed. Of course, he realizes that the competition does not stand still, Major players are active in this market, but Xennia has a great deal of complementary knowledge and is able to switch rapidly. It currently offers all the required competencies (one-stop shop), like inks, modules and R&D. ‘We are operating from a position of luxury: the companies that are interested come to us. Our customers see to the financing of our R&D projects because we are able to provide customized solutions. These solutions will ensure our “installed base” in due course.’


Blue fabric (Tecawork Blue 65287)