Drupa Essentials of Print - Digital Printing Driving Innovation in Textile Printing…

An article by Rob Gilboa

For decades, digital printing for the fashion, décor, industrial, and graphics industry was relegated to sampling and short run printing. With the advantages of innovative inkjet technology, the industry is now addressing the demand for environmentally responsible output, innovative designs, and the need to improve supply chain operation. This article examines the latest textile industry trends and examines the dynamics that digital innovations have on this massive industry supply chain. Innovations in design, digital print, as well as cutting and sewing of textile-based products.
The Textile Transformation - Like many industries, the textile printing market has been changing to adopt new innovative technologies aimed at addressing a new generation of consumers, brands, as well as the supply chain. This massive industry, with over a trillion and a half dollars in annual business value in the apparel and accessories sector, is undergoing a transformation.

Brands must adjust to appeal to a new generation of consumers who shop in both brick and mortar stores as well as through online retailers. With the digital age now an economic certainty, brands as well as textile mills must adapt. Many of these changes have evolved in the past decade as early high speed production digital textile solutions emerged (1). The changes are impactful in several key areas.

Productivity - One of the largest areas in textile printing that has improved dramatically is the ability to produce just in time any length of fabrics or garments. With no cylinder or screen make ready, and with the advent of sophisticated workflow automation tools, textile mills can now produce any design rapidly - meeting the needs of designers and brands trying to meet the quick changeover in the fashion industry. Additionally, innovations in colour matching and design are revving up the creative process, shrinking creation time from months down to weeks to even just mere days.

Creativity - In the textile space, improvements in productivity and simplified design have also translated to greater creativity. With the ability to produce single item runs, there is no mass production risk associated with taking new designers on. Many brands are allowing budding designers to enter the fray and compete for mind share and recognition. It is common place today to be able and order quarter yard of fabric from traditional textile mills or a new generation of mass customisation on-demand producers.

Environment - Lastly, environmental sustainability continues to rise to the forefront of service provider responsibility. Research has repeatedly shown that younger generations – particularly Generation Z – prioritise sustainability when it comes to product selection. In many cases, this age group is willing to pay more for products that were created with sustainability in mind. For the textile industry, this means a change. For generations, textile manufacturers have been considered a large polluter, with 20% of waste water produced by textile mills globally.

Optimising the supply chain - Now that we have broadly outlined the textile transformation and the factors driving it, we can more fully discuss just how the textile market is changing as digital fabric printing print volume continues to grow at 19% CAGR (reaching about four billion square metres in 2022). With productivity and creativity trends urging companies to adapt a more flexible production schedule that prioritises product diversity, it is only natural that improvements would come to the supply chain.

Integration into Product Life Cycle Management (PLM) - When brands plan their next season, they usually resort to the use of a Product Life Cycle Management system (PLM). These tools are aggregators of all the components needed to usher in a new successful season. From managing resources (ERP), design components, collection and ensembles, to patterns and product photography, these collaborative platforms enable all the functions and processes in the creation of next season’s products - a coordinated effort from brands, designers, textile mills, and cut and sew operations to the logistics that move products to shelves or ship them out in packages.

Just-in-time manufacturing - While just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing has technically been a term that has existed since the 1960s, it has grown in applicability in recent decades. JIT manufacturing allows new businesses to get their product lines to market in days or weeks, rather than months. For larger organisations, it can mean rapid response to the fashion industry needs to meet seasonal demand. Seasonal variations can be on shelves on time, giving textile companies better ability to please their customers.

Digital printing: Reduction in overstock and warehousing - The shift toward digital printing can also mean improved inventory planning, resulting in less overstock and warehousing needs. As textile service providers move away from longer runs and shift toward short, varied, targeted production – they have been better able to match product to client need. Clothing can now be made as needed rather than in bulk order, letting companies spend less on inventory that may or may not sell. These capabilities ushered in a new type of fabric suppliers - On Demand manufacturers. These companies use a Purchase Activated Manufacturing business model, whereby production commence only once an order was received and paid for in advance. There are no finished goods in the warehouse just blank raw materials.

Rise of On Demand fabric manufacturing (Mass customisation) - With the supply chain being shortened using innovative print technology and continued advancements in workflow, new players have been entering the space over the last several years, empowered by easy online tools that make it simple to start selling customised clothing commercially. These fit into the growing uses of e-commerce in the apparel industry at large, where continued growth will drive estimated revenues up to $145 Billion by 2023 according to Statista 2018 digital market Outlook.

Several suppliers epitomise this trend, pointing out to the need for customisation for a community of like-minded people and, on a larger scale, addressing the needs of the masses with diverse customized products.

Amazon (Merch) - Another powerful new tool is Amazon Merch. One of the largest online retailers in the world, Amazon realised the potential in digital printing many years ago when it started printing books on demand. Today, Amazon is an investor in companies such as Kornit, which supplies the company with Direct to Garment printers that enable Amazon Merch’s “print per buy” operation. No inventory, no risk of unsold inventory.
Amazon offers its front-end infrastructure to entrepreneurs with designs and ideas and then provides the ability to benefit from Amazon backend infrastructure to get those ideas fulfilled. Its services support both independent designers as well as large-scale brands such as Disney and Marvel.

Users of Amazon Merch also get to take advantage of Prime shipping, one of the leading shipping services in the US, as it has free two-day (and one-day) shipping services. That said, sellers on Amazon Merch will have to split their profits with Amazon, only earning a royalty with each sale.
(1) 2011 MS Printing introduced Lario first single pass textile printer