ITMA Fair Showcases Improved Technology in a Down Market

September 5, 1999

Paris -- 'Value added' was the buzzword at the International Textiles Machinery Association fair held in Paris, France from June 1 -10.
Systems integration combining software, hardware, looms and/or printers are being designed to offer the mill owner or converter better value, speed and flexibility.
"Everyone is hungry. The upholstery business is not that bad. Of the 108 looms featured at ITMA, 38 are equipped with jacquard heads. This is an expression of what manufacturers believe they need," said Walther de Reuse, managing director of Picanol. "Upholstery is more and more sophisticated. Upholstery mills are doing better than the total textile market." Despite a 36 percent reduction in number of weaving looms sold worldwide in 1998, Picanol still gained share and kept its sales rate stable.
The downturn in loom sales in 1998 continued in 1999 going into the ITMA Fair. Some companies have found the need to merge to survive. For example, Sulzer Textil has integrated Sulzer Ruti and Nuova Pignone product lines. The result is both short and long runs for upholstery and rapier looms for wide width fabrics in curtaining. All of the major loom manufacturers are trying to develop products which give the mill total flexibility, and provide total manipulation of the shed. Staubli has developed a head that is totally independent of the loom. The loom no longer drives the head, which opens new avenues of speed and flexibility. Camshaft driven Dornier looms are now capable of weaving two patterns on the same machine, with both coarse and weaker yarns together. Acceleration from standstill to movement has less tension and prevents breakage of the yarns, a Dornier spokesman said.
Mills are looking for new product opportunities and Valdese of the U.S. was successful with its new rug-making capability. The company developed an area rug line with 19,200 hooks using Staubli heads and Dornier looms capable of weaving 360 centimeters wide. The Valdese rugs were on display at the Dornier stand. Taking a page out of Valdese's book, Staubli recently purchased Schoener, the East
German rug equipment manufacturer. "This will be a serious competitor to Vandewiele which has had a corner on the rug machinery market," a market observer said.
Companies that work with printed fabrics are also experiencing the effects of improved machinery with the evolution of digital inkjet printing. "In the next ten years, about 10 percent of the printed fabrics market will be achieved through inkjet printing," said Paul Clarke, worldwide business development manager of Encad. "That's 30 billion meters a year worldwide which translates to 600 milliion meters annually for home furnishings fabrics."
"Digital inkjet printing allows you to do things for photography and customer presentations but you need a full vertical operation," said Mike Bernstein, chairman of Crown Crafts Inc., a major bedding producer in the U.S. that uses inkjet printers for customer showings.
"We digitize and scan the design, so by the time it gets into the printer, we have a good prototype to show the customer," he said. The company does not use inkjet printing for production runs. He said that Crown Crafts produces such large runs that digital inkjet printing would not be economically feasible at this point and this would be true for most high volume home furnishings suppliers. Crown Crafts has an Encad 1500 TX inkjet printer.
Another bedding marketer used an Encad inkjet printer to put together an entire line two weeks before Heimtextil. The line included bedding, tablecloths and curtains that were fully coordinated and inkjet printed.
"Three designs were sold to Trois Suisses," said Mitchell Wade sales manager of the Americas for Encad, adding that Mexican and Brazilian companies have started to buy the Encad inkjet printers. "The beauty of inkjet printing is being able to produce a line without a commitment to large-scale production. The turnaround is fast and short runs are feasible and economical using reactive inks on cotton and silks and acids on silks and polyamides with dispersives on polyester." An Encad printer costs $35,000 and is available from 40 resellers worldwide.
Seiren, a Japanese company known for its use of inkjet printers is said to print 15-20 meter runs of cloth for kimono, bathing suit and automotive fabrics. Seiren has worked with inkjet printers for 10 years now and is said to be the largest inkjet fabric printer in the world, but despite the company's in-depth knowledge of the technology, the company chose not to comment on its activities.
Many major converters, including Covington, Kaufmann and the U.S. mill Tietex are using inkjet printers for strikeoffs. Market observers feel that faster machines capable of producing two to four meters an hour will become a reality in the near future. As a result, converters are starting to invest in printers manufactured by Encad and Mimaki of Japan.
In the future, a converter could have many inkjet printers, each producing a different pattern in limited quantities as close to the geographical market as possible.
Today, the printed design or jacquard design can be digitally printed and several companies have developed minilooms capable of weaving the pattern in sample quantities utilizing the digital input. In another variation of this concept, Sumagh, a Taiwan-based textile producer, is marketing a CAD/CAM software package capable of weaving jacquards from the digital image in 30 minutes. Sumagh demonstrated its system with a Bonas head.
Many companies are even putting their entire design library on CD ROM for use by the customer, allowing the design to be transmitted through a company's Web site or other interactive media.
"We're rediscovering the past in terms of values, to build ourselves today," said Nikolaos Perackis commercial director of Nuova Vamatex, Italy. Vamatex feels that service is the deciding factor in the customer's choice of machinery supplier. "The service aspect is equal in importance to the quality of the machine," he said. He said all of the competitors' machines are pretty good but service makes the difference. F&FI

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