Digital Textile Printing: Smooth Sailing During a Perfect Storm

Value-based manufacturing and micro-factories are disrupting the norm

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03/30/2022

Johnny Shell

 

It’s no secret that the textile industry consumes massive amounts of water and energy, as well as pollutes the environment with dye stuff and numerous chemicals. Behind energy, textiles are second on the list of most polluting industries, with 57% of post-consumer textile waste ending up in a landfill. To further add to the equation, large quantities of fashion and apparel items that are manufactured are not sold at full retail price. We make too much that does not sell, and the traditional volume-based manufacturing model is broken.
 

Most post-consumer textile waste ends up in landfills (Source: Pulse of the Fashion Industry).

 
The fashion industry has always functioned on a nearly 18-month, volume-based manufacturing model:

  1. Design/Protype approval: 3-6 months
  2. Manufacture forecasting: 2-3 months
  3. Volume manufacturing: >6 months

 

Brands and retailers must forecast sales months in advance to allow enough time to manufacture the finished goods. The problem with the volume-based manufacturing model is that over-forecasting is often the norm. In today’s world, culture is influenced by social media and consumer preferences shift daily, so speed to market is of paramount importance. Designing and manufacturing months in advance is a mismatch to today’s social structure and how purchase decisions are made.

 

Over-forecasting is just the beginning. There is also the long development cycle and lead time involved in reaching a decision to have a product manufactured. But when products don’t sell at full retail price, they are discounted in hopes they will sell. We are also reaching a point where many of the fashion and apparel items manufactured in the world end up in the landfill as waste. Then add in the fact that we are also running out of manufacturing locations that have sufficient water supply and affordable labor for textile manufacturing. It is becoming increasingly difficult to support the traditional volume-based manufacturing model…

 

Value-based manufacturing uses digital printing technology that facilitates on-demand manufacturing; items are not manufactured until after they are purchased. This model is a revolutionary approach to manufacturing economics that all but removes the waste and profit loss caused by unsold inventory and eliminates the forecast gap associated with the volume-based model.

The single-pass EFI Reggiani Bolt prints on demand fashion
items at up to 90m/min (Source: EFI Reggiani).


Digitally printed textiles, like those produced with the EFI Reggiani Bolt, offer cleaner and “greener” options for the environment. As the consumer and buyer become more conscious of the impact of their purchasing choices on the environment, digital technologies and their use will continue to move textiles forward—reducing and/or replacing unsustainable inefficient manufacturing practices. Brands are seeking ways to create products that speak to consumers as individuals and are using digital printing to customize and tailor products to create that connection.

 

Environmental and regulatory issues will continue to impact the textile industry in 2022 and beyond. Consumer purchasing decisions are already being influenced by a manufacturer’s environmental ethics, and transparency within the supply chain is set for radical reform. Consumers demand clarity on the environmental impact of their purchasing decisions and expect the supplier to be responsible for their supply chain and manufacturing methods.

 

The fashion industry is finally getting a better understanding of digital printing and is beginning to unify on their sustainability efforts. Thankfully, we are seeing digital printing bring in a new era of production for the fashion industry, with the increasing emergence of technologically advanced, highly automated micro-factories. Along with reducing unnecessary waste through on-demand production, micro-factories have a smaller ecological footprint than traditional garment production and require little to no water use during the production process. This makes the process not only a faster solution, but a more environmentally sound one, too.

 

Historically, textile manufacturing is based on a volume-based model of sourcing materials and producing garments in bulk. Micro-factories are now facilitating on-demand, localized production—making it possible to create everything from unique, one-off pieces and samples right through to entire product lines—at exceptional speeds. This means greater flexibility and customization, empowering designers to modify or update patterns and designs to respond to market movements as they occur.

 

Micro-factories have the potential to significantly increase profitability and reduce waste for textile manufacturers. They also offer the ability to scale operations as production demand dictates. Perhaps even more compelling, however, are the environmental savings in waste reduction. In a digitally driven micro-factory, the abundant waste generated in the traditional volume-based model disappears. The environmental benefits of micro-factory production will have an even greater impact as it becomes more prolific and commonplace throughout the fashion world.

 

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