From A to B and back again

The very last thing that I did at last week’s Fespa Munich show was to go to the organiser’s press conference, where Michael Ryan, group exhibition manager for Fespa, announced a brand new event, Sportswear Pro, for next year’s Fespa show in Madrid, Spain.

Visitors waiting to enter the Fespa 2019 show at the start of the first day.

This neatly reinforces my general view that large format technology has matured and is now starting to fragment into other industrial areas. Textiles is clearly the largest industrial sector and so it makes sense for Fespa to chase after this market, but the same principle is behind other shows, such as InPrint, which also deals with industrial printing. The result is that this year’s Fespa was a strange mix of large format display graphics and textile printing, mostly aimed at interior décor and garments, with a limited amount of soft signage. I can honestly say that I never expected to spend so much time writing about fashion from a career devoted mainly to industrial printing. It’s also clear that many vendors are also struggling to deal with both these aspects, but it also feels that some of them, notably Canon and Fujifilm, are being left behind.

The show itself felt busy, despite a slow start on Tuesday morning, which is to be expected as people travel in to Munich. It certainly felt more coherent than the last couple of Fespas, with all the vendors sticking to just one stand each, which made it a lot easier to find those vendors. I have to say that I like Fespa’s approach in using different venues from year to year, if only because I’m getting to see more of Europe. But some of the venues are definitely better than others, and the Munich Messe is a very good fit for a show the size of Fespa. My only complaint is that there turned out to be so much to do at the show that I didn’t have time to see much of Munich itself. Fortunately, Fespa will be returning to Munich in 2021. 

As for this year’s show, I had the very strong impression that even the new products were just iterations of existing ideas, which is perhaps to be expected in a mature market like large format. Perhaps the only genuinely new product announced was SwissQprint’s Karibu, which is the company’s first roll to roll printer. But this is largely a repackaging of its flatbed imaging system with a roll to roll transport system. Still, it’s a solid looking machine, drew large crowds, and will undoubtedly prove to be as popular as SwissQ’s flatbeds. 

Durst has broadened out its P5 portfolio with two new machines, the P5 210 and P5 350, both using LED curing, and which I’ve covered here. Peter Bray, managing director of Durst UK and Ireland, says that the ability to print six different boards at the same time has drawn a lot of interest for the P5 350, and again, the Durst stand did always seem to be fairly busy.

Roland DG’s European operation is surprisingly creative, having adapted a number of Roland’s wide format printers to create new solutions targeting specific markets, including textiles and décor printing, which I’ve covered here. Whoever is running Roland Europe is doing a far better job than regular contact with Roland UK would suggest. Roland also demonstrated the TrueVis VG2, announced earlier this year, and which I’ve covered here.

Roland has developed this Texart XT 640S, which uses pigmented inks to print directly cotton, taking up to 12 jigs at a time.

EFI strangely opted to show the Vutek H5 that it announced at last year’s Fespa, and not the Pro 32R that it launched into the US market at the end of last year. This is based on Matan technology and is a 3.2m wide LED UV roll to roll printer with CMYK plus optional white. EFI did show a new flatbed, the Pro30f, which is just a larger version of the existing Pro 24f.

Canon introduced a new roll to roll Colorado 1650, which mainly seems to have addressed some issues with the existing 1640, namely the inability to produce a matte finish, which is essential to the interior décor market. 

Epson has rethought its strategy restricting sales of its PrecisionCore printhead. Epson previously had quite a healthy business selling printheads to the likes of Roland, Mimaki and Mutoh but decided a couple of years ago to keep its latest head technology for its own printers. This always seemed like a strange idea given that most of these companies were also using Epson ink, and this has clearly not worked as Epson is now looking for other vendors to take on its heads. Some of the other vendors suggested to me that they had moved on and were happy with the printheads they were currently using, not least because the change freed them up to work with other ink developers. 

Epson also introduced a bulk ink solution for its SureColor solvent wide format printers, with new 1.5 litre ink pouches for high volume users. There’s a new ink tank that sits underneath the printer to house these pouches.  There were two new printers – actually existing printers but fitted with the new bulk ink tank – the SC-S60600L and the SC-S80600L.

Backlit sign, with frame printed on a Massivit 3D printer.

Massivit showed off its latest 3D printer, the 1800 pro, which is essentially a version of the existing 1800 but fitted with a variable resolution extruder. The older models can be upgraded to the new spec. I was also quite impressed with some of the applications that Massivit showed on its stand. This included printing moulds that could be used for thermoforming. But the most useful idea was to print frames for backlit displays. Using a 3D printer means that you can have any shape that you like, adding an extra creative twist. The frames appear to be lightweight and easily installed. 

The biggest story on the textiles side was HP’s leap into dye sublimation, which I’ve already covered in two stories, on the initial announcementand launch of the S300 and S500, and a deeper analysiswith the launch of the S1000. The main takeaways from Fespa were that the print quality at the faster speeds is much better than I had expected, and that the running costs are likely to be quite high, given that HP went back on its earlier promise to reveal prices by refusing to do so when asked at the press conference.  

Kornit also showed off its new PolyPro process, which sprays a fixer onto the fabric before printing, and then an enhancer after printing so that you can print direct to the fabric without any pre or post-treatment. I’ll cover this in more detail later this week, but it obviously struck a chord with visitors as it was hard to get a proper look at the printer because of the sheer number of people around it. 

Kornit’s Avalanche PolyPro avoids pre-and post-treatment.

This brings us back to where I started, with Fespa’s new Sportswear Pro, which the Fespa people think of as a whole new event, but most visitors will just regard as being one half of Hall 3 at next year’s Madrid show. As the name suggests, this is aimed at Sportswear manufacturers and producers of garments, including designers and e-commerce providers as well as those using printing, cutting and sewing equipment. Ryan says: “This expansion complements Fespa. Everybody is focusing on the apparel industry alongside printing, companies like HP, Kornit and so on.” But he also says that Sportswear companies like Puma are coming to Fespa. 

He continues: “Sportswear is fashion for function. Every garment has a purpose so we are looking at trends from performance materials to sustainable materials.” He points out that garment production is growing within Europe as more companies look to produce closer to their main markets, saying: “They need to get product to customers quickly. Their challenge is mass customisation because the technology is there right now in the industry. Localised manufacture is needed to meet the demand.” He adds: “Automation including cutting and sewing is essential. And also sustainability and transparency is essential to the Sportswear industry.” He finished by saying that both Southern Europe and Northern Africa would benefit from this, making the Madrid show next year the perfect venue to launch this.

All this means that we now have an enlarged Fespa to look forward to in March next year, followed by Interpack in May and of course Drupa 2020 in June. Oh joy.

I’ve still got some stories to finish from my trip to Fespa last week so I’ll continue to update this report with links to those stories as they’re published throughout this week.

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