Witness to a revolution

Luca Rovacchi Luca Rovacchi Industry Segment Manager

Luca Rovacchi, Habasit`s Industry Segment Manager (ISM) for Textiles, considers himself fortunate to be witnessing a technological revolution in his professional lifetime.

“Textile printing is moving from traditional screen printing to digital,” he explains. “These are two completely different worlds and even the printing machine manufacturers don’t know exactly how fast the revolution will happen and where digital and traditional printing will reach an equilibrium in terms of respective market shares. From the belting standpoint we are still discovering technical solutions and business models, and this makes it challenging, but also a lot of fun.”

Both the screen and digital printing machines are equipped with so-called printing blankets. These belts need to fulfill very high requirements, not only when it comes to uniform thickness and surface flatness but also uniformity in internal construction (the ‘neutral line’), the real driver of printing accuracy. During the printing process the fabric is glued to the printing blanket, which conveys the cloth forward while the color is applied. High precision is key in order that every tiny drop of color is exactly positioned to create the most delicate patterns.

Ever since the evolution away from the use of rubber printing blankets, Habasit has been the world leader of innovation in the textile industry. The two most significant advances were Habasit`s introduction of TPU belts instead of rubber in the 80’s and the introduction of belts with aramid fabrics in the 90’s. Habasit has consistently offered cutting-edge belting solutions for the textile industry and continues creating the latest market innovations.

“The textile industry is interesting because it involves objects that we use in ordinary life,” says Luca Rovacchi. “It relates to things we touch every day.”

From yarn and thread processing to non-wovens, power transmission belts, spindle tapes and conveyor belts are used for every type of production, but textile printing is by far the most technically demanding branch of the industry.

The precision factor

In either traditional or digital textile printing, precision is everything. On wide printing blankets, the task of accurate belt positioning becomes a challenging feat.

Digital printing has increased 10 times the precision requirements in the belting industry as before. “Single pass machines can print up to 30-60 meters per minute,” explains the industry expert, “and each nozzle can shoot 30,000 drops of ink per second. There are thousands of nozzles shooting billions of drops per second, each one in a different size, and they each have to fall in an exact position to create not only the exact shapes but also the exact colors. A typical printing precision goal of our customers is plus/minus 20 thousandth of a millimeter over a printing area often exceeding 5 meters.”

Cutting-edge accuracy

Although these dimensions are mind-bogglingly minute, Habasit has developed products that provide on-point precision. The latest innovation is the ENU-55AXBY, launched to the market earlier this year after extensive and scrupulous testing. With its strong aramid traction layer and asymmetrical belt design, it reaches a printing accuracy likely never before seen on the market.

“The more constant the neutral line position is, the better the result,” explains Luca Rovacchi, “and this belt is designed to keep the neutral belt line as low as possible to avoid fluctuation.”

Customized optimization

Habasit has several effective solutions for the textile industry, but customers often have trouble deciding which product is best for their application.

“Sometimes the highest performance belt can be too demanding in terms of machine construction if you try to match it with an entry-level machine,” says Luca Rovacchi, “but when a customer starts a new project by giving Habasit the target specifications of their application, we can select the right belt, give some design suggestions (based on specific Habasit calculations), discuss what can be modified and improved and eventually help the customer reach the right cost-to-performance positioning for their new printing machine.”

With the rapid transformation of the textile industry, the ISM considers application support to be just as important as product development. Habasit has always stood out in the industry for our capacity to offer up-to-date technological assistance alongside comprehensive product solutions.

Keeping up with the trends

One of the most notable changes that Luca Rovacchi has observed in the textile printing market is the growing demand of fast-fashion retailers. Much of the printing that was previously outsourced to other countries is now being done closer to the consumer simply for the sake of speed.

“Rather than manufacturing four seasons a year,” Luca Rovacchi explains, “top class retailers are delivering 104 micro-seasons to the market so that they have new clothing items in their stores twice a week. The time between the design finalization of a garment to the shelf can be as brief as two weeks. This is a big struggle for textile printing and only possible if done digitally.”

With worldwide digital printing expanding at more than 20% per year, Luca Rovacchi believes the revolution is far from over. “We can expect a lot of changes in the future,” he says.

Meanwhile, Luca Rovacchi is enjoying a personal revolution of his own. “Before I got to know the textile industry, shopping with my wife was very boring,” he laughs, “but now I have to say, it is quite interesting. Now I am the one getting to explain how something is manufactured or why something is good or poor quality. She appreciates my suggestions, so it has worked out quite well.”

It is indeed hard to be bored in an industry that seems to be changing faster than most of us even have time to shop, but Habasit`s role in the market remains unchanged as the world leader of belting innovations for the textile industry. (ST)

Visit our booth at the ITMA 2019, the world’s largest international textile and garment technology exhibition which will take place in Barcelona, Spain from June 20th-26th, 2019. www.itma.com

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