Digital printing yet to gain ground in India -min
Digital textile printing is a new technology which uses ink jet based method of printing colorants onto fabric. It was developed in late 1980s as a possible replacement for analog screen printing. In India too, leading hometextile makers have access to digital printing. However, digital printing accounts for very small proportion of the total production by the hometextile makers. Reasons for digital printing not becoming popular among the hometextile makers are many.
“..traditional dying finishing is still moving ahead, and traditionally US is buying solid dyed sheets instead of more prints. The heavy prints are much more in fashion in Europe. So, we have more sales in the US market and we are delivering the dyed product,” said a person associated with leading exporter of hometextiles from India.
Most Indian hometextile makers, from Indo Count to Welspun to Trident – all have invested in digital printing facilities but the facilities are not optimally utilised. According to an official at Indo Count “We are utilizing our equipment, but as a percentage to the total production, it’s very low because the cost of inks in digital is extremely high. So, this digital printing is used more for shorter runs, more for the fashion side of things … The end consumer price point changes if you print something completely digitally, basically because the production cost is much higher.” Indo Count invested in Italian technology for digital printing two years ago. According to Mahendra Agarwal an expert in hometextile printing many suppliers have digital printing facility but prefer conventional printing due mainly to cost factor. Experts feel that it will take at least 3-4 years for the technology to gain popularity in the country. By then it is hoped that ink cost will come down to realistic level.
However, one advantage of DP is that any order however small could be executed without affecting the cost structure. Conventional printing requires minimum quantity, of say 4000 meters, to make the order viable. In DP even one meter can be printed. Thus, DP leads to lower stock in hand, which is not the case with conventional printing.
In India D’Decor is the largest user of DP. The company has completely automatized set up with robots managing the warehouse. Retailers do not maintain any stock and instead have a detailed catalogue. Consumers have to choose design referring the catalogue upon which, retailers place orders which are processed by robots in warehouse. Robots forward exact quantity of clothes for printing for each design and material as soon as the order is placed. Thus, order is despatched within 24 hours of its placing. Though D’Decor spends more on logistics than others but the same is more than compensated by lower stock carrying cost. Thus, fully automatic production facility is a pre-requisite for the successful implementation of digital printing.
Conventional printing doesn’t provide flexibility. For example, it will have minimum batch size, of say 4k meters and the entire lot will have to have same design to make the process economical. On the other hand, DP can have minimum lot of any quantity say, one meter also.
Machinery for DP is not locally available. Even inks are to be imported. Spare parts like printing heads are also available with only few suppliers. Thus, DP owners are literally at the mercy of suppliers. This is also one of the reasons for technology not finding favour with fabric manufacturers.