Mimaki had a busy time at the ITMA show this June, demonstrating a new textile printer, a new inkset and an interesting approach to circular recycling. And the company is looking further afield, as Kazuaki Ikeda, Mimaki’s president and CEO explained to me.
This included a demonstration of what Mimaki is calling its Neo-Chromato Process, which is named after a phenomenon similar to chromatography where sublimation dyes seep out of the polyester fibres and transfer to other materials they come in contact with. Neo-Chromato is still at a concept stage, but does promise the ability to reuse printed polyester for a truly circular approach to recycling. However, it does require a reasonably flat material. It works with t-shirts but not yet so well with smart shirts or dresses because of the seams and stitching. Because of this it would seem that the most obvious use would be with soft signage.
Nonetheless, the sheer volume involved in garments would make this a very useful contribution to the industry’s overall sustainability. Mimaki estimates that only about 15 percent of printed textiles are currently recycled so anything that can improve that figure should be welcomed.
The process as demonstrated appeared quite simple. A specially developed liquid – which is the key to the whole concept – was spread onto the printed polyester fabric. Then an absorbent cotton pad was placed on top of this and the two materials were put into a heat press for several minutes. After this the ink has transferred into the cotton leaving the polyester completely ink-free and ready to be printed on again.
Yuji Ikeda, general manager of global marketing for Mimaki, explains: “The liquid is a kind of solvent.” Essentially it loosens the bonds between the sublimated ink and the fabric under the heat and pressure from the heat press and the cotton layer then absorbs the ink, leaving the polyester substrate ink-free. The de-coloured fabrics can be printed on straightaway, and the process can be repeated many times over on the same piece of fabric.
His brother Kazuaki Ikeda says that Mimaki is developing the machines to commercialise this and would like to sell it as a Mimaki technology though licensing the technology to other vendors is clearly also an option.
Mimaki also previewed a new Textile Pigment Transfer Printing System, which has been developed in partnership with the Dutch paper manufacturer, Coldenhove. Mimaki has developed a new Textile pigment ink and modified its existing TS330-1600 dye sublimation printer to work with these inks. Coldenhove has developed a transfer paper called Texcol that will work with a a wide range of materials, including natural fibres. After printing, the transfer paper is put through a calendar press together with the textile to transfer the image to the fabric. The module that adapts the TS330-1600 will be available as an option for existing and new Mimaki customers in Q3 2023. The advantage is that this pigment ink avoids the high water use associated with conventional dying and printing systems. For this reason, most other digital printer vendors have also developed pigment ink systems. But Mimaki’s approach builds on its dye sublimation technology, meaning that many users will already be familiar with the basic approach and have the necessary calendar unit but will gain the ability to work with a far wider range of materials.
Mimaki also showed off a new version of its Tiger sublimation printer, the Tiger 600-1800TS. The original Tiger was developed by La Meccanica, the Italian textile printer company that Mimaki acquired back in 2015. Over the years Mimaki has tweaked the design but this new model looks as if its been designed from the ground up by Mimaki. The result is that it looks quite different to the older models, with a much more compact design mainly because the paper mounting and winding system are now both at the back of the machine. The ink tanks are at the front of the machine and can be changed while the printer is running.
The printheads have been changed from Kyocera to Epson, with eight heads arranged in two staggered rows of four. Arjen Evertse, general manager for sales for Mimaki EMEA, says that Mimaki has considerable experience in developing drive electronics for different print heads, adding: “And that’s where we make the difference because we have a lot of know-how in how to drive the head and optimise the wave forms to do things with the heads that other people don’t have.”
The new Tiger can print at up to 550sqm/hr. It takes media up to 1.9m wide with a print width of 1.85m. The ink is Mimaki’s MLSb510 sublimation ink. There are four colours: blue, magenta, yellow and black.
The Tiger comes with TxLink software, which Mimaki has developed specifically for the textile market. Evertse says: “So it has different features in terms of step and repeat. In textiles you have much larger amounts of data than display graphics because people want to print patterns.”
Overall, this new Tiger is a considerable improvement over the previous model. It offers much higher productivity – up to 143 percent better than the outgoing model – and with half the footprint and less maintenance time needed. Altogether this should make it easier for customers to run multiple printers together rather than one highly productive machine. Kazuaki Ikeda points out that the textile market is sensitive to the cost of the machines, and that most customers prefer to buy several cheaper printers rather than one expensive single pass press. He adds: “So we need to think about that. Because inkjet machines have some issues but if the customer buys more than one then they can cover it. But with a fast machine than that customer only buys one so it’s very difficult to control the down time.”
Ikeda says that the company’s main focus is still sign and graphic, which is where most of the revenue comes from, as well as the flatbed and textile markets. Mimaki has a range of technologies, including latex, but he says that the high cost of the energy needed to cure the inks makes this a less attractive option at the moment, noting: “So we are more invested in the UV technology. We are looking at top coating to reduce the UV smell.”
Mimaki has also developed a 3D printer, which uses the UV curing knowledge gained from developing flatbed printers to cure the individual layers that make up a 3D object. Ikeda has long been interested in using 3D printing technology for producing food and tells me: “We want to print chocolate and also 3D food and meat-free food. Food is a big market.”
He says that the company is hoping to launch a food 3D printer next year, most likely in the form of vending machines such as those found at train stations, adding: “We are still testing the technology with our end users. We can design the taste, not only the visuals, so that is a very good business for us. We can print several channels at one time and have different flavours. We could print a starch and then some oil to make the taste. So that is very interesting for our technology. The meat technology alone is not very tasty. You need the oil and salt and so on to make it work. So that is one of the benefits of inkjet technology.”
Ikeda says that Mimaki is also looking at the automotive market, both in terms of 3D printing replacement parts for used cars as well as decorating of parts such as wheels or wing mirrors. He says that the used car market is more attractive than new cars, partly because a car manufacturer will want to test and certify everything, which will eat into the profit margins. But with used cars, people want to add value in order to sell the vehicles on for a higher price. He says that “It’s important for us to focus on how the user can increase their business.” He adds: “The car printing is easy because we already have the technology.”
Ikeda says that Mimaki is also targeting the wallpaper market so all in all it’s going to be interesting to see what the company comes up with over the next year or so. Ultimately this sort of creative thinking outside of the box has allowed Mimaki to hold its own and compete effectively against much larger companies. You can find further details from mimaki.com.