Interview with Duncan Ferguson, Epson: Eco-fr...
Interview with Duncan Ferguson, Epson

Eco-friendly production in unlimited colors

Duncan Ferguson (Source: Epson)
Duncan Ferguson (Source: Epson)

The textile industry is under pressure from sustainability requirements. What innovative concepts already exist for environmentally friendly production, resource management and the latest trends in reshoring in textile printing and dyeing?

Could you briefly explain the advantages and disadvantages of digital printing compared to screen printing on textiles, especially in terms of sustainability and price/performance ratio?
A few years on from its adoption in the textile world, digital printing has changed the working methods of textile designers, not only enabling the reproduction of a nearly unlimited range of colors in just one step – where traditional printing requires one step for every color – but also cutting every limitation in terms of size. Since the size of the cylinders and the printing systems no longer impose any restrictions, each design can be enlarged or reduced according to necessity, as well as created to fit every single item of clothing. A single pattern can be reproduced in different color variations without impacting on time, cost or production methods. This also makes the creation of samples simple, easier and cost efficient.
One of digital printing’s most innovative features is its ability to reproduce complex designs that are rich in both patterns and colors; in this regard it has completely overcome the limits set by screen printing technology. The explosion in the use of photography in the design of fashion collections was an immediate expression of the new creative potential while the trends of the following years have been more oriented towards research in original designs, characterized by chromatic effects of great visual impact.
 
(Source: Epson)
(Source: Epson)
The words “the new normal is on-demand production” are increasingly being heard. What role can digital printing on textiles play in this?

The need to produce goods based on consumer demand is driving the growth in new production technology. This provides manufacturers with the ability to respond to their clients. Many of the applications that migrate to ‘just in time’ models involve digital printing, as its print output can be on-demand, customized, and personalized.
Indeed, on-line commerce has direct repercussions on the distribution system, reducing the role of intermediaries between fashion brand and consumers that was traditionally held by the points of sale. Thanks to the Internet, fashion brands are now able to contact a potentially unlimited public, address purchase proposals directly to targets selected through sophisticated observation on social channels and gather vital information for designing their collections following online feedback and interaction from consumers that visit their websites.
Sustainable fashion, until the last decade, was confined to the ethical craft sector and to some niche production of a few brands. Now it has become a serious aim for major global fashion and luxury brands, as well as for smaller trendier brands.

Is the infrastructure in Europe already sufficiently designed for on-demand production?
The sustainability revolution in the fashion business has been defined as a “paradigm shift” that has progressed rapidly in recent years, with a speed and pervasiveness that surprised the fashion community. Despite the difficulties of a system that has not yet had all the necessary skills, the design of beautiful, creative, and high-quality collections by major as well as small and innovative brands, goes hand in hand with the search for solutions that reduce the impact on the environment, are socially acceptable and respect the well-being of workers and communities in the places where fashion goods are manufactured.
The attention of the sector today is on the field of textiles for furnishings. The transformation here is at an initial stage but the prospects are interesting, and an increasing number of furniture designers and architects are choosing to take advantage of the latest generation of technologies for their design projects. Furthermore, there are the exploits of those sectors connected to the evolution of different types of digital printing,

We currently have an increased shortage of skilled workers in industry. Could digitalization solve or mitigate this problem?
The analogue approach to textiles resulted in centralized centers of excellence  to achieve the economic scales required for production. As markets became more challenging, volumes increased and unit price became more important, these production facilities moved to lower cost locations, often within Asia and at the same time, some of the skills we had within Europe were lost.  
Digitalization has reduced the need for production to be in a centralized manufacturing hub and had led to a distributed printing approach producing more focused, smaller production runs, and a simpler production process. It has enabled us to create smaller start-up business in Europe and, from there, up-skill to meet increasing demand. In some regions, such as the Como region in Northern Italy, the skill has remained and they are already positioned to exploit this change of approach from the major brands. Here, and in other European regions, we need to entice the next generation to adopt the necessary skills and grow this industry.

Could you explain what “transition to a sustainable business” means for Epson?
We recognize that the transition to a sustainable business is a challenge and whilst we have long term targets, we are also targeting shorter term wins, such as:

•    Minimizing our energy use associated with production and products, and effecting a complete switch to renewable energy sources across all our operations
•    Developing more energy efficient products
•    Using more recycled materials in our products
•    Reducing packaging – moving from cartridges to larger packs with lighter weight plastics
•    Expanding our cartridge collection programs for inks
•    Extending the life of products
•    Seeking to develop carbon-free logistics.

At Epson we will dramatically change the way we use the world’s natural capital, and the company aims to become carbon negative and underground resource free by 2050, moving to greenhouse gas (GHG)-free manufacturing and then removing even more carbon. This include utilizing recycled metals, plastics and other previously mined minerals and using renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, water, geothermal heat, wood and biomass.

What is your guiding theme, what is your vision? Are your technologies helpful?
This year, Epson marked its 80th year in business. We have always exercised creativity and challenged ourselves to deliver products and services that exceed the expectations of our customers, and we are committed to achieving sustainability through our efficient, compact, precision technologies. Our vision is to create sustainable value to enrich our lives and our planet, and we have set out our commitment to becoming carbon negative and underground resource free by 2050.
As a global technology company, Epson seeks to create new and improved opportunities for more sustainable growth. To this end, the UN SDGs have provided Epson with a clear compass and means to measure our activities and impact on the world. Epson is fully committed to the SDGs. All operations and activities are aligned to its goals. They are integrated into our mid to long-term plans and set the direction for all sustainability actions.

Epson is committed to developing technologies that help customers achieve their sustainability goals and reduce carbon impact. With commercial printing, Epson is in the vanguard of more sustainable solutions for the fashion industry with direct-to fabric printers, which provide significant environmental benefits. Localizing fashion using in-house, on-demand digital textile printing means a big reduction in CO2 per item, as they are no longer shipped long distances and manufacturers avoid environmental issues associated with traditional dyeing processes.
(Source: Epson)
(Source: Epson)
The interview was conducted by Mechthild Maas, editor of TextileTechnology, with Duncan Ferguson, Vice President Commercial and Industrial Printing of Epson Europe, Hemel Hempstead/UK.

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