Sharon Donovich, Kornit’s product marketing manager
Kornit’s stand at ITMA stood out from its neighbours, not because of what visitors could see, but rather what they couldn’t see. At the back was a high walled demonstration area with salespeople studiously guarding the entrance. Behind the door, we were assured, was the Vulcan – Kornit’s new and much talked about direct-to-garment printer and a machine that the company is backing to be an industry game-changer.
In spite of the fact that the machine is not due to be commercially available until the second half of 2016, its public unveiling generated a huge amount of interest amongst visitors, ensuring a good attendance at each of the four meticulously managed demonstrations that Kornit held each day.
So what exactly does the Vulcan bring to the DTG party? First, print speed: the machine is claimed to print 250 garments an hour, with dark and light shirts printed at the same speed, and is designed to handle one million prints a year. It has been specifically designed to print medium-length runs (what Sharon Donovich, Kornit’s product marketing manager, describes as “the sweet spot” of 200-300 shirts) to offer a cost-effective alternative to screen printing. Sharon was careful, however, to add that Kornit is not positioning the Vulcan as a replacement for screen printing per se. “The set-up time for screen printing six, eight or ten colours can be an hour, which is fine for a longer run, but for a medium-sized run, the Vulcan is more cost-effective,” she explains.
Sharon sat down with Images to talk us through the machine’s cutting edge technology prior to the demonstration. She explained that Kornit started with a blank sheet of paper when designing the Vulcan. It is a very different proposition to the company’s existing DTG printers and will complement rather than replace the current models. “The hardware, the inks and the software were all developed for the Vulcan: everything,” Sharon confirms. “This machine is ‘retail-ready’: we’re not focusing on the promo market or online, we’re focusing on retail. For retailers with lines coming out each season there is an advantage in printing shorter runs rather than having to hold a large inventory.”
Sharon also sees the Vulcan playing an important role in the testing of printed designs in retail. “You can put 300 shirts through (the Vulcan) and if they go well then you could screen print an additional 1,000 or whatever,” she explains. “It is not a typical digital machine – it can give digitally printed T-shirts the look of a screen print and rivals screen printing for consistency and reliability.”
Colour gamut and ink usage
The Vulcan uses 60 new-generation, 35-picolitre print heads in conjunction with a brand new CMYKRG (CMYK plus red and green) water-based NeoPigment ink system. This has a 30% greater colour gamut, which covers 90% of Pantone PMS colours. The print heads’ very fine nozzles mean that the machine lays down 40% less of the new ink per design compared with the other Kornit models, resulting in both significantly lower ink consumption and a superior hand feel, Sharon advises.
The Vulcan’s design adopts a modular approach using a pretreatment station and two equally sized printing sections – the first handling the white ink printing, the second the CMYKRG printing, with a dwell station between the two. The machine also employs a new loading and shirt transport system comprising eight 70 cm x 100cm screen print-style platens (there is no hold-down frame; the garment is kept in place during printing by adhesive which is replenished every 100 shirts or so). The platens are transported on a conveyor belt system, passing through the machine’s two printing stations to the unloading area and then returning to the loading area underneath the machine.
The modular design means that there is scope to expand the Vulcan with extra sections in the future. Sharon explains that Kornit has already developed a roadmap for further development, which could involve adding intermediate stations to handle special effects printing, laser cutting and even curing, further eroding the USPs of the screen printing process.
The first six months of 2016 will see the Vulcan being put through its paces as it goes into beta at a number of carefully chosen test sites. Kornit is then planning a commercial launch from Q3, 2016. The company would not be drawn on final pricing, but best estimates suggest the final price will be at least double the cost of a Kornit Avalanche.
Commenting on the machine’s launch, Sharon comments: “There has been an amazing response to it at the show. There is already a queue of customers wanting to be part of it: people have been waiting for a solution like this.”
She does, however, have one word of caution for prospective Vulcan owners. “You need to have the volume to justify this machine – you need to feed the beast. But if you run the Vulcan at full capacity then you’ll get your investment back in one year.”