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Interview with Pierre-Yves Bonvin

Face2Face
Pierre-Yves Bonvin
Pierre-Yves Bonvin
CEO
Steiger Participations SA
Steiger Participations SA

Main driver in knitwear is personalisation

Steiger Participations SA, headquartered in Vionnaz, Switzerland, produces and sells industrial knitting machines. Since July 2010, Steiger has been part of Ningbo Cixing Co Ltd, a company devoted to promoting knitting machinery technology, based in Zhejiang, China. Pierre-Yves Bonvin, CEO, Steiger Participations SA discusses the latest in flat knitting and the scope of 3D knitting for various applications.

What is the size of the flat knitting market globally? What will be growth rate by 2022?

The flat knitting market is much diversified in terms of application and machines' lengths. If we consider the market in which Steiger is active, we can estimate a size close to $1.3 billion with a growth of around 20 per cent in 2017. This market is going to still grow with a constant demand for new applications.

What is the demand of new versus used flat knitting machines?

Steiger's customers serve high-end markets and are keen to get the latest technology in order to propose innovations in knitwear. The demand for new machines is therefore much higher than second-hand machines.

What is the market share of Steiger in the global market of flat knitting machines?

Steiger being part of the Cixing group, the role of each partner is well defined. While Cixing focuses on economical machines for high volume segments, Steiger focuses on niche markets with specific machines designed for high added value applications. Typically, our market share in the machines for orthopedic products or for complex intarsia is the strongest.

What are the key factors driving the global flat knitting machine industry?

Knitting machines have a wonderful potential for being used for a large number of applications. In the past, the industry was focusing mainly on knitwear. Today, the growth is based on the production of upper for shoes. We will continue to see more applications transferred from another production's process towards the knitting. This technology has the key advantage of delivering semi-finished products very close from the final products. Flat knitting machines can knit in shape all types of yarns. They are very flexible for product development and constant for production in volumes. This unique capability explains why designers of various fields approach us to test the knitting technology for their specific products.

What kinds of innovations are expected by knitting machines of the future?

In the knitwear segment, the main driver is the personalisation of products. The Cixing group proposes a turn-key solution where customers can order personalised custom-made products on the Internet. Laser scanners can be used for acquiring data on body measurements and an interactive website allows one to select their favourite articles. Steiger clearly concentrates on 3D knitting. All our new development such as the Taurus 2.170 XP integrates the possibility to knit 3D articles. It is primarily designed to produce complete garment knitwear and seamless 3D custom-made medical articles. It is also planned to knit preform in 3D for structural applications using glass fibre or carbon fibre. 

Participating in the European project Mapicc 3D, Steiger has been able to build a 3D knitting machine integrating weft yarns and chain yarns in order to knit the preform for a structural part of a Volvo truck made out of glass fibre. The knitted glass fibre preform is solidified in a mold at high temperature. The samples produced replace a metallic plate on which the driver's seat is fixed. With this 3D knitted part, we could achieve the same performance as the metallic support with 50 per cent less weight. Structural parts for cars or airplanes is a key segment of the 3D knitting technology, but we can also mention furniture, sports articles, and medical articles requiring light weight with high resistance. 

Which are your major markets for new and used flat knitting machines? Where do you see the potential growing?

Outside China, our historical markets for the high-end intarsia machines like France or Italy have been reinforced for a few years by countries like Portugal and Spain. We are always strong in Germany and France for the medical segment. We carefully follow the development of promising markets in Eastern Europe, and also India. For the last three years, our new agent KP Exim Inc, based in Ludhiana, has been successful in promoting Steiger Intarsia machines for the domestic market. India is clearly a market in which Steiger machines' potential is fully used. It has a big potential of growth also for exports.

Please tell us about Stitch Lab and the scope of 3D knitting.

The Stitch Lab is a laboratory where Steiger shares innovations with its partners. It has already welcomed several customers interested in our innovations. They have brought projects and samples to be produced on the machines available for demonstration. The Taurus 2.170 XP which is able to knit 3D knitwear is the highlight of the Stitch Lab. The nearby training room equipped with workstations for graphics allows programming, and immediately realises the samples on the machine.

Which are your bestselling products?

Our major success has been with the Libra 3.130 SC. It is equipped with 16 motorised yarn guides, open carriage, high-positioned take-down and is highly customisable. Our strength is in carefully identifying our customer's needs and then configuring the Libra with specific items like sinkers, yarn-guides that will perfectly fit our customer's application. It is an economical and high-performing modular machine.  The new Aries 3.130 SC and Antares 3.130 SC for complex intarsia are also among the bestsellers.

How user-friendly are the automated and computerised flat knitting machines by Steiger? When compared to the conventional flat knitting machine, what is the productivity?

Model +, our new programming software, is able to programme a 3D knitwear in less than 20 minutes. Using a wizard, the programmer is guided to select the shape of the pullover, type of sleeves, collars, dimensions, intarsia colours. Step by step, the programmer selects the patterns in libraries and builds the knitwear. This very intuitive interface hides a high complexity and powerful calculation done by the system.  Steiger's priority is to bring a user-friendly and intuitive package containing the graphic system and the 3D knitting machine.  The machine software is also optimised resulting in around 20 per cent productivity increase for complex intarsia using an improved cam-box control.

What is the annual budget allocated towards R&D?

We spend around 10-15 per cent of our turnover on R&D. This ratio is very high if you compare it to the industry's standards. The reason behind this investment is for our partner Cixing to use Steiger as the innovation driver of the Cixing group. We develop solutions that can be implemented also on Cixing machines if they fit to the customer's needs. The complete garment machine Taurus 2.170XP is the highlight of this innovation policy but many improvements, less visible, have been implemented in Cixing and Steiger machines thanks to this group's innovation policy.

What are the future plans at Steiger?

Our future plans are to improve our position in the high-end fashion segment, strengthen our leadership in the medical sector, and open a new profitable segment in the knitting of technical products. We will continue to collaborate with Cixing to support its growth. The objective is to strengthen the group as the clear worldwide market leader in volumes. (HO)
Published on: 12/02/2018

DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of Fibre2Fashion.com.

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