Interview with Buck Kim & Raymond Cheng

Buck Kim & Raymond Cheng
Buck Kim & Raymond Cheng
President & Director of Sales for Asia-Pacific respectively
Kornit Digital Ltd
Kornit Digital Ltd

Customisation will be driving the industry
Kornit Digital develops, manufactures and markets industrial and commercial printing solutions for the garment, apparel and textile industries. Founded in 2002, Israel based Kornit provides customers with a complete digital printing solution, from start to finish. Kornit offers a complete line of direct-to-garment printing solutions that range from commercial to mass production level. It was the first company in the world to introduce white digital ink for garment printing, enabling the garment industry to print on dark fabrics. Together with its unique textile inks developed specifically for the garment printing industry, and its cutting-edge textile digital printing solutions for finished garment printing applications, Kornit's product solutions offer custom digital direct to garment printers worldwide new opportunities for advancement into a new era.

How do you see the Indian market? How long have you been in India?

Kim: We have been in India for two years now. It is now that we see a change in India, especially in the textiles and garments industry. This is because of fashion... less quantity and more variety in designs.

You speak of a change in the last couple of years. What have been the reasons for this change?

Kim: I would say it has been because of consumer needs. People like to dress differently from others. People like to have their own designs. Because of booming e-commerce, people can get customisations of fabrics, garments, etc. This is really the driving force for the industry.

How many customers do you have in India?

Kim: Currently, we have about 20 customers.
Raymond Cheng: Majority of them are using our direct-to-garment (DTG) machines. In fact, the first roll-to-roll is this one (at FMOENVS). 

Where are these 20 customers based?

Kim: They are scattered all around the country... in Mumbai, Tiruppur, Delhi, Bangalore, etc.

Is there a kind of profile that these customers of your have?

Kim: A majority of them are doing contract printing for manufacturers (for exports).

So, what gives digital printing an edge over traditional printing, apart from the fact that you are able to save money at every stage of the production process?

Cheng: In case of digital printing, the cost remains the same irrespective of the quantity. So, whether you print two pieces or five pieces, the cost of each garment will be the same. In case of screen printing, the costs would vary.

So, what gives digital printing an edge over traditional printing, apart from the fact that you are able to save money at every stage of the production process?

Cheng: In case of digital printing, the cost remains the same irrespective of the quantity. So, whether you print two pieces or five pieces, the cost of each garment will be the same. In case of screen printing, the costs would vary.

The costs aside, how feasible is it to shift from traditional printing to digital printing, given that this is an expensive proposition? Do you facilitate the transition?

Cheng: Yes, we provide the knowledge base when customers shift from traditional to digital printing processes. 

Kim: In case of traditional printing, there is a pre-process stage as well as a post-process stage. In case of digital printing, those two stages are eliminated. The area therefore remains clean, it is compact (as in requiring less physical space for installation). Moreover, at a time when the world is moving towards an environment-friendly industry, our inks are eco-friendly. Those do not cause any harm to the environment; the inks we provide are waterbased. 

By the way, do you yourselves manufacture the inks that you provide with the printers?

Kim: Yes, we do that. Those are manufactured in Israel.

Coming back, how long does it take for a manufacturer to make the transition to say, DTG?

Kim: In this case (that of FMO-ENVS), they finished the installation two weeks ago. Then we imparted the training on how to operate the machines. Now, they are ready for production. [The bigger Kornit Allegro takes about two weeks to install, which includes calibrating, etc.] So, within a month or so, you can be in business. Conventional printing is about mass production, but less design. In case of digital, it can be less quantity but more designs. Here, the purchase order (PO) can even be for just 20 metres. If you get POs for more customisation, then digital would be a great solution.

And how efficient are these; how many garments can these print?

Cheng: The Avalanche 1000 can print about 100-130 pieces per hour. 
Kim: Our company has different models for different requirements.

Within the Asia-Pacific region, which are your major markets?

Kim: We have the most number of installations in China. But since our machines are about customisation i.e. small quantities and many designs, we see a change. This year, Indonesia, India, Japan and also China, have been booming.

Can you speak about the customisation bit?

Kim: Very elementary... if you want to print t-shirt with your family photo on it, you can do so with this machine. 
Cheng: Customisation is only one of the advantages of digital printing.

Customisation just of garments (in terms of fits, sizes, etc) has been happening in a lot of places. And now you have customisation of the printing on the garments. Do you see the two converging sometime in the future?

Cheng: Yes, we are seeing this kind of a direction in the market. 
Kim: The business models are changing. Today a manufacturer might give you a small order comprising 100 styles. How are you going to deal with it? The other thing is that today companies are trying to reduce their inventory. So, when you manufacture a big amount of garments or fabric, you cannot be so sure that you can sell them out within a timeframe. Inventory itself costs. Therefore, people try to reduce their inventory. That's another reason to go in for customisation. For focusing on many designs within a short span of time, you can reduce the inventory as also costs and time, and give it to the customer immediately. This is how the business model is changing: less inventory, faster response time, different designs.

There seem to be two things here: the ability to customise anything, as well as engage in mass production. Do you see manufacturers caught in a bind over this i.e. customisation vs mass production?

Kim: Yes, but if you look at things from the demand point of view, the demand for mass production still remains. There is no doubt that as far as mass production is concerned, India remains big. But the market is also about demand. If you look at Zara or H&M, each design is probably there for only one week. They no longer produce for a whole season. You see a product in a shop today, and the next time you visit, it is gone. This is what is happening in the fashion world. As we visit India, a country known for mass production, seeing people going in for a different way of production is amazing. He (as an exporter) can assemble ten samples within a very short time for his customers to select.

Efficiency apart, your machines are also being projected as something environment-friendly.

Cheng: Our machines are environment-friendly in terms of curbing water wastage, reducing power consumption, and virtually eliminating pollution. If we speak of our rollto-roll printers, just consider the other forms of printers and printing (both traditional, as also digital). There has to be both pre-treatment as well as post-treatment. In pre-treatment in other kinds of technologies, people have to do, for instance, coating. They have to do the coating according to the kind of pigment/ink that they are going to use to print on the fabric. And don't forget, printing is essentially a chemical reaction. Even after printing, given the technologies they have, they have to do steaming and washing after the printing has been done, so as to consolidate the ink, the sharpness, the brightness of the colours, and to wash out the chemicals off the fabric. For this, they need to use a lot of electricity as well as water. In our roll-to-roll machine (i.e. the Kornit Allegro), there is no need for a separate pre-treatment, which is done online. When you give the print command, it goes for automatic pre-treatment, together with the (water-based) ink. Moreover, you don't need to steam or wash the fabric after the printing.

So, you fill in a roll, and you get a roll (of the fabric) which is ready for sale?

Cheng: Yes, it's ready to be sold. As you can see, it (the printing process) is clean and sustainable. The ink used is water based. Therefore, it is biodegradable. There is no waste at all. Moreover, since no extra power is needed for the steaming and drying processes, this printing is energy-efficient as well. As you can see, the entire facility remains clean. The area remains clean, and there is no smell. When you install these machines, you don't have to take into account factors like water wastage, filtration or cleaning systems.

What about temperature control?

Kim: We recommend these to be operated in conditions where the temperature is around 25 degrees.

Your machines are a lot about sustainability. What changes have you noticed about sustainability over, say, the last two years?

Cheng: I think everybody is talking about it.

Given this backdrop, what are Kornit Digital's India plans?

Kim: We fully rely on our partner, who is our distributor. As of now, we have one (ICC International Agencies in Mumbai), and we will have another one very soon.

So, they would be your sales partners?

Cheng: Also service. 
Kim: The partners take care of both sales and service.

In terms of service, what is your average reaction time?

Kim: That depends on the location, but we respond within a day. If the installation is close by, we react within hours.

What kind of problems do your machines usually run into?

Kim: Our machines are reliable. But there can be application issues when people look for the desired results. Then again, remember, this is still a printer, a big printer.

And in what language is the software in?

Kim: Primarily English. We have started work on Chinese (Mandarin) and Japanese. For India, English is no problem.

Among the -selling machines that you offer, which is the most popular or fastest?

Kim: The Avalanche family of four printers. It also depends on the country. In North America, people mostly buy the Avalanche printers, whereas in AsiaPacific many buy the Storm printers. The Asia-Pacific market is now in transition, which is why they opt for a slightly economic model.

What about the roll-to-roll printers?

Kim: At present, the Kornit Allegro is our only solution. It was introduced last year.

What made Kornit go in for a roll-to-roll printer over its existing DTG printers?

Cheng: It is a question of applications. In a DTG, you can only print up to an area of 60 cm by 90 cm (over, say, a t-shirt). But with Allegro, you can print the entire fabric roll. Kim: In short, Avalanche (DTG) is for garments, while Allegro (RTR) is for fabrics.
Published on: 23/02/2017

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