by Melissa Donovan
The word “limitless” is thrown around a lot when we talk about digital printing, especially as it continues to make a triumphant march into manufacturing departments across the globe. Design possibilities are endless and developed much faster than traditional decoration methods.
In both residential and commercial flooring markets, buyers look for innovation and quality—something digital printing technologies deliver on. Companies like HMTX Industries, a global luxury vinyl tile (LVT) manufacturer with headquarters in Norwalk, CT, turn to digital to get its products into clients’ homes/offices/stores quickly, but without trading in on any of its key values.
The company, a four-generation family business—is according to its website—a $900 million powerhouse. It doesn’t shy away from integrity, trust, reliability, loyalty, or honesty; leveraging its success with a commitment to sustainability, transparency, innovation, and quality.
Its family of brands includes Halstead—a leading supplier of LVT to home centers, Metrofloor Corporation—HMTX’s signature residential and light commercial brand in North America, Teknoflor—a brand focused on healthcare and institutions, and Aspecta—the company’s high-end global contract brand for architects and designers.
Faster than Before
Despite the range of markets served, HMTX’s clients all have a common requirement—speed to market. Meeting this need was a primary reason to explore and eventually implement digital printers.
“Digital printing in LVT flooring is genuinely transformational. We can design, develop, and print products faster than ever before. This allows us to get higher quality designs into our customers’ hands quicker—more like the fashion industry,” state Kevin Rausch, chief digital transformation officer and Harlan Stone, CEO, HMTX.
Starting small, HMTX added several wide format multi-pass digital devices with assistance from outside consultancies and printing technologists. The printers function for prototyping new designs, yielding four to five sample planks up to 60 inches.
Over two years ago, the manufacturer decided to up its digital investment. “We needed a digital printing solution that gave us excellent quality, rivaled gravure mass production speed, and provided the key quality solution to printing with LVT flooring,” explain Rausch and Stone.
It recently became the owner of a Hymmen GmbH Jupiter digital printer for mass production of LVT floor boards. The printer is capable of printing finished boards in lengths of 1.56 to 2.62 millimeters (mm), widths of 960 to 1.030 mm, and thicknesses of three to ten mm. UV in-register engraving provides limitless, no-repeat capabilities.
“We chose Hymmen because it met our needs and is the most collaborative and transparent. Finally, we could see a solution that we could develop the types of digitally printed products our customers expected,” share Rausch and Stone.
Another attractive feature, the Hymmen Jupiter runs on water-soluble inks, meeting HMTX’s sustainability initiatives. “We want to accelerate innovation in a sustainable, meaningful, and modern way. Digital printing and digital print ecosystems give us the tools to lead and improve lives through better designs faster,” note Rausch and Stone.
They make an important distinction, that what the company is practicing is more than just printing. “We are building a way of working through a comprehensive digital ecosystem. This allows us to be nimbler and meet customer needs quickly as well as with greater quality. For example, part of our digital ecosystem enables us to digitally prototype in the U.S. in our Norwalk headquarters. Prototyping is down from six weeks to six hours, that’s a real breakthrough,” say Rausch and Stone.
Traditionally, HMTX produces its flooring using gravure printing. Rausch and Stone admit this is a “timeless” as well as “efficient” process and unlikely to disappear. However, digital printing’s advantages are many when compared to gravure.
An example, inline design changes can essentially happen on the fly, and not shut down the entire print process. “We can print a customer order of 4,000 square feet, then in under 30 minutes, change designs, and print a separate order with a new design of 40,000 square feet. Today a line change with gravure for a different design could take hours. This has a significant impact on time and cost,” explain Rausch and Stone.
They admit that it is still a learning curve when it comes to determining whether something is best printed using digital versus gravure. But digital printing is so attractive, “no job is too big or too small. We can create a design that never has a repeat pattern, or we can eventually employ the aid of AI to help design new combinations and solutions at light speed. We can even create unique designs. It’s really a story that is unfolding, and we are excited about leading the way,” continue Rausch and Stone.
Today at HMTX
While the Hymmen Jupiter is fairly new to HMTX’s production floor, the company has big plans for the printer. Its latest flooring innovation is a sustainable solid core floor that is fully circular and almost entirely made up of polyurethane. Designed for both commercial and residential, it is easy to install and offers a unique feel and tactile finish.
According to Rausch and Stone, this is an industry first. “This innovation allows us to print directly onto the board, with no films, painted layers, and unnecessary ingredients that might end up back in a landfill. We believe this will be the perfect combination of modern digital printing and responsible design.”
And this is just the first of many introductions—as a company with digital printing capabilities, they admit this phase is simply “stage one” of many.
Digital printing checks off all the boxes when it comes to HMTX’s commitments to sustainability and innovation.
In relation to sustainability, Rausch and Stone believe digital printing “breaks barriers around supply chains and logistics in a way that reimagines local manufacturing, our ability to get products to regional markets quicker, and reduce our carbon footprint globally.”
Innovative at its core, HMTX looks to the digital ecosystem it is creating as a new way to think, sell, and experience LVT flooring.
Oct2022, Industrial Print Magazine