Effective Collaboration is Integral to Success with Coloreel and Ricoh. An Interview with Mattias Nordin, CEO, Coloreel

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Mattias Nordin is CEO of Coloreel, an innovative Swedish company that has in partnership with Ricoh developed an exciting new inkjet-based tech that enables inkjet printing directly onto a single thread. The idea is disruptive, clever and set to revolutionise the embroidery market. We find out more from the CEO of Coloreel, Mattias Nordin and discover why effective collaboration is integral to success.

Mattias, what is your background? Are you from the textile industry?

No, I am not from the textile industry. My background is that I have had senior roles in large industrial companies. So I have executive experience of product development for industrial products and product strategy in large industrial organisations and markets. The kind of operations that I was responsible for generally had a turn over above €1 Billion and were all businesses heavily dependent on product leadership, such as Dometic Group, Atlas Copco Underground Mining, Volvo Construction Equipment. My background is very useful for turning new technology into a commercially successful product. Given my role now with Coloreel, this is the exact kind of challenge we face.

How did you come to work with Coloreel as CEO?

It was a coincidence. Almost three years ago a third party who knew both the founder/owner and me just said that we should meet because he could see sparks flying. When I came into contact with Coloreel and quickly understood the technology, and the opportunity to revolutionize the textile industry, I was immediately hooked.

Coloreel has very strong technology and patent protection. When we met for the first time it was at the point they were on the verge of deciding to either sell the tech to another business or put it into production. However, the decision was made to produce and sell the unit, and this is where I came into the company. They were like, ‘let’s industrialise this’! Not long after this is where the good connection came to Ricoh. At the time we had used Ricoh heads and we then immediately started to have a serious discussion with them and jointly decided to build a partnership. This was a crucial discussion and the right decision to build a complete module and start a new way of doing business. We have not looked back since.

What is so special about the concept?

This technology enables new possibilities for designers that are either impossible or very hard to achieve with today's standard embroidery technique. In short, we have a miniature thread colouring factory. With inkjet as one of the critical modules, you can print multiple colors directly onto one thread, so it is now easy to achieve sharp transitions with colors in embroidery. It enables designers to achieve something new. They can deliver better quality output without the need for the embroiderer to carry a lot of stock. This fact enables new and innovative design options, as stock is not at risk of not selling in the same way.

It also avoids downtime, which is the inefficient time that is wasted when a machine is in set up. So there is now no downtime with the colour-changing so it enables complex designs and it saves a huge amount of time. You also do not have to switch out threads all the time. Just one thread that can be produced with unlimited colors!

What has been so effective about the partnership with Ricoh?

We already knew Ricoh as we had used their Inkjet heads with our prototype and they were excellent. What we also discovered was they could much more than just provide us with heads. So we jointly decided and concluded that even better we could build the whole print engine module. This is now being produced and we both have patents within the module. This partnership decision was quite quick, to be honest; at least the ‘in principle’ decision was fast. We hadn’t had many talks but we knew it would be possible to create a win/win. Detail always takes a long time but the principle was there almost immediately.

Had you ever done anything like this before?

Yes, I had some similar experience of both being the seller and the buyer. For example, I have experience of selling modules to a system integrator. But I had also been sitting on our side buying electronic systems for large manufacturing operations. When you buy a technically advanced system and software for a product then the principle of the purchase and partnership is very similar. But for Ricoh and Coloreel, and inkjet as a technology, this was new I think. We were the pilot project meaning we were first to turn complete modules into units. I think this was a new concept, which makes it even more exciting!

Is embroidery typically a market with a lot of technology innovation?

No! With embroidery not much has happened since the 1990s! It has become a consolidated market so this new technology will make quite a significant difference. Solving the engineering challenge was not easy and we both had to try different things at different times because it was not an easy product to create. But through this process, you could feel that both sides wanted it to work. We have always felt that jointly working and wanting it to work means you get the best results from either side’s expertise. So it is most certainly a strategic partnership that has been very successful so far.

Check out the video: Coloreel Technology more than 300% Faster than traditional embroidery

In your view what were the key elements that Ricoh provided Coloreel?

There are three key elements in my view.

1: It needed to be a company with the right technology. There is no point discussing it otherwise.

2: Once this is correct, then it is not just about technology! We also needed a partner who could produce the systems and the ability to solve all the problems. We found a number of potential technology partners of course, but many did not own a manufacturing plant. This limited the set of partners we would consider to a handful of companies and Ricoh simply came through as the best option in our view.

3 Thirdly, what clinched it was the Ricoh people! We sensed that they could be trusted. We had a couple of other options but we were not confident that they wanted to invest the required time. We just didn’t get a sense they were in it for the long term. Ricoh came across as being very committed as a long-term partner for the project. For better or worse. We seem to have the same approach and this is how we want to work with our partners in the future because it is the best way.

The specific print module is built together, but the actual product is marketed through us. Ricoh however, enabled our reality to come to life.

So for an effective future for inkjet technology would you say that collaboration is important?

It depends on how complex your challenge is. If you want to develop an easy product then no, it is not so important. But for complex things such as Coloreel then it is vital and with strategic partners, you cannot jump around with different providers. You need to make a choice, build a strong relationship and mutual trust and together this is how problems are overcome.

Now, with the technology: Was it a long time from idea to reality?

If you take the whole history, then 10 years ago we had the original idea. The first 5 years the time was spent to research a system to make it work then you could say another 1.5 years to bring that to a working prototype which could be shown and then you could say you had a working prototype. Then you have the product and fine detail of the product for large-scale production and this has taken the remaining 3 years or so.

What were the major technical challenges?

The main challenge was putting it all together. We had a working prototype but as with all prototypes, we then had a large bunch of improvements we wanted to make, mostly to do with improving the fast reaction times. What was valuable was that we had all the technical data for thread colouring. The last element was the inkjet collaboration between Coloreel and Ricoh. One part of the partnership knew about the thread colouring challenges and the other partner knew about the inkjet technology so we needed to merge the two into a color unit. Ricoh made the print part of course. This was the most tricky part of the whole technical challenge and we together severely underestimated the work with the software integration, and to be completely honest we (Coloreel) were not entirely ready in part because we were also running a business at the same time!

Step two, you then need a marketing department, a sales team and an industrialisation plan and you need a proper release process, software testing. This is very different when you industrialise large scale product versus the prototype. What you could say about the product today compared with the prototype is that there is hardly one screw, which is the same! Everything is replaced with proper function, plastic tooling, testing and is built up from the ground using the principles of the prototyping. This has been the best way and we had to do it together with Ricoh. It has been good work from both parties. It has been very productive to work in collaboration as both parties have been focused on project completion. What is great is that neither team has been ego-driven. What has motivated us both is moving the project forward as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Check out the video: How to create an embroidery with the Coloreel technology

What kind of applications is the Coloreel suitable for?

Apparel, shoes, caps, bags, uniforms, dresses, textile interior, so anything that uses embroidered textiles.

What is the cost? And is it available globally?

The European list price is €20,000 and we are focusing on the European market first. Our revolutionary product has generated a lot of interest from the market, which is a pleasant issue for us. We are trying to meet the demand of units from all over the world but we want a distributor for each market, to give the best possible service to our customers. We are currently working on several leads for other markets, and we have a lot of companies approaching us all the time.

Right now, we are focused on embroidery, but we are interested in the sewing, knitting and weaving market. What we already know is that a lot of ideas will come from the market itself as people see the potential of the technology, so it is exciting times.

Have you a lot of interest in the unit?

Demand has overwhelmed the technical element for some time. We are just at a turning point now and have started to deliver the first units, so we are ramping up to the market. So it is a very exciting time.

Any advice you would like to pass on to any other OEM looking to develop an inkjet machine for a traditional manufacturing market?

Spend time to choose the right partner carefully!

Pic below: Taken last week at C!Print Madrid where Coloreel exhibited with Spanish distributor Grupo FB.

Marcus Timson