Mr Mitsuhiro Shima
Written by Haydn Davis for the Knitting Trade Journal
Published: 31st October 2023
Wakayama - After being at the vanguard of flat knitting technology development for the last six decades, Mr Mitsuhiro Shima, the president of Shima Seiki, tells Knitting Trade Journal how the company is laying the groundwork for the next 60 years.
Re-evaluated from the ground up, computerized Knitting technology specialist Shima Seiki is aiming to reset the standard for the global garment and textile industry
Sitting down with company president, Mr Mitsuhiro Shima, he explains that the company, founded by his father, Dr Masahiro Shima, celebrated a hugely significant 60th anniversary in 2022
In any circumstances, this is a milestone worthy of celebration, but for Shima Seiki, the importance of time scale of the anniversary, cannot be overestimated
"In 2022, we celebrated our 60th anniversary," Mr Shima says, explaining that this milestone in Japan carries a wider philosophical meaning. "Being 60 yerars old in Japan actually signifies the completion of a large circle, a return to ones origins."
This is calculated, he explains, because of the presence of the 12 animals and the five different elements - water, fire, earth, wood and metal - in the Chinese calendar.
"You see," he clarifies carefully, "five different elements an 12 different animals means that it is only every sixty years that we start the cycle again - a year when both the same animal and same element are repeated.
"When you turn 60, this signifies a 'rebirth' and one returns to a refreshed restart of your life.
"Why is this significant for us? Because it is at this point that we take what is good and we continue to nurture and expand on it. However, at the same time, if you had any failures or elements of your time that haven't worked out as you intended them to, then you look at those and you do your best to try and make them better."
For Mr Shima, and fortunatly for the knitting industry, this not only applies to one's personal development but also to one's business development.
"So it's a combination of taking the good and making the bad better," he adds. "For Shima Seiki, our company is being reborn, and we wish to continue with what we do well while also striving to improve on areas where we think we can do better. That is what we are doing now; we are revamping everything about the company and its products in order to improve our offering and our service."
This commitment to a rebirth was in full view at this summer's ITMA exhibition
The company's unswerving tradition of introducing new flat knitting and design technology under its guiding philosophy "Ever Onward" was clearly intact with a brand-new lineup consisting of new machines and next-generation prototypes
Appropriately, the next-generation group of machines is represented by the letter 'R'- signifying 'Shima Seiki Reborn'.
This includes eight machines that are classified as part of the next-generation lineup. Re-evaluated from the ground up, the R-series machines have been revamped across its entire lineup, from WHOLEGARMET knitting machines and shaping machines to glove knitting machines, resetting the standard for computerized knitting across the board.
Interestingly each machine is also a testbed for new features, awaiting feedback from trusted Shima Seiki customers.
In addition to machine technology, Shima Seiki's computer graphic design system and software has also been the subject of new software upgrades that feature significant improvements in knit programming, 3D functions and speed.
Evidently, continuous innovation has always been a vital cog in Shima Seiki's evolution as a provider of knitting technology. With its R-series though, it is interesting to hear more about the deeper thinking behind these latest developments.
As Mr Shima notes, when it comes to machines, Shima Seiki is constantly serving Knitwear manufacturers and apparel companies. "But what we're also actually aiming for," he explains, "is to serve the consumer and to explore how they feel about the clothes that they purchase.
"Of course, the customer will rarely think about the machines that were used to make their clothes, or how they were manufactured. But when they see something that's a little different, or something that makes them feel excited about purchasing something new, that's the kind of thing that we're aiming for.
"We want to provide the technology that allows customers to feel happy through the purchases that they make.
"Now, that's an ideal situation. However, until now, technology-wise, there have been limitations in terms of what the technology can do - whether it's what designs are possible, how many colours can be used, or even time constraints."
An example of a solution to these issues is the i-DYCS. Presented as a brand-new option for the SWG-XR WHOLEGARMENT knitting machine, this system uses knotter units to change yarns on the fly according to the knit pattern. Up to 8 colours are supported per unit, and with 2 units on each side feeding a total of 4 active yarn carriers, 32 colours are supported by i-DYCS alone
i-DYCS, a new option for the SWG-XR WHOLEGARMENT knitting machine.
In addition, by assigning colours to the remaining 12 carriers on SWG-XR, a total of 44 colours can be used in a single garment. This exceeds the record previously held for maximum number of colours by Shima Seiki's own N.MACH2SIR intarsia machine, but this time the record has been renewed by a WHOLEGARMENT machine
This gives clear indication as to the priority Shima Seiki places on development in WHOLEGARMENT knitting machine technology, says Mr Shima, adding that it also goes back to the reborn concept. "This is an example of how you can take what was limited or restrictive or any frustration that you may have had for the last 60 years, and improve on that to make the next 60 years better.
"So with the R series, we're now offering innovation that allows consumers to feel the greater satisfaction the we want them to feel."
For Shima Seiki, the latest technological developments also help provide an answer to an inescapable but maligned trend that has dominated the apparel industry for many years- that of waste.
"Unfortunate as it is, the issue of cheap, mass production seems to be how the apparel industry works right now," says Mr Shima with an air of regret. "This is about chasing greater profits, an issue that is of course not only limited to the knitwear industry."
However, Mr Shima is keen to point out that although this has become the norm, this doesn't necessarily reflect what mankind really needs or wants. "In a sense, it is just what the industry and corporations are doing for their own profits," he says, noting that we are also in the situation where supply also hugely outstrips actual demand.
"That is why there's so much leftover waste," he says. "It is difficulat to resist this kind of technological evolution. But what we're offering at Shima Seiki is technology and further improvements in garment production that can go along with the demands and advancements in the apparel industry whilst offering new ways and means to improve the situation.
"It's almost become too big. So you just have to work both with the market situation and around it, and we aim to offer technology that can improve the situation; to work within the status quo and to slowly change it. We believe thar WHOLEGARMENT is the technology that can influence that. We have the means to provide an 'alternative way', a means of making as much profit as before but through more sustainable means.
"That, for us, is the purpose behind our design and technology development so that everyone- corporations, consumers and the environement can win out in the end."
Underpinning this alternative manufacturing route for sustainable garment production is Shima Seiki's SWG-XR flagship WHOLEGARMENT knitting machine which, now in its fifth generation, has raised the benchmark once again for speed, efficiency, quality and reliability. The new name lends tribute to the SWG-X, the world's first 4-needle bed machine that launched a new genre of seam-free knits produced in one entire piece, since its pioneering debut at ITMA 1995 in Milan.
Capable of very high quality and stability in all-needle knitting of WHOLEGARMENT products, SWG-XR features an all-new spring-type moveable sinker system and a compact, light-weight carriage featuring 4 systes as well as auto yarn carriers.
All contribute to increased productivity of more than 25% over the previous MACH2XS machine, as well as increased product range using a wider variety of yarn for supporting knits for all seasons, and higher quality for knitting beautiful fabrics and silhouettes.
Even items that were impossible to knit with the MACH2XS series can now be knit, including punch lace fabrics, variable stitch patterns, intarsia patterns and efficient double- Knitting. New features currently at the prototype stage include defective needle detection, efficient, high-quality knitting of 18 gauge fabrics, and automatic yarn end finishing. There is also a brand-new user interface for increased connectivity on select machines with SWG-XR predicted to become the new standard for the next generation in waste-free, sustainable WHOLEGARMENT knitting.
As we've seen over the years with Shim Seiki, these developments rarely happen in isolation and Mr Shima is keen to stress that sustainable production must be allied to the well-being of both his company's employees and those people employed in the wider garment industry.
"As well as focusing on finances and the profits, it is equally, if not more important to consider the happiness and well being of individual employees," he says. "As well as considering the growth, goals and performance of the company, we should also consider the goals and growth of each employee, how they feel, and how they can grow as individuals. I belive that that is one of the parts of the industry that has been stagnant throughout the years."
But he doesn't stop there. For Mr Shima, this is something he wants to see replicated throughout the industry, for the sake of both the future of the sector itself and the people that work within it.
For Mr Shima, the time for the industry and those within it to be reborn, is now.