published Friday, September 27th, 2013

Digital ink manufacturer opens Soddy-Daisy factory

Anna Ferrato rolls up paper coming from a printer in the lab at Kiian U.S.A., located in the Soddy-Daisy Industrial Park. The company will produce high-quality, water-based specialty inks.
Anna Ferrato rolls up paper coming from a printer in the lab at Kiian U.S.A., located in the Soddy-Daisy Industrial Park. The company will produce high-quality, water-based specialty inks.
Photo by John Rawlston.

A worldwide digital ink manufacturer opens a new production facility in Soddy-Daisy today.

The 15,000-square-foot site in Soddy-Daisy's industrial park is Kiian Group's first factory in North America. The company is based in Italy and manufactures ink at facilities throughout the world.

The Soddy-Daisy location eventually will employ about 20 people, said Alessandro Ratti, general manager. The site makes water-based digital inks that can be printed onto paper and then used to dye fabrics, usually polyester.

The fabric and printed paper are pressed together and heated to several hundred degrees for anywhere from 30 seconds to three minutes. When the process is complete, the ink "melts" into the fabric and dyes it.

Kiian-made inks are used to dye athletic jerseys, flags, T-shirts, banners, upholstery -- all sorts of goods. The company plans to use the Soddy-Daisy location to serve North, Central and South America, with a focus on expanding its market in the United States.

Kiian is one of a growing number of international companies setting up camp in the Chattanooga region, said Charles Wood, vice president of economic development at the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce.

"Looking at the state as a whole, Asia has been very strong in Nashville and Memphis, but in Chattanooga we've played much more toward European industry," he said. "This is a small ink manufacturer so it's a little different, but you've got Wacker and Volkswagen out of Germany, Alstom and Sanofi-Aventis out of France, Gestamp out of Spain -- there's a good bit of European push here."

He added that most of the businesses the Chamber works with have between 100 and 50 employees.

"We have a thriving small business base here and there are smaller manufacturers who have done really well, and we think Kiian will be one of those," he said.

Ratti toured about 40 buildings in the Chattanooga region before settling on 106 Industrial Park Drive in Soddy-Daisy. The location was attractive because of the building's condition and features, the easy Interstate access and the rural environment, he said.

Unlike some competitors, Kiian's inks are water-based instead of solvent-based, and the digital printing process eliminates much of the waste created by traditional textile printing, so a rural site felt right, he said.

"In Italy, our site is not in downtown but in the country, because we are doing things safer and water-based, so staying in the natural area and not in downtown seems more fitting," Ratti said.

The ink production and bottling process is automated and extremely precise. The equipment follows computer programing to pull chemicals from about 16 different tanks and mix them in just the right quantities to produce each color of ink. Each tank costs about $200,000 and is replaced about every seven months.

As Ratti gets the plant up and running, he's focused on maintaining the same quality of ink manufactured at other Kiian sites.

"The biggest challenge for us is to have the same quality," he said. "The water from the Alps in Italy is not the same water in the lakes in Tennessee. But we have to give the same quality product."

That's especially important because quality is one of the company's key competitive advantages.

"Our product is not the cheapest on the market," Ratti said. "But we're one of the higher levels of quality."

The ink is bottled in 1 liter containers that sell for about $100 each. Running at full capacity, the plant can pump out about 4 tons of ink in an eight-hour shift. As the company establishes its U.S. presence, Ratti expects production to sit at around 1 ton per shift.

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or sbradbury@timesfreepress.com.

about Shelly Bradbury...

Shelly Bradbury covers police and crime in Chattanooga and Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She's been with the paper since 2012, working first as an intern and then as a business reporter. She is from Houghton, New York, and graduated from Huntington University in Huntington, Indiana, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and minor in management. Before moving to Tennessee, Shelly previously interned with The Goshen News, The Sandusky Register and The Mint ...

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