The Italian company Energiapura, a specialist manufacturer of functional sportswear, conducted research and began producing masks in response to the Covid-19 crisis. Using Mimaki sublimation printers, the masks can be customized, moving away from their connotation with hospitals and transforming them into a fashion accessory.
Energiapura, a manufacturer of accessories for ski racing and snowboarding, has leveraged its know-how and technology to quickly conceive and develop a protective mask that meets the Class I medical device requirements. The EP PA 2020 (Energiapura Pure Air) facial device, optimized for air filtering and breathability, provides many hours of protection while working, and can be reused.
But Energiapura has gone even further, branding and customizing the masks with sublimation printing. “Bold coloring has always distinguished the Energiapura brand, and we didn’t want to abandon this, not even in the midst of the crisis,” explains Alberto Olivetto, founder and CEO of Energiapura. “Sublimation printing allows us to give a brighter face to Covid-19. Our message is to add color and a bit of optimism, precisely in these difficult times.”
The EP PA 2020 mask, compliant with 93/42 EEC Medical Devices – Class I washable, meets the essential requirements of UNI EN 14683:2019. Having redirected the manufacturing process, Energiapura is now stepping up production levels to meet the rising demand from hospitals, pharmacies, chemists, companies, and even consumers.
A winning brand
In its headquarters at Tezze sul Brenta (Vicenza province), Energiapura employs 25 staff members. A further 80 employees work in Tunisia, where part of the production is managed.
Energiapura’s story began in 1990 when Olivetto set up his business in the heart of the Veneto textiles district at the junction of the provinces of Vicenza, Treviso, and Montebelluna. Focusing from the outset on research and innovation, the company homed in on the niche market of functional sportswear. Initially a subcontractor, it moved from cycling to cross-country skiing, establishing itself as a manufacturer and direct exporter of the Norwegian brand Swix in Europe, the USA, and Japan.
Sublimation printing makes the difference
Every single production phase at Energiapura is given minute attention – from design to fabric preparation and processing (partly outsourced to external partners) and on to printing and packaging. “At the heart of it all is sublimation printing. With virtually unlimited creative freedom, we can offer truly unique designs to our customers.”
The encounter with Mimaki around 12 years ago and the installation of Mimaki roll-to-roll sublimation printers – currently four machines, including one JV5 and two JV300s – has brought another leap in quality. “Thanks to Mimaki, we have been continuously improving our quality while also expanding our range of applications. At this point, we even customize our accessories, including shin and arm guards. We were the first to offer colorful shin guards, and arm guards for ski racing are actually our invention.”
But Energiapura goes even further. The company continues to experiment with color transfer methods, focusing on managing the ink quantities deposited on the transfer paper. “We primarily work with composite materials, comprised of two or three layers of fabric. One of the most important factors to keep in mind is airflow, and we conduct many internal tests on this issue. Sublimation printing helps to optimize airflow, giving the fabric – and therefore the piece of clothing – the ideal technical characteristics and aerodynamics for the intended use,” explains Olivetto. “We have managed to create ‘winning formulas,’ playing with the pigments used and their impact on the aerodynamic performance of fabrics.”
Pure Air, Energiapura’s mask
This is how Energiapura came to create EP PA 2020, an effective protective mask based on a functional concept. “It all started with the need to protect our own staff from the Coronavirus. Based on our usual modus operandi, we launched a study phase in our laboratories to identify the three main properties to impart to our devices: protection, breathability, and reusability.” EP PA 2020 is made up of three layers of fabric – the first, the outer layer, is DWR-treated polyester, the second is TNT polyester, providing a filtering function, and the third, which comes into contact with the face, is polyester containing special fibers, such as coolmax and carbon. In this way, the mask not only guarantees the necessary protection but, being breathable, it can be worn for many hours while working. And it can be reused via normal washing and steam ironing, which also sterilizes it.”
Beyond the present crisis, the Energiapura project is also looking to the future. “We wanted to disassociate our masks from the hospital image. How? Through customization, by decorating them with company branding and designs provided by customers.” This is where the Mimaki JV300 wide-format printer comes in. Highly productive and optimized for rapid job changes, it ensures the fast turnarounds required in times of increasing demand.
“Innovation is part of our DNA. EP PA 2000 is the fruit of a great deal of research conducted in our laboratories. More than ‘just a mask,’ it is a fully-fledged facial protective device. In conceiving this project, we thought a lot about the future because we believe that the post-Coronavirus world will be different and involve new ways of socializing. Facial protection will play a critical role in the months to come, so we wanted to create an item that is actually fun to wear – adding a personal touch and a little bit of cheerfulness. Much like a fashion accessory.”
“Last but not least, another main focus was the reusability of the mask, avoiding issues with disposal and working towards a culture of zero waste for the benefit of our environment,” Olivetto concludes.