In 2002, Mark Mombourquette and Brett Weibel began developing a technology that would help create a new, niche market within the garment decoration industry. Having successfully produced and patented the first direct-to-fingernail printer, dubbed “Imaginail”, a product which had a global distribution of over 4,000 units, the two engineers began looking to apply their knowledge of printing mechanics and their passion for innovation to something larger. Similar to trends in other industries, which had evolved to meet the growing demand for products that cater to individuality and customization, they surmised that within the clothing industry there existed the potential for a lucrative and sustainable business model which incorporated personalized t-shirts. They believed a printer could be engineered that would allow companies to offer custom, single print, graphic apparel without the set up costs or low quality normally associated with other printing methods. It was not all smooth sailing, but, after working through some scrapped business partnerships and design plans and through the adoption of similar fundamental principles from their first moving head flatbed “Imaginail” printer platform, the Flexi-Jet Direct-to-Garment printer was born.
For Mark and Brett, innovation is both a need and a desire. As their company has grown from just the two of them in a garage, to today employing 27, a hallmark of BelQuette has been innovation in employee education. BelQuette observes that many people are not receiving the proper tools needed to be equipped for today’s workforce. Therefore, each new BelQuette staff member that is directly involved with the product is required to train in manufacturing. This has led to BelQuette having a staff with more than a cursory knowledge of their product, and a dedication to supporting it. Innovation in product development has also remained paramount to BelQuette’s success. Mark and Brett remember many instances during product development when there have been, “Aha !” moments, which have provided solutions to the perplexing issues that the blossoming Direct-to-Garment, or “DTG”, industry has struggled to answer. One such moment occurred during the developmental stages of the company’s pretreating product, the “Edge”. The Edge is a machine that answers the industry’s demand for a cleaner, simpler, and more cost effective method for applying the pretreatment fluid necessary to print white ink on certain types of garments. The task to create a device that would answer this demand required BelQuette to introduce a brand new type of targeted spraying of the pretreat chemical, so that the fluid would be laid down in much the same fashion as a printer lays down ink. The difficulty, they understood, was in the properties of the pretreatment itself, since the liquid would not allow for a traditional print head to be used for delivery. The “Aha!” moment came when it was realized that variances in pressure and volume had a profound effect on the precision and uniformity of the spray pattern. After testing, adjustments were made which allowed BelQuette to utilize this discovery, and to present the first truly targeted pretreatment system to the DTG industry. BelQuette estimates this product will save customers between 30-50% on their pretreatment cost. In addition to providing sound solutions that save time and money for their customers, BelQuette’s innovation has also had a positive impact on the environment. For example, BelQuette’s second generation DTG printer, the Mod1, includes a new ink delivery system which utilizes bags, instead of traditional ink cartridges. Not only is this beneficial to the consumer, as the clear plastic allows for far less wasted ink, but the bags and the ink system also greatly reduce the amount of plastic consumable needed to contain and deliver the ink necessary to produce a Direct-to-Garment product.
Today, the DTG market is growing, and with that growth come various challenges. Competition has matured and, as with many technologies, there are pressures to increase speeds, improve the ease of use, and to lower costs. There is also an increased pressure to manufacture in greater numbers, while maintaining high fidelity in output. To meet this particular challenge, Belquette contracted the help and support of the Florida Manufacturing Extension Partnership, a not-for-profit organization that helps small to medium size manufacturers in Florida strengthen their competitiveness in the global market through lean manufacturing processes. This has poised BelQuette to not only have the ability to meet the current demand, but to evolve into an even larger force in the DTG industry. Despite some of these challenges, Mark's and Brett's vision of BelQuette’s future is one of expanding market share. With its talented and knowledgeable workforce, and its ever-increasing line of ground-breaking products, BelQuette will not only lead the industry in quality engineering and manufacturing, but will also capture the majority of Direct-to-Garment product demand.