Ahead Partners with H&V to Create Improved Cap Backing

Recently, golf headwear and apparel company Ahead teamed up with its supplier, Hollingsworth & Vose (H&V), to develop the ideal backing for its caps. H&V is a supplier of specialty papers and nonwoven materials.

Allstitich, a distributor of embroidery backings and supplies, also participated in the collaboration.

Ahead technical director Jacob Freeman says he agreed to assist H&V in creating a new cap backing because he thought there was room for improvement.

"I've tried at least 300 different types of backings,
" he says. "I thought the backing we were using then was the best [available] - but I knew it could be better."

What does cap backing do?
Cap backing stabilizes the headgear surface during embroidery. Otherwise the cap (especially soft-crown or unstructured models) can move or pucker in the frame, resulting in inconsistent design registration from one cap to the next. This degrades fine details or small lettering. (Some Ahead caps feature lettering that is only 2.5 millimeters high.)

Stability is also critical for high-stitch-count designs. Ahead produces a number of cap designs requiring 10,000 to 20,000 stitches, making a fairly stiff product essential.

But a balanced approach is also vital. With backing that's too tough, operators may struggle to tear it away cleanly after embroidering, even pulling out stitches in the process, while backing that's too light may perforate around high-stitch-count designs.

The backing that Ahead used before the start of the project had consistency problems from lot to lot. Operators were often forced to struggle with two, three and even four plies of material to get the required stability, resulting in much wasted production time, effort and expense, according to H&V.

Research yields results
After much research and development and many trial prototypes, Ahead, AllStitch and H&V developed an improved product.

"Fortunately, we already had backing formulations to do some of what was needed,
" said H&V senior scientist Wai-Ming Choi.

"We also used some technology from H&V's filtration media,
" he continued. "We wound up with a cellulose/polyester nonwoven that met all the demanding performance specs, and could be made at a reasonable cost."

The first sheets of H&V's StitchBackers"Grade 3045 cap backing were produced less than a year later.

Ahead now uses the backing on virtually all of the company's headwear products, including high-stitch-count designs, soft- and hard-crown caps, low-profile caps, sock hats and scarves.

Freeman reports significant improvements in stitching uniformity, registration, lettering legibility and productivity - especially in the elimination of having to use more than one ply.

"In cost per sheet, this is a little bit higher. But just the fact that we can use one piece - that alone is a savings for us.

Additionally, he says, the backings contribute to Ahead's ability to produce a high- quality product, and that will result in customers that "come back."
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