At Texprocess Americas: Cutting Machines, New Dyeing Technology and Made-in-the-USA Manufacturing

Last week’s trade show offered something for everyone.

Texprocess Americas, the largest North American trade show featuring equipment and technology for the development, sourcing and production of sewn products, was held last week at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, Ga., and co-located with its sister exhibition, Techtextil North America.

The show, owned by Messe Frankfurt and co-produced with SPESA, featured a new Technology Solutions Pavilion highlighting such technologies as 2D/3D design, PLM, ERP, costing, supply chain management and shop floor control; the Cool Zone, hosted by [TC]2, which showcased current and future leading-edge technologies; and approximately 170 equipment, solution and service providers and organizations, including Lectra, Infor, Gerber Technology and Yunique Solutions, Simparel, Human Solutions North America, FDM4 International, Computer Generated Solutions, OptiTex USA, Alvanon and more.

Design, pre-production, cutting and more
At Lectra’s booth, the company provided overviews of design, development, pre-production, production and product lifecycle management solutions, giving demos of its most recent generation of Vector fabric cutters. The company focused not only on its extensive array of cutting machines, but also on demonstrating how the company can help customers with the process involved in cutting.

"Most of the people that we work with don’t put enough attention or time into studying the process around the cutting, so that’s where we are really promoting and also putting in lean methodologies that help them get the most out of the cutting machines," said Roy Shurling, president, North America.

Lectra also educated attendees on the impact of 3D technology on fit, grading and virtual prototyping, and how to connect design and development teams to create a competitive advantage. Traffic to Lectra’s booth represented a number of manufacturing sectors including furniture, automotive and fashion, said Shurling, noting that the latter was showing increased interest in product lifecycle management software, and design and 3D CAD for pattern making.

At Gerber Technology, focus was on the company’s ability to track work throughout the entire process from order entry through the cutting room.

Gerber’s integrated products — its AccuMark® pattern design and marker making software, automated spreading systems and Paragon® cutter ? share data seamlessly, allowing organizations to improve productivity, eliminate errors caused by manual data entry and provide managers clear visibility to track work in process more effectively.

The integrated products communicate cut plan details via a standard barcode. Users create and edit cut plans in AccuMark 9.0. Details of the cut plan, including number of plies, spread length and mode, are passed to the spreader. After spreading, the plan is updated with actual number of plies spread. This information then travels to Gerber’s Paragon cutter where the operator scans a barcode to retrieve the proper cut file.

Gerber was also a participant in TC2’s Cool Zone with its Mobile Design Suite, which enables designers to create paper patterns using a touchscreen Microsoft tablet. They can then use the tablet to convert patterns to digital AccuMark CAD patterns, and edit and upload them to the cloud.

Cutting-edge technologies and the appeal of Made-in-the-USA
Beyond the Mobile Design Suite, TC2’s Cool Zone pavilion featured a collection of cutting-edge technologies, including one from AM4U (Apparel Made For You), which has combined new dyeing technology with on-demand manufacturing. The company touts the process as "a revolutionary approach to apparel manufacturing and marketing." AM4U made its exhibition debut at this year’s Texprocess and was among several firms offering a made-in-the-USA appeal to Cool Zone visitors.

"It will change the economics of the industry and help manufacturing return to the U.S.," said Bill Grier, AM4U’s president.

Peter Kilduff, a professor and chairman of the Department of Apparel Merchandising and Management at Cal Poly Pomona, and a senior advisor and director of the company, says the dyeing technology doesn’t use any water or chemicals and puts color inside the fiber. Through heat and photon stimulation, it uses capillary action to pump dye inside the fibers, and then seals them in a single pass on fabric or cut pieces.

"It also doesn’t use a great deal of energy since it’s digitally enabled," Kilduff says. "Our concept was to integrate this technology with other forms of technology out there such as e-commerce, body scanning and computer-integrated manufacturing and digital cutting."

Kilduff says the startup company has raised about $2 million and built a pilot factory in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., where it is demonstrating the technology. He says several apparel manufacturers have expressed interest in building these types of plants in various parts of the world.

The dyeing technology is being paired with demand manufacturing with the ultimate goal of moving to purchase-activated manufacturing where the consumer makes design choices and orders products that fit them through home-based or retail-based body scanning, Kilduff says.

"The product is then shipped to them in a few days. We think that’s a few years down the road," he adds.

Also part of the Cool Zone was Rethink Robotics of Boston, which is touting its "Baxter" interactive production robot as having applications in various aspects of apparel and textile manufacturing. Jim Landreth, a marketing representative for the company, says the teachable robot can be used by personnel of any education level. While Baxter is not yet on the production floor of any apparel or textile companies, Landreth believes it has many potential applications for both industries, and says that it has worked well in demonstrations with thread and yarn manufacturers.

Over at The Human Solutions Group, the company has developed a new contact-free body scanner to acquire body measurements in 3D, which creates a "scanatar" of customers. According to the company, the scanatar’s dimensions correspond exactly to the body dimensions of the person being scanned. Scanning takes just one second and scanners require just three square meters of space.                

The scanner measures by means of optical triangulation (infrared light, 12 sensors) and is an addition to the existing scanner family with 3D laser technology. The company believes it is especially suitable for the virtual try-on procedure in apparel vendors’ stores.

Also exhibiting at the show was apparel software and ERP specialist Simparel. "[Our technology] offers the ability to manage business literally all the way through from the process of design until the product goes out the back door. It’s a complete software that handles the entire process," says John Robinson, the company’s senior vice president, sales and marketing.

Robinson says one of Simparel’s main attributes is that it can oversee the entire apparel production process and users don’t have to integrate multiple software solutions.

"The apparel companies we engaged at Texprocess continue to confirm that the constant increasing need for speed, improved operational efficiency and visibility are paramount for success," Robinson says. "Of course these companies want to reduce costs while increasing revenue by quickly identifying challenges and/or seizing opportunities as it relates to their supply chain and available inventory as well as their omni-channel fulfillment."

The Supply Chain USA pavilion organized by SEAMS featured yarn, fabric and apparel manufacturers. Here, companies were quick to promote the made-in-the-USA aspect of their products. Among the vendors was Sterlingwear of Boston, whose claim to fame is as the manufacturer of the official U.S. Navy pea coat for more than 40 years. The company employs more than 300 at its East Boston manufacturing facility.

Jack Foster, director of sales and marketing for the company, says the company launched a commercial division in 2001, creating a line of peacoats that it sells to Army-Navy stores and boutiques. Sterlingwear also operates a wholesale division that sells fashion items. Foster says that while government contracts now account for about 90 percent of the company’s revenue, its goal is to make that a 50-50 proposition as the commercial side expands.

"All of our assembly and manufacturing is done in America," he says. For Foster and Sterling, Texprocess was about getting the company’s name out to potential customers.

"When you are a new brand, especially in the fashion market, it takes a lot of patience and you have to have the right designs," Foster says. "Large retailers are part of corporations that are made up of people and those people usually go the easy route and stay with the suppliers they have been with for a long time. To take a chance on a company that that might not be as well known nationally is a hard thing for them to do."

At thread specialist A&E, Mark Hatton, director, marketing and sales administration, said that, for apparel, the company was promoting performance threads that offered unique characteristics and functionality. "Visitors have been interested in our AneSoft product which is an incredibly soft micro denier thread that can be used in next-to-skin applications," he said.

John McCurry is a free-lance writer based in Georgia.
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