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How Speed and Technology Can Boost Made in USA Textile Production

The U.S. textile industry has come back from near extinction some 20 years ago to become a smaller but important player in global sourcing.

Much of this is thanks to a move to nearshoring to meet quick-turn needs for Western Hemisphere apparel manufacturers, increased costs and risks in Asia, and investments in new equipment and machinery. The U.S. textile industry invested $20 billion in new plants and equipment from 2006 to 2016, according to the National Council of Textile Organizations, and that has continued since, with U.S. manufacturers opening new facilities throughout the textile production chain, including recycling facilities to convert textile and other waste to new fibers and resins.

But further impetus likely is needed to continue the momentum, executives contend. David Sasso, vice president of sales at Buhler Quality Yarns/Samil, said the answer lies in one word and concept: speed.

Sasso said when U.S. textile or apparel production can pick up speed, be more automated and evolve to become less labor intensive, “it flattens the cost across the globe.”

“So the better we get at being faster and lower cost on a yarn, the more competitive U.S. manufacturers can be,” Sasso said.

This is especially true for U.S. manufacturers that compete against companies subsidized by their governments. If the yarn is available and cost competitive, it makes it easier to charge a premium for speed to market, he said.

“Where you need speed is the higher-priced garments that are higher risk or in trends like special color or texture,” Sasso said. “The riskier a garment is in terms of trends, the easier it is to source nearby. As we move toward more automation, more speed and more flexibility, it tends to support that scenario.”

Klaus Dieter Eisenhauer, sales director for Stoll America Knitting Machinery, said the company takes several routes in helping the U.S. industry. It offers sampling services for the fashion and technical textile sectors for established companies, startups and young designers who don’t have the internal structure or capability.

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“We offer our know-how and facilities,” Eisenhauer said of the firm’s combination showroom, training center, production and innovation center on West 39th Street in New York City’s Garment Center.

Stoll America’s training includes machine training on many levels and has some external partners with which it works. Much of the interest in U.S. manufacturing is coming from the technical textiles field, he noted.

“If I would say where the future of the U.S. industry is and for us at Stoll, it’s in the technical textiles area,” Eisenhauer said. “This is a relatively new industry in flat knitting and we are helping to create knowhow and hopefully jobs, and hopefully machine sales and knitting facilities.”

He said Stoll’s high-speed ADF knitting machines offer fast-paced capacity and diversity in the types of knits it can make. The innovative yarn carrier technology of ADF is powered by two motors that work independently, so the yarn can move horizontally and vertically. This allows for the realization of even more knitting techniques. Equipping is also faster than ever before due to faster and easier threading.

Stoll also has seamless machine technology that allows for a reduction in work processes, “saving time by avoiding the bottleneck of linking.”

Looking ahead, Eisenhauer said automation and individualization of production is the future, from design to the final stage of manufacturing. Stoll has a software package called Knitelligence that addresses these many stages. The modular system combines Stoll’s software solutions covering the entire value chain of flat knit production.

The company also has a Production Planning System (PPS) that controls the entire production processes.

“What we are seeing is that the interest in bringing production back to the U.S. is definitely increasing,” Eisenhauer added. “There is a turnaround in the mindset of many people… which is very positive and we try to help wherever we can.”

Thomas Kuettel, president and CEO at Rieter, noted than among the four types of spinning technologies–ring, compact, rotor and air jet–the newest development, air jet, is 20 times faster than the slowest, which is ring-spun yarn.

“In the U.S. we have a very favorable situation because energy costs are relatively low,” Kuettel said. This means that if companies convert to air-jet machines, they can more quickly achieve return on investment, he said.

Sasso cited an innovation from German machinery maker Mayer & Cie called Spinitsystems that combines the spinning, cleaning and knitting process in one machine. Knitwear is manufactured not from yarn but straight from the fiber roving.

Mayer & Cie said, “Fewer machines are needed and capital expenditure is reduced. Significant space and energy savings become possible, yarn storage can be reduced and less waste is produced. Production costs overall can be reduced considerably and the reduction in CO2 emissions makes a valuable contribution towards sustainability.”

U.S. textile companies are taking innovations and technologies that enable them to revive their businesses, and are expanding.

Unifi recently completed expansions of its Reidsville and Yadkinville facilities in North Carolina that are involved in turning recycled plastic water bottles into polyester and nylon fiber. Unifi invested $130 million to expand production of its Repreve recycled fibers and other advanced performance technologies.

The expansions in both Reidsville and Yadkinville fulfill Unifi’s goal of vertical integration for the Repreve recycled product line, adding flexibility, expanding production capabilities and supporting volume growth.

Stein Fibers Ltd., which owns and operates two recycled polyester staple fiber production facilities in the U.S., just expanded its production capabilities with the installation of four new extruders and spin beams. The addition of these state-of-the-art machines will broaden its already wide product range offerings and improve the quality and consistency of the fiber, the company said.

The new equipment is capable of running three to 25 denier recycled polyester in a variety of colors and cross sections. Installation of the new extrusion equipment is expected to be completed during the second quarter.

Invista is entering the final design phase for a $250-million project at its Victoria, Tex., site to upgrade its manufacturing technology and increase production of adiponitrile (ADN), a key ingredient for nylon 6,6 fibers and plastics. Construction for the project is slated to begin in the first quarter.

Committing to a Made in America strategy, Fanatics Inc. and Jakprints Inc. recently inked a five-year partnership deal that allows Jakprints to support the domestic production needs of Fanatics, a major distributor of licensed sports merchandise.

In conjunction with the agreement, Jakprints has opened a new 140,000-square-foot facility in Eastlake, Ohio, that includes a $7-million investment in state-of-the-art equipment and the creation of more than 100 new jobs. The facility will be Jakprints’ third location, joining facilities in downtown Cleveland, and in Oceanside, Calif.

The new partnership incorporates Jakprints production capabilities that include screen printing, full color transfers, dye sublimation, embroidery and made-to-order digital printing. The aim is to support Fanatics in offering a wide assortment of merchandise across all categories, including a growing direct-to-consumer and wholesale business. Fanatics holds apparel and fan gear licenses with all major sports leagues and hundreds of professional and collegiate partners.

“We continue to build strategic partnerships that drive our integrated domestic embellishment strategy,” said Jim Hardy, senior vice president of supply chain for Fanatics. “This strategy is built on delivering manufacturing agility and speed to market.”