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A Resurgent North American Supply Chain Builds on Technology

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From fibers and yarns, to textiles and technologies, the entire high-tech value chain came together last week at the Techtextil North America exhibition, held in conjunction with Texprocess Americas and the composites show JEC, at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta.

Texprocess, the platform for products and services used by the sewn products industry which was co-produced by SPESA (the Sewn Products Equipment & Suppliers of the Americas), featured the Supply Chain USA Pavilion, as well as [TC]2’s Cool Zone, where the latest technologies in sewn product manufacturing were displayed.

Organized by the SEAMS Association, a nonprofit which promotes the growth of the U.S. sewn products industry, the Supply Chain USA Pavilion saw a 50 percent increase in exhibitors this year. Comprising suppliers of American-made yarns, fabrics and trims along with CMT providers and suppliers of machinery and logistics, the Pavilion drew a large crowd of visitors throughout the show.

“Our membership has come back over the past 4 to 5 years, and grew by 24 percent in 2013,” said SEAMS executive director Sarah Friedman. “There is definitely movement back to the U.S.” According to Dave Gardner of SPESA, while U.S. employment in the industry has not increased, efficiency and technology have contributed to a 13 percent rise in production.

The U.S. yarn spinners and textile manufacturers exhibiting at the show all reported increased business in markets such as active sportswear, protective work wear, service uniforms, health and medical services, and the burgeoning energy and petrochemicals industry.

Sales at North Carolina circular knitter Contempora Fabrics, Inc. have almost doubled over the past four years, according to company president Ron Roach. “Synthetic knits for team sports and performance are big, and other segments are coming back now.” The company’s collection of heather-effect stripes in cat/disperse polyester received strong response from visitors.

“Opportunities in this hemisphere have been jumping out at us over the last year and a half,” according to Mark Cabral, president of Alamac American Knits, LLC. “We have a terrific supply chain in existence; and U.S. textiles, as well as cut-and-sew, are poised to grow.” Fabrics on display included performance polyesters, tri-blends, American Linen (blends of polyester and CRAiLAR flax), wool blends and more.

With knitting and dyeing facilities in Pennsylvania, Milco Industries exhibited a diverse range of fabrics. The company utilizes filament synthetics, spandex, and specialty raw materials such as X-STATIC® antimicrobial silver fiber, or Outlast for thermal regulation. Unique products included super-micro polyester faux suede foot liners, nylon “hook compatible” knits, and “blue screen” fabrics for television broadcasting.

New York’s Gehring-Tricot Corp., is known for creating “what doesn’t already exist,” explained Bill Christmann, the company’s vice president of sales. He referred to the 60-year-old company as “the American Schoeller” with its extensive range of capabilities including warp and circular knitting, jacquards, spacer machines and 4-way abrasion-resistant stretch wovens through the Tweave division.

Technical yarns utilizing flame-resistant, high-tenacity, carbon, recycled and other specialty fibers are at the heart of the American textile renaissance. American heritage spinners such as Tuscarora, National Spinning, and Pharr Yarns have seen the business change from basic cottons, wools, acrylics,and polyesters, to novelty and high-tech blends engineered for specific visual, performance or protective effects.

These yarns are used in conjunction with new textile chemistries by mills such as Mount Vernon FR, GRTF (Glen Raven Technical Fabrics), SSM Industries, and others to create a new world of fabrics meeting strict standards for specific industries. “After all, who wants to put on a fire suit that is labelled ‘made in China’?” posed one yarn executive.

Finding CMT facilities in the U.S. continues to be a challenge, and a large number of “re-shored” programs for U.S. brands are manufactured within the CAFTA region or in Mexico. But textile mills are increasingly acquiring their own garment production, such as circular knitter Coville, and Milco’s operation in Guatemala. The SEAMS Association also facilitates connections among its textile and garment manufacturing members.

The [TC]2 Cool Zone offered additional technologies which may allow the U.S. textile and apparel industry to compete more successfully, including robotic sewing, 3D body scanning, and AM4U’s demand-driven manufacturing paradigm, which featured a radically new, environmentally-friendly dyeing and printing technology called Active Tunnel Coloration (ATC) infusion.

While the offshore textile business has focused primarily on price, American manufacturers have developed an expertise in technical products that focuses on value rather than volume. With the benefits of reduced energy costs and manufacturing paradigms such as robotics, 3D body scanning, and cloud-based technologies, American textile manufacturing is once again on the upswing.

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