Continuing on with technology highlights from the Texprocess Americas show that took place in late April, the current post provides insights into the state of equipment for spreading, cutting and sewing and some notes on software for product costing. I’m assisted in this effort by my colleague, Doug Adams who has a wealth of experience in operational aspects of apparel manufacturing. Doug walked the show floor documenting the most important features of the equipment and hardware systems being promoted. I will do my best to summarize the key information from this show report. Note that I’ve highlighted company names for ease of scanning this post in reference to the various technology areas.
In regard to sewing technology, companies including Collier Equipment Co., Henderson Sewing Machine Co. and The FOX Company were representing technologies from a variety of equipment developers and in some cases were offering both new and used equipment as well as parts and supplies. Machinery taking center stage on the sewing front reflected the current domestic focus on manufacturing for specialty applications within the military, automotive and furniture sectors. Equipment design services and the ability to handle specialty materials such as strapping, webbing and rope were among the notable offerings.
In terms of new capabilities, the introduction of carbon fiber clamps as a replacement for metal or Plexiglas systems shown in the Henderson booth was an advancement that caught Doug’s attention. Owner, Frank Henderson indicates that the carbon fiber design significantly improves “…the load and unload features of the sewing machines by reducing the weight of the clamp and reducing the machine stress.” The company also offers robotic components – a technology area once felt to be too costly for the sewing area, but that now promote improvements in speed and efficiency while reducing construction errors and waste. Henderson points to automation tools such as bobbin changers and thread sensors that support equipment uptime as well. A list of automation components can be found on the company’s website and this list includes systems related to the application of trim items such as hook and loop and webbing. It should be emphasized that strong development and automation capabilities were also notable features of Collier’s offering.
In the area of material handling and work flow, Eton Systems was present and demonstrating an updated version the company’s unit production system. For readers that are unfamiliar with Eton’s technology, this is a modular/customizable material handling system that moves cut parts through the sewing floor via an overhead conveyor strategy and provides re-routing and tracking capabilities on an individual unit basis (meaning all the parts for a single garment or product travel together). The latest version is highly flexible and is capable of handling more weight resulting in a higher garment carrying capacity. Eton indicates that the system also has fewer working parts than previous versions – a feature that correlates to lower need for equipment servicing.
America’s 21st Inc. was also exhibiting and specializes in the design and implementation of lean, continuous flow work cells. Some of the highlights from this booth include “Trouble Light Systems” which provide a visual method of lights and horns to signal when there is machine trouble or work is needed. The company was also promoting equipment such as “Production Pace Timers” for goal setting and self monitoring of progress by the sewing team. Also in this realm, CGS (Computer Generated Solutions) was promoting the Leadtec real-time production control system that addresses areas such as operator motivation, automatic payroll, product line balancing, real time excess cost inquiries, operator skill history, piece rate performance, actual cost, and work-in-process (WIP) inventory control. In summary the system is intended to promote productivity on the manufacturing floor and aid the identification of production issues as they arise.
Spreading and Cutting
Several companies were present and exhibiting solutions for spreading and cutting. Details are outlined below by vendor and though there doesn’t appear to be a single trend in terms of the state of technology in the cutting area, there is continued emphasis on system flexibility in terms of material handling and production volume, job management, efficiency, quality, specialized capabilities (e.g. parts identification) and ease of maintenance.
- DEMA, the US Representative for YIN Cutting and Spreading Systems, was promoting the HY Series of cutters that includes both high and low ply systems. These cutters had conveyor feed systems or static feed systems with multiple length options.
- Eastman Machine Company was also showing automated cutting machines with static and conveyor systems. The company was promoting the newly engineered “Raptor” system which incorporates reciprocating knife technology engineered for precision cutting up to 3 inches of compressed material. Simplified maintenance and quality cutting through the stack are among the benefits of the Raptor solution.
- Among the systems being promoted by Gerber Technology the GERBERcutter Z1 technology is designed for single and low ply cutting. This new system promotes energy efficiency, comprehensive reporting capabilities and job management. This is a modular solution that can be outfitted with inkjet printing capabilities for parts identification, a parts identification/re-cutting station and the ContourVision scan to cut system. The ContourVision technology scans the incoming fabric for perimeter lines and supports accurate cutting of engineered prints and similar. On an interesting note, Gerber cutters were not physically present on the show floor. Instead, the company opted for an entirely digital display this time around.
- Lectra Systems Inc. was promoting the FX and MX cutters - part of the Vector series of cutting technologies. The FX offers lower volume cutting with a maximum ply height of 1 inch while the MX is a higher volume solution with a higher cutting height capability that makes use of knife intelligence. The knife intelligence compensates for any knife deflection that might occur during the cutting procedure to ensure an accurate, quality cut through the plies.
- Pathfinder supplies automated and lower cost cutting systems for applications including single, low and high ply. The systems offer features such as off load display, offload printer, marking tools, airbrush, barcode scanning of work orders, inkjet printing, pattern matching software, overhead camera for alignment and machine transfer capabilities.
It should be noted that for those that did not read my previous post, I encourage you to have a look at this content to get a more complete picture of emerging “smart cutting” capabilities with insights into cloud based marker generation and cut-order-planning/optimization.
Before moving away from my overview of manufacturing technologies exhibited at Texprocess, let me say just a few words about software for product costing. I spent a few minutes with contacts in the GSD booth to gain an understanding of the company’s Quest solution. Aimed at a product development user, the Quest software is a higher level solution than the company’s Enterprise product that is intended for use in the product engineering environment. Quest is powered by a library of style features that are associated with operations and corresponding standard allowed minutes (SAMS) for those operations. By selecting product features for a style (e.g. two piece collar), the user can build the cost for a product. This information can be used to assess how a product is shaping up in reference to target cost. The results can be brought into a PLM solution to inform product development efforts and get a sense of how a new product is positioning. On the sourcing front, the user can examine cost in reference to key performance indicators (KPI’s) for manufacturing locations as part of consideration for where to place a program. Readers interested in costing solutions should also be sure to check out Methods Workshop’s Quick TruCost solution that has also been designed to support predictive costing activities.
I think it’s fair to say that although we are not seeing ground breaking developments in the area of equipment for cut and sew, we continue to see improvements to systems that on a case by case basis support leaner, more sustainable manufacturing operations. 3D solutions continue to be a key area of technology development within the product development area for sewn products. On that note, look for me to revisit the concept of 3D pattern making in the near future.