Market Topics

Best Foot Forward


One of the biggest obstacles facing the North American textile industry today is competing with foreign imports. U.S. textile companies charge that their main competitors -China, India and Pakistan -have an unfair advantage because of factors such as inexpensive labor, no or limited employee benefits, and no or limited environmental regulations.

American textile manufacturers say they are looking for a competitive advantage without shortchanging their employees or the quality of their products. Strategies to overcome these challenges include utilizing free-trade laws, creating a global presence in competitors territories – and using quality lubricants.

One way for U.S. manufacturers to gain a competitive edge is through the selection of high-quality lubricants for use in their equipment. Specialty lubricants can help extend parts and machine life, reduce downtime and increase cost savings through energy efficiency. When designing a lubrication program, manufacturers should consider factors such as long-term versus short-term lubrication, clear versus yellow lubricants, and synthetic versus mineral oil based products.

One lubrication challenge that textile manufacturers face is keeping the lubricants off fabric. If oil slings from the machine onto the fabric, extra washing is required to avoid staining or spotting, resulting in more time and money spent. Fortunately,there are lubricants specifically designed to stay on the chain or machinery and remain sling-free.

Explained Jim Cobb, president of Slane Hosiery in High Point,N.C., Some machines run 24 hours a day, six days a week. It is important for the oil to be clear and not sling from the machine.

Also, when its washed, the product shouldnt stain, he insisted.

There is also the issue of deciding between instant gratification and quality, that is, between short-term versus long-term oils. Ive been in the textile industry for 20 years and have always used the same oil because of its long-term effects on the machinery,said Cobb, who joined Slane a few years ago. Its a matter of paying now or paying later. While specialty lubricants may be more costly up-front, machine and part life may be extended by up to 30 percent because the lubricant helps the machines to run more efficiently.

Founded in 1915,Slane manufactures a huge array of socks -mostly athletic but also casual, dress, crew, jacquard and more – using single-cylinder Lonati knitting machines that have 100 to 168 needles each. Knitted from cotton, acrylic, spandex, nylon, wool, polyester and other yarns, the sock forms still must be sewn, dyed or bleached, finished (washed, dried, appliqued, labeled or decorated), boarded and packaged for shipment. The finished socks are sold as branded or private-label products to sportswear manufacturers in the United States and abroad. Much of Slanes equipment is very specialized, and heat, steam and moisture are ever-present throughout its processes.

You can use short-term oil,Cobb has found, but theres a lot of unnecessary wear and tear on the machines. For example, you have long-and short-term parts; short-term parts like needles wear out quickly with commodity-type lubricants. There are also downgrades because oils are left in the product.

In an industry rife with plant closings, textile and garment manufacturers must keep an ever vigilant eye on the bottom line. In some cases, though, costly errors can be made in the name of cost cutting. The costs associated with quality, rework and obsolescence should be part of the equation when choosing a lubricant program. An investment in specialty lubricants can result in less downtime, extended machine life, reduced energy consumption and extended part life. All of these are in the long-term best interests of manufacturers.

Before Cobb joined the company, Slane Hosiery had tried using more commodity-type lubricants, in hopes of cutting costs. But it soon realized that quality lubricants are a sound investment. Within two to three months of joining Slane, Cobb began switching equipment to specialty lubricants such as Kluber Madol 170 needle lubricant, a synthetic based product. Cobb noticed his needle and flat-part usage decrease by 10 percent. He also saw less yellowing in his finished product.

Some questions a maintenance person should ask before selecting a lubricant are: What are the sling properties? What are the color properties – is the oil yellow or clear? How does the oil wash out of the product? How is the oil applied to the equipment? (At Slane, for example, each knitting machine has an internal, recirculating oil system which collects the oil in a bottom reservoir and filters it before its next pass through.) What are the oils wear properties? A careful analysis of the answers to these questions can help eliminate future problems.

In addition to producing cheap products, there are alot of other issues with manufacturers offshore, said Cobb. For example, there are issues with receiving products on time and missing deliveries to retailers. Products may also be discontinued [by retailers] and by the time the manufacturers get the information, the product has already been shipped, he explained. He added that offshore manufacturers have fewer design and merchandising resources as well.

Slane Hosiery produces 99 percent of its products in-house, offering a full supply-chain solution. Its advantages include having a buffer stock so a retailer never runs out of its core product. Retailers who look overseas will not get as fast are turn on receiving their supply, Cobb says, which in turn leads to stock-outs and lower sales. Thats especially risky if its a popular or seasonal product.

While Cobb can only speak for hosiery, he sees a change in the tide with offshore manufacturing. First of all, from a sock perspective, you should not outsource 100 percent of your product. Im starting to see the trend turn – the hosiery manufacturers who continue to produce in the U.S. are becoming more competitive. Mass retailers are starting to go directly to the source and are cutting out the off-shore distributors.

However,Cobb is open to the idea of thinking and acting globally since there is a global market.There is a market for all of us. We ship worldwide and its increasing, he explained. For companies manufacturing in the U.S., there are global opportunities, so long as they dont paint themselves inside a box. You just have to look at each situation and analyze it and see what works for you.

The latest trend is applying free-trade laws. Products can be manufactured with U.S.-produced yarn in the DR-CAFTA (Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement) region, and then shipped back to the United States without any duties or taxes on the garments. Turn around can happen in as little as a week and a half.

At the same time, some lubricant manufacturers are trying to stay competitive by following textile manufacturers to offshore locations. For example, Kluber is in the process of building a blending plant in China in order to be closer to the textile machines it lubricates in Asia and to better service its customers.

While it may be challenging for North American businesses to compete with their overseas counterparts, companies such as Kluber and Slane Hosiery are finding ways to remain competitive. Textile companies like Slane also realize that in order to be competitive, they need to use specialty lubricants that extend machine parts while using less energy, thereby helping them outlast the foreign competition.

Related Topics

Market Topics