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Quick Response California Style

Swisstex is designed to meet market demands.

By Alfred Dockery, Executive Editor

M ichel Morger and Thomas Schrieder, both experienced dyers, had a dream. They wanted to start their own dyehouse. They knew the California marketplace well, having worked in it since 1984, and they wanted to design a facility specifically for that market.

In March 1997, their dream became a reality when Swisstex California Inc. began production. Since California is a knit market, Swisstex specializes in knits. Virtually all fiber types are present here including cotton, polyester, nylon, acetate, rayon, microfibers and Lycra blends. Most of these fabrics are for apparel. Some medical fabrics are also produced. Occasionally high-end wovens are processed.

Fabric constructions such as jersey, interlock, piqué, rib, fleece, jacquard, stripes and yarn dyed are the norm here.

Swisstex is strictly a commission dyer. The company has shied away from surface finishing and other non-dyeing processes.

Management has decided to stress process automation foremost. When they have gotten all they can from automation, then they will consider adding additional processes.

"We do what we do best — which is the dyeing," said Thomas Schrieder, vice president.

The plant runs on a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week schedule, stopping only for major holidays and scheduled maintenance. Most of the time, the maintenance work is done when the plant is down for a holiday. Swisstex processes about 2 million pounds of fabric every month.


  Thomas Schrieder (left) and Michel Morgerstarted Swisstex California Inc. in 1997.

Building An Infrastructure For Quick Response

In the California market, quick response is the law of the land. Swisstex built its plant size, infrastructure and machine choices around the West Coast’s need for speed.

"The idea behind Swisstex is to be a certain size," said Michel Morger, vice president. "The building is 80,000 square feet, and we wanted to produce the most out of this 80,000 square feet that’s possible. We wanted to use the fewest machines possible and produce the highest quality possible."

With exception of an occasional special program, almost every lot Swisstex dyes is a different color. There are 20 to 30 new colors coming through everyday. The plant’s color matching lab uses Datacolor equipment to manage this process.

"We have to be fast to be successful here," Morger said. "To be fast, we have to produce quality the first time. That is our strength and it is the strength of the LA textile market. There are many small to medium-size factories. You can get anything done real quick here."

The average dye lot size is 800 to 900 pounds. The company can dye lots from 20 to 1,700 pounds.

Gaining Minutes Means Processing Tons

swiss11_762Part of Swisstex’s philosophy is to save minutes on each dye cycle. These minutes add up to tons of dyed fabric over the course of a year.

"The whole infrastructure is built around the machines, so we can really produce," Morger said. "People just don’t pay attention to details like how fast can you fill a machine."

For example, Swisstex wanted to be able to fill a jet with water in less than a minute so they met with their machinery vendors and had them specify the pipe sizes and pump sizes necessary to accomplish this.

These infrastructure details allow Swisstex to operate with fewer people, fewer machines and less energy, according to the company.

The plant also houses all of the inverter drives for the dye machines in an air-conditioned trailer just off the production floor. This protects the drives from the moisture and temperature of the dyehouse, making them last longer.

Swisstex also has an exhaust air cleaning plant to meet stringent local air emission standards. The heat produced form this system is used to heat water for the dye machines.

The total effect of all these infrastructure details is a more efficient, environmentally friendly operation.

As an example of its efficiency, Swisstex says that it can dye reactive darks in just over four hours. Morger told ATI that it is not unusual for him to visit other dyehouses and find them doing the same process in seven or eight hours.

"The technology of dyeing has not changed since the 1950s with the introduction of reactive dyes," Schrieder said. "It is a fixed chemistry. Process improvement is in areas other than dyeing. You can heat faster, fill the machine faster and wash the fabric off faster."

Vendors Chosen For Expertise And Flexibility

swiss21_763The company also decided to use only three vendors: Scholl for dye machines, Stentex for tenter frames and Santex for shrink dryers, compactors and tubular fabric slitters. Morger and Schrieder chose vendors they knew who had technical expertise and the flexibility to respond to their needs.

"Every dyer’s nightmare is when you have a museum of machinery," Schrieder said. "I don’t mean old machinery but a variety of machinery. In a production schedule you are always under pressure. What happens is that one time they will dye in a good machine (a machine well suited for that fabric). Next time they dye it in a machine that doesn’t give as good a quality. We see this in town all the time."

The building itself is 40 years old but certainly doesn’t look it. The plant is clean, modern and well lighted. It is a single-story facility and has a clean logical layout that makes transporting material from process to process simple.

The building also already had all of the necessary wastewater permits. This was an essential requirement for Swisstex, since getting permits for a new building could run into millions of dollars.

Currently the plant has the capability for the following processes: slitting, scouring, bleaching, dyeing, pre-setting, head-setting, shrink-drying and compacting. On the dyeing side, the plant uses disperse reactive, acid, basic, sulfur and direct processes.

The plant is equipped with 10 Scholl jet dye production machines and one sample machine. All of these machines are as automated as possible and have their own chemical dispensing systems. A Scholl dye dissolving system also boosts production.

At the time of ATI’s visit, the plant had just finished installing a new machine from Scholl with an adjustable dye chamber. These machines can dye lots from 200 to 1,700 pounds. Swisstex is considering replacing more of its machines with the new models for increased versatility. The company prefers to swap out machines rather than add more. It is part of their strategic plan to stay small enough to be flexible.

It is noteworthy that the company is willing to consider changing out machines that are only a few years old in order to gain the advantage of new high-tech features. Morger feels that more and more companies will have to be willing to change machinery well before it is depreciated to stay in the game. During the plant tour, ATI editors saw apparel, medical, outerwear and dog-bed fabrics. These ranged from a 1.8-ounce nylon woven to a 28-ounce polyester/Lycra blend. All of the fabrics are slit and processed open-width.

Swisstex uses the same motors, drives and computers on all of its machines. This allows them to carry fewer spare parts and simplifies training operators. The plant also uses the same entry and exit equipment on all of its frames. This makes cross-training easier.

A new Stentex tenter frame was also going in during ATI’s visit. The plant has inspection frames in-line with its tenters and also does off-line inspection.

A new Santex shrink dryer will be added next year. The plant has a small warehouse for finished fabric storage. This area is small and completed orders are not generally here for long. It is not unusual for Swisstex to process and ship orders the same day.

February 2000