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Big Production In A Small Town

The Chickamauga facility of Synthetic Industries has seen many phases of change over the last 30 years.

Located in the small Northwest Georgia town of Chickamauga, Synthetic Industries (SI) facility is the companys oldest and largest manufacturing plant. When SI began operating at this facility in 1969, it was just bigger than 100,000 square feet in size. More than 30 years later, it stretches over 32 acres to cover 1.4 million square feet and employs more than 1,300 people. At this location, approximately 1.4 billion square yards of fabric are manufactured per year to produce carpet backing, landscaping fabrics and geotextiles for roadway stabilization applications. As a whole, SI products provide support, strength and stabilization for such applications as floor covering, filtration, erosion control, roadway stabilization, waste containment, concrete reinforcement and more. SI operates nine manufacturing facilities in the United States and the Netherlands and employs more than 2,800 people.More than 2,000 products are produced and used in approximately 65 end-use markets. These products are manufactured from polypropylene, polyester, steel and natural fibers such as coconut and straw. At the Chickamauga facility, most of the products produced are made from polypropylene. People PowerThe Chickamauga plants number one challenge is attracting, training and retaining a qualified work force. According to Rip Johnston, plant manager: "People are SIs most important asset." Plant management focuses on all of the factors that impact its pool of talent including safety, training, retention and recruiting. Many programs are in place to address these issues. Within the past year, SIs corporate training center, SI University, has provided every manufacturing supervisor.with more than 120 hours of management training, including lessons on decision making, leadership, interviewing skills, professional writing skills and teamwork. Bi-annually, supervisors are brought back into the classroom for supplemental training in areas they believe instruction is needed. To find qualified employees, human resources personnel at the Chickamauga facility conduct recruiting sessions at local colleges and job fairs in neighboring cities.Leading InnovationsA second major challenge for the facility is remaining a leader in innovation and development. Developing new products and solutions for customer needs is an ongoing initiative. Over the past several years, the company has moved away from a commodity mindset to one dedicated to innovating engineered solutions. With this philosophy comes the everyday challenge of staying on the leading edge of technology and remaining committed to pushing the envelope of new ideas. Quality ImprovementA third challenge for the Chickamauga facility is process improvement. SI employees are involved in a continual process of finding ways to improve quality, productivity and efficiency. The plant addresses this issue by providing its people with specific information about the challenges the company faces. Employees are also exposed to customer processes in order to understand their specific needs. The idea is to arm employees with the information they need to create more effective and efficient processes. Each year for the past 20 years, this facility has expanded its capacity by adding new, state-of-the-art equipment or by increasing productivity of existing equipment. "Often, when we believe we have maximized output on a particular machine or process, an employee thinks of an idea that leads to a breakthrough resulting in higher quality or production rate," Johnston said. "The creative ingenuity of our employees never ceases to amaze me."Examples of recent developments within the plant are SoftBac and PatternLok carpet backings. SoftBac backing is a proprietary composite fabric which blends woven and nonwoven technology. PatternLok commercial carpet backing is designed to keep carpet patterns straight using a unique feature called Tru-Line calibration.During production of PatternLok backing, the loom is programmed to create a contrasting horizontal line across the width of the fabric every 36 inches.Carpet manufacturers are able to monitor the Tru-Line stripe to ensure the carpet is properly aligned with the tufting needles. If the Tru-Line stripe is straight as it feeds into the machine, the pattern is aligned with the backing.SIs Chickamauga facility was the first textile manufacturing company in North America to achieve ISO-14001 certification. The International Organization for Standardizations 14001 certification assures that a facility has a systematic approach to the issues of pollution prevention, resource conservation and environmental stewardship. This facility also takes part in SIs company-wide environmental initiative called S.I.E.R.R.A. (Synthetic Industries Environmental Resource Recovery Action). This program is built upon a "reduce, reuse and recycle" philosophy. Recycle stations are located throughout the plant, making it easier to fit the practice of recycling into the workday. The plants S.I.E.R.R.A. team is dedicated to finding ways to reduce and reuse items such as cardboard, paper, lumber and metal. As a result of these efforts, 99 percent of raw materials delivered to the Chickamauga facility leaves in a salable form.Demonstrating its commitment to quality assurance, SIs Chickamauga plant is ISO-9002 certified. This designation certifies that the facility has systematic standards for quality control. Preventive maintenance of equipment is also a key focus for the plant. Every two years, each loom is completely disassembled, upgraded and rebuilt. The Chickamauga facility houses a GAI-LAP (Geotextile Accreditation Institute Lab Accreditation Program) accredited lab, the first of its kind in the world located in a manufacturing facility. In addition, each main processing area of the plant has its own testing lab where raw materials, end process and finished goods testing and certifications are performed. The Production Floor
The Chickamauga plant produces both slit-film and staple fiber. During slit film extrusion, a molten sheet of melted polymer, approximately 54 inches wide, flows out of the end of the extrusion die into a chilled water quench bath where it solidifies. It is then dried and slit into tapes, which are then drawn to the specified denier and wound onto precision winders. In the staple fiber extrusion process, polypropylene resin is melted and pumped through spinneret die pumps forming a tow of thousands of filaments.The filaments are then drawn to the appropriate denier and cut to specified staple fiber lengths. Next, the fibers are blown into a bale press where they are packaged.The carding and spinning area produces coarse spun yarns from short-staple polypropylene fiber for weft yarns used in the companys secondary carpet backing product. This department, which the industry typically regards as a higher-risk working environment, has achieved 22 months without a recordable injury.In the beaming department, warps are prepared from tape yarns for various products produced at the plant. Because tape yarns are flat, creels are "live" rather than the conventional over-end creels typically seen in weaving preparation. Beams range from 12 to 15 feet in width and contain anywhere from 4,300 to 5,000 ends. The weaving department houses three weave rooms. SI uses Sulzer projectile weaving machines of various widths and executions. All weaving machines are electronically monitored for efficiency and stop levels. In the first weave room, primary carpet backing is produced.Within the primary carpet backing weave room, we toured a "mill-within-a-mill" dedicated to the production of SIs PatternLok commercial backing. This area is set up under optimal conditions and manned with specially trained weavers and technicians. Special quality checks are made on each roll of PatternLok backing to verify the straightness of the Tru-Line technology.The second weave room focuses on the leno weave process to produce secondary carpet backing. The third weave room produces geotextiles and landscaping fabrics. The finishing department contains three large, gas-fired tenter ranges performing a variety of value-added steps such as applying lubricants vital to the tufting process, heat-setting primary carpet backing for specific end uses, dyeing, and applying coatings for various end uses.This department also performs fabric inspection and shipping functions. SI employees take pride in their history of growth and look forward to a bright future. Through innovation, expansion and provision of the highest level of quality, this facility in the small Northwest Georgia town of Chickamauga has come a long way.

June 2000