1987 The Good The Bad The Challenge
By Yancey G. Wilkerson
1987: The Good, The Bad, The ChallengeWhat of the future What lies ahead "All attempts to predict the future in any detail appear ludicrous within a few years ..."The quote is from Arthur C. Clarke's Profiles of the Future, published in 1962. His latest thoughts on the subject are contained in July 20, 2019, a book about what life will be like 50 years after man first stepped onto the moon. The book is an extrapolation of what is now in the laboratory.The life and work of the textile manufacturer are far more complex now than they were 50 years ago when fiber choices were few, when machinery manufacturers were the reliables of long-time acquaintance, and when markets were relatively stable. How much more complex will life and work become in the closing years of the century and in the early decades of the 21st, when today's bright young overseer has become CEOThe great historian Arnold Toynbee taught that when civilizations were challenged by changes in circumstance, they responded to change, or shriveled and died. So it has been with industries.The mechanized English textile industry of the 18th and 19th centuries challenged the hand-weavers, whose industry had dominated world markets for centuries. Because England tightly restricted export of textile machinery until the middle of the 19th century, few countries could respond. America did. The retentive memory of Samuel Slater brought plans for the new machines to the U.S., and soon New Englands textile industry was booming.Improve Technology, Don't Hobble ItThen the New England mills were challenged by the textile unions which sought to restrict job assignments on ever-improving machinery to old norms. They response was the move to the South, which was not hospitable to unions and whose practical men sought ways to improve technology, not hobble it.The English textile mills, once world-dominant, were challenged by the American mills, by those of the continent, and, since the 1950s, by those of the Orient. The response was feeble. The unions would not permit the most efficient use of the fine British textile machinery, and management lacked the means and/or the spirit to resist the unions. Year after year, the mills of Lancashire shrank in number. Fine woolens still found a prestige market, but the staples of world textiles were being produced by others.US Challenged By ImportsNow, the textile industry of the United States is challenged by imports. For more than 50 years, the products of the low-wage countries of the East have posed problems to the American textile price structure, and, in more recent years, to the markets vital to the life of the industry. Many years ago, the response was occasionally strong but more often amounted to little more than go away, boy; you bother me or to sipping the soothing syrup of politicians who promised help.In the closing years of the eighties, the challenge of imports is life-threatening to the U.S. industry. The response is positive: Production Public Relations PoliticsDeadly Disease Of ComplacencyProduction: the mills are spending, have been spending, bountifully to put the most efficient machinery to work, to raise the assurance of quality, to improve delivery and response to customer need. Some mills have not rseponsed, mostly because of the deadly disease of complacency.Public Relations: the mills are telling the story better and more often. A textile ad on TV or in print is no longer a rarity, especially in the major markets. The Burlington Mill in Manhattan, the Milliken Breakfast Show, and the Stevens mill tours for retail buyers laid the foundations for imaginative work being done now. But the public relations people have a tough job. The federal bureaucracy and several major religious denominations maintain a hostile attitude to textiles, reflecting views held over from the twenties and thirties when writers like Walter Davenport of the old Colliers Magazine berated the mills. They do not acknowledge the progress made, and maintain an attitude of dont bother me with facts, my mind is made up.Politics: the mills, the apparel people, even the unions are now playing hard ball to win legislation to control imports. They lost in 1986, unable to win enough votes to override a presidential veto. The effort is renewed this year. Its success is problematical if the White House twists arms with promises or threats. But the administration also has to count the potential cost in votes of an industry, which has effected a coalition of its disparate elements and has forged alliances with other industries.Fewer in the Congress are buying the illusion of free trade when they learn of the barriers to trade put up by the Europeans, the Japanese, by nearly every trading partner we have.Fewer are buying the line that any form of protectionism will ruin the farmers, whose exports supposedly will be cut off in retaliation. For example, Brazil supplies more than half of the orange concentrate we use, to the detriment of our citrus farmers in Florida, California and the Southwest. Yet Brazil has its law of similarity, forbidding the import of anything that is, or can be, manufactured or produced in Brazil.More and more people realize that free trade is practiced by few other countries: Japans MTI, banks and manufacturers team up to dominate markets in ways that make a mockery of free trade. The European Community protects its own period! The Communist bloc administers selling prices on the basis of currencies needed, not on the basis of economic pricing based on cost of production.Remember the report that Harry Riemer sent back in the late 50s from his world tour for Daily News Record that Communist China was underselling even Japan in Southeast Asia and East Africa by 16% in its attempt to gain hard currencyProblems Of ProductionThe importance of politics and public relations is great, but to the average textile executive, the most important day-in, day-out problems are production, and how short-term and long-term changes affect his situation.Change is constant, and ever more complex. Consider a few of the changes now upon us, or possible within a few years.The natural fibers have won renewed consumer favor in recent years, and may find an even firmer market niche in years to come as genetic engineers tinker with the cotton plant, with flax and ramie.Could genetic engineers and plant breeders revive the Sea Island cotton that was nearly wiped out by hurricane and boll weevil in the World War I years How soon could Supima cotton be surpassedWhat could be done with ramie as a three or four crops-a-year plant in the tropical rainbelts of South America, Central Africa and Southeast AsiaWould robot field hands compete successfully in those low-wage areas Would robots compensate for lack of labor in certain regions, as in the Australian outback where sheep shearers have become hard to findThis is not idle or dreamful speculation; in 1984, researchers at Western Australia University designed the first robot capable of shearing sheep.Expect More Engineered FibersThe multiplicity of end-use-specific fibers produced by the great chemical-fiber companies over the last 30 years attests to a resourcefulness that certainly will not be diminished in coming years.The end result Almost anything you can want.Patent No. 4,642,250 was granted early this year to Donald Spector, Union city, N.J., for a thermally-sensitive fabric that changes color with the temperature of the wearer, the intended use being swimwear. The material is said to contain cholesterol liquid crystals.Once upon a time, textiles meant cotton, wool, silk, linen the natural fibers. Today, the term can be applied to almost any flexible solid.Scientific American devoted its October, 1986 issue to a single subject: materials for economic growth. The lead article began:A fundamental reversal in the relationship between human beings and materials is taking place. Its economic consequences are likely to be profound.Historically, humans have adapted such natural materials as stone, wood, clay, vegetable fiber and animal tissue to economic issues. The smelting of metals and the production of glass represented a refinement in this relationship.Yet, it is only recently that advances in the theoretical understanding of the structure of physical and biological matter, in experimental technique and in processing technology have made it possible to start with a need and then develop a material to meet it, atom by atom.The color photo opposite those words carries the caption: Boron-tungsten monofilaments are continuously reeled from glass tubes in which they are formed by chemical-vapor deposition. The fibers provide high-strength and high-stiffness reinforcement in certain composites, a family of materials that is transforming the automotive and aerospace industries. Each monofilament consists of a sheath of boron on a tungsten-wire substrate. The tungsten is electrically heated to incandescense as it passes through boron trichloride gas, which fills the gas tubes. The gas breaks down, depositing boron on the wire. The production line is at the Avco Specialty Materials Division of Textron Inc. in Lowell, Mass., the developer of the process.Cant you visualize the smile on the face of Textron founder, Royal LittleThe article on advanced polymers notes that now some polymers are replacing aluminum and other structural materials in applications exposing them to high temperatures and mechanical stress; others may eventually substitute for traditional materials in electronic and optical communication and computation. Each new role testifies to the enormous degree of control that can be exerted over the properties of polymers.Composites Of The FutureThe people who design aircraft, automobiles and sports equipment have turned to composite materials for the stiffness and strength, low density and light weight that have already won the composites a significant place in industry, a place, however, that is still far from reaching the hopes and projections of recent years.Remember the huge Landdowne Steel loom of the 60s And the Barber-Colman triaxial loomMachines such as these are involved in producing the reinforcing geometries that mark so many end uses of composites. The composites are made with particles, with short fibers, and with continuous fibers by way of biaxial weave, triaxial weave, knitting, multiaxial multiplayer warp knit, three dimensional cylindrical construction, three dimensional braiding, three dimensional orthogonal fabric and angle-interlock construction.The most exciting product of this technology has been the Voyager, the strange aircraft in which Richard Rutan and Jeana Yager circled the world last December without refueling. The plane was made mostly of modules consisting of carbon-fiber tape impregnated with epoxy resin. Most of the tape was a product called Magnamite, donated by Hercules Aerospace Co.The late A.D. Asbury, head of the textile department of J.E. Sirrine Co., often spoke of his nightmare a scene in which a bale of fiber was put into one end of a machine, with perfectly-tailored garments emerging at the far end. Realization of the nightmare is unlikely, but evolution toward that end is certain as the industry works toward new yarn processing and fabric forming equipment, new dyes and dyeing equipment, new finishes and finishing equipment, new procedures for quality control, new controls for status-of-order and delivery data, new management concepts.The spirit is epitomized in words on a plaque that used to sit behind the desk of a well-known finishing executive:They asked me how I did it,and I gave em the Scripture text,You keep your light shining a littlein front o the next!They copied all the couldBut they couldnt copy my mind,And I left em sweating and stealingA year and a half behind.Automated Guide VehiclesAutomated Guide Vehicles (AGVs) may leave competitors a year and a half behind. Remember the moving conveyors that followed magnetic tape, the one you first saw in old Textile Hall 25 years ago Theres a new generation of AGV driverless vehicles embodying gyroscopes and computer controls to maneuver around plant floors. The gyroscopes record changes in direction. Sensors in the wheels measure distance traveled. Guidance is via magnetic wires buried in the floor or by lasers bouncing off mirrors, or by lasers reading bar codes painted on columns, machinery and walls. The AGVs are basically material handling vehicles, perhaps most useful in warehouses.The AGV is only one example of the increasing use of sensors and microprocessors in machinery and equipment for the textile industry, a trend evident since the early 1970s.An end result may well be Quick Response through electronic data interchange all the way from the retailer to the fiber plant through use of universal bar codes that pick up data at point-of-sale, insert the data into computers that can automatically reorder, according to program, from cutter or distributor or mill, on staple products, or that can be used to detect emerging consumer buying patterns. Such systems will allow orders to be placed and shipments made in line with actual retail sales.Artificial Intelligence, CD ROMs, Super-ConductivityMachines that are living brains are in development. Work on artificial intelligence (AI) is described in the recent book, The Tomorrow Makers, by Grant Fjermedal. Computer systems that can take dictation are being field-tested. Such systems are basically voice-activated word processors with vocabularies (at present) of up to 20,000 words. At least one system is said to take dictation at 60 words a minute. More than a dozen companies are working on such systems.One component of a living brain could be a CD-ROM, compact disk read-only memory, a small disk capable of storing the equivalent of 250,000 pages of typewritten text. Microsoft is already selling a $300 program containing such reference works as the thesaurus, almanac, zip code directory, spelling checker and Bartletts Quotations. One well known publisher has combined its scientific encyclopedia and dictionary on disk, and another has a disk containing demographic data for 250,000 neighborhoods.The hottest topic in science this year is superconductivity, a development whose impolications for the textile industry are enormous, since the mills consume such vast amounts of power.What was science fiction a year ago is now reality materials that carry electricity with little or no loss of energy.In 1911, physicists discovered that certain metals lost all resistance to electricity when cooled to temperatures near absolute zero, minus 450 degrees Fahrenheit. By 1973 the temperature need had been reduced to minus 419 F. In January, 1986, it was down to minus 406 F; by December to minus 390 F; by February, 1987, to minus 284 F; by March to minus 28 F; and there was feverish talk of superconductivity at room temperature.At is March meeting in New York City, the American Physical Society found developments coming so fast, and interest to intense that it arranged a special conference with members limited to five minutes each for reports on developments. The session lasted until 6 a.m.With results already achieved, liquid nitrogen can be used to effect super-conductivity. Scientists at the New York meeting delighted in pointing out that liquid nitrogen is cheaper than milk.Work in progress suggests no obstacle to super-conductivity at room temperature, and materials to meet theory are being developed.Praveen Chaudhari, director of physical sciences at IBMs Watson Research Laboratory, is quoted in the New York Times as saying that if a super-conductor can be found that requires no cooling and if it can be readily made into wires or films, there are few limits on its potential for improving technologies of scientific research and everyday life.Even short of room temperature, the super-conductors already discovered will transform electrical technology from motors to generators, and they raise the possibility of storing vast amounts of energy in magnetic coils, the Times article said.The super-conductivity developments raise the practical possibility of Maglev trains on the Washington-New York-Boston run and later a monorail on pylons up the median of Interstate 85, Atlanta-Greenville-Spartanburg-Charlotte-Greensboro-Washington-New York, a convenience for textile executives.The Germans already have a Maglev-magnetically levitated- railroad in operation near Bremen, carrying nearly 200 passengers at 200 mph. A Japanese Maglev set a test record of 322 mph in 1979. The US Department of Transportation has approved a similar monorail for an 8,800 passenger a day link between Los Angeles and Las Vegas.The textile industrys principal markets are apparel, household furnishings (carpet and the like) and industrial textiles.Over the last 100 years, the apparel market has changed most dramatically for the mass of the population. Over the last 25 years, specialty clothing has made a major impact: skiwear, tennis togs, uniforms for kids teams, and for adult teams, for hiking and mountain climbing, for fabricating balloons and sail planes.What next: mosquito-repellent clothing for the coasts and lakes Temperature adjustable clothing for the semi-tropics, airconditioned shirts and blouses Will carpet replace much of the wallpaper and painted plaster or wallboard in homesShopping-at-home sales will total more than $65 billion this year, some retail experts say. When both husband and wife work, they have more disposable income, but less time in which to spend it, thus the growing popularity of catalogues, shopping via computers/telephones and television shopping services. For such textile staples as sheets, shirts and socks, home shopping is a natural.Last November, Sears Roebuck, the USs largest retail firm, announced an agreement with QVC Network Inc., a home-shopping operator.J.C. Penney Co. plans to test a home-shopper service this summer in Chicago. The service, called Telaction, is to work thus: the customer obtains a personal identification number by furnishing a credit card number, then calls a toll-free number for connection to the shopping system, a cable channel on which the customer calls up categories of merchandise and then specific items by punching appropriate numbers on a touchtone telephone. Purchase is made and method of payment indicated by punching numbers on the phone.The impulse buyer may soon be exposed to more items as hypermarkets compete with supermarkets. Hypermarkets are described as providing the convenience of a department store with the price competitiveness of the discounter. Examples are Biggs in Cincinnati, Fred Meyer in the Northwestern states, Wal-Mart and Cullum in Texas. Weekly exposure to packaged underwear, shirts, childrens basic clothing and the like could provide a significant boost if the hypermarkets catch on.CPI Influenced By ApparelWhatever the impulse purchaser or the convenience purchase, one thing is sure: apparel and its upkeep have become a more important component of the consumer market basket, better known as the consumer price index. In the latest revision, early this year, the average expenditure went up from $1,116.71 to $1,263 and the relative importance in the market basket from 5.061% to 6.524%.Another possible boost for apparel: upgrading the second-hand clothing market, to give trade-in value to the out-worn or out-dieted garments. The major trade path now is: charitable organization collection box, to wholesaler, to African trader, to customer whose annual income is in the low three figures and who cant afford new clothing. There are estimates that more than 150 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa depend on castoff American clothing.Future Of Industrial FabricsThe greatest changes appear most likely in industrial textiles an open-ended category once meaning mostly filtrations and maintenance fabrics, abrasives, military fabrics and scores of specialties.Now, geotextiles becomes a major subcategory, somewhat similar to the place of carpet in household furnishings. Textile fabric as a substrate for roadways is gradually winning a market niche.Towns and cities in regions of sandy soil are using textiles to line reservoirs and ponds, saving the precious fluid from sinking into the sand. Home gardeners begin to use the fabric on a smaller scale for similar reasons of water conservation.The old brick or concrete sewer lines in cities on the East Coast or the Mississippi Valley may be saved by textiles. Popular Science reports on repair of such systems by use of hardened fabric tubes, made by Insituform of North America, Memphis, Tenn. The system inserts into the sewer line a polyester felt sleeve, tailored to the dimensions of the line. The sleeve is impregnated with a heat-sensitive resin. Hot water circulated through a boiler cures the resin and turns the sleeve into a hard, seamless plastic pipe.The aging infrastructure of the country the roads, bridges, water and sewer lines suggest the possibility of a vast market for geotextiles, but one requiring hard selling and adroit coping with the political interests always involved with such projects.Impact Of Aging PopulationThe infrastructure is not the only aging element in the country the population is growing older. The most dramatic illustration of relative youth and age: in 1950, there were 16 workers for every retiree in 1953, there were three workers for every retiree early in the 21st century, the ratio will be two to one.This rapid rise in the number of the elderly is due primarily to improved life expectancy. In 1900, only three of 10 Americas could expect to reach 70; now seven out of 10 will do so. In 1900, only 4% of the population was 65 or older. Today, the figure is close to 12% and, by 2030, is expected to be 20% - one-fifth of the populationWhile people over 65 are the second richest age group, they are not the best of consumers: 72% own their own homes and have furnished and carpeted them; their clothing costs are down, the retired worker wearing a red flannel shirt and a 15-year old suit is a clichYet more and better could be afforded. The median net worth of elderly households in 1984 was $60,266 versus $32,667 for all US households. The average income for the household of the elderly was $18,279.What a challenge to the imagination of textile and apparel marketing people!Although world-girdling 747s fly over a myriad of outhouses, and the contrast between high-tech and primitive lifestyles is evident on every continent, it has become a truism that the world is now a global village with satellites transmitting TV programs to receivers in thatch villages, with 24-hour financial markets, New York-Tokyo-London, and with local implications for many faraway political and economic decisions. Some threaten, some offer opportunity.The Miracle Of BritainBut, how swiftly circumstances change! A bare decade ago, Britain was seeking a bail-out loan from the International Monetary Fund. By this year, the UK had pumped its net overseas assets to $120 billion, from $5 billion 10 years ago. Britain now runs the worlds biggest surplus on invisibles trade payment for services, dividends, interest, profits from overseas holdings. Like the US, Britain has lost manufacturing strength while building its service sector.Early this year, Britain and the US announced agreements imposing almost identical regulatory standards on British and American banks, more evidence of the emergence of global financial markets.The green revolution has transformed world agriculture. Former importers of foodstuffs now export. Foreign farmers now compete in the US market.Europe used to be a big importer of foodstuffs (and the US State Department still appears to think that American farmers will lose exports to Europe if American textile mills are protected against European imports.) The facts: in 10 years, Europe has moved from 90% self-sufficiency in cereals to 105%, exporting or storing a surplus rather than importing from the US. The European community is facing the same problems as the US. In 1980, the federal government paid our farmers $2.7 billion in subsidies; in 1986, the subsidy bill was nearly $30 billion. The 12-member European Community has farmed itself into potential financial catastrophe through subsidies for production and export. The news appears not to have reached the Washington bureaucracy.The Sleeping Giant: ChinaThe craziness of China cultural revolution is past, and the billion-plus Chinese are edging toward experiments with free-market economy while the regime tries to decide how to mix tight government controls with productivity that only a free market produces. But, one decision they did make in 1979. To quote the eminent Dr. John K. Fairbank in his authoritative The Great Chinese Revolution: Not until 1979 did the planning strategy make a basic shift to emphasize agriculture and consumer goods for sale abroad.What happens if new, younger leadership turns China from doctrinaire Marxism to a semblance of market-oriented economyFor nearly two centuries, the West thought of China as a vast market, unlimited potential for profit. Oil for the Lamps of China sold well in the Twenties/Thirties, a time when American textile machine-builders were selling entire textile mills, power plant and all, in the Shanghai area. Now, China sees the West as a market for its textiles.What happens if Japan forms an alliance with China, merging high-tech and management skills with untapped resources and almost limitless labor supplySurveys show that the Japanese frustrated 1930-40s dream of a Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere could yet be revived.What would happen if political stability came to Latin American and AfricaFruitless fighting now debilitates the economies of many of those Third World countries. A fraction of the funds now spent on bullets if spent on clothing and household goods could raise world per capita consumption of textiles by a substantial amount.What if, by some unlikely chance, law enforcement could win the war against the invisible empire of drug dealers How would millions of users and addicts spend the sudden addition to their disposable income Or, would there simply be an abrupt drop in theft and armed robberyWhat will happen to lifestyles and spending patterns as deadly AIDS spreads into the general population and analysts compare it to the Black Death of Medieval times that killed 50-60% of the population of many regions Weaving casket linings is not the best business.The outlook could be dark, or bright.Twenty years ago, it was dark: cities burning, riots on campuses, the morale of military and government in shambles.The outlook today is brighter, though filled with problems. But: no problems, no jobs.An industry once highly fragmented is working together, sometimes to the astonishment of the participants. In its inaugural year, the Crafted with Pride in the USA Council enlisted 426 members representing all segments of the textile, apparel and related industries. The response to challenge is positive.There will be casualties: the fight is not an easy one. But, as the ancient Greek poet wrote:A shipwrecked sailor,buried on this coastBids you set sail.Full many a gallant ship,When we were lost,Weathered the gale!