Alexander Machinery Thrives On Innovation

Alexander Machinery Thrives On Innovation
World’s largest supplier of off-loom take-ups has more than 40 patents registered. W.
J. “Bill” Alexander cant quite help himself. As chairman and founder of Alexander Machinery,
Mauldin, S.C., he has been the driving force behind the companys philosophy of “Excellence Through
Innovation.”So when highway construction brought a new $200-million expressway bearing down on the
companys headquarters near Greenville, S.C., Alexander couldnt help but make the job of the
construction crews faster, safer and less labor-intensive. He and the plant engineers designed a
gravel-leveling broom and garnered a patent for a pipe lift that drew praise from the construction
crews.For the South Carolina textile machinery company settling into its new facility south of
Greenville a relocation required because of the new expressway more than 40 patents have been
approved to date, with others pending.That pace of innovation in cloth- winding and unwinding
equipment has enabled Alexander Machinery to maintain its position as a world leader in off-loom
take-up machinery. The company can also ship a work force to install, service and maintain its
machines, regardless of location. The company now ships to about 50 countries throughout the
world.”Very few companies integrate the whole range of services that we do,” says Jay Alexander,
son of the founder and the companys new president.The younger Alexander was named president earlier
this year and is helping to lead it into new textile machinery markets that include machinery for
handling specialty fabrics and narrow-width goods such as safety belts, straps and harnesses.Rick
Cothran, who came to Alexander Machinery from Draper TexMaco, is the new general manager, replacing
W. D. Spearman, who retired after 18 years with the company.All this muscling up of administrative
leadership came after the company completed its move to the new 103,000-square-foot plant. The
changes were just in time for the rebounding Asian economies.The orders for take-ups this year are
showing renewed strength, says Jeff Davis, vice president, sales. The trend now is for
custom-designed machines that work with inspection machines and include significant amounts of
automation.”Most of all we do is custom designed and engineered to the customers specifications and
needs,” Alexander said.Since it began in 1977, the company has zeroed in on the winding and
unwinding equipment for open-web fabric goods, ranging from fabric formation to finishing, coating
and other handling of the fabric.In the domestic markets, the company is working with higher-end
fabrics like those used in air bags or carbon-fiber fabrics, which can be delicate and ex-pensive.
The fabrics require precise handling to avoid any wrinkle, stretch or fold.Today, Alexander
Machinery is integrating its equipment with more inspection machines, some of which allow the
mapping of rolls of fabric as they come off the loom.”The interest has never been stronger in
getting the very latest equipment and efficiency gains into the plant,” Alexander said.Along with
winding and unwinding machinery for narrow-web goods, the company has developed a case-packing
machine that packs the goods into boxes.Patent attorney Ralph Bailey ranks Alexander Machinery
among the top companies in the number of patents and innovations. “Its unusual for a company that
size to have that number of patents,” he said. 1,500 Machines In Two YearsAfter about a decade
working with textile machinery, Bill Alexander, a mechanical engineer, stepped out on his own in
1977 to develop a large-roll off-loom take-up.He was convinced that a better machine could be made
to serve the industry and assembled his first cloth-handling device in the basement of his home in
Mauldin. In the first two years, he sold nearly 1,500 machines.Although the elder Alexander was not
a great academic in college, says son Jay, he has demonstrated an extraordinary understanding of
engineering principles and applications.The Alexanders say they have continued to emphasize
engineering innovation in plant operations.”I am constantly telling our staff, We dont ever want to
get where we copy the other guys,” said Bill Alexander. New Ventures

Alexander Machinery has grown by innovating in other product areas as well. In 1987, it
bought the marketing and manufacturing rights to a coalescing compressed-air filter and started
Alexco Pneumatics Division. It improved and patented the design and today sells to all types of
industries, including the textile industry.In 1989, the company installed its new computer-aided
design system for engineering and, in 1998, purchased a high-definition plasma/punch machine to
enhance its quality production capability.In 1993, the company started Alexco Mechanical Millwright
Division to manufacture and install gantries for jacquard looms and other industrial
applications.For Alexander Machinery, the success has bred a climate of innovation throughout the
organization and an environment in which employees are constantly seeking ways to improve whatever
the company makes or does. Like the company founder, they cant help themselves its their business.

October 2000