Textile Innovation Conference Fosters Connections

KARL MAYER North America recently hosted the inaugural Textiles Innovation Conference designed to connect the textile manufacturing industry in the United States. 

By Jim Kaufmann, Contributing Editor

Generally speaking, transporting and setting up textile manufacturing machinery at trade shows held in North America can be difficult and expensive. Granted, for new and perspective customers, machine manufacturers can be very open and accommodating to visitors at their locations, but that interest still needs to be developed and fostered. Couple this with the fact that International Textile Machinery Association (ITMA), the granddaddy of global textile and machinery trade shows, only comes around once every four years and it is easy to understand why textile machinery manufacturers continue to explore new ways to showcase their latest offerings. However, after attending the recent Karl Mayer Stoll Textiles Innovation Conference, it is evident that the Karl Mayer Group has taken this effort to a different and interestingly higher level.

Held recently at its North American headquarters in Greensboro, N.C., the event had the overall feel of a boutique trade show. “Last year was our first of this kind,” said Matthew Llewellyn, director of sales and marketing for Stoll by Karl Mayer. “It was smaller in scale and we only focused on the Stoll weft knit product line, but we received positive feedback from the participants and certainly learned a lot.

This year we expanded the conference to include the Karl Mayer products —warping and warp knitting technologies — and invited a broader list of exhibitors from different aspects of the supply chain, from fiber to finished product, to create more of a whole eco-system type event.”

Mariano Amezcua, who was named president of Karl Mayer North America earlier this year, added: “We didn’t want to view this simply as a Karl Mayer or Stoll event. It’s a textile community event intended to highlight all aspects of this industry. You do need the whole supply chain to make a product, so we tried to bring all the industry segments together to foster those connections.”

Throughout the three-day event, attendees saw numerous presentations, learned about exhibitors from different aspects of the industry, and observed various warping and warp and weft knitting machine demonstrations.

Varied Presentations With Common Inspiration

The presentations offered covered a wide variety of topics, though knit-ting was a central theme. Highlights included:

Donna Brin, president of Little River, S.C.-based manufacturer Bfive40, who offered that 3D knitting technologies generally reduce waste and processing steps, while providing the ability to configure structures to specifically what is needed in the application. “Ultimately you produce items faster by cutting out subsequent production steps and with 3D knitting, the labor is in the machine,” Brin said during her presentation. “The constraints of labor are critical throughout the industry, not just in the U.S., and because of this, we need to look at costs differently with a view towards the whole system as opposed to just the individual components.” Brin noted she prefers to ask, “What steps can we take to cut out downstream operations through 3D knitting to reduce overall costs specific to the part?”

Tomas Infantes Schnoor, service manager for technical textiles at Karl Mayer, who addressed industry service challenges by reaffirming that “tribal knowledge” is disappearing throughout all segments of the textile industry as the average worker age continues to rise and there is an inherent lack of organized transfer of that wealth of knowledge forward. To aid in improving this concern, Karl Mayer/Stoll is starting an academy in North America for training, which will also assist in the transfer and preservation of industry knowledge.
Kayla Franklin, assistant trade marketing manager for Greensboro, N.C.-based Unifi Inc.’s Repreve® brand, who informed attendees that more than 35 billion plastic bottles have been recycled to date to produce the company’s Repreve fiber. According to Unifi’s calculations, this number translates to a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions of more than 1 billion units and the saving of approximately 5 billion gallons of water to date. Franklin also mentioned that Repreve contains a unique tracer in the yarn allowing companies and customers to determine if the product content is in fact Repreve. In addition, Unifi is continuing to develop a “Tex-tile Takeback” program focused on the recycling of textile fabrics into recycled filament yarn.

Reid Hix, sales and business development manager for Karl Mayer, who presented warp knit variations of “woven” fabrics for slacks and dresses. Upon review of the samples provided, it was rather difficult to tell if the fabric was a woven or knit simply from their look and feel. Karl Mayer’s development and testing has found that warp knit versions out-perform weaving technologies in speed and output by up to 13 times. Hix noted that while wovens are more stable and like-constructions tend to be lighter in weight, warp knits are softer and more durable.

Andre West, director of the Zeis Textile Extension Wilson College of Textiles at North Carolina State University, who provided an update on the college’s new Flex Factory Prototype Lab intended to primarily focus on product and application development (See “Flex Factory: Hub for New Ideas,” TW, March/April 2023). “We have the ability to develop fabrics at the university, and it only made sense to also provide our students and interested parties a facility to also develop applications from these fabrics,” Dr. West said. More equipment is on order and will be installed to encompass cut-and-sew through 3D printing, digital printing and other areas to complement the assorted textile labs already functioning within the Wilson College of Textiles. Dr. West also echoed concerns specific to the need for textile training programs and the collective efforts being made by NC State and its partner institutions.

Exhibitors, Machine Demonstrations And Networking Opportunities

Those participating in the exhibitor segment of the event represented varied aspects of the supply chain including machine suppliers, fiber and fabric producers, product design firms, and universities. Attendees and exhibitors alike appeared to embrace the event and the numerous scheduled opportunities to interact with others throughout the supply chain.

Wolfgang Philipps, a senior Knit Engineer at Priority Designs, an employee-owned design firm based in Columbus, Ohio, felt “It was a great chance to connect with suppliers and potential customers, while gaining insights into the latest in technologies and sharing our unique capabilities with the knitting community.”

Overall, the event was well-executed and feedback was very positive. “I’m still learning about this industry, so the talks were very interesting and it was great to be introduced to the different sectors from yarn suppliers through to where and how the technology is applied” said Lauren Street, a digital knit graduate assistant at the School of Fashion at Kent State University, which was also an exhibitor.

Forrest Sloan — manager, international marketing — Kuraray’s Vectran fiber and polymer, offered: “The people here have a focus and the equipment to make custom products, so participating was a good fit for us where we can showcase Vectran, which is geared more towards technical, custom and niche products. Vectran receives better recognition from this type of crowd who tend to be on the higher end of our spectrum with more knowledge of high-performance textiles and applications. They’re not the typical low-cost manufacturing types we find at the larger, more traditional, textile events. It’s also nice to see actual equipment developments within the same setting, not only machines, but yarn handling, tensioning, yarn path improvements, and the respective technicians that all help us to better understand where issues may occur with a product like Vectran. It’s been a real positive experience!”

The Karl Mayer Group’s goal was to create a more comfortable and easy atmosphere where participants would feel they could engage. Because there wasn’t the obligatory fees to exhibit or attend found at most other events, there was a broader variety of participants present. “They did well to mix random folks and the people who actually get their hands dirty from different segments of the industry, each with their own perspectives and needs, not just the sales folks or executives typically found at the bigger shows,” West said. “The social time provided is valuable for all to intermix in a smaller, more intimate setting; much better for networking. It really almost feels like a juried show where much of the audience is culled from various segments throughout the industry.”

According to Llewellyn and Amezcua, the plan is to continue hosting similar events annually with improvements made as more feed-back is gathered. This may include a facility tour at future events and more matches throughout textile supply chain sectors. “It’s nice to see different segment representatives talking together and looking for ways to work together more effectively,” Amezcua said. We’ll keep working to help make those connections because that’s how we all win!

“Next year, we also want to focus on brand leadership and their needs from the textile manufacturing community,” Amezcua added. “We will invite key brands from the apparel, footwear, and furniture industries. Ultimately, we want to integrate automation and on-demand principles to provide unique, higher-margin products to brands and their consumers.”

November/December 2023