Textiles: Two Technology-Related Trends Surface as Market Grows

The textile industry in the United States is in the midst of a phoenix-like rise from the ashes. After 650 textile plants closed in the U.S. between 1997 and 2009, jobs and profits are coming back.

According to the National Council of Textile Organizations, the value of shipments for textiles and apparel in the U.S. in 2016 was $74.4 billion—up 11 percent since 2009. Exports were at $26 billion. Companies are investing, too, with capital expenditures topping $2 billion.

It is a vast market, one that ranges from cotton and sheep farmers to those in man-made and high-tech performance fabrics. It’s not just fabrics for clothing, but also includes home furnishings and carpet.

Statistics released by the World Trade Organization (WTO) showed that U.S. apparel and textile manufacturers are seeing growth in exports, too. The WTO said that between 2000 and 2014, U.S. textile imports were up 18 percent while apparel exports increased by 30 percent. “Made in America” labels seem to have some value outside the shores.

All of this is pointing to a market that is clearly on the upswing. Behind that growth are two main trends, both with technology at the center.

Niche markets

Just as the rest of textile manufacturing has undergone a technological revolution, changes in the niche market are creating opportunities for material handling and supply chain solutions.

“This has traditionally been an area where rolls of fabric would be laid out on racks or on shelves, cut and put away,” said Dean Dueck, marketing manager for MHI member Vidir Manufacturing Group, which provides automated storing solutions.

Constantly pulling fabrics off racks creates safety and ergonomic issues. And in some cases, it creates inefficiencies because “they go pull a warehouse guy who has to stop what he’s doing, come onto the floor, pull the fabric to get the next job ready to go.”

Vertical storage solutions allow the week’s work to be pre-loaded into a storage rack. When the worker moves on to the next job, a push of the button brings the right textile down to working level. Given that niche production tends to be more short-run than mass capacity, this is a frequent task.

By Sandy Smith

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