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Taking Stock Of Weaving Innovation

Technology and trade shape the industry's future.

Weaving TrendsATI Staff Report Taking Stock OfWeaving Innovation Technology and trade shape the industrys future.The U.S. textile industrys weaving sector continues to be shaped by the twin forces of market demands and technological developments. Market ForcesInternational trade in general and NAFTA in particular have also shaped U.S. weaving (see Figure 5 and Figure 6). Large imports of apparel and apparel fabrics have forced U.S. apparel fabric weavers into niches. In addition, as U.S. cut-and-sew operations move south, the industry appears to be seeing some weaving going with it, particularly for apparel.Industry observers have told ATI that they expect woven fabrics that require more cutting and sewing will also move south, while fabrics that require very little cutting and sewing will remain in place domestically. Labor costs alone, however, may not drive this shift. Higher electric costs in Mexico and the Caribbean countries may limit the profitability of some textile processes there, most notably air-jet weaving.One industry observer described the U.S. weaving industry as having a top and a bottom, but no middle. There are segments like sheeting and denim, in which economy of scale is everything. Then there are smaller specialty weavers making a wide range of ultra-high-quality products. Technological FactorsAs weaving machine builders have continued to offer faster, more versatile looms, the industry has invested to replace older, less productive machines with newer, faster equipment. As a result, square yards produced per loom hour has just about doubled since 1990, moving from about 17 square yards per loom hour to almost 40 square yards per loom hour (see Figure 4).The biggest change in weaving equipment over the last two decades has been the steady decline of the shuttle loom. In 1987, there were over 75,000 shuttle looms in place in the United States.As of last year, only around 7,000 shuttle looms remain (see Table 1 and Figure 1). The watershed year was 1989, the year in which the number of shuttleless looms in place finally exceeded the number of shuttle looms. It is hard to say whether shuttle machines have truly bottomed out, because they seem to have found some interesting niches such as vintage denim and medical applications. However, it is safe to say that they are no longer a significant factor.From 1987 to 1998, the number of shuttleless looms (including air-jet, water-jet, rapier and projectile machines) dipped from 63,500 machines to 59,800.This decline is testimony to a tremendous increase in productivity, considering the number of shuttleless machines decreased and at the same time, they replaced 90 percent of the shuttle looms. Machine NichesA look at shuttleless looms in place as of the third quarter of 1998 shows air jets with 29 percent, projectile machines with 27 percent, rapiers with 23 percent and water jets with 8 percent (see Figure 3).Of these, air jets are the fastest growing segment (see Figure 2). Totals alone do not give a complete picture. Each of these technologies is strong in one or more niches.Air jets dominate sheeting and denim. The versatility of air jets has increased dramatically over the years. They are now being applied in diverse areas that would have been impossible a decade ago, including delicate filament styles and terry pile weaving.Rapiers are major players in apparel, home furnishings and industrial fabrics. A major strength of these machines is their ability to accommodate a wide range of filling yarns.Projectiles remain in use in specialty and industrial areas. Their strength continues to be in the extra-wide segment, where air requirements remove the speed advantage of the air-jet machines.Water jets are restricted to polyester and nylon filament fabrics, but still show growth. Dramatic Speed IncreasesLoom speeds creep ever higher. Air jets, for example, have moved from speeds of 600 rpm to more than 1,000 rpm (at least on the show floor) in a dozen years. Of course, actual mill speeds are usually somewhat slower and vary by fabric type and construction. Rapier machines have sped up to the point that they now approach the low end of the air-jet envelope, say 500 to 600 rpm.Increased weaving speeds mean that warps are consumed much more quickly. Many weavers have gone to large warp beams to reduce the frequency of warp-outs. Very large beams (1,600 mm) require new larger slasher heads and improved material handling and beam storage.To get a clear idea of just how much the speed portion of the equation in weaving has changed over a dozen years lets compare the machines exhibited at the 1983 Milan ITMA with those shown at the 1995 Milan ITMA. Weaving 1983Picanol showed an air jet weaving corduroy at 684 rpm. Somets Master SM 92, a 190-cm rapier prototype, was running at 520 rpm.Sulzer Ruti showed a demonstrator model of its L 5001 L1-1TNS 190 I air jet weaving a suit lining fabric at 720 rpm. The companys F2001 flexible rapier machine was shown weaving a downproof fabric at 400 rpm.Tsudakoma demonstrated a 360-cm air jet weaving a poplin fabric at 400 rpm for a weft insertion rate of 1,300 meters per minute. The company also showed a 190-cm loom weaving a taffeta at 700 rpm.Vamatexs P 1001 flexible rapier was shown running at 557 rpm. Picanol showed a Delta F-2-E 190 air jet weaving a high-twist polyester crepe fabric at 900 rpm. An Omni-2-E 190 was shown weaving a lining fabric with a viscose warp and acetate filling at 1,500 rpm.Somet showed its Mach 3 prototype air-jet machine weaving two fabrics at once at 600 rpm for a filling insertion rate of 4,000 meters per minute. The company also showed its Clipper air jet weaving a cotton downproof fabric at 1,200 rpm.A Thema 11 Excel rapier machine was shown weaving linen shirting at 610 rpm.Sulzer Ruti unveiled its new M8300 prototype multi-phase air jet weaving print cloth at about 2,700 rpm for a filling insertion rate of more than 5,000 meters per minute.Tsudakoma showed its ZAX-190-2X-4S air jet weaving a cotton pinpoint oxford fabric at 1,700 rpm. A ZW405-140-1C-4S water jet produced a nylon taffeta fabric at 2,000 rpm. The Flexibility FactorWhile speed increases have been making the headlines over the years, many developments have boosted weaving productivity and flexibility. These advances include quick-style-change systems, off-loom take-ups, inverter drives, weft feeders and new monitoring systems.Quick-style-change systems changed the way mills look at changing loom patterns.Vendors have taken three approaches: The modular machine system, where reed, harness frames, warp-stop motion, warp beam and frame parts of the machine are disconnected as a package; The quick connect/disconnect system for all the vital parts of a warp/style change are used in conjunction with a suitable warp beam truck or other transport; and Modular construction and specialized transport systems combined. This approach could be used in conjunction with servo motors and robotic functions and might include automatic guided vehicles or overhead transport systems for entire style packages.Each major textile exhibition brings more and more sophisticated quick-style-change systems.The use of off-loom take-ups has grown to the point that a weaving mill without them is remarkable. Replacement weft feeders are a common option. And loom monitoring systems are also becoming commonplace.Computer integrated manufacturing (CIM) in the weave mill is here to stay. Pattern data and machine settings can be downloaded directly to the loom from workstations. In fact, ATI editors have toured several jacquard weaving facilities where the lines between the computer design system, production planning system and quality monitoring system have blurred to the vanishing point.The user friendliness of weaving machines has also improved dramatically. Todays looms are often equipped with touch screen controls. Production and maintenance data are displayed in real-time on a unit on the machine itself.If the machine stops, the reason for the stop and downtime are displayed on-screen. On-board diagnostics tell the technician which parts to check. This puts the information where it belongs on the production floor.Electronic let-off and electronic takeup have become universal on weaving machines. Automatic filling repair, available on air jets since the mid-90s, can now be found on rapier machines. In the near future, weaving machine automation is expected to include functions like automatic warp-stop repair, automatic cloth doffing, and perhaps even automatic filling supply systems.The continuous improvements in spinning technology and yarn quality have also played a role in increased loom speeds. As a result, fabric quality levels continue to rise, as loom stop levels continue to decrease.Looking back over the last few major machinery exhibitions, there are many innovations that have made weaving more productive. ATME-I '93Dornier demonstrated its new quick style-change system, further developed since ITMA 91 in Hannover, for the first time on an air jet.Luwa Bahnson Inc. introduced its LoomSphere humidification system, giving weavers the flexibility to custom fit conditions to individual looms.Picanol introduced its Delta and Omni air-jet machines. Both were designed to use that companys rapid style-change system.Stli introduced its new closed-shed dobby 4080 for industrial fabrics.Sulzer Ruti introduced its own version of a quick-style-change system.Zellweger Uster exhibited its Delta 200 drawing-in machine for the first time at a U.S. show. The Delta, since sold to Stli, offered a needed step forward in drawing-in technology. ITMA '95 MilanAlexander Machinery Inc. showed the latest version of its off-loom takeups with a 48-inch lighted lower section for improved fabric inspection.Benninger AG introduced a completely new weaving preparation system including the Ben-Matic automatic sectional warper, the Ben-Direct beaming machine for beams with 1,250 mm flange diameter and the Ben-Vac system for removing dust and fiber during warping.Grob + Co. AG demonstrated the new Optifil thread eye, which reduced friction on warp yarns and allowed up to 30 percent more healds per frame.Staubli focused its attention on its new CX 1060 jacquard head, which was shown controlling the shedding for a 30,000-end tapestry fabric.West Point Foundry and Machine Co. showed a new Model 951 warper deigned to accommodate a 1,270 mm diameter section beam. The new model 950 beam winder for beams with diameters of up to 1,600 mm was also introduced at the show. ATME-I '96This show saw a number of new weaving machine introductions. Nissan (recently purchased by Toyota, see Supplier Notes pg. 65) introduced the NAX-100A air jet. It emphasized productivity, improved fabric quality, cost effectiveness, greater reliability, and easier access and handling.Nuovo Pignone (purchased last year by Sulzer Ruti, see Sulzer Scales New Heights pg. 32) showed its new Terry-Jet air jet. Its operation was based on two different beat-up positions of the reed with no alternate movements of the warp.Picanol introduced its Gamma rapier machine. The Gamma had fewer moving parts, gears, seals and no timing belts. It was designed for low power consumption and ease of maintenance. Future ExpectationsTaken as a whole, these trends point to a U.S. weaving industry with increasingly fewer looms producing more fabric per loom hour.Sulzer Textils M8300 machine may well point the way to the weave mill of the future if its patterning limitations can be overcome. Patterning considerations aside, the M8300 still offers a compelling look ahead to new weaving machine concepts.These include modular construction, fly-by-wire communications between loom modules and weaving mills with entirely different plant layouts. The vertical orientation of the M8300 with the cloth roll on top points toward overhead cloth roll transport. It is interesting to note that Somets Mach 3 prototype also shared this vertical orientation with cloth rolls on top.Certainly the weave mill of the future will be much more fast-paced, computer-integrated and customer-driven than anything the industry has seen to date.

February 1999