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Against The Odds

Ramtex proves that commodity product manufacturing in the United States can be very successful.

. Ramtex, Inc., Ramseur, N.C., is a true pioneer in many ways. The fact is, contrary to the common opinion that textile manufacturing can only be successful in low-labor-cost countries, Ramtex proves just the opposite. In 1962, Mr. C.C. Lee, a pioneer in the Hong Kong textile industry, merged with Jardine, MathesonandCo. Ltd., a major trading company in Hong Kong, to form Textile Alliance Ltd. (TAL). This was, at that time, the largest vertically integrated textile organization in Hong Kong. In 1983, TAL was restructured. South China Holdings Ltd. was formed, made up of the garment division of TAL and investments in spinning, weaving, dyeing and finishing in Thailand. Ramtex On Its OwnWhen the Asian owners acquired Ramtex from Burlington Industries in 1988, plant management knew that great challenges would lay ahead. Today, Ramtex is a fully self-contained U.S. operation. However, to gain success on U.S. soil the company needed a great strategy, great people and great equipment to fight the odds. Ramtexs Sales Corporation was founded in March 1988 to act as the exclusive sales agent for Ramtex Inc. Goals from the beginning were quick response, high-quality products, competitive pricing and great flexibility.On the product side Ramtex caters to the needs of the home furnishing, apparel and institutional markets. The main customers are located in the United States, and a certain percentage of the production is exported to NAFTA countries.  Jim Patterson, Ramtexs executive vice president of Manufacturing Operations, was with Burlington Industries when the transfer of the plant to the new owners happened. Patterson said he remembers clearly that the new owners had one subject in mind to modernize the plant with state-of-the-art machinery.He added that the Asian/foreign ownership has helped to understand what it takes to compete globally. He feels that this has provided the company with a lot of positive feed-back.
Jim Patterson (l), Ramtex executive vice president of Operations, accepts the Sulzer Textil Innovation Award from Philip Mosimann, CEO Sulzer Textil AG.The companys mission statement has been clearly directed towards quality and customer service. We want to provide the best quality with customer-oriented spinning and weaving, and to compete with anybody in the world, Patterson said. The sole focus of Ramtex is to satisfy the customer.The company has its production line set up for high versatility, starting with the different fibers, and ending with many differently woven styles. With the new machinery Ramtex has prepared itself to shift very quickly.We run whatever the customer asks us to run to accommodate his needs, Patterson said. We challenge the tradition running efficient as many styles as we need to. Since the Asian Flu hit, it was certainly much more challenging, but our customer relationships, the commitment of our employees, as well as our equipment has helped us to get through, and we really enjoyed some measures of success at the same time.  Sticking TogetherRamtex has built a very cohesive management team in which everybody has the same vision. Everybody is supportive, Patterson said. We have a very solid, aggressive, and calculated risk taking team of managers and employees.Ramtexs philosophy is that no one will be criticized for mistakes, but individuals will be criticized for the reluctance not to try. Paradigms are constantly challenged. Once again, Patterson said, the main focus of the teams is on customer satisfaction and product quality. Ramtex has a stable workforce with little turnover. The company employs approximately 720 people.Choosing and educating its personnel is an other important part of Ramtexs success. Several years ago, Ramtex offered educational opportunities for its personnel. At the same time the standards were raised for certain tasks and positions in the plant, and a thorough training program was established with the community college. Modern MonitoringMonitoring is now all over the plant, from fiber to fabric. Some of the monitoring equipment is bi-directional, which means absolute quality parameters can be set and kept. Recently, monitoring terminals were put on the production floor so that an employee can see how his/her particular set of machines is running. Patterson said that this has had a positive effect on efficiency, and employees make use of it quite frequently. We want the employees to see what is going on, emphasized Patterson.  Hungry For TechnologyRamtexs manufacturing facility covers approximately one million square feet and is the companys only manufacturing plant in the United States. A fascinating part is that it includes a wide variety of different yarn spinning and weaving technologies that are usually not placed under the same roof of the typical textile mill.This is certainly proof of an open-minded management style and, at the same time, it documents the full support which the owners obviously provide to Ramtexs management.Since 1988, Ramtex has created a modern yarn and weaving operation. With a present investment of approximately $130 million, Ramtex systematically modernized the entire facility.With new equipment, PC-based computer systems were implemented to monitor and process all manufacturing and administrative data. All systems and procedures have been upgraded to keep pace with the new manufacturing equipment. Building RelationshipsRamtex has not only focused its attention on developing successful partnerships with its customer, but applied this principle also in respect to its vendors. It seems at Ramtex there is hunger for progress; every possible opportunity is immediately explored.For example, when Sulzer Ruti (today Sulzer Textil) presented its new M8300 multi-phase weaving machine at ITMA 95 in Milan, Italy, the Ramtex management team thought that this machine had to be tried on the companys program.It wasnt Sulzer Ruti who wanted to place a machine or two in this plant, it was Ramtex who had to convince Sulzer Ruti that they would like to have a small M8300 pilot installation, making it the first company in the United Sates to have one.To tie all the different machine manufacturers information systems together, Ramtex decided to use M and Ms electronic controls (M and M Electric Service, Gastonia, N.C.) for some applications, and concentrated other information systems onto a PC platform. Patterson said that the older Marzoli cards and the recently purchased Truetschler cards use M and M electronics, and this is definitely an advantage for the mill concerning the card room. 
Truetzschler BDT020 incline bale openers deliver first-class fiber blending from the beginning.In the preparation department, Ramtex has Truetzschler machinery from bale opening to cards, as well as Marzoli cards that run 100-percent polyester slivers. Ramtex does drawframe blending on Rieter RSB drawframes, and uses Rieter E70R combers with a new overhead lap transport system. Combed yarn accounts for about one third of the production.  The companys current Zinser roving frames are on the list to be replaced at a later date. In spinning, the Murata 802H air-jet spinning frames have done a great job for the company for 3 to 4 years, as well as the Toyoda RX-100 ring-spinning machines that are linked to Murata winders. Air-jet yarn and ring-spun yarn hold about an equal share inn the approximately 650,000 pounds of yarn produced per week. All air-jet yarn is used internally.In the spinning plant, Ramtex typically runs 50/50 poly/cotton blends and deviations from the standard 50/50 mix, but also 100-percent cotton, which includes Pima cotton.Polyester content in Murata air-jet spun yarns is typically 57 percent, while in ring-spun yarns it is mainly around 40 percent.Ramtex has one R20 open-end spinning frame from Rieter. The company uses this yarn strictly for internal applications.When Ramtex had a difficult time to find some special open-end yarn blends from vendors, they just bought one rotor-spinning machine to fulfill its customers needs.Ramtex also has a great quality control lab, which is used for quality control for purchased yarns, as well as off-line checking for additional production control. A majority of the testing equipment was supplied by Zellweger Uster.In the warping department, the two recently purchased Benninger warpers (Benninger Corp., Spartanburg, S.C.) with the integrated Ben-Vac overhead vacuum system received high praises from Patterson, Walter Bosch, director of Manufacturing, Spinning, and Charlie Morgan, director of Manufacturing, Weaving. Everyone agreed that Benningers warper has contributed greatly to the mills efficiency by preparing quality warps for all high-speed weaving machines. This is especially related to the reduced fiber fly, fiber orientation, and dust contamination which the Ben-Vac system tackles.Ramtex is also pleased with the technology and performance of its Ira Griffin slashers. The Ramtex team feels the slashers are extremely important to size the warps on a high-quality level for the air-jet and multi-phase weaving machines. Weaving Into The FutureAs already mentioned, Ramtexs philosophy is to stay in a close and loyal relationship with its vendors, provided of course that product technology, performance and service match the vision of the company.Patterson explained that product price is important, but not essentially the final decision criteria for the purchase of the equipment. It is the over-all package that must be attractive to Ramtex, the product performance, the after-sales service and the commitment of a vendor to support the company in technological aspects. Since 1991, Ramtex has been adding L5200 air-jet weaving machines on a continuous basis and just recently completed an additional installation which brings the total of the L5200s to 260.The obviously great relationship with Sulzer Textil led to the purchase of five M8300 multi-phase machines, The last of which was installed in February. However, Ramtex is also happy with the 60 Picanol PAT-A double-wide air-jet machines that are used for especially wide styles.At the present time the M8300s run at 2,400 ppm, and the current styling is the same as on the L5200s. The fabric appearance and physical characteristics do not show a noticeable difference in the greige fabric, and after finishing, even the slightest differences are completely diminished. According to the management, the M8300 requires quite a high level of warp preparation. Even though Ramtexs management feels that the preparation department did a good job for the L5200 air-jets, the M8300 required an even higher level in warping and slashing.We are constantly taking our warping and slashing employees into the weaveroom and show them what happens if, explained Patterson.The M8300, being a double-to-triple fast weaving machine when compared to conventional machinery, also requires a high level of discipline in reference to any machine stop. The faster a weaving machine runs, the more critical the aspect of lost production. Time management becomes an extremely important issue.Patterson admitted that the company is still in a learning curve, every machine stop is analyzed, and warp and style change times are under critical observation. Also, with the M8300 a mill has to invest in appropriate materials handling equipment. The cloth beam sits on top of the machine, while an entire warp-beam module with drop-wires is prepared outside the machine for quick exchange.At the present time Genkinger and Hubtex are developing new material handling trucks for M8300 customers around the world.  Advanced InfrastructureThe M8300 machines have an integrated vacuum and air conditioning system that keeps the vital parts clean and removes fiber-fly and dust directly from the machine. It is connected to the traditional Pneumafil A/C system. In the rest of the plant, Ramtex has consistently upgraded the Pneumafil system and every department is fully air conditioned. This sets the foundation for high efficiencies and comfortable work environments.By purchasing the M8300s, Ramtex installed another new technology a VRS Video Response System (Hartness Technologies, Greenville S.C.) that enables the company not only to do the typical video-conferencing (VC) with the manufacturer, but also includes many additional features. It has a wireless camera that allows support for on-line machine maintenance, machine monitoring, remote machine diagnostics and camera macro features that can bring the eye of a remote observer right on the spot of a troubled area, often better that the human eye might be able to see details, in any aspect.Patterson mentioned that Sulzer Textil in Spartanburg, S.C., and the R and D center in Switzerland have the same system. Therefore, on-line research, training and technical support could be performed 24 hours a day. The on-line connect time is presently still a little too costly to justify using the system on an extended daily basis, but as high-speed data transfer connections will become less expensive, the VRS will be used more and more.Ramtex recently installed the EVS electronic visual inspection system (Elbit Vision System, I-Tex, Greenville, S.C.) which is a further leap into automated fabric inspection.The EVS system is integrated in a sophisticated, massive fabric transport module that is manufactured by Intra (Spartanburg, S.C.). EVS provides the advantage that any visual defect in the fabric will be digitally recorded. Should, for example, at a later date a fabric dye defect arise, the company can then retrieve its visual data and literally inspect the fabric once again. For more information about Ramtex Inc., call (336) 824-5605, or fax at (336) 824-5689.

June 1999