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Automation Advances

IHE 2000 hosted several key advances in manufacturing technology for the production of sheer hosiery and socks.

The millennium edition of the International Hosiery Exposition and Conference (IHE), held April 9-11 in Charlotte, N.C., played host to some 10,300 attendees.Globally, intimate apparel producers and retailers were as much in evidence as hosiery knitters. Attendance by 2,691 executives from 70 countries made this show the most international edition of IHE in its 20-year history. Reliable AutomationAutomation, with the primary objective of saving or even totally eliminating manual labor, was a prominent theme. There was a comprehensive selection of automatic toe-closing methods on or immediately adjacent to the knitting machine. There were also pick-and-place methods allowing a pair of panty hose to be assembled robotically from two legs and a near-automatic system for loading socks onto a boarding machine. Along with auto toe-closing, these methods bring to realization the hands-free manufacture of socks from yarn to packaged product.Sophisticated methods of yarn tension control, combined with new concepts of stitch CAM design and other knitting machine features, are turning the hosiery machine into a more reliable automation that will knit more precisely to specification at optimum speed for each part of the product. This leads to higher and more consistent standards of quality necessary to sustain consumer confidence and acceptance, especially in the contracting Western market for sheer hosiery. In some instances, double-cylinder sock machines demonstrated a return to single-feed knitting to maintain quality.Versatility, amplified by electronic needle selection and computer control, has always been an important knitting asset. In the past, this has not been considered an important parameter for hosiery, with its preponderance of plain styles. Most recently, several extended pattern and color possibilities have been seen as necessary for market stimulation. 

Left to right: Mac Ramsay III, president, Elastic Therapy Inc. and 2nd vice chairman, The Hosiery Association (THA); Jack Daniels, executive director, American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists (AATCC); Clare Cook Faggart, president/chief operating officer, Willis Hosiery Mills Inc. and chairman, THA; Sid Smith, president and CEO, THA; Peggy Pickett, education coordinator, AATCC; Sally Kay, vice president and secretary, THA. Riots Of ColorThe extended pattern/color theme was again evident at IHE, available in more limited form in stockings and panty hose, but leading to a riot of color and structure, including 3-D effects in socks.In the area of single-cylinder socks, machine makers access to high speeds of production via an increase in the number of feeders still plays a part in overall machine choice. There were four entrants in the six-feed machine stakes, including Da Kong, a newcomer from Taiwan. The others offered access to automatic closed-toe production, meaning a complete sock in half a minute or so. DemonstrationsAn important addition to exhibits at the show this year was a demonstration of current and new models of seamless bodywear knitting and finishing machines. These represent the most popular knitting machines of the present time.Large-diameter hosiery machines are revolution-izing significant segments of underwear production and are set to move into active sportswear, where seamless comfort plus the elimination of making-up labor can also be exploited. Specially designed boarding machines for the automatic finishing and setting of seamless bodywear garments are becoming increasingly available.Automation is coming to the finishing and packaging of hosiery in several different forms. The steam finishing of socks can now be automatically teamed with length control, pairing, banding and tagging. Modular elements for pack information, printing and overprinting will cater to the increasingly diverse packaging requirements of retail customers.Total automation of the sock knitting process by closing the toe of the sock automatically on or immediately adjacent to the knitting machine was furthered by the introduction of two new systems and the announcement of one on the way from Trustfin Uniplet. Toe-Closing RevolutionSangiacomos Lin-Toe continues to lead the field with its conventional welt-first, toe-last knitting that produces a closure that is indistinguishable from manual linking. However, the toe-closing revolution now underway offers opportunities for other methods as well.Busi has followed the Lin-Toe path by taking a Frulini license for its cylinder and dial-needle true-rib machines. Sangiacomo had all of its machines, except the X-machine for Argyle production, equipped with Lin-Toe. Both can now close the toes of socks up to and including 200N.While Lonati continues with its Ugolini patent of a folding dial method on the knitting machine, Matec is expressing a preference for the simple and apparently reliable Air-Toe method, in which compressed air is used to assist the transfer of stitches from one half of the cylinder to the other. Initial successes with this are being scored with Matecs Conti division four-feed Inventa machine.Trustfin Uniplets Smart Toe, somewhat like the earlier Bentley Dura-Vent method, relies on a constant reduction in the number of needles in the toe before closure is effected. This is a welt-first method, but Trustfin Uniplet spokespersons stressed that Smart Toe was directed specifically to the ultra-cheap end of the sports sock market.The other new systems were by Rumi and Colosio. Rumi uses a near-linking, off-machine seaming method in conjunction with Conti Complett. Colosio uses a similar concept in conjunction with Rosso, but links two machines to one closing system.The Rumi method has the knitted sock located on a tube which is brought to the seaming head where the heel is orientated and the open toe is prepared for seaming by two mechanical fingers.Colosios concept is a chain conveyor that joins the production of two machines before socks are turned, seamed and turned again.Both systems allow conventional welt-to-toe knitting and can handle all styles and gauges.In the area of single-cylinder knitting machines, the emphasis was on quality and increased pattern variety in terms of color and stitch. There was evidence of a move toward higher productivity with six-feed, single-feed reciprocation models introduced by Rumi, the Conti division of Matec and Da Kong. These machines were shown in addition to the well-established Ange 13 six-feed pouch heel machine by Trustfin Uniplet.Double-cylinder machines were by no means neglected. The whole gamut of rib-link/rib-jacquard-link possibilities in single-, two- and three-feed were represented. Simplicity and quality in terms of single-feed, double-cylinder production continues to gain advocates, as does the twin-head machine with single-feed heads.There was disappointment, but not real surprise, that active development programs to introduce an automatic toe-closing method on double-cylinder machines will now have to wait at least until Filati Accessori Servizi Tecnologia (FAST).Sock finishing machines from Firsan-Tinarelli, Cortese, Heliot International, SRA and Tecnopea are designed to cater to specific requirements for sports and dress socks. SRAs Robosox, with virtually complete auto-loading, was voted a star of the show by most sock manufacturing visitors. One operator can manage a number of Robosox machines.Many visitors were impressed by the progress Tecnopea has made in recent months. The firm demonstrated a complete system of sports sock finishing, beginning with 10-form steam boarding with heat pressing plates and length control, followed by linkage to pairing/length checking. Socks exceeding the desired length are discharged. There is then a connection to a folding machine and to Swift Tag tagging and rider attaching. Multi-packs with Swift Tag can contain from two to five pair. Sophisticated Panty HoseIt would be unfair to ignore advances in the design, construction and performance of panty hose machines since, when investment appetite returns, a new generation of equipment awaits. This applies to boarding and packaging as well. Matecs selection offers answers to virtually all requirements, from standard Linea Twin Plus to Master and Slave models. There is then the Super line of four- and six-feed machines with two, four and six selection points. An ultra-modern feature is the VPS (Variable Profile System) stitch CAMs, offering styles with superior quality and fit.Lonati introduced its top-of-the-range 5OI Evolution with a needle-by-needle selecting device at every feeder and three groups of selections so that every needle is able to knit a different type of stitch. Post Knitting And PackagingFor the automatic assembly of panty hose, Solis has made a major breakthrough with its Adele Pick-and-Place, which is applicable to heavier weight tights and knee highs. Each machine module is fully programmable.Boarding machines from Cortese, Firsan, Tinarelli and Takatori are developing into more precisely engineered units, offering a high degree of automation. Up to 12 individual or five double-form machines can be employed with semi-automatic loading and access to any packaging machine line.An example of the new ladies hosiery boarding generation was the FB4 from SRA with 12 forms, seven of which are drying stations, two positioners and a new concept in compact design.In packaging for fine-gauge ladies hosiery, there was a wealth of ideas to suit most marketing and display concepts. The emphasis was very much on flexibility and quick change to meet 21st century store needs. There was the unique X-shape pack from Cortese, a new folding/bagging unit with the bagging wrapped around plastic film from SRA, plus a very compact P6 American type paper-board envelope module and a new end-of-line top-and- bottom boxing machine.Particularly noteworthy were Dematexs Markem computer-controlled thermal transfer in-line printing modules. These eliminate the need to pre-print bar code and SKU information. Pre-programmed printing can take place at virtually any stage of pack formation. Seamless BodywearThe busiest section of hosiery machine building stands was that of the new seamless bodywear revolution, where there were a number of new developments on display and even new entrants into the field. Matec created a surprise by demonstrating fully electronic underwear machines for ladies, mens and childrens sizes. These feature monomagnetic needle selection, four or eight feeds with four or eight needle selection points. The step-motor controlled-stitch cams are pneumatically controlled in groups for up and down movement for multi-color patterning.As widely predicted, Trustfin-Vanguard announced its body-size, electronic seamless machine, expected for factory trials in September and commercial deliveries around the end of the year. With monoactuators, it has four or eight feeds and three-way technique (four-way in four feeds). Trustfin-Vanguard is a joint venture between Czech-based Trustfin Uniplet and U.S.-based Monarch Knitting Machinery Corp.Sangiacomos Jumbo machine was demonstrated in four diameters of the available 10- to 16-inch diameter range. The latest Jumbo 2000 has eight feeds and eight selection points. A feature of the patented patterning system is very precise color and pattern definition.While such machines are being launched on the market at a time when demand for them to produce standard seamless underwear items appears to have peaked, market leader Santoni is already looking ahead to the next stage of body-size garment development. The theme is active sportswear. The company is not only working with leading fiber and yarn producers, but has also engaged a design studio in Brescia, Italy, to develop a series of original concepts.Santoni also introduced five new models. SM8 Top Plus has a special system for two-color designs in the welt. SM8 Top 2 features a three-way technique at all eight feeders and can knit all types of yarn. SM8VE is a high-speed (200 to 220 rpm), eight-feeder model with four selection points and a single yarn cutting line. Directed to the outerwear market is the SM8 Top 3 with eight feeders, 30-way technique, four-color and 10 finger stripers at each feed.A final development is a new sinker designed to promote higher quality in all fibers on what is basically an SM8/8 Top model. Machines specially developed for the boarding and semi-boarding bodywear garments are now available from Cortese, Firsan and SRA with an adapted machine from Heliot International.

June 2000