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Taking Care Of Number One

2000 Award For Innovation Recipient Mount Vernon

Chuck Norton

2000 Award For InnovationBy Chuck Norton,Assistant Editor Taking Care Of Number One Through diversification, new technology and flexibility, Brenham keeps its customers happy.  It is about the little things, the details that make an above-average textile operation an extraordinary one. The Brenham, Texas, operation of Mount Vernon has taken innovative steps to improve efficiency and to further satisfy its customers needs for fewer defects and lowered lead-time by focusing on details that other manufacturers may overlook. All the while setting a standard in waste handling and recycling.In 1992, Mount Vernon Mills acquired Brentex Inc., which included the Brenham and Cuero, Texas, operations. Ironically enough, both the Brenham and Cuero plants were built in 1901, and both have seen many renovations over the years. These two plants, along with the recently acquired Columbus, Miss., facility, currently make up the Brentex Division of Mount Vernon.Brenham has evolved into a plant consisting of a greige mill, a wet-processing facility and a die-cutting division for pocketing. The plant produces pocketing and also dyes and finishes boat cover fabric and other greige fabrics. The facility is vertically integrated, a fact that Kent Snow, president of the Brentex division, says is key to maintaining Mount Vernons competitive edge.Having a vertically integrated facility something our competitors dont have allows our customers to be better served while reducing their lead-time, Snow said. New TechnologySince 1994, the company has installed new spinning frames, looms, cards, drawframes and opening and cleaning lines. The Brenham operation uses Rieter machines exclusively with three Uniclean opening, blending and cleaning lines, 20 C4 cards and eight drawframes. The operation also has 13 Schlafhorst spinning frames, two Reed Chatwood warpers and 146 air-jet looms all of which are Sulzer Textil 5100 or 5200 looms.In the dyeing and finishing area, a recently purchased Griffin slasher is being used as a beta tester for Mount Vernon Mills to run prewetting trails. The plants finishing operation, which is maintained to maximize flexibility, has a 79-inch Morrison tenter frame and an 84-inch Monforts tenter frame using Kuster pads. The company invested in weft strengtheners for the tenter frames to further improve quality. Also in place is a 90-inch Sanforizer for wide goods, which adds to the divisions ability to meet market demands. To further improve defect detection, Mount Vernon expects to have a new Elbit Systems EBX 2000 inspection system in place by the end of the year. Vertical Die-Cutting One of the plants largest undertakings was the 1996 addition of an Eastman die-cutting line for pocketing. Mount Vernon wanted to add this line in order to shorten the lead-time for its customers and also improve its own competitive advantage by becoming a vertically integrated die-cutting operation. The process was a slow and arduous one, as many of those who worked on the design and installation, including Keith Soechting, Brenham dyeing and finishing plant manager, had not worked on this type of operation before. However, upon completion of the project, Mount Vernon immediately began to see rewards.Having a die-cutting department in-house allows us to address many customer spreading issues, Soechting said. We can make corrections in an attempt to resolve their problem and then evaluate a spread in-house before shipping the goods to their plant.Soechting went on to say that this operation can cut down on shipping costs, production time lost, and it can shorten the overall response time. Having a vertical die-cutting operation in-house also creates an advantage in product development by shortening its lead-time. Mount Vernon also finds it to be crucial to visit and maintain a presence in large customers facilities.We will go to see customers as much as possible, said Snow. We want to see what the customer sees.According to Mount Vernon, customers are happier with the lower defects and the reduced lead-time. These fewer defects translate into fewer irregularities and fewer irregularities save the customers money. A one- to two-week inventory is maintained for all cut-product customers, and the plant can usually ship the product within 24 hours of receiving the companys request.We didnt want cut pockets to be an issue in shipping a late shipment, Snow said. We have inventory on-site so if changes occur, supply is still a worry-free situation for the customer.The company has an EDI system in place to transfer information to and from its customers. This has allowed the plant and its customers to be more informed and has provided a drastic improvement in efficiency.At Brenham, there is continual capital investment to upgrade equipment throughout the plant. In the material handling area, there have been several recent improvements. New clips for handling greige rolls have been added, as has automated handling of cut pockets pallets to reduce damage.There has been a conversion from batcher to A-frames. The Brehnam facility contains one of two certified testing labs for physical testing within the company. Improving All Aspects Many of the non-technical innovations seen in the Brenham facility are related to the companys focus on customer satisfaction, safety, the environment and reduction of waste. Mount Vernon uses what it calls an offensive position on quality, safety and production, which has garnered the plant Mount Vernons corporate safety award four years in a row.If you dont change, youre out of business, said Michael Grunder, Brenham greige mill plant manager. Not sitting back being complacent is the key, and having the right people in place is very important.Employees have input into the safety program. There is an open-door policy with the workers about products, safety or any other subject for that matter. The company finds it very important to generate new ideas and questions about how improvements can be made. While this has become more difficult as the labor force has changed there is a higher turnover rate due to the current economic climate the company feels it is still imperative to gain knowledge from those associates that are on the production floor. It has also caused the company to start documenting training procedures and sharing information more openly.The turnover rate has caused Mount Vernon to create what it calls CBT (computer-based training). The CBT system will reduce the time required to train new employees, especially in entry-level positions. Waste ReductionThe recent years have seen Brenham make several changes to reduce its waste, or waste for the customer. The company now ships its pallets with shrink-wrap rather than strapping. Not only does this create less waste, but it also allows for easier access to the pallet and causes less damage to the product.The use of the shrink-wrap also allows the pallet to retain more structural integrity when only a partial shipment is used.The use of heat-shrunk pocket bundles rather than boxes reduce Brenhams customers landfill costs a cost that is substantially growing. The plant also requires that purchased yarn must come in a traypack to further improve the companys recycling effort. Brenham has followed Mount Vernons company-wide movement from what we call the old ways to a new environmental strategy, Snow said. All the chemicals that we buy are in recycled material or the containers are returned to the supplier.Grunder continued: We have tried to reduce hazardous chemicals as much as possible. We will reject chemicals if there is a negative environmental effect, even if the chemical might be exactly what we are looking for. We try and find another chemical that will do the job while being safe for the environment even if it means it is a little more expensive. Trucking Right AlongThe Brentex division also maintains its own trucking line, allowing for a reduction of lead-time and also valuable feedback about the condition of its products at the time of delivery.We run our own trucks to our customers in order to ensure our customers receive their products in a timely manner, Soechting said. This gives us the flexibility to make more reliable emergency shipments and reduce handling of the goods at a freight terminal for a better overall control of the shipping process.We receive direct feedback from our drivers about what condition our goods arrive in and make note of the deficiencies before we get a complaint from the customer and provide feedback to the warehouse personnel about ways to improve loading trailers to make sure we reduce damage due to load shifting.  Maintaining ExcellenceAs the company looks to the future, it knows that continued information sharing and open communication will be important in maintaining the satisfaction of its customers and employees. One way to accomplished this is through e-mail.The plant has seen an increase in contact with its sales force and has been able to stay more informed by customers through e-mail.It has allowed us to expand our knowledge base, Snow said. And it allows us to work more efficiently.As Brenham has shown, it takes much more than new machines to make a mill.By focusing on the details, the plant has created a climate not only conducive to high productivity, but also one of customer and employee satisfaction. May 2000