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Teaming History With Technology

2000 Award For Innovation Recipient Mount Vernon

Teaming History With Technology La France serves diverse market Mount Vernons La France plant has a rich history. There has been a textile plant at this site since the late 1830s. The operation started out as Pendleton Manufacturing Co. and has had several name changes over the years.We know that it is the oldest textile mill in Anderson County, and weve been told that its the oldest in South Carolina, said Nick Caldwell, president, La France Division.Benjamin F. Sloan, Thomas M. Sloan, John T. Sloan and Enoch Berry Benson purchased the land that was to become the site of the La France plant in 1836.Operations began in February of 1838. Pendleton Manufacturing Co. actually issued its own paper money in the 1860s signed by Benjamin F. Sloan. During the Civil War the company produced blankets for the Confederate Army. In 1879, Augustus Sitton purchased the company and renamed the community Autun, a combination of his name and his wifes Aull.The community and company were renamed La France in the 1930s when La France Industries purchased the mill. La France Industries transferred its upholstery manufacturing operation there 10 years after the purchase. In 1953, the mill expanded into automotive upholstery.La France became part of the Mount Vernon family in 1985 when the company purchased Riegel Textile Corp.Visitors to todays La France see no evidence of this longevity. The plant is a thoroughly modern 675,000-square-foot-facility. It employs almost 500 people, both salaried and hourly.If you make a profit in Mount Vernon, they will keep you state-of-the-art, said Jackie Bridges, La France Griege Mill plant manager. This is probably the most versatile, state-of-the-art plant of its type in the world. When Mount Vernon bought the plant they completely modernized it.As an example, division managers point to a 1994-95 modernization program in which Mount Vernon spent $42 million at La France. The money was mainly spent on new equipment for weaving, slashing, finishing and package dyeing.  Jackie Bridges, general manager weaving Beginning With Yarn The plant does not have yarn production capability, and gets its yarn from other Mount Vernon operations and outside vendors. In fact, La France has 41 yarn vendors. At one time, the plant had 3,200 yarn SKUs. It trimmed that down to 600 SKUs.La Frances design staff works to keep yarn SKUs down by using common warps and being selective about filling yarns.Production processes here include package dyeing, weaving preparation, plush and flat weaving and finishing.La France services several diverse market segments. Product type and customer divide these segments. On the plush woven side the divisions markets include automotive upholstery (a joint venture with Chatham Manufacturing), class A truck upholstery and paint roller fabrics.The flat woven side has several categories and customers. The plant produces napery and baby blanket fabric for Mount Vernons Consumer Products Division. It also makes specialty tapestry fabrics for several products including pillows, table runners, wall hangings and throws. In addition, La France weaves commodity furniture upholstery fabrics that are heat-transfer printed. The division also manufactures furniture upholstery fabrics in partnership with several major players in that market segment.Each of these segments has its own driving forces and histories. The plush products are strong year round. Paint roller fabrics are in higher demand in the summer. The big truck portion of La Frances business had a record year last year. The divisions flat tapestry fabrics are seasonal, and Christmas (March to October) is the biggest season. In addition to all this, La France does some commission yarn dyeing. Package Dyeing Through FinishingThe package dyeing area has Loris Bellini dye machines. These include five production machines and one sample machine.In weaving preparation the plant has a McCoy Ellison direct warper. There are two high-speed warpers. One is from McCoy Ellison. The other is from Hacoba. There are two Ira Griffin dry beamers. A Benninger sectional warper and a Hacoba-Sucker-Mueller slasher round out the department.The slasher is equipped with a pre-dryer from Textile Technology Exchange. It has proven to be handy for selected styles. The plant also uses McCoy Ellison warp creels.The flat jacquard area is equipped with Dornier rapier and Picanol air-jet looms. Each machine has an Alexander Machinery off-loom take-up. Alexander Machinery also planned the layout for both the flat and plush weave rooms. Sohler Airtex traveling cleaners control lint in weaving.The plush weaving area has Gilbos and Murata winders for winding and back winding. Michel Van de Wiele looms are used to produce these pile fabrics. The machines are equipped with IRO weft feeders and Staubli jacquard and dobby heads. The plant has 60 dobby plush machines and 26 jacquard plush machines. La France recently converted some of the plush jacquard looms over to dobby heads to meet increased demand for dobby fabrics. The plant uses a Barco monitoring system to track quality and production.In the finishing area, the plant has two Marshall and Williams tenter frames. One is running inline with a Kusters piece dye range. Slitting, shearing and inspection also take place here. The shearing machines are from M-Tec. Painting A Perfect Product La France has been producing fabric for paint rollers for at least 35 years. Customer needs in this product area have changed significantly over the years, and this serves as a great example of La Frances innovative spirit.Making paint roller fabric is a multi-step process. First the plush fabric is woven. Next it is brushed to remove lint. Then a latex backing is applied using a tenter frame. Finally the fabric is slit into narrow strips and shipped to the customer.Over time some of La Frances larger paint-roller fabric customers changed over to a process in which they switched from a cardboard core to a phenolic core formed on the fly. This gave the product an improved wear life. So La France worked to develop a fabric that would attach to a hot phenolic core.We put a polyethylene filling yarn in the fabric which melts at a temperature near that of the phenolic core and bonds to it, said Bernie Thompson, La France Finishing plant manager.We have three customers on it right now, and they probably represent 75 percent of the paint rollers sold in this country.La France also developed its own fabric slitting system for paint roller fabric production. About five years ago La Frances plant engineer, Ted Hedden, designed a new system for guiding fabric into the slitter.This innovation solved La Frances slitting problems and automated what had been basically a hand operation. Alexander Machinery was brought onboard to build the machine. This slitting operation is very precise. The goal is not to cross a warp end during the slitting process.We were constantly bombarded with slit variation problems before we had this system in place, said Thompson. We rarely have a problem now.The division also had a Canadian customer that was having problems with the acrylic latex backing, so La France developed a neoprene backing for them.The plant makes fabric for both industrial and consumer paint rollers. Some of the paint roller fabric for consumer use is now being dyed pink to appeal to women buyers. It turns out that women buy most of the paint rollers, just as they do for many other textile products. May 2000



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