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Alexander Machinery Thrives On Innovation

World's largest supplier of off-loom take-ups has more than 40 patents registered.

Alexander Machinery Thrives On Innovation World's largest supplier of off-loom take-ups has more than 40 patents registered. W. J. "Bill" Alexander cant quite help himself. As chairman and founder of Alexander Machinery, Mauldin, S.C., he has been the driving force behind the companys philosophy of "Excellence Through Innovation."So when highway construction brought a new $200-million expressway bearing down on the companys headquarters near Greenville, S.C., Alexander couldnt help but make the job of the construction crews faster, safer and less labor-intensive. He and the plant engineers designed a gravel-leveling broom and garnered a patent for a pipe lift that drew praise from the construction crews.For the South Carolina textile machinery company settling into its new facility south of Greenville a relocation required because of the new expressway more than 40 patents have been approved to date, with others pending.That pace of innovation in cloth- winding and unwinding equipment has enabled Alexander Machinery to maintain its position as a world leader in off-loom take-up machinery. The company can also ship a work force to install, service and maintain its machines, regardless of location. The company now ships to about 50 countries throughout the world."Very few companies integrate the whole range of services that we do," says Jay Alexander, son of the founder and the companys new president.The younger Alexander was named president earlier this year and is helping to lead it into new textile machinery markets that include machinery for handling specialty fabrics and narrow-width goods such as safety belts, straps and harnesses.Rick Cothran, who came to Alexander Machinery from Draper TexMaco, is the new general manager, replacing W. D. Spearman, who retired after 18 years with the company.All this muscling up of administrative leadership came after the company completed its move to the new 103,000-square-foot plant. The changes were just in time for the rebounding Asian economies.The orders for take-ups this year are showing renewed strength, says Jeff Davis, vice president, sales. The trend now is for custom-designed machines that work with inspection machines and include significant amounts of automation."Most of all we do is custom designed and engineered to the customers specifications and needs," Alexander said.Since it began in 1977, the company has zeroed in on the winding and unwinding equipment for open-web fabric goods, ranging from fabric formation to finishing, coating and other handling of the fabric.In the domestic markets, the company is working with higher-end fabrics like those used in air bags or carbon-fiber fabrics, which can be delicate and ex-pensive. The fabrics require precise handling to avoid any wrinkle, stretch or fold.Today, Alexander Machinery is integrating its equipment with more inspection machines, some of which allow the mapping of rolls of fabric as they come off the loom."The interest has never been stronger in getting the very latest equipment and efficiency gains into the plant," Alexander said.Along with winding and unwinding machinery for narrow-web goods, the company has developed a case-packing machine that packs the goods into boxes.Patent attorney Ralph Bailey ranks Alexander Machinery among the top companies in the number of patents and innovations. "Its unusual for a company that size to have that number of patents," he said. 1,500 Machines In Two YearsAfter about a decade working with textile machinery, Bill Alexander, a mechanical engineer, stepped out on his own in 1977 to develop a large-roll off-loom take-up.He was convinced that a better machine could be made to serve the industry and assembled his first cloth-handling device in the basement of his home in Mauldin. In the first two years, he sold nearly 1,500 machines.Although the elder Alexander was not a great academic in college, says son Jay, he has demonstrated an extraordinary understanding of engineering principles and applications.The Alexanders say they have continued to emphasize engineering innovation in plant operations."I am constantly telling our staff, We dont ever want to get where we copy the other guys," said Bill Alexander. New Ventures
Alexander Machinery has grown by innovating in other product areas as well. In 1987, it bought the marketing and manufacturing rights to a coalescing compressed-air filter and started Alexco Pneumatics Division. It improved and patented the design and today sells to all types of industries, including the textile industry.In 1989, the company installed its new computer-aided design system for engineering and, in 1998, purchased a high-definition plasma/punch machine to enhance its quality production capability.In 1993, the company started Alexco Mechanical Millwright Division to manufacture and install gantries for jacquard looms and other industrial applications.For Alexander Machinery, the success has bred a climate of innovation throughout the organization and an environment in which employees are constantly seeking ways to improve whatever the company makes or does. Like the company founder, they cant help themselves its their business.

October 2000