Narrow Fabrics: Broad Innovations


N
arrow fabrics have experienced an enormous upswing within the last 10 to 20 years. One
company that has manufactured ribbon production machinery of every kind for 120 years is Jakob
Müller AG, Frick, Switzerland. CEO Christian Kuoni tells the story of how, from small beginnings,
the enterprise became a global market leader with branch offices in all important industrial
countries.

Today, narrow fabrics are commodities in the best sense of the word, used in daily life.
Ribbons, sports paraphernalia or promotional articles, medical bandages and labels are just a few
examples of products that are produced on so-called narrow weaving machines. These products help to
fix loads, save lives or show affiliation to a favorite club.

mullershoe

An example of a spacer knit fabric produced on Müller’s MDK 80


Milestones


Jakob Müller, with headquarters in rural Frick, was founded in 1887 by Jakob
Müller-Schneider, who built ribbon-weaving systems with punch-card control. Over the years, many
further company milestones occurred.

“After the foundation, the year 1918 was of great importance,” Kuoni said. “At that time,
Müller started to weave ribbons for zippers that were a great success. An important year was 1956,
when the first Velcro® was produced on our machines. In 1963, the first needle loom was then put on
the market. The principle is still valid today for weft insertion. The signal for the foundation of
the foreign branch offices was carried out in 1977. Jakob Müller Deutschland GmbH came first, Jakob
Müller Italiana S.p.A. followed in 1979, and Jakob Müller of America Inc. opened in 1982. In the
year 2000, branch offices followed in Brazil, Mexico and Hong Kong.

“We must not forget the ITMAs in 1987 and 1991,” Kuoni continued. “We finally had a rapier
weaving machine, which began its triumphal march into the markets. The air-jet technology then
followed with the label-weaving machine in 1997. The year 2001 was very important, with the
foundation of the Jakob Müller Institute of Narrow Fabrics. And the latest technical milestones are
the harness-free jacquard weaving machines, which will be shown at ITMA 2007. Regarding development
of the infrastructure, 2005 must be mentioned with the integration of the Maschinenfabrik
Breitenbach; and now in the year 2007, we have bought the Bata Park in Möhlin, an area of 29
hectares. We will invest 40 million Swiss francs at this location in Switzerland. This investment
includes the property as such, as well as the development of the infrastructure.”

Following the interview with Kuoni,

Textile World Asia
had the opportunity to inspect the new Müller complex in Möhlin. After only a few months,
without interrupting production in Frick, production is already being phased in while construction
of the new premises are finished.

kuoni

Christian Kuoni, CEO, Jakob Müller AG, Frick


Customer-Oriented Organization


In principle, the Muller enterprise is organized around products. There is no differentiation
of weaving or knitting, but rather of application areas:

• design, patterning, programming, production control and online transfer;

• warping;

• narrow fabric weaving, warp crochet knitting and label weaving; and

• making up, inspection, fabric cutting, and dyeing and finishing.

The application fields for narrow fabrics are focused across the whole textile industry;
that’s why there are no real target groups. Kuoni mentioned apparel, floral products, gift ribbons,
medical, automotive, underwear and technical fields, among other application areas.

mdlm

Müller’s MDLM harness-free loom for jacquard-patterned labels



Market Situation


Today, customers expect optimal solutions at the lowest possible prices. To meet these
requirements, the Jakob Müller group manufactures at different locations — machines are built for
making-up and apparel in Germany; weaving and finishing machines are made in Switzerland; warp
knitting machines are made in Italy; and harnesses are produced in the Czech Republic. For certain
Asian markets, a range of machines is built in China; and in India, Müller produces a narrow
weaving machine that is also exported to some local markets, according to Kuoni.


TW Asia
asked Kuoni to assess the current market situation for narrow textiles before ITMA 2007. “
It’s very positive,” Kuoni said. “We never had a high selling period within the previous years;
however, we have worked well. We have good products; we deliver quality. But for certain, one
important point is the ongoing innovation; we offer our customers something new again and again.
Furthermore, we have the Jakob Müller Institute of Narrow Fabrics; we train people and produce
technical literature, for example. We help our customers to become even more successful. And this
service package arrives simply well, and one trusts us. The Narrow Fabrics Conference, which will
be carried out at ITMA for the seventh time, also is a further service to the industry. And the
eighth conference will be in Shanghai at ITMA Asia 2008.”

Jakob Müller fights with the same difficulties as any other competitor. Currently, the main
problems are the currency situation with the weak US dollar and the pressure on prices. “However,”
Kuoni said, “if the customer needs the machine and he has sufficient orders, then he buys, even
with a strong currency. On the other side, the euro is too strong for the Swiss franc. We suffer
from the high euro rather than the weak dollar. The European marketplace is very large and very
important for us.”

The export share of the enterprise is 99 percent. From this, approximately 50 percent of
product goes to Asia. The most important export countries and regions are China, India, Bangladesh,
Europe, Turkey and South America. Pakistan is very quiet. North America also is quiet.

Asked about the main emphasis in Jakob Müller’s research and development work for the short-
and mid-term future, Kuoni said: “At ITMA, we will show new systems — for example, the harness-free
jacquard machine. We will present a new printing system for labels, woven and then printed. We
offer technology of high standing at sensible prices.”

What does Kuoni expect from ITMA 2007? “A lot of interesting news and primarily many
visitors,” Kuoni said. “We are expecting at least as many visitors as in 2003, rather more.”

redtrim

bluetrim

Examples of trims made on Müller machinery include a picot bodywear tape (top) and a velvet
ribbon with picot selvage (bottom).



Striking Market Changes


Comparing today’s market for narrow fabrics with the market five to 10 years ago, Kuoni noted
several changes: “There are, for certain, new applications. Take freight traffic as an example.
Belts have completely replaced the earlier chains as safety belts. In the past, containers were
fixed with chains, today with belts. If one looks around in nature, grazing fences, nets against
snowdrifts, barriers of every kind — for example, on construction sites — are produced mainly on
our machines.”

Kuoni attributed the success of narrow fabrics to several factors. “These products are easy
and uncomplicated to mount. Nets in the trunk of a car, at the airport — luggage is today protected
with nets and no more with tarpaulins,” he said. “Another trend is in sport. Both apparel and
sports gear are often produced with nets. In the past, a ski pole had a leather loop — today this
is a ribbon. All kinds of Velcro, bags, many products are made with nets. Spacer fabrics can
replace certain foams.

“The so-called smart textiles are provided with wires and cables. Ribbon-weaving machines are
also here in use. Every gift box, every bouquet of flowers comes with a ribbon. Ribbons cannot be
underestimated for underwear. One has always smiled at me when I mention Asia and its women; very
few women wear a bra. This is only one example of the great potential of ribbons. This list could
be prolonged interminably. There were radical changes, which have helped to make the narrow weaving
sector even more successful. We are convinced it will grow further.”

Kuoni said Jakob Müller’s customers and their requirements have changed. “There are always
new customers with new requirements,” he said. “We must be extremely flexible and focused on
products to meet the customer’s expectations.”


Positive Prospects


Comparing today’s market for narrow fabrics with the market five to 10 years ago, Kuoni noted
several changes: “There are, for certain, new applications. Take freight traffic as an example.
Belts have completely replaced the earlier chains as safety belts. In the past, containers were
fixed with chains, today with belts. If one looks around in nature, grazing fences, nets against
snowdrifts, barriers of every kind — for example, on construction sites — are produced mainly on
our machines.”

Kuoni attributed the success of narrow fabrics to several factors. “These products are easy
and uncomplicated to mount. Nets in the trunk of a car, at the airport — luggage is today protected
with nets and no more with tarpaulins,” he said. “Another trend is in sport. Both apparel and
sports gear are often produced with nets. In the past, a ski pole had a leather loop — today this
is a ribbon. All kinds of Velcro, bags, many products are made with nets. Spacer fabrics can
replace certain foams.

“The so-called smart textiles are provided with wires and cables. Ribbon-weaving machines are
also here in use. Every gift box, every bouquet of flowers comes with a ribbon. Ribbons cannot be
underestimated for underwear. One has always smiled at me when I mention Asia and its women; very
few women wear a bra. This is only one example of the great potential of ribbons. This list could
be prolonged interminably. There were radical changes, which have helped to make the narrow weaving
sector even more successful. We are convinced it will grow further.”

Kuoni said Jakob Müller’s customers and their requirements have changed. “There are always
new customers with new requirements,” he said. “We must be extremely flexible and focused on
products to meet the customer’s expectations.”



September/October 2007
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