Industrial Fabrics

IFAI Review

By Alfred Dockery

IFAI Participants OptimisticIndustrial fabrics show posts near-record attendance, reflects
overall industry optimism.Las Vegas proved to be a good venue for IFAI Expo 2003 held October 1-3
at the Las Vegas Convention Center. The annual industrial fabrics trade show, sponsored by the
Industrial Fabrics Association International (IFAI), Roseville, Minn., attracted 7,425 attendees
and exhibitors — the second largest number of participants in the show’s history.The IFAI Expo
1999, held in San Diego, holds the record with 7,542 participants. Last year’s show in Charlotte
attracted 7,356. Participants traveled to Las Vegas from a record 55 countries. The show had 480
exhibitors including more than 90 companies that exhibited for the first time.“We are getting more
international exhibitors,” said IFAI President, Steve Warner. “They are showing more
specialized-type products. A lot of companies will walk the show one year and then decide to
exhibit the next.”As a whole, exhibitors were pleased with both the quantity and quality of
visitors. They also were optimistic about business conditions. Kevin Crean, vice president,
Avondale Mills, Specialty Fabrics Division, Graniteville, S.C., reported good traffic at the expo.
“We have a lot of customers here, and we had some good meetings with them including some new
customers on the job-finishing side,” he said.“We are committed to this show,” said Marty Colwell,
sales manager, American Dornier, Charlotte. “It’s a good show for us because we have so many
customers present.”Glen Raven Moves IndoorsAt last year’s show in Charlotte, Glen Raven drew big
crowds with its Sunbrella® Graphics System. The system is used to apply graphics to Sunbrella
awning fabrics using 3M™ Scotchcal™ ElectroCut™ Graphic films.“We’ve had good acceptance, and
people are doing some fantastic work with it,” said Harry Goble, marketing director for Glen Raven
Custom Fabrics LLC, Glen Raven, N.C. “It’s still growing. We are trying to get the word out to the
commercial sector. We will be doing a bit more advertising and promotion there now that we have a
manufacturing base established. It has been very well received.”This time around, Glen Raven showed
more of the jacquard and decorative fabric side of its business. The company is taking its
wellknown Sunbrella brand inside for performance interior fabrics.“Whether it’s [for the] sunroom
or any room of the house, [Sunbrella] has the soft hand, cleanability and fade resistance that are
pretty much unmatched in residential fabrics,” Goble said. “Our biggest challenge right now is to
get it to furniture manufacturers and to the public in general.”When asked about business
conditions and industry trends, Goble pointed to strong sales in the Western United States, a
strong recreational vehicle industry and a recovery in boat sales as positive indicators. However,
tight inventories and shorter lead times have made it tougher to gauge this market.“People are
holding much tighter inventories,” he said. “Everyone is playing things very close to the vest.
Between the economy, the war and the weather in the Eastern half of the country, 2003 has been a
little less than stellar. But we have seen gradual improvement late season, which is a little odd
in the awning and marine business. I think people had to deal with a backlog.”Avondale Mills Sees
GrowthThe subject of inventories came up again and again at the show. Clearly, good inventory
management is becoming a critical skill in the industrial fabrics business.“Our business is very
strong,” said Crean. “There doesn’t seem to be any planning ahead on purchasing. Everybody today
wants it immediately. Customers don’t seem to know when their customers are going to order. So you
have to be prepared and watch your inventories. It’s all about inventory — keeping it as low as
possible, yet running the business.”Avondale’s solvent coating capability has been a major
contributor to the Specialty Fabrics Division’s success.“Our largest area of growth in our fiscal
year ended August 29 was with our job-finishing business, and we expect to see that growth
continuing as we move forward,” Crean said. “The growth is driven by our ability to do solvent
coating with such chemistries as urethane and vinyl.”SI Expects Carpet Comeback“We are continuing
to see softness in sales,” said Kemp Harr, vice president of marketing for Furnishings and
Flooring, SI Corp., Chattanooga, Tenn. “We are optimistic, however, that business in 2004 could
come back to the level we saw in 2000.”SI Corp. is involved in four core businesses including
carpet backing, fiber-reinforced concrete, geotextiles and high-performance materials. Half of the
company’s business is manufacturing carpet foundations including primary and secondary
backings.“The residential side has been fairly robust because of the builder segment,” Harr said.
“But almost 75 percent of residential carpet purchases are replacement. People can voluntarily
extend the time that they live on that old carpet — waiting for better economic times. It’s a
deferrable purchase. Next year we hope to see more in that segment. The life of residential carpet
is averaging 10 to 12 years so we feel like there is some pent-up demand. We are looking forward to
a turnaround in that area.”The company has gone to cellular manufacturing in its plants. For
example, its 2.5-million-square-foot plant in Chickamauga, Ga., used to operate as one plant. Now
it is considered to be seven different plants under one roof. SI Corp. also is working aggressively
to reduce cost and improve quality through programs like Six Sigma. At the same time, the company
is still making significant investments in research and development of innovative products that
will provide future growth, according to Harr.

U.S. Navy Captain Michael Abrashoff delivered the keynote presentation.Gore Introduces
TENARA® FabricW.L. Gore & Associates Inc., Elkton, Md., showed its GORE™ TENARA® Architectural
Fabrics for the first time in the United States. Introduced at Techtextil in Germany earlier this
year, the fabric was specially developed for textile architectural structures and features a unique
blend of aesthetics, flexibility and durability. The chemically inert fabric not only is
insensitive to ultraviolet light, flex-resistant and waterproof, but also has a light transmission
ratio of up to 40 percent, adding an extra dimension to textile architectural structures.brM Offers
Creative SolutionsBally Ribbon Mills (brM), Bally, Pa., showed its extensive product line of
engineered, woven, narrow fabrics; specialty broadcloth; and woven structures for medical,
industrial, aerospace and commercial applications.The company had on display samples of woven
tubular vascular stents, bifurcates, tapered weaves and arteries that are used to replace damaged
blood vessels. brM also exhibited blood filtration membrane and carbon fiber structures for
orthopedic and prosthetic applications. In addition, brM showed circular (polar) weaves, woven 2-D
and 3-D shapes, and fabrics used for parachutes and airframe components.Having a wide variety of
sample products on hand at the company’s booth stimulates discussion with potential new customers,
according to Louis Franconi, new business development manager, brM.“The only way to drive people to
get more creative is to give them an example, a hint about what’s going on, and then let them use
their internal creativity to present you with the application,” said Franconi. “And then you work
together with them to create a solution.”

George Ochs, IFAI’s new Chairman of the BoardAtlas Acquires SDLThe big story at the Atlas
booth was the company’s acquisition of SDL International Ltd. — an England- based testing
instrument supplier — earlier this year. The merger provides textile manufacturers with a single
source for many kinds of instrumentation. The newly created SDL Atlas LLC — headed by Charles S.
Lane — includes SDL, Atlas Textile Test Products, Raitech and Textile Innovators. The restructuring
strengthens Atlas’ focus in textile testing instruments, and its core weathering test instruments
and services.Atlas also recently entered into an exclusive partnership with Weiss Umwelttechnik
GmbH, Germany. Under this agreement, Atlas is Weiss Technik’s exclusive partner for the marketing
and production of standard climatic test chambers in the United States and Canada.

During IFAI Expo 2003, six individuals earned professional certification and were recognized
at the Chairman’s Gala banquet on the closing night of the exposition. Certified in Las Vegas:
(from left) Kirk Edwards, Master Fabric Craftsman (MFC); Mary Morehead, Certified Craftsman (CC);
Devlin McKee, CC; John Scanlon, MFC; and Stephanie Krantz, Certified Project Planner. Not pictured:
Kathryn Miles, CC.American DornierSeveral industrial fabric markets are strong right now, including
filtration, air bag and outdoor furniture, according to American Dornier’s Colwell. Furniture is up
and down, with an upward trend seen at the upholstery mills.“We are getting a lot more requests for
quotations, so that’s a positive sign,” Colwell said. American Dornier continues to add personnel
at its Charlotte office, which also has begun servicing Mexico and Central America.Picanol Focuses
On Technical Fabrics“We are pushing hard in [the technical fabric] direction,” said Cyril Guerin,
sales manager, Picanol. “This is where the textile industry in North America is going to
survive.”One example of Picanol’s increased emphasis in this area is the GamMax rapier weaving
machine, based on the earlier Gamma model. According to the company, it can weave a wider range of
yarns at higher speeds using less energy. The machine also has a wider reed, allowing it to
participate in specialty markets such as upholstery. A version to weave fiberglass has been
developed.The company also has been very successful with a tire cord loom based on its OMNIplus
air-jet machine.

More than 70 educational programs were available to IFAI Expo 2003’s attendees.Educational
OpportunitiesFabric Structures 2003, which took place just prior to IFAI Expo 2003, focused on
nearly two dozen case studies on using fabric elements, and provided a forum for discussion of the
unique aspects of fabric structures.The nearly 200 participants earned American Institute of
Architecture Continuing Education System Learning Units.U.S. Navy Captain Michael Abrashoff
delivered a leader-focused keynote presentation and explanation of how grassroots leadership is a
principle that empowers every individual to share the responsibility of achieving excellence.
Abrashoff is the author of “It’s Your Ship,” a book detailing how he overcame low morale and high
crew turnover as commander of the USS Benfold. Glen Raven sponsored the keynote address.This year’s
IFAI Expo also featured more than 70 educational programs covering such topics as medical textiles,
signs and graphics, safety and protective, textile construction, awning and canopy, sports and
recreation, filtration textiles, upholstery, marine fabrication, transportation textiles, equipment
and technologies, and business and leadership. These programs were packed with participants —
crowds ranged from 40 to well over 100 for each nichemarket session.

Winter 2003