In the last 20 years China's industrial sewing and embroidery machine industry has grown from a standing start and now competes within world markets. Niki Tait takes a look at some of the Chinese brands and equipment available today.

Today, apart from being the world's largest producer and exporter of clothing, China is also the world's largest manufacturer of sewing machines. According to the China Sewing Machinery Association (CSMA), the country produced 16.9 million sewing machines in 2003, accounting for 60 per cent of the world's sewing machines and 70 per cent of the world's embroidery machines.

The 2003 export market for sewing machines and machine parts produced in China was worth US$700.16 million - US$320 million of which accounted for industrial sewing machines and over US$60 million in embroidery machines.

There are an estimated 1000 sewing machinery and machinery part manufacturers in China and 300 embroidery machine manufacturers. There are also around 100 joint ventures, while many internationally known sewing machinery makers such as Brother and Barudan have chosen instead to set up wholly-owned companies in China.

Chinese embroidery machines are constantly improving in terms of quality and technology. Indeed, most German or Japanese embroidery machine companies admit that the basic machines are on a par with any quality make.

In terms of intermediate technology the industry will equal the international companies within two to three years, and for advanced technology it is only likely to take the Chinese another five years to be on a level footing.

Blatant copying
The downside of the Chinese embroidery machine industry is its blatant copying.

As Brother explains: "If the fake is branded differently then it is not 100 per cent the same so there are no counteracting measures Brother can take. If the fake is badged as Brother then Brother can still take no effective action. If a counterfeiter is taken to court it just declares bankruptcy, changes its name and continues to produce the fakes. The only financial loser is Brother, which incurs the legal costs."

Although Tajima's machines used to be copied in entirety, including the logo, nowadays the copying companies use their own logos.

However, as Tajima explains: "The machines may look the same to all but a very technical eye; the difference is in the experience and know-how of the technology and no one can copy that!"

However with the technology and quality found in basic Chinese embroidery machines nowadays there is no need to pay for a fake. It would be a wiser investment to buy a good quality Chinese brand, especially as Chinese manufacturers are generally quoting a payback on their machines of one year as opposed to 5/6 years for a German or Japanese brand.

Embroidery machine brands
In addition to making industrial sewing machines, many of the key Chinese sewing machinery manufacturers also make embroidery machines.

These include Typical, FeiYue which also exports under the trade name Yamata (not to be confused with Yamato), Shanggong which recently bought 94 per cent of the German Dürkopp Adler company, Gemsy and Protex.

12 needle 18-head embroidery machine by North Phenix, China's No I embroidery machine producer

Although only established in 2000 by a Chinese weapons making group, North Phenix claims to be the number one embroidery machinery manufacturer in China and number two in the world, taking more than a 25 per cent share in China's market. Thirty per cent of its production is exported to countries such as Thailand, India, Turkey, Spain, USA, Mexico and Brazil.

The company also claims the largest range of embroidery machines, with over 600 models extending from 3 to 12 needles and up to 43 heads.

Zhanyi Computer and Machinery Co Ltd is an ISO9001 certified private family business that was originally set up to embroider products as a service and then started building machines of its own.

Zhanyi is now one of the top four Chinese embroidery machine companies and produces machines ranging from single to 30 heads with either 3, 6 or 9 needles covering traditional machine embroidery, cording, sequins and chenille.

Located in Jiangmen the company makes all the major parts itself including the machine frame, embroidery table, embroidery frame and running rail. The servomotors for the main shaft drive are supplied by a well-known domestic brand.

An example of its products is the Zhanyi ZY-EMSD-SEQ-920, a sequin machine with 12, 15, or 20 heads, each with eight needles and a special embroidery head with special needle.

Another key embroidery company is Richpeace, which has been building embroidery machinery for about ten years. Today it produces around 5000 machines a year, 40 per cent of which are exported, mainly within Asia to Hong Kong, Pakistan and India, as well as Canada, the USA and Australia.

One of its latest models is the RP-CEM Series multi-head computerised embroidery machines with 3, 6, 9 or 12 needles flexible enough to tackle everything from leather products to garment panels.

Zhanyi multi-head cording
embroidery machine

Features include the ability to read disks or paper tape in Tajima, Barudan, ZSK binary or ternary format, a hoop limit warning when the design overshoots hoop limits, and a standard memory that holds up to 2 million stitches and up to 99 patterns.

The Richpeace CS series carries out chainstitch, chenille, and tape attaching in one machine with automatic change between the chainstitch and the chenille. It is suitable for sewing fabrics from silk to leather and coats to caps.

Shengjia Computerised Embroidery Equipments Co Ltd is based Suzhou, a town famous internationally for its embroidery.

With an annual production of around 1000-1200 machines a year it is a medium sized manufacturer. The company offers computerised embroidery, special embroidery and quilting machines for sequin embroidery, chenille, cording, quilting, ribbon and chainstitch.

Machines range from single head to 43 heads and have either 3, 6, 9 or 12 needles, all of which are produced under the company's brand name Fuda. The company exports 20 per cent of production, mainly to the developing markets.

For more information on Chinese apparel-making technology, take a look at this month's Members' Management Briefing: 'An overview of Chinese sewing machinery.' 

Niki Tait, C.Text FTI, FCFI heads Apparel Solutions, which provides independent assistance to the apparel industry in the areas of manufacturing methods, industrial engineering, information technology and quick response.