Some of the industry's major sewing equipment suppliers are realigning their businesses and product lines to better keep pace with industry trends reports Kathleen DesMarteau.

The sewing machinery marketplace can be a constantly moving target, leaving machinery suppliers to continually revise their geographic focuses, their product lines and even their own corporate infrastructures.

Such major suppliers as Pfaff and Dürkopp Adler, for instance, have been undergoing significant restructuring programs in recent years. Pfaff emerged from bankruptcy this past spring, after filing for the German equivalent of US Chapter 11 protection in September 1999. And Dürkopp Adler has been getting its balance sheets back in order this year.

Both firms are promoting themselves as "reborn" in many ways as they are changing various aspects of their businesses to be more competitive in the market. Operating under a corporate theme of "New Energy," Dürkopp Adler has brought in a new managing director, Dr Holger Schmeißer, who has a track record for corporate turnarounds. It is shifting more of its machine production from Germany to low-cost manufacturing facilities in the Czech Republic and Romania, and it is ambitiously pursuing expansion into the materials handling market (i.e. garment movers for laundries and distribution centers).

Pfaff, on the other hand, is reducing its emphasis on the development of expensive, fully automated machinery. Instead, it is focusing on "single-purpose automation," and on enhancements to its "bread and butter" machines, Helmut Jung, overseas marketing and sales manager, told Bobbin. "We want to offer automation where automation makes a lot of sense," he emphasizes. "We cannot afford to have things for the sake of automation itself."

Pricing pressure is among the greatest competitive challenges facing the industry's major brands of sewing equipment and supplies. European and US firms, in particular, are facing increasing competition from machinery suppliers from low-cost countries, especially China.

As they fight to maintain their customers and win new business, some suppliers that are based in high-cost countries are adopting new service strategies. For instance, needle manufacturer Ferd Schmetz GmbH is promoting its new 'Servicehouse,' through which the company offers consulting and testing services to customers regarding not only the use of needles but also sewing machinery, threads, materials and different manufacturing procedures. Servicehouse also encompasses training, seminars and brokerage services.

Likewise, thread supplier Amann has expanded well beyond supplying thread. Among other efforts, the firm is offering quality testing services. For a fee of 150 euros, apparel and sewn products manufacturers can submit a section of fabric or material to Amann, and the firm will test the material for five potential processing problems: seam puckering, snags, mechanical damage (because of washing, needle penetration, etc.), insufficient seam elasticity, and seam slippage. The results are charted on an Amann Material Card, which includes symbols that can be used for communicating the results to contractors in countries with different native languages.

As manufacturers deal with frequently changing production sites and shorter cycle times, they are in greater need of outside testing assistance, notes Amann's Anke Fellmann. The number of inquiries for the Amann Material Card service increased from 378 in 1998 to 779 in 1999, and 2000 looks set to eclipse the previous total. "These numbers show how important it is to provide details about material processing," she concludes.

Sewing product highlights
Even as they increase their level of service to the market, major manufacturers of sewing machinery and related supplies also are developing new products. Following is a roundup of just a few of the new sewing products that have been released by a selection of industry suppliers.

AMF Reece has released the S-5000, the firm's first lockstitch buttonhole machine. The S-5000, which has less than 35 moving parts, sews both purl and whip stitches at speeds up to 4,000 stitches per minute. AMF Reece also has introduced the S-111 eyelet buttonhole machine, which is fully programmable.

Pfaff's Seamtronic 8302-040 heat sealing machine

Ascolite AG has introduced the Ascolite MMS Mark 10 automatic button-shank wrapping machine. The machine, which was developed in conjunction with MMS UK Ltd, is designed to wrap, bond and cut button thread. The threaded button is then fixed to the garment by its shank. The MMS Mark 10 uses Ascolite thermo-bondable thread.

Brother International has announced the B894 single-needle double lockstitch cylinder arm machine. The B894, which offers unison feed (alternating sewing feet) and a vertical hook, features a cylinder arm with a diameter of 46 mm. This small diameter makes the machine ideal for sewing items such as suitcases, bags, belts, etc. In addition, the distance from the needle to the machine arm is a very wide 300 mm. The firm also has introduced a new electronic lockstitch buttonhole machine, the B800E, which can sew 21 standard buttonhole patterns, and store up to 80 patterns.

Dürkopp Adler AG has developed a new template sewing unit, the model 739-23. This machine comes equipped with a kit that allows apparel manufacturers to quickly design and manufacture their own templates for flaps, pockets, waistband extensions and other small parts to be sewn. (In the past, manufacturers sent such requests to Dürkopp Adler, which produced the custom templates.) The kit includes a simple PC-based software program for designing the templates, which are then transferred to a microchip inside a small storage unit. The information on the microchip is then used for cutting out the template. In addition, the firm has released a prototype remote control and maintenance system, DARAS, which in the future will be used to connect to Dürkopp Adler machines worldwide via modem.

Efka has announced the DC1500 AC servo motor, which can be used for high-speed seamers, chainstitch and overlock machines and automatic sewing machines with limited mounting space. The machine offers maximum torque of 3 Nm and a top speed of 9,000 rpm. Also new is the DC1550 motor, which is designed for medium- to heavy-duty sewing machine applications, with a maximum torque of 8 Nm and top speed of 4,500 rpm. In addition, the company has released the C200 Compiler, a software program development tool for the Efka sewing machine drive AB220A. The C200 enables manufacturers to program their own functional sequences into the sewing machine drive using Windows or other programming languages, eliminating the need for additional control units.

Gütermann AG has introduced Piuma No 140, a sewing thread specially designed for the intimate apparel market. Piuma No 140 is made of fine microfilaments that act as a cushion between the garment and the skin. With its single-thread design, Piuma No 140 can be used a needle and looper thread, and has an optimum processing speed of 5,500 rpm. The company also has unveiled Buttonfix, a process for heat sealing a special Buttonfix sewing thread after the button is attached to the garment. After buttons have been stitched on with the Buttonfix thread, the back side of the button (where it is attached to the garment) is pressed or fused briefly at a temperature of 120 degrees Celsius (C). Any separated threads are fused together in order to prevent the loss of a button. The seal is not hard or abrasive, and can be broken by snipping with scissors.

Juki Corp has announced the MH-1410 double chainstitch, cylinder-bed machine for attaching waistbands to jeans and casual pants. The machine can interchange parts with the Singer model 302 waistband attaching machine, which no longer is being produced. The MH-1410 can operate at speeds of up to 5,000 rpm, and is equipped with a cloth puller that helps to ensure that stitches are uniform in length at the beginning of sewing and at multi-layer sections of the material.

Kessler Ergo Products has introduced an automatic, adjustable sewing workstation. The workstation, which can accommodate a wide variety of sewing machinery, can be adjusted upward or downward, or tilted forward and back, at the touch of a button on a hand-held control device. The workstation is designed to enable sewing operators to adjust their machines to a level that is ergonomically correct and comfortable.

Maier-Unitas GmbH has launched the model 251-47 blind stitch sewing machine with an extra small cylinder arm for sewing narrow sleeves, children's clothing, gloves, etc. The company also has introduced the model 251-48 with stitch knotting. With the 251-48, the last stitch of a blind stitched seam is knotted loosely so that no mark from thread tension is visible from the outside of the garment, and the end of the seam is protected from unraveling. Prior to the introduction of this machine, stitch condensation (placing the last stitches of a seam close together) often was used to secure blind stitches.

Cup seamer for fully fashioned knitwear from Rimoldi

Mitsubishi Electric has unveiled the new XC-ENET system for communication between sewing machines and a host computer to send and receive work-related data. A maximum of 168 sewing machines can be connected to one host computer, and the maximum transmission distance between the host and the machines is 1,200 meters. With XC-ENET, managers can send messages to operators informing them of when to sew and when to rest, as well as providing them with production output data. The information appears on an LCD screen at the sewing workstation. Likewise, the operator can send messages to the host computer via a control panel. Mitsubishi also has released the PLK-E0504 prototype small area pattern sewer. The machine can create stitching that looks like embroidery at a rate of 2,500 rpm on items ranging from bibs to clothing. Like most new Mitsubishi machines, it is equipped with an LCD "teaching screen," to guide the operator in the use of the machine.

Pfaff has developed the Speed Responsive Pressure Foot Control (SRP) system (patent applied for), which is designed to eliminate fabric puckering. The system uses linear motor technology to adjust sewing speed and sewing foot pressure simultaneously, i.e. foot pressure is lessened at lower speeds and increased at higher speeds during sewing. In addition, Pfaff has released the model 3587 large-panel automatic sewing machine for producing products such as leather belts, air bags and technical textile products. The 3587 has a sewing area of 500 mm by 300 mm, and can be linked to a CAD system via the company's OSCA software program. Design data also can be input into the machine using OSCA. Pfaff also has introduced the Seamtronic 8302-040, a heat sealing machine for creating waterproof seams. The Seamtronic, which is Pfaff's first microprocessor-controlled tape machine, feeds and fuses fusible tape to multi-ply laminates, and has a maximum heat-sealing temperature of 700 degrees C.

Rimoldi of America Inc has introduced the model 255-00-01 cup seamer for assembly of fully fashioned knitwear. The one-needle, double chainstitch machine, which is designed for sewing 10-5 mm gauge knitwear, features a feeding mechanism with counter-rotating cups that are individually synchronized. In addition, the unit has a chainstitch pulling device with synchronized rollers to help ensure correct chain coupling of garment pieces. Rimoldi also has released the new Libra feed-off-the-arm machine, which can be used with either a rear puller or top feed. The firm also has added new feeding systems to its Flexsystem Sirio flatbed machine line and to its Vega II overlock machine. The latter is called a trapezoidal system because the feed dogs change their trajectory according to the inclination of the fabric, rather than staying parallel to the plate plane. Rimoldi also has released a new 'X series' of machines, featuring small motors built into the machines' sewing heads.

Santoni SpA has released 11 different versions of its electronic circular knitting machines for production of seamless garments, and garments that require the addition of only a few seams after knitting. Santoni, whose US distributor is Charlotte, NC-based Spiezman, has developed machines for forming underwear, swimwear, outerwear, sportswear and medical garments. Marketing manager Fiorenzo Sandonini told Bobbin that the firm is launching an initiative to educate the US market about uses of the machinery for the production of couture apparel.

Ferd Schmetz GmbH has introduced a new diamond carboride coating for needles. The coating provides extra protection against corrosion and clogging. The diamond carboride coating also reduces the damaging effects of friction of the needle against thread, fabric and machine components.

Strobel has released the Strobel PA-170 Chestpiece Automat, a prototype programmable machine for automatically sewing the chest pieces of jackets to different specifications. The machine can create round seams for areas such as the armhole, and can sew multiple layers. Depending on the number of padding rows and the size of the chest piece, the machine can complete the sewing of the chestpiece (from positioning to stapling) within 15 to 18 seconds.

Union Special has announced the model SEB2N64B1B1B162Z10 for automated attaching of pre-closed elastic to waistbands. The machine, which was originally designed to attach waistbands to pantyhose, has been updated for use in sewing underwear. The unit is a three-needle, cylinder bed, bottom coverstitch machine, and features a unique feeding edge guide system, as well as a thread break sensor and thread trimmer.

Kathleen DesMarteau is senior editor of Bobbin.