Chinese manufacturers do not need much of the high technology currently available to producers in the rest of the world, so machinery suppliers are developing products aimed at this market's specific requirements and budgets. Niki Tait reports from CISMA, the world's largest sewing machinery fair, in Shanghai.

CISMA, the China International Sewing Machinery and Accessories show, is undoubtedly the leading exhibition of shop floor clothing production for developing nations and the world's largest sewing machinery show.

In September 2005, industrial sewing and embroidery machinery and equipment accounted for over 65 per cent of the total exhibits. Also present were CAD/CAM, spreading, cutting, fusing, pressing and finishing equipment, needles and threads, machine parts and materials handling systems.

Nearly all the well know international brands were represented, as were hundreds of Chinese brands, several of which are becoming well known internationally such as Shanggong, Typical, Shanghai Weishi and Richpeace.

Of course the copies of international brands were also present, but not quite as obvious as last year. Exceptions included Loubon, whose material handling systems outwardly looked very similar to some of those made by the Europeans.

38,399 visitors from 72 countries and territories visited the show, an increase of 15.8 per cent over last year. 1085 companies exhibited, 232 of which were from overseas. All seven halls of the Shanghai New International Expo Centre were used; exhibits were of a high standard and well laid out; and as long as one spoke clear English the lack of any Chinese language was not a problem.

In terms of comparison between CISMA and the IMB machinery fair in Cologne, the two shows are totally different. IMB covers the entire spectrum of flexible material product production from conceptual design to in-store delivery. CISMA, on the other hand, covers the shop floor manufacturing of clothing, specialising in the technology required by developing nations.

The scope of IMB incorporates warehousing, transportation and logistics, IT, high technology machinery, workplace engineering, and the make-up of technical textiles - all almost totally lacking at CISMA. It also attracts a far wider range of international visitors.

Exhibitors choose IMB to introduce new developments. As several companies said, if they show their new equipment at CISMA, by the time it is seen at IMB it will have been copied by several Chinese companies.

For a manufacturing company with international operations, a visit to both shows seems essential.

Amann will start producing thread in China during 2006

China's technology needs
It was clear from discussions with many exhibitors that CISMA has taken over from JIAM as the Asian clothing technology show. The main reason is that China does not need, nor is willing to pay for, much of the high technology on the market.

Low labour costs, mass production of lower and mid-quality garments and a lack of highly trained industrial engineers has meant that to sell technology effectively within China it needs to be at a lower price, a lower level of technology and made within China, though, if an international brand, it must still be a quality product.

China is the clothing technology suppliers' newest and biggest market by far and the potential of selling there is enormous, but to do this suppliers have been forced to develop products aimed at this market's needs and budgets.

Longer production runs and lower labour costs combine with the fact that Chinese manufacturers still tend to select equipment on price rather than sophistication. Much of the latest technology from the international machinery suppliers has traditionally been developed for the highly developed apparel industry where longevity, versatility, flexibility, automation, quality and productivity are key.

Many companies have responded by redesigning their equipment and having it produced within China. This will inevitably have a knock-on effect, since lower tech products from well-known manufacturers will also be of interest in many of the world's developing countries.

The Chinese Loubon UPS looks remarkably similar to the Eton System

Manufacturing facilities
Even where companies are not introducing lower tech products, many are already making their goods in China or seriously considering doing so.

The Veit Group was the first overseas company to market pressing and fusing equipment in China. It is planning to increase production of its equipment here, but plans have yet to be finalised as equipment quality is paramount.

The Group already has a 100 per cent owned factory in China producing ironing equipment but the aim is to increase Chinese production to include the more basic items in the Brisay and Kanneigesser ranges. It also wants to produce a new economic range of equipment, CoolSet, developed to suit the needs of the Chinese market, made in China and which will also sell throughout Asia.

Mr Veit explains: "At present our equipment is too advanced for the general needs of the Chinese market, so cheaper, less advanced equipment is required. Our new basic range will cover every high demand category of equipment and carry fewer features at a lower price."

Rotundi has also developed a lower cost range to combat Chinese pressing competition. The equipment has been specially designed for the Chinese market and is made in China.

Similarly, the IMA Group is developing two ranges of Macpi products. The main range will still be made in Italy and a less sophisticated range of presses and ironing tables will be made in and for the Chinese market. These will be produced in the 100 per cent owned Macpi factory in Shanghai.

In terms of its cutting equipment, IMA has a brand new computerised cutter but is waiting until next year's IMB for its full launch to the industry.

With the new SWF-B-T90DD dual function two head, each can operate in tandem or separately

Thread products
Thread producer Amann has been selling in China for the last 25 years and is now in the process of setting up its own factory there to provide a faster response to the local market. This will include a three-day special dye service. All the major ranges of core spun, texturised and continuous filament thread will be made. Amann says it had no plans to produce a lower grade product for the Chinese market.

Schmetz has found that lowering the price of its needles in China and providing a free technical service has helped its sales increase more than 50 per cent over the last year. The company is targeting high quality manufacturers who realise the importance of using the correct needle to achieve the best sewing quality.

A new range of 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 and 15 head direct drive embroidery machines likely to generate much interest globally comes from the newly established Swiss brand Axiom. Embroidery specialist Midwest Europe has combined its marketing and engineering expertise with the German company Hoffkordel to design and develop machinery which will be made by the Chinese embroidery machine manufacturer Tang. These will be exported out of Switzerland.

With a 100 per cent owned Chinese factory, SWF has added a new taping and cording device to its range of embroidery machines. Also of interest are its dual function machines, where the heads are split into two blocks and each block is able to work on a different product and design.

The SWK/HC-UH1506D-45 is a six-head machine divided into two blocks of three which can work with all six heads embroidering the same design or one block, for example embroidering a design on a T-shirt and the second block a different design on caps.

CAD exhibitors are detailed in part two of this report and sewing machine exhibitors are detailed part three.

CISMA is set to change to a biennial basis, the taking place in 2007 with a smaller interim South China CISMA set for 2-5 September 2006 in Guangdong.

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

The new European/Chinese developed Axion range of embroidery machines