NEW YORK--Instant access to libraries of digitized embroidery designs is saving time and increasing productivity at embroidery companies. "We have 11,000 digitized embroidery designs on file now," said Sharon Larson, embroidery manager at Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Antigua Sportswear. "Our 22 embroidery machines are networked to a central library system." Macon, Ga.-based Unifirst Corp., like Antigua, downloads the digitized designs produced on a different computer system to the library system via diskettes. "Rough designs are scanned into a Macintosh system and cleaned up," said Don Scott, supervisor of direct embroidery at Unifirst. "Then they are saved as DOS-readable TIFF files because all our punching systems are IBM-based. The PCs are set up as a Mac bridge and digitized designs are saved onto our server. The design can then be sent out to each individual embroidery machine." Scott said a technician from Gunold + Stickma handled the networking for Unifirst's 15 embroidery machines. "Gunold brought someone in and did all our networking in three days," he said. Antigua's system is similar. "Punchers [digitizers] re-create the scanned-in designs on the computer," Larson said. "Then they are downloaded onto 3 1/2-inch diskettes, which are then downloaded into a networked electronic library system. All the embroidery machines are networked to a central file server." The library systems are making it easier for embroidery companies to switch machines from one design to another, as on-line access to the server means machine operators don't waste time looking for disk copies of digitized designs. "In the past few years, it has been difficult to find folders that contained actual diskettes," Larson said. "But now with the system, I don't need to find folders. The system saves a lot of manual hunting and speeds up production." "Efficiency has increased at least 100 percent since we introduced the library system," Unifirst's Scott added. "Operators aren't running around looking for disks." The system has also eased tensions between designers and embroidery machine operators. In the past individuals from both departments might want the same disk at the same time; the designers, to produce a variation, and the operators to set up their machines. "Our operators don't have to wait with their machines idle for the design people to get through with a disk," Scott said. The ability to save designs on a networked system has made Unifirst so much more efficient that the company has been able to do more work in-house. "Now we can do 80 percent of Unifirst business," he said. "We used to do only 60 percent. We were sending more out to subcontractors."
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