By  on February 3, 1994

FAYETTE, Ala. -- Introducing European technology and know-how into a domestic deep South men's tailored coat factory has reduced delivery times in Lanier's refurbished plant here from three weeks to 10 days.

Lanier recently invested $750,000 to overhaul machinery in the 35,000-square-foot sewing facility. "We think it's a showpiece," says Wayne Brantley, president of Lanier, of the updated Fayette, Ala., plant.

Frank Reeves, vice-president, private label/branded, adds, "It will let us remain competitive for a longer period of time and it gives our product more hanger appeal in a competitive environment."

The project has worked so well, said Brantley, that "we know enough now that we'll be adapting a lot of this in our other locations. This process may be the way clothing will be made in the U.S. in the future."

The reason Lanier invested so much in a plant onshore is simple, he continues. It offers better opportunities to check quality and consistency. "It adds value to the product."

But it's also made operations simpler, sewing operators' jobs easier and increased turnaround.

According to Errol Tootle, vice-president and staff director of the Fayette facility, Lanier's work-in-process time in its plants is usually two and a half to three weeks.

That's now been reduced to 10 to 12 days "comfortably." He adds, "We'd like to get it down to less than that."

To outfit the Fayette plant a manufacturing task force visited 13 or 14 manufacturers in Scotland, England, Canada and France, going through their operations and choosing ideas.

Some of the microprocessor-controlled sewing and pressing equipment and some European techniques had not been used before by Lanier in the U.S., according to Tootle.

For instance, the plant has begun hanging coats through the production line rather than sending them through in bundles, a technique that Lanier learned in the European plants it visited. According to Brantley, this reduces final pressing needs and in-plant waste and enhances quality.

So far, Lanier executives are very pleased with the results. "We're actually putting more interlining inside the garment than we do in our better products," says Brantley.The Fayette plant makes private-label garments for department store retailers such as J.C. Penney, Macy's and Bachrach's. Prices are all moderate to upper moderate -- "under $300 [retail] out the door," Brantley explains.

Lanier began converting the facility in March, and still is making some minor changes now, says Tootle. These include removing parallel fluorescent lighting, which causes shadows over operators' shoulders, and putting in diagonal fluorescent lighting, which does not.

The factory is currently running at capacity, producing 5,000 coats a week.

Up until about two years ago, the Fayette facility was producing uniform dress coats for the military, a complicated type of work that required a lot of training for sewing operators.

Lanier converted the plant to military production in 1988, then reconverted it to civilian production in 1991 when government demand declined. But the civilian market isn't a piece of cake. It is very competitive, and Lanier is making it more so with this state-of-the-art facility.

Jackets are sewn here and the pants are made in Bowman, Ga. All cutting is done now out of a new, state-of-the-art centralized cutting facility that opened in March in Decherd, Ga.

When the coats and pants are finished, they are shipped to the 300,000-square- foot distribution center in Toccoa, Ga., where they are matched up.

The bulk of sewing machinery at Fayette is by Durkopp and Pfaff, both German makers, but  includes some Juki machines and Stroebel's blind-stitch equipment. Pressing equipment is by Veit.

Most of the old machinery was sold to dealers while the rest was stored in the Toccoa warehouse or loaned to Lanier's offshore plants.

Lanier also installed ergo-nomic chairs and plans to add ergonomic tables later. And, it plans to install in about six months an SQA (statistical quality audit) inspection system using on-line inspectors to monitor quality daily, while eliminating labor-intensive paperwork.

All of the garment interlinings are fused on a Kannegiesser flatbed machine. Every coat shell part -- front, side body, sleeves -- has the same amount of heat applied to it, which keeps the amount of shrinkage consistent. Tootle says that Lanier rejects anything that shrinks 3 percent or more.New sewing machinery includes the Durkopp 749 long seamer used on body/shell operations and for joining sleeve inseams, lining panel seams, side seams and center back seams; the Pfaff sleeve shirring machine for shirring and attaching sleeves, which has nine programs for fabric and sleeve styles; and the Compo Eagle pocket welting machine for inside breast pockets.

A Durkopp automatic coat-front dart sewer simultaneously stitches and slits at the front dart, producing excellent, consistent quality at a high production rate, according to Tootle.

Also new is a Hoffman shoulder pad fusing machine with pressing heads shaped to Lanier's specifications. It is microprocessor controlled and handles up to 16 different fabrics, including camel's hair, 65/35 polyester/wool and all-wool -- some of the fabrics that go through the Fayette plant.

The fusible shoulder pads are made by Helsa, a German company, and are shaped according to Lanier's design and thickness requirements.

The new AMF Reece autojig is another addition at the Fayette plant. It joins the facing to the coat front, adding fullness at the right places, says Tootle.

The new machinery eliminates die-cutting, basting and basting pulling, he adds.

Lanier installed Hoffman pressers, one for fronts, backs, collars, shoulders and lapels -- "basically everything," says Tootle. It presses any fabric by adjusting pressure without causing shine or impression, including wool crepe, a difficult fabric to press without getting shine.

Other Hoffman pressers include one for shoulder pressing, one for back pressing and one for armhole pressing. The Hoffman microprocessor-controlled lapel presser for single- and double-breasted jackets has been in for only a couple of months. Veit Varioset machines are used for pressing linings and for touch-ups. And, Lanier is looking at Brisay and Macpee for armhole and sleeve blocking.

Finishing touches are made, final buttons sewn on, labels and tags attached. Then the jackets are bagged and hung up for shipping to the distribution center. The bar-coded labels are scanned with wands and the stock information downloaded into a computer. The information is available not only to the plant but also to customers so that they will know what's in stock by style, size, pattern and color."In today's value-driven market," says Brantley, "you must be able to back up your product with value, flawless quality and the sharpest prices in your segment of the business."

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