For Meridian Specialty Yarn Group, the revival of U.S. textile manufacturing is real — and it’s putting $8 million behind it.
The specialty yarn manufacturer is building a 265,000-square-foot facility in Valdese, N.C., that will feature a new generation of technology, machines, controls and robotics for package, top and tow dyeing.
The new machinery and supporting technologies will be installed later this year. Construction began this spring to expand and reengineer Meridian’s existing plant in Valdese by 43 percent. The project should be completed by the first quarter of 2017 and is expected to add 26 jobs to Meridian’s 146 employees in Valdese.
Meridian president Tim Manson said the company’s multimillion-dollar purchase represents one of the first major investments in state-of-the-art package, top and tow dyeing equipment in North America in decades. The project will position Meridian as among the most modern manufacturing operation for yarn dyeing technology and robotic support equipment in North America.
“A few of us were able to maintain our existence, the last men standing, so to speak, and for those that are still here, we are starting to see production coming back onshore,” Manson said. “It’s not a flood, but it’s coming back. We intend to be here for the long haul and that’s going to require additional capital investment. That’s what we’re going to do.”
The purchase includes dyeing equipment by Galvanin SpA of Vicenza, Italy; a patented automatic dosing system for dispensing chemicals and auxiliaries from Color Service Dosing Technologies of Dueville, Italy, and new monitoring and control systems for all of the new dyeing equipment from Adaptive Controls of Huntersville, N.C. Meridian is also installing a new Galvanin skein printing machine, along with support equipment.
The new machinery and equipment will increase the company’s production capabilities to 16 million pounds of yarn annually and expands the markets Meridian can serve.
“Our new technology gives us the capability to process every dyeable substrate, which is very unusual in the dyed yarn world,” Manson said. “Most dye houses specialize in certain products, but we will be in a position to source from all over the world, from every type of textile fiber, supporting a wide array of end uses.”
The new equipment comes with multiple benefits.
“We scoured the world for the equipment that most made sense for us,” Manson continued. “Our utility consumption — water, gas and electricity — will be dramatically reduced, our chemical use will be dramatically reduced and our quality will be dramatically improved. It’s just a much more efficient, much cleaner process.”
The package dye machines are vertical, air pad, low liquor machines that will dye all substrates of yarn and replace existing package dye equipment. The new machines will be used to process fibers such as cotton, rayon, wool, and spun and textured polyester. The equipment will improve production speeds and all quality aspects of dyeing, while at the same time significantly reducing energy, water and chemical consumption.
The new acrylic tow dyeing capabilities will support the raw material needs at Meridian’s plant in Ranlo, N.C., replacing imported materials. The skein-printed yarns will go into apparel products, craft yarns and some home furnishings. The top dyed wool capability will support worsted spinners supplying high-end apparel, hosiery and home furnishings.
Meridian’s wet processing plant in Valdese offers package-dyed yarn, space-dyed yarn, top-dyed wool, yarn printing and twisting. Its novelty spinning operation in Ranlo produces coarse count novelty yarn for apparel, hosiery, home furnishings, industrial and craft.
Manson noted that he and his management team conducted extensive research before making the decision to invest in Galvanin machines and robotics, automatic dosing systems from Color Service Dosing Technologies and monitoring and control systems from Adaptive Controls.
“The investment in state-of-the-art technologies opens many possibilities for Meridian and the textile industry’s U.S. supply chain,” Manson said. “This is the dye house technology of the future and we are delighted to be at the forefront of bringing this new technology to North America in such a comprehensive manner.”
Meridian’s investment, while not on the scale of a major auto plant, nonetheless shows the increasing resurgence of Made in USA when it comes to textiles and apparel. While it has been growing gradually since the recession, the movement got a major shot in the arm in 2013 when Wal-Mart Stores committed to buying an additional $250 billion of American-made products, including food. But textiles and apparel remain a challenging category for the world’s largest retailer, which has linked with several southern universities to develop new technologies in dyeing and related processes.
“From the beginning when we put this ‘purchase order’ out there, we’ve had challenges,” Cynthia Marsiglio, vice president of U.S. sourcing and manufacturing for Wal-Mart U.S., said last year in discussing apparel sourcing. “The obstacles have included navigating the supply chain and finding raw materials or component parts.”
Product categories with varying degrees of complexity can make manufacturing in the U.S. difficult.
“Apparel and textiles are more challenging areas,” Marsiglio said. “Not everything is feasible in the U.S. today. But new technology and automation are making apparel and textiles competitive again.”
The slow climb back for the domestic textile and apparel manufacturing industry from the severe erosion it experienced in the Nineties and early Aughts has shown results. The value of shipments for U.S. textiles and apparel was $76 billion last year, a nearly 14 percent increase since 2009, according to the National Council of Textile Organizations.
U.S. exports of fiber, textiles and apparel were up 38 percent over that same time period, reaching $27.75 billion in 2015. Capital expenditures for textile and apparel production totaled $2 billion in 2014, the last year for which data is available.
Much of the new investment has been in North Carolina, and Manson said Meridian works with fellow Tar Heel companies Peds USA, Gildan and Unifi.
“We’ve all learned that we have to work in conjunction because we’ve all been through the battle together, and we’ve learned we have to work together in creative and productive ways,” he said.
The U.S. textile manufacturing industry employs about 230,000 workers, while apparel manufacturing has about 133,700 workers.
But NCTO noted that U.S. employment in the textile supply chain was 579,000 in 2015, with government estimates that one textile job in this country supports three other jobs. In addition, labor experts have pointed out that the classification of industry jobs doesn’t necessarily represent industry growth, as automation has taken away traditional jobs such as sewers and yarn handlers. These roles have been replaced by more technologically oriented positions such as machine technicians and computer software designers and operators that aren’t considered manufacturing jobs.
Reflecting the industry’s new vitality, last month the U.S. Department of Defense and Massachusetts Institute for Technology’s launched a $315 million public-private project called the Revolutionary Fibers and Textiles Manufacturing Innovation Institute aimed at keeping the country at the forefront of fiber and textiles innovation.
As part of the institute, Bob Bland, chief executive officer of Manufacture New York, part of the Manufacturing Innovation Hub for Apparel, Textiles & Wearable Tech, a fashion manufacturing and design hub in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, created in great part from a $3.5 million investment from City Hall, will serve as the deputy director of apprenticeships and internships and will establish a regional training hub for New York.
“Now that we’re part of the consortium that just won the $75 million grant from the [DOD] that’s resulting in a formal partnership between us and the Fashion Institute of Technology, over the next five years we’re going to be building a completely unprecedented workforce training program for local Sunset Park residents that’s at the convergence of traditional fashion manufacturing and wearable technology,” Bland said. “So this is going to create a whole new class of jobs that never existed before — areas like programming, machine tech, user experience in making a garment or producing fabrics.”
The expansion at Meridian, which has operated in Valdese since 1994, is a prime example of that.
“Job training is a major component of our program going forward,” Manson added. “The electronic and computer control, and chemical controls are very technically challenging. Traditional technicians have to have a better understanding, and we’ve been working with some community colleges and the state to set up programs to allow us to retrain our existing people, and people in their programs who are looking for jobs in manufacturing.”