OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Nov. 21, 1996 -- On-line sensors at three United States textile plants are providing information that will help keep textile industry jobs in the U.S. and improve quality of domestically produced fabric.
The sensors are part of the American Textile Partnership's (AMTEX) Computer-Aided Fabric Evaluation (CAFE) project, developed by the Department of Energy's (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), the Oak Ridge Y-12 Plant and other DOE laboratories. CAFE is one component of the $20 million AMTEX partnership between DOE labs and the textile industry. Other CAFE members have included Argonne National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories.
Tests of the sensor system done last year at Y-12 provided encouraging results, but controlled tests don't always predict what will happen under harsh, real-world conditions. Since July, however, the inspection systems have been providing some valuable information at three textile plants in the Southeast. Although some modifications are needed, plant managers are encouraged by the results.
"We've been compiling data for the last few months and the systems are working as expected," said Glenn Allgood, manager of the CAFE project and a member of ORNL's Instrumentation and Controls Division. "Dust, lint, heat and other real-world conditions aren't interfering with the sensors at all."
Industry representatives agree that the technology holds promise.
"The CAFE project is nearing the final stages of development for a series of on-line sensors that represent a tremendous opportunity for textile manufacturers to gain more control of their fabric forming processes," said Mark Kametches, industry project manager. "Upon commercialization, these sensors could have a major economic impact in the weaving, knitting and printing segments."
Management at Glen Raven, which employs 2,500 at its plant outside of Burlington, N.C., is also certain the project will help the textile industry.
"We're confident that the technology is worthy of the time and money we've spent," said Bill Martin, product engineer at Glen Raven. "We've found that the sensors do many times more than what we thought they would do. The system is going to help us improve quality and hold costs flat, which is what we need to be competitive in the world marketplace. This is going to change the way we do business."
On-line tests began in July and will run through early 1997, said Allgood, who noted that the system enables laboratory researchers to monitor the systems -- and compile data -- from remote locations. The inspection system also provides operators with the location of the defect, which saves time and expense because they can stop the loom, make corrections and tag the defective material.
With visual inspection only, it is possible for defective material to work its way through the entire textile system, eventually reaching the marketplace, before retailers and consumers notice the flaws. With the new inspection system, textile mills and apparel manufacturers will realize a lower level of reduced-price, second-grade merchandise.
Within about nine months, elements of the on-line inspection system should be available to the industry for routine plant use, according to Allgood, who expects them to provide cost-effective information.
"The textile industry is looking for return on investment," Allgood said. "They're going to be looking at the bottom line, and we're confident our on-line inspection system will meet their needs."
More than 1.6 million people in the U.S. work in the textile industry. In fact, textile production exceeds the automotive, petroleum and primary metals industries in contributions to the Gross National Product, according to AMTEX. The partnership was formed because of the important role the textile industry plays in the nation's economy.
"The goal of AMTEX is to strengthen the competitiveness of the textile industry, which consists of the fiber, textile, apparel and fabricated product sectors," Kametches said. "The partnership draws upon the resources of the textile industry, the Department of Energy, DOE labs, other federal agencies and universities."
Funding for the project is provided by DOE's Defense Program.
ORNL, one of DOE's multiprogram research facilities, is managed by Lockheed Martin Energy Research Corp. The Y-12 Plant is managed for DOE by Lockheed Martin Energy Systems.
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