AMTEX Textile Alliance

March 26, 1993

By Lynn Yarris,

An historic effort to help the U.S. textile industry develop high technology that can successfully compete with cheap foreign labor -- thereby saving thousands of jobs and creating thousands more -- was launched on March 15 when LBL joined DOE and seven other national laboratories in signing a multimillion dollar cooperative research agreement (CRADA).

LBL director Charles V. Shank was on hand, along with Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary and 16 other government and industry representatives in Raleigh, North Carolina for the CRADA signing which took place on the campus of North Carolina State University. The CRADA calls for $30 million to be spent in the next six months -- and could reach $200 million within five years (with DOE and industry contributing equal amounts of money) -- on research aimed at reversing a trend that has cost this nation more than half-a-million jobs during the past ten years. Two million dollars of the CRADA's FY93 money is earmarked for LBL.

The American textile industry, including fibers, textiles, and sewn or fabricated products, contributes nearly $53 billion to the gross national product -- more than the automotive, paper, primary metals, or petroleum industries. With 26,000 companies, spread out across all 50 states, employing more than two million workers -- including 176,000 in California -- the textile industry currently provides 12-percent of all the manufacturing jobs in this country.

In recent times, however, imports have been replacing domestic goods at an alarming rate with a commensurate loss of jobs. Last year, the trade imbalance for textiles soared to $31.6 billion. Help is needed if this deficit is to be turned around.

As a result of the Critical Technologies Workshop that was organized in Berkeley last May by LBL associate laboratory director Martha Krebs, representatives of the textile industry and DOE formed a partnership called AMTEX. It is through this partnership that the newly signed CRADA was forged.

Said Secretary O'Leary at last week's ceremony, "Our work with AMTEX can be a model for our nation. It is the first time that we have been able to link the unique resources available at our DOE laboratories with an entire industry, from raw materials to retail stores, along with its research support and higher education."

O'Leary predicted that the CRADA will save 350,000 jobs over the next five years and create an additional 200,000 new and better-paying jobs in the five years after that.

The AMTEX CRADA lists five major areas of research to be investigated: improved materials and processes; demand-activated manufacturing; environmental quality and waste minimization; energy efficiency; and automation. These five areas will be evaluated, adopted, and funded individually with the work to begin this spring. Although LBL will have some participation in all five areas, the Laboratory's primary focus will be on automation and demand-activated manufacturing.

Three of the key people behind LBL's participation in AMTEX were Ed Burgess, head of the Engineering Division, Don Foster, who is in charge of mechanical processes for ED, and Jane Macfarlane, of LBL's Information and Computing Services division (ICSD). Burgess is on the AMTEX operating committee. Foster has been named to lead the automation project for AMTEX and Macfarlane will oversee LBL's contribution to the demand- activated manufacturing project. Researchers with LBL's Environmental Health and Safety and the Energy and Environment divisions will also be involved.

Automation research for AMTEX at LBL will entail the development of high-speed automated cutting and sewing systems and the accompanying integrated sensors. Such systems could increase productivity and reduce worker health risks associated with repetitive motions. The automation project will also look into developing apparel anti-counterfeiting tagging that would improve quality control and deter counterfeit brand labels.

"The goal is apparel on demand," says Foster. "If the industry can cut down on their supply pipeline, it can save money in transportation, storing, and stocking costs, while improving quality and productivity."

The overall goal of the demand-activated manufacturing project is to create a communications and computer network that would analyze consumer trends and allow all phases of the textile industry to better meet consumer demands.

Says Macfarlane, "The U.S. textile has no technology edge right now, only an edge in market proximity. Through electronic communications, we want to present the industry with an integrated approach that will optimize its ability to respond to consumer demands and enable it to provide customized goods at mass-produced prices."

One of the first problems that must be dealt with, she says, is a lack of information about the exact costs of doing business. The textile industry has employed computers to collect inventory data but little else. Macfarlane has proposed a six-month survey that would put together a detailed database that could help the industry design more effective production and marketing strategies.

In addition to LBL, the other national labs participating in the AMTEX collaboration are Argonne, Brookhaven, Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, Pacific Northwest, and Sandia in Albuquerque. The five industrial consortia participants are: Cotton Incorporated, New York City; the Institute of Textile Technology, Charlottesville, Va.; the Textile/Clothing Technology Corporation, Raleigh, N.C.; the Textile Research Institute, Princeton, N.J.; and the National Textile Center whose member universities include Auburn, Clemson, the Georgia Institute of Technology, and North Carolina State.