Specialty Fabrics Review July 2021 - 52

[ MARKETS ] INDUSTRY IN FOCUS
Quality assurance
There aren't many businesses where
quality control is more important than
in the parachute industry, for obvious
reasons. Strong Enterprises Inc., a parachute
manufacturer based in Orlando,
Fla., depends on a piece of equipment
that has stood the test of time. The
company purchased its first Carlson
Design Pro-78 Plotter/Cutter, with a
hot knife tool attachment, in 1994.
" All our square parachutes are cut
 A Carlson Design hot knife completes
a 52-inch-long table cut of parachute
fabric. The technology helps parachute
manufacturer Strong Enterprises to work
quickly while turning out a consistently highquality
product. Photo: Carlson Design.
on the table using the hot knife, " says
Mike Rinaldi, Strong vice president
and a skydiver since 1999. " The benefit
is time because it's a lot quicker than
doing it by hand. But more important
is the fact that if you cut with the hot
knife, it seals the edge of the nylon
so it doesn't fray, which gives it more
durability. This is especially true for
the ports of the canopy, which aren't
reinforced by tapes or folds.
" If the fabric starts to fray, tears
could happen-and that could be a
major issue, " he adds.
The machine served Strong well
for more than 20 years, he says,
but a new table replaced it so the
company could take advantage of
technological advancements. The new
one, for example, has a hot knife tool
attachment that cuts up to three times
faster than the older one.
The only thing that might be an
improvement over the hot knife table
would be a laser table, according to
Rinaldi. " But they are very expensive, "
he says, " and only cost-effective in the
parachute industry if you're doing an
intense amount of volume. "
 Webbing woven as it comes off the loom
at MMI Textiles, which started doing such
work in-house when its manufacturing
partners couldn't keep up during the
pandemic. Photo: MMI Textiles.
Taking control
As with a lot of companies in the
industry, the pandemic of 2020
upended normal business for MMI
Textiles Inc., a technical fabrics
supplier based in Westlake, Ohio.
52 SPECIALTY FABRICS REVIEW / July 2021
Many companies pivoted to making
personal protective equipment (PPE),
for example, but have begun pivoting
back as demand has slackened and
imports have become more available.
But few companies took the step that
CEO and founder Amy Bircher did-
basically reinventing her organization.
" We've always been a sales,
marketing and distribution firm
that converted into sort of a virtual
production center because we do a
lot of converting of fabric, " Bircher
explains. " We buy raw goods from the
mills, send them to partner dyeing and
finishing firms-adding value to them.
We either put it in our stock program
or ship it for custom contracts. "
That brokering process classifies
the company as a manufacturer. " We
do a lot of that, more than 50 percent, "
she says. " But we have never actually
owned that equipment. It's sort of like
leasing space at a place that owns the
equipment. They're doing the work for
us; we do all the selling. "
But challenges to that process during
the pandemic convinced Bircher that
the only way to keep the ship steady
was for the company to own some of
its own equipment. A vendor's pivot to
PPE was what made it happen.
" We have a patent on a narrow
woven fabric for the military, both
for contracts and aftermarket, with
worldwide distribution channels, " says
Bircher. " We've always outsourced
it, but when the pandemic hit, our
weavers-and there's only so many
in the U.S.-got busy with facemask
elastic. They couldn't keep up with
our demand.
" We said, 'We can certainly
appreciate that, but we still have our
product line,' and we couldn't fall
behind with deliveries, " she adds.
" They didn't say they couldn't do it,
or didn't want to do it, just that they

Specialty Fabrics Review July 2021

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Specialty Fabrics Review July 2021

Specialty Fabrics Review July 2021 - Cover1
Specialty Fabrics Review July 2021 - Cover2
Specialty Fabrics Review July 2021 - 1
Specialty Fabrics Review July 2021 - 2
Specialty Fabrics Review July 2021 - 3
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