U.S. Manufacturing

A Seat at the Table for U.S. Textile Manufacturing

Who doesn’t enjoy plopping onto a patio chair, kicking their feet up and sipping on an ice-cold glass of lemonade on a hot summer day? Odds are, you probably focus the majority of your attention on the lemonade. But when’s the last time you considered the comfy cushion on that patio chair? Where exactly does it come from? How is it made?

The colors and designs on the cushions of your favorite patio furniture – and so many other products – are still screen printed. The majority of these fabrics are laboriously printed overseas, cut, sewn into cushions and shipped to the U.S. Often times, up to seven months pass from the time a retailer places an order until the product arrives on its shelves. Digital fabric printers have existed since the early 1990s, but they’ve never been fast enough to meet the demands of mass production. And, even then, implementing digital printing into cut and sew manufacturing would require a complete overhaul of the process currently being used around the world.

For years, a team of experts at the College of Textiles at North Carolina State University has been collaborating with print and color science professionals to not only advance the technology but develop a process map to effectively integrate digital printing with cut and sew once and for all. Last year, NC State’s work to advance textile production received a boost with a grant from the U.S. Manufacturing Innovation Fund, which helped complete a 2,600-square-foot, on-campus, digital print, cut and sew facility.

“So much trial and error has gone into testing new technology and optimizing a process that has the potential to transform the textile manufacturing industry,” said Dr. Lisa Chapman, who specializes in digital technology research at NC State. “Every detail – from speed of printing, to the development of pigments for industrial use – has been carefully examined.

“We’re running successful print trials right now,” she said. “That’s very exciting news for U.S. manufacturing because, all of a sudden, it has a competitive advantage in the marketplace. The speed is finally there. This process is going to allow domestic textile manufacturers to not only print digitally, but print on demand rather than waiting seven months for an order to process and ship.”

What does “print on demand” mean? It means the days of eating up valuable space in warehouses with backlogs of large patio furniture are almost behind us. It means retailers and manufacturers will be able to adapt quicker to evolving trends – and that the cost of a 10- to 20-color fabric will cost no more than a single-color fabric. Fabrics will now be printed to specific size specifications, minimizing waste and driving energy, cost and other efficiencies.

The team at NC State continues to work closely with industry partners, such as Expand Systems, to integrate digital printing with cut and sew operations to bring new products to market. Some of these products could arrive in stores – including Walmart – as early as next spring. NC State feels confident this technology and process could be adapted to meet the needs of other product categories, such as bedding. It's a win for U.S. manufacturing with the potential for even bigger and better things ahead.

Editor’s Note: In January 2014, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation, along with the U.S. Conference of Mayors, announced the creation of a $10 million U.S. Manufacturing Innovation Fund to award those who create new processes, ideas and jobs that support America’s growing manufacturing footprint. To date, $4 million in grants has been awarded to seven leading research and development institutions, including NC State, to help solve manufacturing challenges related to small motor assembly, plastic injection molding and advanced textiles. The second grant cycle was announced last week at Walmart’s U.S. Manufacturing Summit, and you can learn more here

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Why This Associate Wants You to Start With #HelloMyNameIs

“Hello, my name is….” It’s a phrase made up of only four words.

It takes very little time to say – it’s an easy way to begin a conversation. Yet, when people say these words, they can have such a big impact.

My late wife, Kate, started the #HelloMyNameIs campaign in 2013 while living with terminal cancer. As a medic herself, she had become frustrated with nurses and doctors who never introduced themselves to her before providing medical care.

Kate had already been speaking to hospitals and conferences about her experience as both a medical provider and a patient, but through the campaign she hoped to share some key values that resonate beyond people working in healthcare: communication, small acts of kindness, putting the patient at the center of every decision and seeing each person as an individual.

Kate was one of the most determined, resilient people I have ever known. I firmly believe that through adversity, comes legacy. July 23 is International “Hello My Name Is” Day – both the anniversary of Kate’s passing and what would have been our 12th wedding anniversary. We invite everyone – from people to corporations – to join us in celebrating Kate’s legacy by introducing yourself and using #HelloMyNameIs.

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U.S. Manufacturing

Say Hello to the NJ Company Working to 'Elevate the Everyday'

It’s often the small details that make the difference between the mundane and the magical.

I believe that a lot of things can be better and more beautiful. There’s always a way to make something more natural, more delicious and more functional. This kind of thoughtfulness is often overlooked when it comes to things we use every day, and a good example is something like toothpaste. Good design is all about being hyper thoughtful, and an intense level of thoughtfulness is exactly what I wanted to put into everything when I founded Hello Products. It’s something that I call “elevating the everyday.”

Our mission in creating Hello Products in Montclair, New Jersey, is to make effective and naturally friendly toothpastes that are vegan, never tested on animals, and free from artificial flavors and synthetic dyes … all in a gorgeous package that makes people smile. Our commitment to manufacturing all our products in the U.S. is an even bigger, overall commitment to the people who work with us at every level of the supply chain.

What appeals to me the most as a design-obsessed entrepreneur isn’t just form, fit and function; it’s thoughtfulness. We want people to feel something magical and personal when they interact with hello — our products, our brand, and our company. That’s human connection. That’s real engagement. And along with making a healthy and effective product, that’s what I love the most.

I’m glad to see consumers’ growing interest in more natural and American-made products. It’s a passionate segment that’s expanding rapidly, especially because parents are becoming more interested in the ingredients going into products that their kids use every day. And that makes sense. I’m proud to have our children’s toothpaste sold at Walmart. Being on the shelves of the biggest retailer in the world means our naturally friendly products are available to more people; and elevating the everyday should be an option for everyone.

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Paper Paved the Way to Success for This Family Business

There are two secrets to C. Ray Kennedy’s business success: an entrepreneurial spirit … and office paper.

In 1992, the bank Ray worked for in Charlotte, North Carolina, was in need of a copy paper supplier, but there were no local businesses offering that service. Ray took a chance and decided to quit his job and create a company that could meet the bank’s needs. Since then, what he started, American Product Distributors, has evolved into a nationwide provider of paper – and so much more – to large government organizations and corporations like Walmart.

APD now creates custom electronic catalogs for a variety of products needed to run a business – office and cleaning supplies, industrial items, branded corporate products like apparel, bags and awards – and houses many of the items within its network of 31 warehouses located across the U.S. The company believes in buying American-made whenever possible and sources the majority of its products from the U.S.

Office supplies may sound commonplace, but streamlining the buying process and offering advice make a huge difference for businesses in two key areas: cost savings and speed, according to Cy Kennedy, son of Ray. Cy has served as president of APD since 2011.

APD started small with three employees and a limited catalog. Twenty-five years later, the organization now employs around 50 people and includes a new software division that uses an updated, redesigned ordering system to save customers money. Walmart, a longtime customer, has found value in the company’s convenience, specialized service and quick turnaround, which is important to a business operating on such a large scale.

While growth is always something to be grateful for, Cy says that APD prides itself instead on its employees’ continued success inside and outside the company. While some have moved up to senior management positions within the family business, Cy said some former employees have gone on to become executives at other companies, and a few who started their careers with APD are now successful politicians or entrepreneurs.

Cy credited the culture his father established – a meritocracy built on kindness and respect for employees, suppliers and customers alike – with contributing to personal success.

That culture extends beyond the walls of the business. Ray’s family established the Kennedy Foundation to reach out to children in need. The foundation has helped feed hundreds of thousands of free meals to kids who don’t have access to healthy food outside of school.

The family also started three daycare centers that focus on serving low-income families. “We’ve prepared a lot of children for school who otherwise wouldn’t hit the ground running,” Cy said. “Some started with us as infants and are now college degree holders.”

Whether it’s in business or in the community, the Kennedys are focused on one thing: finding ways people can help each other.

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A Patriotic Tradition Ignites a Charge of Support

Family, friends, BBQ, parades, Old Glory flying and fireworks. These bring up different Fourth of July memories for each of us.

For me, I can add a few other memories to this list ─ a waterless pool party in Northern Iraq, the dilemma of fireworks and the Alaskan midnight sun, and more recently, a moment at the Riverbend Campground near Hiawassee, Georgia.

I look forward to Fourth of July gatherings because of the unique traditions that have evolved over the years. I’ve spent July 4 in different countries and states, with family and friends from across the globe. The common theme across them all has always been celebrating our freedom with the ones we love.

But there’s a whole other family for people who’ve served in the military. When we take our vows to protect and defend our nation, every person we serve with, anyone who has ever served, or friends and family of people who’ve served ─ whether we know them or not ─ instantly becomes a family member. For many of us, this is at the core of why we serve, or what we miss from our time in uniform. Each of us brings that into our own Fourth of July traditions, and for me, 2017 was no different.

Back to the Riverbend Campground I mentioned earlier. For the past few Independence Days, my family and friends have gathered there on Lake Chatuge in the North Georgia mountains. Just like years past, this July 4 started with a sunrise 7-mile run carrying my American flag from my parents’ house into the town of Hiawassee. As always, I was greeted by honks and waves from just about every motorist who passed me.

After a hearty breakfast, many of my relatives and neighbors rallied behind my father, a 20-year U.S. Air Force veteran, for a 4-mile walk up and down country roads carrying Old Glory. The celebration continued after lunch with a 1-mile flag stroll with my wife and our twin daughters.

Then came the highlight of the day, when all of us hiked about a half mile in the dark to the edge of the Riverbend Campground to watch one of the best fireworks shows I’ve ever seen. There were no fancy LED lights or laser shows. There wasn’t even a band. It was a simple, but spectacular celebration of America that played out in the dark sky for a few hundred people to see.

This tradition has become something so important to me that, as the development project manager for Team Red, White and Blue (RWB), I’m able to pass on part of my tradition to others. Team RWB’s mission is to enrich the lives of America’s veterans through physical and social activities within their communities. The passion to get up and get moving is how the Eagle Charge was born. It’s a virtual race, sponsored by Walmart, that challenges participants to move 7 or 4 miles to celebrate our nation’s Independence Day.

There are still Eagle Charge runs going on around the country through July 8, so you can still find a race in your area . Show your support for the men and women who have and are still serving in the military. Get up. Get moving. Show your appreciation however you can.

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