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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Innovation

Why the Future Could Mean Delivery Straight Into Your Fridge

What’s for dinner? There’s nothing in my fridge that I want to eat. How am I going to find time to go grocery shopping?

Shopping for groceries can be a hassle for my busy family. We need to make the time to go to the store, make sure we find everything on our list (and a few things that likely weren’t), lug them home and then put them away. Sometimes this can be a fun trip, but more often, we’re either pressed for time or, worst of all, can’t make the trip, leaving us with an empty fridge that has us munching on unhealthy snacks, instead of our typical fresh fruit, vegetables and yogurt.

So we asked the question: what if Walmart could help busy families like mine ensure my fridge was always well-stocked? What if we created a service that not only did my grocery shopping and brought everything to my home, but even went so far as to put it directly into my fridge? And, what if it was even more convenient because this “in-fridge delivery” happened while I was at work or off doing other things?

In setting out to solve this challenge, we’re excited to be testing new delivery ideas with companies like August Home. As one of the leading providers of smart locks and smart home accessories, they’re a great partner to test these new concepts, like delivering packages inside customers’ homes and putting groceries away in their refrigerators.

Here’s how the test will work: I place an order on Walmart.com for several items, even groceries. When my order is ready, a Deliv driver will retrieve my items and bring them to my home. If no one answers the doorbell, he or she will have a one-time passcode that I’ve pre-authorized which will open my home’s smart lock. As the homeowner, I’m in control of the experience the entire time – the moment the Deliv driver rings my doorbell, I receive a smartphone notification that the delivery is occurring and, if I choose, I can watch the delivery take place in real-time. The Deliv associate will drop off my packages in my foyer and then carry my groceries to the kitchen, unload them in my fridge and leave. I’m watching the entire process from start to finish from my home security cameras through the August app. As I watch the Deliv associate exit my front door, I even receive confirmation that my door has automatically been locked.

When I enter my house later that day, it’s like magic– the items I purchased from Walmart.com are waiting for me, and my groceries are nice and cool in the fridge, as if they never left their display in the store. And the best part is that I didn’t even have to unpack anything. Think about that – someone else does the shopping for you AND puts it all away. Clearly this adds more convenience to the day-to-day, but it makes the unexpected easier, too. Imagine planning a last-minute get-together and having everything you need to entertain already waiting for you inside your fridge. Or maybe you think during lunch at work that you’d like to surprise your spouse by making dinner, but don’t have time to run to the store. In the future, you could order on Walmart.com and start cooking minutes after you walk through the door.

We’re excited to be running this test in Silicon Valley with a small group of August Home customers, all of whom have opted-in to participate in testing this new concept. And we want to do more in the future by delivering groceries and other orders in whatever location works best for our customers – inside the house for some and in the fridge/freezer in the garage for others. The possibilities are endless, and we look forward to exploring how we can further serve our customers’ needs.

These tests are a natural evolution of what Walmart is all about – an obsession in saving our customers not just money but also time, making our customers’ lives easier in the process. What might seem novel today could be the standard tomorrow. This may not be for everyone – and certainly not right away – but we want to offer customers the opportunity to participate in tests today and help us shape what commerce will look like in the future.

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U.S. Manufacturing

The Backyard Invention That Held on Through it All

When I was a kid, I saw a museum exhibit on Thomas Edison’s workshop. For some reason, I felt an immediate connection to this American inventor.

I’m a mechanical engineer by trade, but I also spend most of my free time tinkering and designing in my garage. Ever since that day at the museum, I’ve been inspired to recreate what I saw there – imagination, innovation and ingenuity – in my own work.

Most of my best ideas come to me when I run into a problem and can’t stop thinking about it until I create a solution. One-Ties are a reusable rubber zip-tie I invented after I was doing some painting on the house and my power painter cord came unplugged so many times I must have gone up and down the ladder every five minutes to plug it back in. I thought to myself, “there’s got to be a solution for this.” It turns out there was – and it was a solution for a bazillion other things, too.

When my business partners Erik Chmelar, Jason DeYoung and I decided to get serious about selling One-Ties to the public, I was adamant from the very beginning about manufacturing our product in the U.S. Anything else was a deal breaker. I’m what you might call a patriotic person. I believe the greatness of our country lies in the potential of the great people who live here. If we were going to be creating jobs in making this idea come to life, I wanted to share that opportunity with other Americans. That’s why today, One-Ties are manufactured in Elroy, Wisconsin.

If I could give one piece of advice to other entrepreneurs, I would share the famous words of Winston Churchill: “Never, never, never give up.” I first invented One-Ties to use around my own house. I never imagined they would be sold at the world’s biggest retailer.

I feel truly blessed, and to have my invention recognized at Walmart’s Open Call this past June was an amazing reward I never expected. Prior to Open Call, we began thinking about licensing our concept to Tailor Made Products, the company we charged with manufacturing it from the beginning. After Open Call, we did just that. They’re a company that has been making products for sale at Walmart for 20 years, so giving them this opportunity was a move that made sense for all of us.

Creating something other people love to use is the best part of being an innovator, and I’ll never stop.

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Business

Found: The Story Behind Our New Natural Beauty Routine

If you’ve ever tried shopping for naturally-inspired beauty products, you know the struggle.

They can be expensive. They’re sometimes not as effective. Makeup colors can be limited, and guess what? That means matching skin tones is a challenge.

As a buyer for cosmetics at Walmart, I’d begun noticing an industry trend, both from our customers’ feedback and focus groups: People care more than ever about the ingredients in the products they’re using. But this was also personal. I’m passionate about using natural ingredients in my home, and I was having trouble finding beauty products that looked good, felt good, and wouldn’t break the bank.

That was last year. Little did I know that a solution was soon to be found.

My team started looking into what it would take to develop naturally-inspired skincare and cosmetics, and that’s when we discovered Hatchbeauty, a company specializing in everything from the development to the marketing of innovative beauty products. They were eager to marry their beauty expertise with our retail expertise to create something truly unique and different – Found, a new line of naturally-inspired beauty products exclusive to Walmart.

Every item within Found highlights a “miracle” ingredient used in ancient beauty rituals. For instance, one of my favorite products, the illuminating drops, uses passionfruit oil to lock in moisture and nourish your skin. We’ve brought these ingredients to life to give customers an alternative featuring natural ingredients that can deliver the same results as traditional, high-end beauty products.

Helping develop Found has been one of the most meaningful achievements in my career, because it has been an intersection where my personal passion and my professional purpose collide. Walmart is committed to selling more products that benefit people and the planet. Found’s 130-product line is never tested on animals, and there’s even a Not Found list featuring what you won’t find in the products, like parabens and phthalates. Every product is 90-99% natural, and the percent of natural ingredients is front and center on every product.

Working with Tracy Holland, founder and CEO, Diana Madrid, COO, and Ben Bennet CCO, was a phenomenal experience, but I was impressed with the engagement from everyone on their team. From the owners to the brand managers to the chemists and product developers, everyone encouraged diversity of thought and inclusion, which made it possible for the customer to be the focus of our development process. I can’t count the number of times we changed direction on formulas, shade range or packaging based on customer feedback. For instance, we received customer feedback that skincare can be a confusing category to shop, so we broke down every item into one of three steps: cleanse, treat and hydrate. Found demystifies the process and helps customers focus on key items to build their regimens.

When I gave my first presentation to our leadership team, I asked them how my makeup looked, and they couldn’t believe everything I was wearing was from our naturally-inspired line. It’s one thing to develop these products – but it’s another thing entirely to actually wear the products and love them! Found has truly been a chance for me to help our customers save money and live better.

You can find Found products at select Walmart locations, Walmart.com and coming soon to Jet.com.

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Business

Walmart's Secret Advantage to Serving You This Holiday Season

The holiday season is a busy time of year at Walmart.

From October through December, hundreds of millions of Americans will visit more than 5,000 Walmart locations to shop for gifts, grab last-minute items for holiday meals and take advantage of special deals that come but once a year.

Now, more than ever, Walmart and its associates will be ready for them.

Based on the success of a similar effort in 2016, the company announced it will be offering extra hours available this time of year to our current associates, rather than hiring thousands of seasonal workers.

“Our associates make the holidays come to life in our stores, and we are thankful for everything they do,” said Judith McKenna, Chief Operating Officer. “As we head into our busiest time of the year, we know associates are ready to deliver for our customers and help give them a memorable and affordable Christmas.”

These extra hours will help staff traditional roles like cashier and stocker, as well as newly created, technology-empowered positions in Walmart’s growing online pickup department.

Here are three big reasons why the company is investing in its people for Holiday 2017:

  1. The way customers shop is rapidly changing. Walmart expects new services like Online Grocery Pickup to take off with the holiday cooking crowd, making the company’s specially trained personal shoppers an even more indispensable part of the team.
  2. The company’s Holiday Helpers program was a huge success last year, and in 2017 Walmart is increasing the number of Helpers across its fleet of stores. These associates are dedicated to helping customers get through stores faster by finding the shortest checkout line and opening registers as needed. They’ll even run to grab items customers may have forgotten, so they don’t lose their place.
  3. Walmart has increased its focus on service through new training, tools and technology. Thousands of associates have completed the company’s Pathways and Academy programs, which prepares them to more effectively serve customers during this busy season.

“The holidays are a special time of year for our customers and associates,” McKenna said. “This is what working in retail is all about, and we know our people have the passion to do even more this year.”

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