Empowering Manufacturing’s Revolutionary Thinkers

By Kathleen McLaughlin
August 14, 2014
Walmart U.S. Manufacturing Innovation Fund Awards First Grants Thumbnail

Creating big change doesn’t just happen in one big step. It does, however, require many big thinkers – the bright minds who can develop new processes and ideas to tackle every detail and slowly bring a massive transformation to life.

Expanding U.S. manufacturing is a big change we at Walmart have been focused on for nearly two years now, and since then, we’ve taken many smaller steps to make it a reality. Today is one of those. At our second U.S. Manufacturing Summit, we not only brought together government leaders, suppliers and our own leadership – we joined the Walmart Foundation and U.S. Conference of Mayors in announcing the first grant recipients of the Walmart U.S. Manufacturing Innovation Fund, an investment in the intelligence we need to shape a better future.

One example of a process that could use a forward-thinking re-examination is the manufacturing of blue jeans. This relaxed wardrobe staple may seem pretty simple, but making a pair is actually quite complicated – and not that efficient. The current method typically involves chemical washes and several dips into a vat of dye. It also consumes a good deal of water. Researchers at Texas Tech University, one of today’s fund recipients, have proposed an alternative wherein foam is used to apply the indigo dye, allowing jean manufacturers to finish three times as many pairs during the dyeing stage and reduce water usage by 50% to 70%.

Three other institutions received grants toward textile processes today – Georgia Tech Research Corporation and North Carolina State University at Raleigh have both created concepts for new sewing technology, and the University of Georgia Research Foundation developed an additional approach to more sustainable dyeing. Other recipients included Indiana University and Oregon State University for injection molding innovations and the University of Texas at Arlington for new systems in small motor assembly.

Innovation has long been part of the culture at Walmart, and I was proud to be a part of this announcement. Thinking creatively paid off today for these institutions, but the bigger payoff will be in changing the landscape of U.S. manufacturing and thus our collective future.