More Articles by Kitty Stein
More Workroom Operations
by Kitty Stein, WCAA
After you have been in business for a while, you may find, even with the best industrial sewing machines, you just can't keep up with your workload. Long hours eventually take their toll and you start looking for help.
The first thought most workrooms have is to hire help. In many cases, this is a good and necessary decision. However, there are times when the workroom owner really doesn't want to take on the additional responsibility of adding employees. Unfortunately, many others add employees thinking it is cheaper in the long run than adding equipment. But is it really?
If you hire an employee who costs you $7 per hour including Federal Insurance Corp. of America (FICA) tax, workman's compensation, etc., in a year's time that employee will cost $14,000. Presuming the new employee does a great job and you give him or her a raise, the employee will make more the second year. So in two years, that person has cost you more than $28,000! And you thought spending $10,000 once for a machine was too much?
Even for a one-person workroom that wants to stay that way, purchasing multi-thousand dollar equipment may be a wise decision. The key here is to think through and plan the frequency of use and the versatility of the desired equipment. If the equipment can at least increase your output enough to cover its cost, then once it's paid for that's pure profit!
Style and Efficiency
Remember, your time is valuable. Consider how much of your time will be saved by a machine to be spent in another area of the workroom where you would be increasing production.
Inspection, Measuring, Cutting Equipment
For these reasons, I believe an inspection machine is an invaluable asset to the drapery workroom. Most inspection machines do double- or triple-duty. They can be used to measure the fabric accurately as well as to cut the fabric.
Just think how much time you could save if the machine could measure and roll fabric and tell you the measurements between flaws. You could quickly determine if there is enough fabric for you to cut around the flaws. Instead of pulling out all the fabric and pin marking -- sometimes over and over again if you have several different lengths -- you could spend just a few minutes mathematically calculating cuts. Then, if the yardage is good, you could cut quickly because the machine would keep the fabric straight. Wouldn't it be nice not to have to physically pull the fabric and spread yourself over the table to straighten it out to cut it? There are machines to do these things, and some even come with a stacker so you wouldn't have to fold the fabric!
There are several companies that manufacture and sell inspection and cutting machines. One of the prettiest machines is the Fabric-Master Re-roller made by Bookhaven Enterprises, Inc., Cumming, GA. It is made of maple and has an optional horizontal light surface. A nice feature of this machine is that the cradle for the fabric is low, so it's easier to lift bolts of fabric onto it.
Press a foot control to start the re-roller. When the desired yardage is reached, run your scissors on the track for cutting. This machine is extremely useful in fabric stores for measuring and rolling yardage for the customer to take home.
Just this year, Morgan Mfg. & Engineering Co., Inc., Jefferson, IN, introduced it's Lil Drapery Mate, a portable inspection, measuring and cutting machine. Two people can lift it onto the worktable for use and then set it on the floor in a corner when not needed. It has a vertically slanted inspection light positioned in front of the operator making it easy to view the fabric and a holding bar to hold the fabric neatly as the cuts are made. A hand motor easily attaches to the roller you want to activate for forward or reverse rolling.
Also available is an electric knife for cutting, which is much easier on the hands than scissors and much faster as well. Programming cut lengths is done on the computer control situated at eye level on the front of the machine. The company offers several models that increase in price according to the increase in efficiency and the amount of productivity needed.
Another company that manufactures several cutting machines is Creative Engineering & Mfg. Corp., Crestwood, KY. Its most popular cutting machine is the Junior Cutting Machine. It is air-operated and completely motorized. A flick of the switch will roll or reroll the fabric.
It also has a slanted vertical lighted inspection surface and comes equipped with an electric rotary knife, a computer to pre-program cuts, a stacking bar and a bin to hold the fabric cuts off the floor. With this machine, it also is possible to slit your widths in half vertically very quickly using the electric knife.
On the higher end of the scale is the Short Cut cutting system (not an inspection or measuring machine) made by Merlin Machine Co., Catawissa, PA. This machine is definitely for very high-volume companies.
The main part of the machine rides up and down the table. The operator moves the mechanism to the end of the table where it grabs the cloth. The operator then moves it to the desired length. With a flick of a button, the fabric is cut from the bolt as it is released at the other end. Just to give you an idea of the speed of this machine, 10 60-inch lengths can be cut in a minute! This is only one of many high volume machines available.
I have mentioned some of the companies most familiar to our industry, but many more companies manufacture a range of inspection, measuring and cutting machines. As you shop for one of these machines, some questions you should ask include: How accurate is the cut? (Be sure your idea of perfectly accurate is the same as theirs.) How accurate do you believe your cuts have to be? What are the add-on options? How do you cut 118-inch widths?
The Sewveyor is a conveyor-belt-style table manufactured by Creative Engineering. It can be attached to an existing serger or blindstitch machine and powered by the sewing machine motor. In order to operate this belt properly, the operator must sit at an angle to the belt and the machine head.
The Synchronized Joining Table made by Merlin Machine Co. and the Puckerless Joiner made by Morgan Manufacturing & Engineering are larger moving tables similar to each other in design. The moving tables are attached to sergers and move in sync with the serger's speed. The operator must stand to operate the machine and the whole table moves forward and back. (By the way, generally, it is much easier on your body and less fatiguing to stand rather than sit to operate a machine.) That means you would need a fairly large area to accommodate this type of system.
As you shop, here are a few specific questions you should ask:
You also should talk with past customers of the company to determine realistic rates of production of the equipment and customer satisfaction.
Next month, I will discuss pleat markers and tablers, which generally are thought to be used just for drapery panel production. This assumption is not necessarily true. These machines may not be as cost prohibitive as you might think, and there is quite a selection of each from which to choose. Planning and careful evaluation of your current production time, your current volume of work and your anticipated volume in the next five years are what is needed to make a wise investment in any equipment.
A special thanks to the following companies for supplying information for this article.
If you have any questions or comments about this article, previous articles or any topic if interest to workrooms, please contact me at:
Kitty Stein is a 20-year veteran of the drapery workroom field, having owned and operated her own business for 16 years and having taught classes on window treatment construction. Until 1990, Stein and a partner owned a workroom with nine employees. She since has opened her own smaller workroom, Workroom Concepts, that has just one employee. She also does workroom consulting, seminar speaking and is the author of Order in the Workroom available through Draperies & Window Coverings.