Weaving a History of Strength and Innovation
The story of the H.L. Hunley is one of timeless innovation and unrelenting strength. From the day the submarine slipped under the Atlantic Ocean during the Civil War to the day it was resurrected 137 years later, it has inspired individuals and organizations alike—those who charter trouble waters will one day see the placid sun-lit surface again.
The sling used to safely hoist this precious cargo out of Charleston Harbor was made in America by a company who, like the Hunley, stands for successful innovation and sustained strength over the decades. Southern Weaving Company is an industry leader in the design, development and manufacturing of industrial woven products, including nylon, cotton and polyester webbing.
Evolving with the Times
The heritage of Southern Weaving Company is woven from experience, advancement, stability and security. In the 1920s, Greenville, South Carolina was considered “The Textile Center of the South” with its numerous cotton mills and booming wealth. Jack Burnett and F.L. Murdock agreed to capitalize on the environment and cofounded Southern Weaving Company in 1924, primarily to manufacture cotton webbing for brake linings and hood lacings for the Ford Motor Company’s production of the Model T.
Late in the 1930s, synthetic fibers were introduced to the textile industry, causing a transition from cotton to its new and improved replacements: nylon and rayon. Southern Weaving Company adapted to these light-weight, high-tenacity fibers and shifted its production toward the industrial weaving for which it’s known today. During the 1940s, Southern Weaving expanded its manufacturing to include military webbing and added dying, finishing and treatment capabilities for the demands of WWII. The early synthetic lifting material, now known as sling web, evolved from the military market with a slight reduction in the weight of the products. This slight change in products sustained the company’s success.
In 1954, Southern Weaving Company was one of the first manufacturers to develop seat belts from a two-ply weave of nylon with rayon middle. This increased the strength of the belts to meet new requirements for the automotive market. Southern Weaving was also one of the first companies to manufacture hose sleeves used to bundle automotive cables and parts to protect hydraulic hoses from abrasion, UV rays and the elements. Reinvention was key to these ever-evolving markets.
Southern Weaving Company purchased Anderson Narrow Fabrics in 1958 to manufacture cotton webbing from 1” to 42” widths, creating their Anderson, SC facility of today. As polyester entered the industry in the late 1950s and 1960s, the company’s R&D department found that by using polyester for automotive seat belts, one could get less elongation out of the same amount of yardage as a thicker fabric, another major innovation at the time.
During the years, Southern Weaving Company has reinvented itself time and time again to evolve with the inevitable market changes. The company adapted to the war’s demand for military webbing and began to introduce similar products to a wider array of markets. Because of this evolution, today Southern Weaving is an industry leader, offering the broadest product assortment in webbing for sling, fall protection, and hose sleeves.
Riding the Recession
With continued foreign competition and the latest challenges of the American economy, Southern Weaving Company, like so many other American companies during the past few years, had difficult decisions to make. They were forced to mandate furloughs, reduce salaries, cut benefits and more. The company held steadfast and the team acted as a family as they sacrificed for the greater whole and supported each other through challenging times. Southern Weaving took a courageous step by consolidating the Easley operation into the Greenville facility while maintaining the entire experienced workforce and decreasing the operational cost of two facilities.
At the time, domestic vendors were increasing prices, threatening the company’s ability to remain competitive. Southern Weaving established a broader supply chain by qualifying and enlisting additional yarn vendors from overseas. With the new sourcing strategy and multiple suppliers in place, Southern Weaving began rationalizing their product line to remove low margin, low volume products. The company also took the time to prioritize capital expenditures, investing $1.5 million in new equipment such as looms, twisting and warping machinery, as well as enhancements to the dying process.
Restructuring for Success
In August of 2009, Southern Weaving Company appointed a new Chief Executive Officer, Ron Mohling. With extensive experience in running successful companies, Mohling recommended a complete reexamination of the company and its place in the industry’s future. “We recognize that we’re operating in a different world than we were a few years ago,” said Mohling. “It was necessary to reinvent ourselves.”
Along with support in the continuation of reinvesting capital into the company, Mohling has implemented lean manufacturing initiatives, expanded the sales force, and reorganized the management team to better serve Southern Weaving’s customers. He attributes the success of the company to the balanced mix of new and experienced talent and the loyalty of those resources. In fact, the average length of service for employees is 11 years; several employees have been with the company over 50 years!
Just this autumn, a new ownership structure was finalized and the much anticipated capital restructuring was successfully completed. ORIX Finance became the majority owner of Southern Weaving Company and a new Board of Directors was formed. ORIX supports and encourages Southern Weaving’s plan for continued investment in new equipment and new product development.
Focusing on the Future
The key to Southern Weaving’s continued strength has been its adaptation to new products on the market. Today there are three fresh and promising fiber choices that are providing lucrative opportunities for the company, including Technora, a high-strength and chemical-resistant fiber; Vectran, known for its high-temperature thermal strength and stability in hostile environments; and Dyneema, a fiber 15 times stronger than steel and 40% stronger than Kevlar. “We’re able to capitalize on the new fibers to advance the company and offer our customers more options to meet their future product application requirements,” said Scott Keeler, Sales and Marketing Director.
Southern Weaving has allocated resources to the research and development of new and exclusive product offerings. “We are looking into new technologies and new product applications that are compatible with our core competencies, but are new and different to what Southern Weaving has traditionally done,” said Rick Guarnaccia, Vice President of Sales and Marketing. Southern Weaving Company is currently investigating UV degradation, specialty finishes, hose sleeve burst protection, and high temperature applications. They’re also looking into expanding their presence in the transfer belt market.
In addition to developing new products, Southern Weaving continues to partner with customers to develop products for their own specialized needs. Anytime a customer meets a challenge, they, first and foremost, turn to Southern Weaving Company for its reliability to develop a solution. Southern Weaving has a working cooperation between major textile universities, such as Clemson University’s School of Textiles, Auburn University, Georgia Tech, and North Carolina State University. This association with academia benefits its customers in their search for an innovative solution to their challenge.
Southern Weaving Company collaborates with many major companies, including Honeywell, Parker Hanafin, Caterpillar, Liftall, Tompkins Industries, Sperian, Eaton, Sorfin Yoshimura, Alfagomma, INI Slingmax, Titan, and Altec Industries. They also work on confidential projects with organizations like NASA. Customers come to Southern Weaving Company for their quality customer service, prompt delivery, knowledgeable and trained workforce, reliable resources, and the flexibility to develop specialized products.
Currently, Southern Weaving Company is working with a company whose goal is to prevent occurrences like the recent tragic gas pipe explosions outside of San Francisco. Instead of unearthing miles of decaying pipe under major cities, the company plans to insert a new polyethylene pipe into the host pipe, pulled by a Southern Weaving woven Vectran tape which could run the length of several miles.
Pratt & Whitney, NASA’s Large Business Prime Contractor Award winner for 2010, has partnered with I&I Sling and Southern Weaving Company to develop chemical-resistant Technora slings to replace previous slings that were susceptible to decay and failure from the protective coating chemicals in which they were submerged. Also, Southern Weaving just produced a Vectran fall protection webbing for 3M to be used in their retractable lanyard.
With new ownership, the advancement in fibers, acute capital management, and exceptional talent, the future of Southern Weaving is brighter than ever. Their future plans include a sustainable growth rate with a significant portion of top line revenue generated through new products and new market developments, along with a continuation of reinvestment in the company with the support of the new ownership and confidence in the management team. And like the H.L. Hunley, Southern Weaving Company continues on its journey, possessing timeless innovation and unrelenting strength.
Southern Weaving Company
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