Industry hits Nashville stage, bands together at IFAI Expo

Posted December 16, 2021


By Devin Steele

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Industrial Fabrics Association International (IFAI) last month hosted its IFAI Expo, North America’s largest specialty, industrial and advanced textiles event, here.


The event – the 100-year anniversary of IFAI Expo's in-person show – included 218 exhibiting companies and 3,173 verified participants, according to organizers.


The event included three days of market-specific classroom education with 33 sessions focused on shade and weather protection, graphics, marine, sustainability and business operations, along with a wealth of other specialty fabrics and advanced textile-focused content.


The Advanced Textiles (AT) Conference took place the day before the show floor opened. The conference offered an afternoon of 13 classroom sessions dedicated to the advanced textiles market and continued on the show floor with campfires and additional classroom sessions. Topics included Advancing Textile Manufacturing Through Collaboration, Innovations in E-Textiles, Medical Textile Breakthroughs, Industry 4.0 and Advanced Manufacturing and Sustainability in Advanced Textiles.

“Attendees had more time to spend at exhibit booths looking at the array of new products throughout the exhibit hall,” said Steve Schiffman, IFAI President & CEO. “Everybody seemed to enjoy the Opening Reception, which featured a look back at IFAI Expo’s 100 years, and those that went to the Industry Night enjoyed the sounds of the industry band Hangin’ by a Thread and the taste of Nashville barbecue. Many exhibitors were very happy they exhibited this year, sharing positive comments on both the quality of attendees as well as the number of new attendees who visited their booth."


Following are select exhibitors that eTC contacted to provide their feedback on the IFAI Expo.

American Cord & Webbing


American Cord & Webbing (ACW), Woonsocket, R.I., thought the expo met its expectations, despite lower visitor numbers, according to Susan Lake, director of Sales & Marketing.


“Though smaller in numbers, attendees came with a purpose,” she said. “We were approached by a good number of buyers, owners and designers who were on a mission to find products that ACW manufactures in the USA for their operations. The normal barrage of ‘browsers’ we usually experience at IFAI and similar trade shows was at a minimum. It was refreshing to come back after two years due to COVID-19 to find renewed and sustained interest in our products.

ACW highlighted its FIRELOC™ Heat-Resistant Plastic Hardware line. This line of UL/ULC Certified to NFPA Standards for Safety has been very successful for ACW, Lake said.


“Being the only manufacturer of this product that is certified generates a great deal of interest for our current customers as well as potential new customers looking to source plastic hardware for their FR finished products,” she said.


Apex Mills


For Inwood, N.Y.-based Apex Mills, the IFAI Expo provided a great forum to reconnect with existing customers and have meaningful discussions about new projects and programs, according to John McMichael, Business Development.


“It also presented the opportunity to connect with new prospects across a wide range of industries,” he said. “We were able to introduce Apex Mills to these companies and show them the wide range of fabrics we’re capable of engineering – mesh, solid-knit and 3D spacer. There was heightened interest in our 3D spacer fabrics, as many visitors were looking for ways to replace fabrics they cannot currently source, due to global supply chain issues.”


McMichael added that Apex Mills’ new shade fabric and the display showcased caught the eye of people walking by and garnered a lot of interest from companies in the awning industry.


‘While the overall attendance was down due to travel restrictions and COVID concerns, the energy level at the show was extremely high,” he said. “Everyone that we met with was thrilled to be back in the mix again.”


Aurora Specialty Textiles Group


Aurora, Yorkville, Ill., highlighted its digitally printable product offering and also featured its finishing capabilities.


“We had a fair amount of interest in finishing treatments we apply for military and pressure-sensitive tape applications,” said Mark Shaneyfelt, vice president of Sales & Marketing.


He added that it was “great” to be back in person at trade events.


“We had good exhibit traffic Wednesday and Thursday morning,” Shaneyfelt said. “It was good to catch up with our industry contacts. The show met our expectations. Exhibitors and attendees were lower in number than pre-COVID years, but that was about what we expected.”




Bastcore, a Birmingham, Ala.-based hemp processor since 2014, saw its BastCore Tfiber – a textile grade fiber – generate a good deal of interest, according to Austin Bryant, managing director.


“We were the only natural and sustainable fiber exhibitor at the conference,” he said.


Bastcore recently earned a USDA BioPreferred certification, meaning that its products are 100% biodegradable, he added.


“The blended hemp and cotton denim jeans and jacket we displayed were well received by attendees and exhibitors,” Bryant said. “Overall, we came away with some exciting opportunities and were amazed in terms of the warm welcome we received on our natural hemp fibers.”


He added that the show exceeded company expectations. “We enjoyed meeting and networking with companies throughout the supply chain to discuss our hemp fibers. Attendees and exhibitors expressed interest in sourcing natural fibers that enhance their sustainability and net zero carbon strategies. BastCore hemp fiber fits these strategies perfectly.”


ETON Systems Inc. 


IFAI surpassed all of ETON’s expectations as the company made numerous new industry contacts, said Tapio Martti, managing director – Americas.


“It was refreshing to see the enthusiasm from visitors, having been in ‘hiatus’ for nearly 20 months,” he said.


Based in Peachtree Corners, Ga., Eton Systems saw its Unit Production System for material handling generate plenty of interest at the time when companies are having difficulties of keeping their workforce intact, Martti said.


ETON Systems’ Unit Production System is designed to eliminate bundle/buggie handling of materials and significantly increase productivity in the sewing operations while creating full traceability of the product throughout the manufacturing process and improving efficiency anywhere from 30 percent to 80 percent, he pointed out. This, in turn, creates fast ROI, he added 


“We look forward to cultivating and building on new and existing relationships as a result of IFAI and building on the momentum gained at the show,” he said. “IFAI allowed us to meet with companies from various industries, including apparel, safety wear, boat covers, awning and tent manufacturers, he added. We were able to meet customers who we had not had previous contact with, which is always the ‘gravy’ of any convention gathering.”


Henderson Sewing Machine Co.


Every attendee that representatives of Henderson Sewing, Andalusia, Ala., spoke with was seeking automation, semi-automation and technology to deskill operations and utilize less staff and provide maximum productivity, according to President Frank Henderson.


“Our automated machines were a hit,” he said, adding that the expo was better than anticipated. “Visitors to our booth believe that our industry is in transition and this industry transition requires a change of the prevailing business model, switching from a reliance on squeezing prices to collaborating up and down the entire supply chain to reduce uncertainty and thereby free up capital and inventory dollars needed to invest in stronger, smarter and more sustainable automated businesses. Customers were looking for automation and technology to grow and sustain their businesses and help address the workforce challenges they are facing.”


HLC Industries, Inc.


HLC Industries, Inc., based in Bala Cynwyd, Pa., prepped for the expo with many emails with new and existing customers, which resulting in full days of meetings throughout the event, according to Peter Raneri, vice president of Sales & Business Development.


“As a 106-year-old textile solutions provider, we produce a wide range of deniers and weights of fabrics for all types of applications, and we saw a tremendous amount of sales activities at our booth,” he said. “We were pleased to be able to promote what HLC can provide within the synthetic nylon fabric space.”


HLC highlighted its new Hybrid Series Collection of Solution Dyed CORDURA® in 500 Denier and in various looks and weaves.


“That became a HUGE success within the fabric offering at our booth, and it is in the current development stages,” Raneri said. “We had shown finished product prototypes to envision what this fabric looked like and received a positive response from our customers.”


MMI Textiles


For MMI Textiles, Westlake, Ohio, the IFAI Expo exceeded expectations in many ways, according to founder and CEO Amy Bircher, who was named 53rd chair of the IFAI during its Annual Meeting, held during the expo.


“No. 1, the quality of leads was much better than years’ past, and the conversations were longer as we felt that people had more time to have discussions,” she said. “Secondly, the location of Nashville brought in a lot of people that may not normally go to the show. Nashville is a great place to entertain customers.”


Thirdly, Bircher added, the Industrial Fabrics Foundation (IFF) combined its event with IFAI’s annual party, allowing for everyone to have a chance to network on one night and at a reasonable price. “The fact that we have an industry band, Hangin’ by a Thread, just adds to the uniqueness of this event.”


And finally, she pointed out, the education series both the day before and during the expo provided content that appealed to a wider audience.


MMI highlighted several new products at the show, and shared its expansion plan for its new weaving facility in Lenoir, N.C. The company also introduced the Multicam printed HANK that it will partner with Trelleborg (the producer of HANK) and its print partner, Mikan Printing, to roll out in 2022.


“We will add that to our robust printed narrow product line in Lenoir,” Bircher said. “That product was met with great excitement at the show!”


Manufacturing & Textile Innovation Network (MTIN)


The new Manufacturing & Textile Innovation Network (MTIN), formed last year to serve as the umbrella group over the Manufacturing Solutions Center (MSC) at Catawba Valley Community College and the Textile Technology Center (TTC) at Gaston College, exhibited in Nashville for the second time at a trade show with representatives of both centers.


“The IFAI Expo exceeded our expectations by allowing us to display our booth and continue to promote our new partnership between the Manufacturing Solutions Center and Textile Technology Center,” said Robin Phillips-Hauser, director of Busines Development at the MTIN. “We enjoyed our familiar N.C. neighbors in our display area while also sharing our testing and training services, our new MTIN catalog, our new college education programs and opportunities with existing and potential new customers.” 


She added that the expo opened new doors with new contacts for upcoming projects and a variety of different services that MTIN can provide.


“The show enabled us to network with many existing customers that we have not seen face to face since COVID,” Phillips-Hauser added.


N.C. State Wilson College of Textiles


Expectations were “more than met” for N.C. State’s Wilson College of Textiles, Raleigh, N.C., according to Melissa Sharp, associate director of its Zeis Textiles Extension.


“We had multiple quality conversations with individuals interested in our training, fabrication and testing services,” she said. “Attendees we met with were truly engaged, and we've had meaningful follow-up conversations with many of the individuals we met at the show.”


Wilson College/Zeis Extension showcased its full catalog of services to the textile industry, including training, as well as its most popular service – fabrication and testing capabilities. The College is able to provide prototyping, pilot production, process development and physical testing for textile products, and representatives saw incredible demand for these services at expo, from established companies to startups.”

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