Fairystone Fabrics swiftly ramps up fabric production for medical field
Posted June 25, 2020
By Devin Steele (DSteele@eTextileCommunications.com)
Fairystone Fabrics, a Burlington, N.C., textile manufacturer specializing in warp knitting, warping and sueding, has produced technical fabrics for automotive, filtration and some niche markets such as medical for many years.
The company, which produces laminated fabric for several different levels of PPE gowns, has ramped up production in the medical field from six to eight tricot machines to 56 in nine weeks, according to company President Jim Bryan.
“We were given specifications by our customer and developed a number of samples until we found the best alternative,” Bryan said. “It is actually a fabric we made a number of years ago with slight modifications.”
The fabric has some unique features from a manufacturing perspective, and requires retrofitting machines with auxiliary equipment, he pointed out. Some it had in-house, some it imported from Europe and some it made from spare parts or used local machine shops, he added.
“We believe in continuous improvement,” Bryan said. “The fabric we make today is made on modern machines that are different than the ones we had 20 years ago. They require technical skills and knowledge to make the important adjustments for an efficient and first-quality product. Yarn is becoming a constraint.”
The majority of its products are going to fulfill FEMA contracts, Bryan said. He added that he anticipates that there will be need to be additional contracts via that agency or DLA to complete the quantities needed to restore proper inventories of PPE and respond to the increased cases of COVID-19 that states are reporting after announcing Phase I and II easing of restrictions, combined with more access to testing.
Fairystone had to furlough 37 members of the team until it could make the changes necessary, he reported. The company started to call people back in week three (of the economic shutdown) and had full employment at the end of the fourth week, he noted. For the last eight weeks, most of the plant has run 24/7, and the company moved its annual shutdown three weeks in order to complete orders for the end of July, he said.
“We did have several retirements during this time and are looking for people with some experience in tricot knitting,” he said. “We’re always looking for good supervisory people to add to the team.”
Bryan added that he and the team talk weekly about the experience of being a necessary business, pivoting from automotive into medical, “saving our company and our customers, providing lifesaving garments to first responders, patients and many others,” he said.
“We are proud to contribute our small part in this monumental effort,” he said. “We also talk about following CDC guidelines – wearing a mask at work and in public, staying quarantined with family or household members, washing hands often. We have increased plant sanitation routines and are lucky to have manufacturing areas with HVAC that controls temperature, humidity and dew point, plus air washers to purify the air. Our air turns over every 60 minutes. We are increasing employee cleaning of work areas on each shift as well.”
Bryan added: “We come to work everyday 24/7 thankful to have a meaningful job that has been flexible enough to change overnight and be successful,” he said. “We are hopeful that a portion of the on-sourcing of these products stays here.”