Standard Textile: Retooling for ResilienceMay 5, 2020
Union County textile manufacturer demonstrates Upstate’s innovation and resilience
As the manufacturing world shifts gears to produce critical need items in the fight against coronavirus, Standard Textile in Union County is among the companies to pivot and join the cause to help supply front-line healthcare workers with barrier gowns.
And, the textile manufacturer is a great symbol of the Upstate’s innovative, resilient spirit.
Area Development magazine reported in early April that the company, a manufacturer of healthcare and hospitality products, has restructured its supply chain to provide support for America’s frontline medical workers during the current pandemic.
One of the Standard Textile’s pivots: a collaboration between the research and development laboratory and its operations in Thomaston, Georgia and Union, South Carolina, that resulted in rapidly developing a unique American version of a liquid resistant, breathable and reusable cover gown for healthcare workers.
“The Union team was challenged to develop a chemical-finish solution at warp-speed to convert woven goods into a safe, reusable, liquid-resistant barrier fabric,” says Standard Textile Union Plant Manager Russ Ogle. “This fabric is then used to make cover gowns to help protect frontline healthcare workers who are heroically battling the virus.”
Over the next five days, it was an all-hands-on-deck sprint. Working with a sense of urgency, the team utilized deep science to develop a new chemical emulsion to make fabric liquid resistant. They also have to establish production processes, run and perfect production trials, and seek product approvals — all quickly conducted with thoughtful check and balances to ensure a safe quality cover gown.
“We knew we were on the clock, and failure was not an option,” Ogle adds.
Locally, the company is known for a high-tech manufacturing operation. As a result, it’s not a surprise to see the company respond to today’s challenges with research and modified production. Read on for more about Standard Textile’s history and presence in the Upstate.
A History of Innovation
Resilience and innovation are at the company’s core: Standard Textile was founded in 1940 by Charles Heiman. He launched the business out of an apartment in Cincinnati after fleeing from Germany’s Dachau concentration camp during the Holocaust.
Today, the American company has a global presence, with 24 manufacturing and distribution facilities and 4,000 associates across North America, Europe, Africa and the Middle and Far East. They also have more than 80 global patents, with many originating in Union County.
At its Union manufacturing facility, 150 employees help oversee a highly automated production lines to produce and sheeting, terry towels and terry towel packaging. A nearby distribution facility helps move products directly to customers, primarily in the hospitality, healthcare, workwear and consumer textiles industries.
Investing and Growing in Upstate South Carolina
Standard Textile’s story in Union, South Carolina, is one of growth and expansion – and its high-tech operation may come as a surprise for those who didn’t envision technology companies thriving in rural settings.
The company purchased its current facility in 2004, with partnership and infrastructure grants offered through the City of Union, Union County, and the S.C. Department of Commerce. The building was a former textile facility that had been shuttered for two years.
Establishing an American textile production presence at that time was a bold move for any company, as a great deal of textile production had been shifted overseas to pursue lower production costs.
“We didn’t want to do that,” Ogle says. “We knew that we could survive – and thrive – in the U.S. We bought this operation out of bankruptcy and took it to a whole new level in terms of advanced technologies and smart manufacturing so we can be competitive here in the USA.”
What factors attracted the company to Union County?
Abundant, affordable water and natural gas were early drivers, as well as connected infrastructure for transportation and freight, taking advantage of the Interstate 85 corridor and the Port of Charleston. A business-friendly environment with supportive city, county and state were also key.
“A truly strong collaborative partnership between the county, city and state has enabled us to be successful,” Ogle says. “And that partnership will continue as we grow.”
Since 2004, the company has invested more than $20 million into Union County to establish and upgrade its technology and smart facilities, integrating robotics, control systems and automatic dispense systems.
Automation and Talent Drive Union Facilities Success
With a heavily automated process, technology is integral to the company’s success – enabling the company to increase efficiency, productivity, and safety while also improving product quality – though, that wouldn’t be achieved without the talents of the company’s 150 associates in Union.
“Advanced technology and smart manufacturing methodologies demand a strong technical skill set and education with our associates. Our partnership with Spartanburg Community College and their Mechatronics training and apprenticeship program have proven very beneficial in helping us develop advanced technical skills needed to be successful in running our state-of-the-art processes,” Ogle adds. “Our valuable associates are our greatest asset and source for most new innovations, process improvements and ongoing high-performance.”
As a result of its mechatronics talent needs, Standard Textile was one of several companies that partnered with Spartanburg Community College to help launch the Mechatronics Technology Certificate and Mechatronics Technology associates’ degree program offered at its Union campus.
And Spartanburg Community College helps the industry with current and future needs: in addition to education future associates, the technical school also provides continued education to the Standard Textile workforce.