Oak Ridge National Laboratory


News Release

Media Contact: Media Relations (news@ornl.gov)
Communications and External Relations


Computer-aided fabric inspection puts U.S. textile goods on quality's top shelf

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., July 11, 1995 — From towels and turtlenecks to carpets and cardigans, the U.S. textile industry makes goods that touch the lives, if not the bodies, of most Americans every day. With the help of researchers from six Department of Energy (DOE) laboratories, the industry will soon be able to inspect fabrics to a degree as yet unimaginable - almost thread by thread as they are made - for the subtlest of flaws. The result will be higher quality affordable goods and a curtailing of the daily exodus of textile industry jobs from America to foreign competitors.

Jack Laforge of Oak Ridge National Laboratory's (ORNL) Engineering Technology Division is striving to make the U.S. textile industry more competitive worldwide. ORNL and five other Department of Energy laboratories are part of the Computer-Aided Fabric Evaluation project, which involves on-line fabric inspection within the weaving loom. The result should be a dramatic increase in quality of U.S.-produced fabric. (Photo by Bill Norris) .

Headquartered at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), in accord with five other DOE labs and the industry, a project called CAFE (Computer-Aided Fabric Evaluation) is furnishing the means for 100 percent, on-line fabric inspection within the weaving loom itself. The evaluation system also includes inspection systems for color-print patterns and knitted fabrics.

"CAFE will be integrated right into the manufacturing infrastructure," said ORNL's Glenn Allgood, who manages the CAFE project for DOE. "During production, this means 100 percent inspection and continuous feedback about the fabric that is being made. Flaws are recognized immediately. That will mean a dramatic increase in quality."

Fabrics exit a loom in swaths 60 inches or greater at a rate of 39 inches to about 79 inches per minute. As fabric is woven, tiny flaws of various configurations can occur that may run the length of a fabric or may appear as "blips" here and there. Either way, the flaws are often so subtle or sporadic that catching them by sight alone is nearly impossible. Nevertheless, a blemish can be the difference between first- and second-quality material.

If the flaws work their way through the entire textile system, eventually reaching the marketplace, unnecessary costs mount. Retailers lose through returns and markdowns, and when retailers move to recoup the losses, consumers may see a price hike.

The CAFE project is part of the AMTEX Partnership between DOE labs and the textile industry. Created two years ago, the alliance aims to overhaul textiles production completely, from the cotton fields to customers' hands, creating affordable fabrics far superior to what foreign competitors can offer.

Allgood has set an extremely aggressive schedule for the project. The on-line inspection system for unbleached, undyed greige (pronounced "gray{zh}," and French for gray) goods will be ready in mid-1996. Inspection systems for yarn and for printed color fabrics will be ready by mid-1997, and a system to inspect goods three-dimensionally, such as for carpets, by early 1999. "This phased R&D program is the only way to ensure a market penetration before the year 2002," Allgood said.

The U.S. textile industry comprises more than 26,000 companies and 1.8 million jobs, about 10 percent of the country's manufacturing workforce. Textile production exceeds the automotive, petroleum and primary metals industries in contributions to the Gross Domestic Product. However, foreign firms constantly pursue the competitive edge that will allow them to grab more of the U.S. textile market.

Nearly a half-million textile industry jobs have been lost to foreign manufacturers since 1980. Another 600,000 jobs will likely disappear by 2002. Market analysts explain the situation by noting that foreign companies pay extremely low labor wages, and the resulting low operating costs yield that highly sought competitive market edge.

"AMTEX will provide a market edge necessary to put U.S. textile makers unquestionably on top," Allgood said. "It will mean a quantum leap in the quality of goods, and it will protect and create jobs for American textile workers."

In addition to ORNL, the CAFE working group consists of researchers from Argonne National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, and Idaho National Engineering Laboratory.

You can learn more about this research and many other exciting projects by visiting ORNL on Oct. 21, 1995, during its Community Day event. Many of our facilities will be open to the public that day. For additional information, call ORNL Public Affairs, 865-574-4160.

ORNL, one of DOE's multiprogram national research and development facilities, is managed by Martin Marietta Energy Systems, a Lockheed Martin company, which also manages the Oak Ridge K-25 Site and the Oak Ridge Y-12 Plant.