BY GARY JAMES
Backed by software and automation, equipment suppliers reveal new machines and entire production lines designed to take much of the hard labor out of manufacturing mattresses
Always on the lookout for ways to improve the efficiency, safety, productivity and ergonomics of today’s mattress- and pillow-making operations, machinery makers introduced a range of innovative machinery and software solutions at ISPA EXPO 2018 March 14-16 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
There was plenty of new software for streamlining plant operations and for making complex equipment easier to maintain and operate. In fact, a significant number of innovations in manufacturing equipment were about replacing hand labor with automation.
Many factors, not the least of which is aging workers who are dealing with heavier finished products, have caused machinery makers to pay closer attention to the ergonomics associated with production processes. Equipment makers are seeking to lighten the load for those who labor on the plant floor, while, at the same time, reducing their customers’ exposure to workers’ compensation issues. Machinery vendors say they also are working more closely with bed makers on ways to improve production flow in general.
For instance, on many plant floors, conveyors and lift-and-place mechanisms are playing a bigger role as producers look for new ways to automate the movement of work in progress.
And de-skilling manufacturing processes continues to be a hot topic among machinery makers whose customers struggle to find and hang onto plant personnel in a tight labor market.
“We’re working hard to come up with new machinery that either eliminates labor or greatly reduces the skill level of the operators,” says Paul Block, president of sales for Global Systems Group, the machinery division of Carthage, Missouri-based Leggett & Platt Inc. “Producers are finding it harder and harder to find qualified seamstresses and people who are experienced at tape-edging, so we’re developing innovative machines to handle those sorts of tasks. Our goal is to design machines that are easy to run, so new operators can be trained quickly, and, with minimal assistance, the machines do most of the work.”
Here’s a roundup of some of the new equipment and technology on the cutting edge of mattress manufacturing that were showcased at this year’s ISPA EXPO.
Atlanta Attachment Co. debuted the HSView system at ISPA EXPO. It’s one example of how the power of technology can be put to use to improve workflow. An inventory management system, HSView uses a series of hand-held scanners, together with radio frequency identification tags, to offer manufacturers improved tracking of inventory, including raw materials, in-process production and finished goods. HSView tags do not have to be visible for scanning, and the tags can store more data than traditional bar coding, according to the company.
“HSView offers improved accuracy in inventory management, production and overall operations by giving workers total visibility on where items are,” says Hank Little, president of Atlanta Attachment, HSM’s Lawrenceville, Georgia-based machinery and parts division. “The system lowers labor costs, both direct and administrative, and also improves productivity by reducing the time required to log and manage components automatically as they move from raw materials, work in progress, finished goods and shipping.”
Stopping a production line to count inventory is no longer required, Little adds, as HSView’s RFID technology “can automatically record inventory data with a hand-held scanner as you walk through the plant scanning specific areas instead of individual items.”
Little adds that HSM’s supply locations can help customers manage RFID tagging, encoding and data management for tracking and replenishment of innersprings, foam and other components. The system works in tandem with Atlanta Attachment’s Shop Floor Control, a comprehensive system for managing production tracking, quality control, machine parts tracking, and shipping and receiving workflow.
At ISPA EXPO 2018, the company also debuted the new 1353LFHL Large Field Handle & Label Tacker that enables operators to rapidly transition from one border design to another as tools are changed and the bar code automatically is scanned when clamped into place. The system is capable of storing 200 different patterns.
“Today, more and more bed producers are changing styles very quickly,” Little says. “Together with the new active scanning technology presented on the model 3200P Border Measuring Workstation, the transition from one style to another takes only seconds with the hand-held bar code scanner, and mistakes that come from manually inputting data are eliminated.” Atlanta Attachment is implementing this technology on other machines as well, Little adds.
At GSG, the big news at ISPA EXPO 2018 was the Spectrum high-speed quilter from Gribetz International. Originally previewed at the 2017 Interzum Cologne show, the Spectrum is a unique, multihead quilting machine that uses newly developed Gribetz engineering to independently operate 15 individual sewing needles. Each computer-controlled head is turned on or off automatically as determined by pattern requirements. Heads can sew at speeds up to 1400 rpm.
“The speed is phenomenal, and so is the design flexibility,” Block says. “You can be as creative as you want—creating more unique shapes and patterns for each quilt panel—without having to change needles or use multiple machines for different designs. With Spectrum, producers will save both time and space.”
Since time-consuming needle setting changes are not required with the Spectrum, zones can be created easily throughout the quilt panel. Differing patterns can be intermixed throughout the panel so the resulting combination of quilted patterns and negative space that surrounds them can produce different levels of support and comfort across the quilted surface.
In concert with Spectrum’s rollout, GSG launched a new marketing campaign to promote “ploofy,” stitched-together Qwilt|Bilt beds as an alternative to plain knit covers. “Smooth mattresses have become such a big part of the industry that it’s hard to distinguish one brand from another,” Block says. “Qwilt|Bilt covers can be personalized in thousands of ways, creating differentiation for the brand and curb appeal for the consumer.”
Block adds that Qwilt|Bilt beds also require less glue and foam.
To improve the ergonomics of flange operations, GSG debuted the EST-501 ErgoSmart Table with a popular belt-drive sewing head. Developed by its Porter International division and shown at 2017 Interzum Cologne, the table features a foot pedal that enables an operator to move the work surface up and down for optimal comfort. Equipped with a new Galkin X-5 sewing head for belt-driven versions or the standard PFM-4000 flange head, the EST-501 is designed to reduce operator fatigue, simplify training and improve the quality of mattress panels, Block says. “Any operator can create cookie-cutter panels of consistent quality all day long with minimal effort,” he says.
In addition, some GSG customers are adopting cell manufacturing setups so that instead of operators having to manually move quilted panels to the next station, “the operators stay in one place and conveyors automatically move the next batch of work to them and take the finished work away,” Block says.
Recognizing that some boxed-bed producers fold their mattresses before rolling and packing, Dolphin Pack Srl introduced a new machine at ISPA EXPO designed specifically for this purpose. Its new Roller for Folded Mattresses machine features a reinforced structure designed for larger beds, including tall and high-density models.
“If a customer always folds a mattress before rolling it up, it makes no sense to use a machine designed for an 8-foot width,” says Davide Zaninelli, owner of the Affi, Italy-based company.
The machine also features an inner rolling area that allows for a more precise diameter regulation.
Dolphin Pack’s new roll-pack machine uses film for a more secure closing of the rolled-up mattress. Because this film sticks to itself, it avoids the need of a sealing bar, and the consequent risk that the package will open before the wrapping is complete.
Atlanta Attachment showcased a new Engineered Co-Ex polyethylene film for use on its Auto-Pac, Roll-Pac and manual packaging machines. Available in thicknesses ranging from 1.75 to 2.5 millimeters, compared with 3 to 4.5 millimeters for standard PE wraps, Atlanta Attachment’s new film is made with three bonded layers that offer exceptional tear and puncture resistance, superior tensile strength and a high level of clarity. The product’s strength means that less film weight is required to protect mattresses, reducing costs and the volume of waste after the film is discarded by the end user.
The film features a perforated seal that enables the package to be opened by tearing rather than having to use scissors or a knife.
Atlanta Attachment also introduced the 1306T Mattress Topper Packaging machine. It is designed specifically to wrap rolled mattress toppers for easy shipment.
Also drawing strong interest at ISPA EXPO 2018 was Atlanta Attachment’s new 1354-950 Thermo-Label Transfer Machine. The machine uses reel-to-reel technology to transfer thermo labels to woven and nonwoven border materials, saving the time and expense required to embroider similar patterns by hand. A photo-sensory locating control provides optimal accuracy for positioning labels, and the change-out time for tool and die replacement is kept to a minimum.
“Our Thermo-Label Transfer Machine is simple and safe,” Little says. “A design that might take 30 minutes to an hour to embroider takes only about 10 seconds with this machine.”
Another timesaver that Atlanta Attachment featured at the show was the 1332FTS Foundation Truss Stapler. This machine automates the production of truss rails for wood foundations, greatly reducing time and labor. With the 1332FTS machine, the operator simply selects the desired truss size via a touch screen, sets the rail hopper widths, and loads the rail and block hoppers. The operator then presses the start button to initiate an automated machine cycle, which includes gluing and stapling.
“This machine can build six trusses a minute,” Little says. “It only requires one operator, rather than two, and requires much less lifting and handling. The ergonomics of the process are so much better.”
Integration and automation
At C3 Corp., the featured introduction at this year’s ISPA EXPO was the new PD5496 Automatic Destacking System. Designed to automate the labor-intensive process of line-feeding lamination machines, the PD5496 minimizes operator product handling, increases throughput and production consistency on the lamination line, and reduces pedestrian and forklift traffic to and from lamination, says Mark DesJardin, who works in new business development. The machine is a key element in a new, highly automated, complete manufacturing system engineered by C3. The system is set up and available for viewing at C3’s Appleton, Wisconsin, headquarters, which a group of bedding producers toured following the show.
“Having our destacker at EXPO provided a good opportunity to begin a conversation on the larger topic of integration and automation,” DesJardin says. “We followed up our EXPO showing with an additional event at our Wisconsin facility, so that producers could see how all of our advanced systems work together.” At the C3 plant, eight of the company’s machines are set up as they would be for production, with sheets of foam moving through the key stages of lamination, storage, trimming and roll packaging.
C3 was founded in 1994 by Joe Van de Hey, and its line for the bedding industry has grown to include a wide range of equipment, including lamination machines; conveying, pushing, flipping and destacking systems; a trimming line; and folding, bagging and packaging machines. All of the machines are made at the company’s U.S. facility.
“The destacker is one example of the deeper work we’ve been doing with system integration and modular design—all to improve production efficiencies for where a manufacturer is today,” DesJardin says. “Our focus is on building equipment that will scale as production increases. Since our designs are modular, a producer can start with only a single machine for their current setup, then add more machines to grow into a more fully integrated system over time.”
With all of its machinery, C3 constantly is on the lookout for ways to improve the production process for its customers, the company says. The new destacking system is a good example of that engineering mindset “since it takes a process that typically involves a lot of hand lifting of foam and automates it,” DesJardin adds.
With skilled labor at a premium, producers view automation as an increasingly important tool for attaining a competitive edge, according to DesJardin. “They see the advantages in terms of quality and consistency,” he says. “But, at the same time, they want their new machines to be adaptable, so that they can respond to market changes and not be locked into making just one type of bed. With a ‘plug and play’ modular system like ours, they have that flexibility.’
A new sourcing option
Another company that has expanded its line to include a full range of integrated bed-making machinery is Jumpsource, a supplier of original-quality OEM and custom replacement parts for the bedding industry. Based in Delray Beach, Florida, with offices in Shanghai and Suzhou, China, Jumpsource was founded in 2000 by Michael Porter Sr., the former owner of sewing machine producer Porter International, which Porter sold to Leggett & Platt in 1999.
Porter and his sons, Sam Porter and Michael Porter Jr., are expanding Jumpsource’s mission to include a new line of imported, value-priced production machinery called Sigma. The initial line, which made its formal debut at ISPA EXPO, features 24 pieces of equipment, including flangers, serger systems, border machines, label attachment machines, binder machines, tape-edge systems and roll-packing machines. All of the machines are manufactured at Jumpsource’s joint venture partner factory in China.
“We’ve taken classic designs that my father developed in the past and updated them with new features and materials to meet the needs of today’s producers,” says Michael Porter Jr., vice president of sales.
“Just like we do with our parts, we’re offering bedding producers an alternative source for quality machinery that’s priced much lower than what’s currently available,” Porter says.
“We’re doing all of the R&D for Sigma in the U.S., then working with our own factory in China to produce the equipment. Our mission is to produce innovative new machines along with improved versions of the industry’s standard machines,” he says.
This approach, Porter says, provides customers with “all of the benefits of outsourcing along with the advantages of working collaboratively with an American company every step of the way.” Jumpsource has a team of skilled technicians in place to help clients install, maintain and service the Sigma equipment, Porter adds.
Lamination and drying solutions
In the lamination and drying arena, GSG featured two new machines from Quarrata, Italy-based Quarrata Forniture, one of its European partners. Rollflex is a new sensor-controlled roll-coat adhesive machine. The machine uses laser sensors to assess the contours of material passing through, determining the exact amount of water-based glue to apply for the specific foam layers being laminated, regardless of area and product depth. This reduces glue waste, drying time and cleanup, according to GSG. Parameters are controlled via a full-color touch-screen interface.
The Rollflex can be combined with a mattress press and the Sahara infrared dryer—also new from Quarrata—to form an integrated glue line. The Sahara uses infrared heat to eliminate excess moisture from the glued surface, enabling the glued unit to move through production faster because no air drying is necessary. The infrared heat lamps automatically cycle on and off as a glued unit passes through the machine.
Quarrata also offers conveyors to connect the workstations.
In addition, GSG introduced the five-layer Strata material laminator from Gribetz. This machine is designed for producers who want to laminate their own borders and mattress covers with ticking or FR backing rather than relying on outside suppliers.
Atlanta Attachment’s new 1967-AX-IR Infrared Curing Oven, also part of a complete laminating product line, is designed for just-in-time production. According to the company, the IR heat lamp arrays are positioned for optimization over the foam plates, producing a high-quality finished product with maximum efficiency. A sensor detects the temperature of the glue and adjusts the power of the lamps to maintain proper temperature for the entire surface of the plates. The process cuts glue time way down, Little says, reducing both labor and storage costs.
Louisville, Kentucky-based D.R. Cash Inc. added a new motorized carriage reposition feature to its Model DTE17 Tape Edge Machine that will help eliminate manual pushing and pulling of the carriage, says Amy Cash, owner and president. Operators can use the new joystick to reposition the carriage, improving accuracy and productivity. Carriage speed also is adjustable via a control box.
The design of D.R. Cash’s tape-edge machine also has been updated with sealed, dust-tight carriage electronics.
“Mattress factories can be a very dusty environment, so sealing electronics is very important,” Cash says. “In addition, we have made maintenance on this machine very easy by designing it with a V-belt drivetrain—no round endless belts—and easy access electrical components. Last, our tabletops are powder coated for a long-lasting finish.”
The tape-edge machine is manufactured in D.R. Cash’s Louisville factory. “This is an American-made, affordable machine that exceeds modern standards,” Cash says.
Foam convoluting and cutting
Responding to customer requests, Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Edge-Sweets Co. has added two new machines to its lineup of U.S.-made products. The Model C-RSS Convoluter, designed to split flexible and rigid foam slabs, includes a specially designed quick-change feature that makes changeover from one style of convoluting pattern to another simpler, reducing production time.
The second product—the VPX Vertical Profile Saw—is a patent-pending machine for cutting flexible polyurethane foams and nonwoven fiber products. The VPX can be set up as a standalone machine or configured to function in an automated foam-cutting line. Available in two sizes, the VPX is 40% smaller than ESCO’s previous model, freeing up valuable floor space on plant floors. The machine is controlled via a PC-based terminal which, when equipped with ESCO’s nesting software, enables operators to quickly create high-yield layouts with very little raw materials scrap—and very little effort, according to Rick Seely, executive vice president.
“Producers are looking for two things in their automatic cutting systems: Hands-off manufacturing and simplicity of operation,” he says. “In other words, they want automation, but they want the machine to be as easy to run as possible, so that changeovers from one design to another are smooth and quality is consistent and repeatable.”
Later this year, ESCO plans to update its automatic vertical saw and introduce one additional machine, a heavy-duty convoluter. “It’s been a long time coming,” Seely says. “The standard convoluter has a 6-inch opening. Our new machine is going to have a much larger opening so it can handle bigger foam rolls.”
Albrecht Bäumer GmbH & Co. also has tackled raw materials waste reduction and foam-cutting efficiency with new Mattress Nest software, for use with horizontal contour foam-cutting machines. The system imports order data at the start of every day and then sorts orders automatically according to the quantities and qualities of foam needed. The materials for different mattresses that can be cut out of short-block or long-block foam are then nested automatically. Cutting for contour and length is conducted as one continuous process.
The system integrates with existing networked machinery. It also can be used with a larger, highly efficient cutting machine recently introduced by Bäumer, based in Freudenberg, Germany, with the U.S. division, Bäumer of America, in Towaco, New Jersey.
Until now, daily foam cutting for mattress production has had to be planned manually, according to Bäumer. The efficiency and quality of the process can vary greatly from operator to operator. This inconsistency results in production slowdowns and unnecessary warehousing of extra materials.
With Mattress Nest, foam cutting can be performed more accurately by planning an entire day’s production flow, or even multiple days, at one time. Less staff time is required for planning the day’s work and, while manual intervention during the cutting operation is possible, it’s not necessary.
“Getting the most out of every block of foam is not easy, even for experienced specialists,” says Volker Czymek, senior project manager. “It’s hard to keep track of all the details. Mattress Nest allows operators to combine orders intelligently at the push of a button. Orders can be processed much quicker, shortening the time between order and delivery. And because the system lets you cut many different sizes and shapes of mattresses all from one single block of any length, the amount of wasted foam is reduced substantially.”
Card Clothing Services Inc., a Huntley, Illinois-based producer of fiber opening, cushion and pillow filling equipment, expanded its line at ISPA EXPO with the new ProLoft 1000 pillow-filling system. The new system will open (fluff out) most polyester fibers nearly 100% and fill pillow shells at a rate of 1,000 pounds per hour, says Scott Webb, vice president. The ProLoft 1000 also is able to process very fine 0.9 microdenier fibers up through coarser 15 or 25 denier fibers. The improved fiber opening can be used by producers to help reduce overall raw material costs.
In addition, CCS also exhibited new equipment from two European partners—Borsoi Group, a Vittorio Veneto, Italy-based producer of the Alan Pillow preweighed pillow and comforter filling system, and ACG Kinna Automatic, a Skene, Sweden-based manufacturer of automated pillow and comforter closing, folding and packaging systems. CCS is the exclusive North American representative for both companies. As a group, CCS and its associated companies offer a total “bale to box” automated solution to the comforter and bedding industries, Webb says.
Borsoi’s latest Alan Pillow system uses robots to insert the empty pillow shell into the filling machine and then transfer the filled pillow for closing. The Alan Pillow system can handle 15 to 18 pillows per minute, or 900 to 1,080 fillings per hour, with no downtime for material loading.
ACG Kinna Automatic’s KA165 Pillow Closing machine, also on display at ISPA EXPO, reduces labor by automatically sewing pillows closed and leveling the polyester in the pillow shells, then stacking, bagging, rolling, compressing, sealing and boxing the finished pillows. Output ranges from 10 to 15 pillows per minute, depending on the stitch type and equipment configuration.
Also making major introductions in the pillow-making machinery category at ISPA EXPO was Brighi Tecnologie Italia s.n.c., based in Forlì, Italy. The company showed two new machines— the latest configuration of its preweighing Blowing System and the Easy Stitch Automated Sewing System for pillows.
Marketed as MAC3, MAC4 and MAC6, depending on the number of scales featured, Brighi’s new Blowing System automatically preweighs the fill weight of a pillow and then blows the filling material into the shell. The system works with virtually any type of filler, including fiber, microfiber, feathers and blends.
“Our MAC Blowing Systems are designed to manage not just the weight but also the different characteristics and peculiarities of these materials that can impact the accuracy and speed of the weighing process, such as static charge,” says Matteo Tagliaferri, export sales manager. The system “unskills” the weighing process because the machine handles the weight check, improving accuracy and productivity, and reducing labor costs. “There’s also no waste or spills,” he says.
The new Easy Stitch Automated System, Brighi’s other show introduction, delivers consistent and accurate pillow stitching for production uniformity, Tagliaferri says.
The machine can handle all types of fabrics, including nonwovens, poly-cottons and microfibers, and requires no specialized sewing training to operate.
Easy Stitch can be equipped with a patented system for sewing care labels that is compliant with U.S. law.