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In Review: IFAI 2014 Specialty Fabrics Expo & Advanced Textiles Expo

Features, Industry News | November 12, 2014 | By:

Exhibitors, new products, awards, new divisions, and market-specific programming presented by industry experts.

The annual Industrial Fabrics Association International (IFAI) Specialty Fabrics Expo and Advanced Textiles Expo was held in IFAI’s home state of Minnesota, Oct. 13-16, at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

The Advanced Textiles programming took place Oct. 13 and 14, followed the next day by Specialty Fabrics seminars and the opening of the show floor, which began with a ceremonial ribbon cutting by U.S. Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN). Attendees not participating in the advanced textiles programming were invited to take part in a curling tournament fundraiser for the Industrial Fabrics Foundation (IFF) and tours of IFAI headquarters.

The best of the best
The third annual ShowStoppers competition, created to recognize the best new products from exhibitors at the show, had a record 130 entries from 73 companies. From the most innovative to the most effective and economical, show attendees voted for the products they found to be most valuable to their industry. Voting was done online on the opening day of the show floor, with winners announced the same night. Awards were given to the product with the highest number of votes in each of six categories: Fabrics, fiber and films: SommerStone from Sommers Plastics Products Co. Inc.; Hardware, findings and accessories: CAF-316® from Surefas® Next Generation Fasteners; Equipment and tools: MG-Flex 300 from Forsstrom High Frequency AB; Chemicals, coatings and compounds: Silpure FBR-6 from Ultra-Fresh; End products: Infinity Canopy from Infinity Canopy Inc.; and Services: IFAI member discounts from Business AdvantEdge.

IFAI Expo 2014 Corporate and Commercial Photography by Mark Skalny
IFAI Expo 2014 Corporate and Commercial Photography
by Mark Skalny.

Another first was the “super event” held opening night. Open to all show participants, it featured a reception and several awards presentations, with entertainment by a local aerialist. In addition to the ShowStoppers awards, 61 International Achievement Awards from 29 categories were announced. Winning project images and details can be found on the IAA website. Four Honored Life Member recipients were recognized: Seymour Hyman, founder of Herculite Products Inc.; Peter McKernan, CEO at Herculite; Nora Norby, president at Banner Creations Inc.; and Frank Sinclair, founder of Sinclair Equipment Co.

The Advanced Textile Products 2014 Student Design Challenge winners were announced at the Advanced Textiles reception on Oct. 13, where first place winners Harini Ramaswamy and Sanju Shree Srinivasan presented their therapeutic smart footwear prototype.

In with the new
At a special reception held on Oct. 15, IFAI president Mary Hennessy introduced the new partnership between IFAI and The Makers Coalition (TMC): an agreement to work together on a nationwide workforce development initiative. TMC’s mission is “To build the industrial sewing heritage of America.” In conjunction with Dunwoody College of Technology in Minneapolis, the group has set a significant precedent in launching a nationally approved Sewing Operator Apprenticeship. The partnership with IFAI, through the creation of the Maker’s Division, will expand the search for interested companies to support the training programs with industry expertise, trainers, apprenticeships and job placement. More details can be found in the November issue of Specialty Fabrics Review.

IFAI has added a second new division: the Military Division, formed to represent members with a military focus, from equipment and hardware to textiles for gear and uniforms. Its first official meeting was held during Specialty Fabrics Expo, where the board discussed its mission and purpose, as well as how it will tie in with other divisions, such as the United States Industrial Fabrics Institute (USIFI). New educational services, advocacy, comradery and information will all be implemented through the division, with extended communications playing a large role. The division will strive to represent IFAI at a new variety of conferences, networking events and programming, with potential to build momentum and grow to create a separate military fabric and textile event. There are currently 32 division members. For more information, contact Omari Hoover, division specialist, at or +1 651 225 6984.

A new IFAI board member was announced; Craig Zola, vice president of Herculite, was elected to his first three-year director term.

High tech trends
Split into medical and safety tracks, the Advanced Textiles Expo education sessions covered new technologies and products—how they are being used now and the possibilities they pose in the future.

From a new technology to create metal detectable fibers for the food processing industry to health monitoring for sports and the consumer market, a range of industries, including medical and military, will see major benefits in the coming years. Other topics discussed included layered textiles woven with metallic threads and fibers to be used as conductors; fibers that interact with a fabric wearer’s body heat; counterfeiting technologies; and implantable drug delivery with extruded fibers. More details on all of these innovations can be found on the Advanced Textiles Source website.

Included on the Advanced Textiles show floor was an extreme sports display, featuring end products made with high-performance fabrics for skiing, hiking, motorcycling, water sports and the military.

IFAI Expo 2014 Corporate and Commercial Photography by Mark Skalny.
IFAI Expo 2014 Corporate and Commercial Photography by Mark Skalny

Market-specific education
Awning symposium seminars, held Oct. 14-15, covered everything from the basics of installing awnings to how to increase business. Awning and shade sail design software was explained and demonstrated, giving attendees an easier yet more detailed option for designing and installing structures. Strengthening relationships—with customers, future customers and architects—was stressed, highlighting the importance of referrals and online reviews. In addition, a panel presentation entitled “Add Graphics: Increase Value and Customize Products” offered ideas on how to bring graphics into businesses of all sizes.

Marine fabricators participated in a day-long series of seminars on Oct. 16. Topics included track-to-track enclosures, boat tops, frame fittings, fastener applications and the latest in needles and sewing machine technology.

Equipment training and maintenance took place on the show floor during the mornings of Oct. 15 and 16. Representatives from Autometrix, Forsstrom, Friedlander, Henderson Sewing, JTE Machine, Miller Weldmaster/Sinclair and S. Kaplan Sewing Machine Co. presented on best practices, discussed innovations in the industry, performed live demonstration, and answered questions from participants.

IFAI Expo 2014 Corporate and Commercial Photography by Mark Skalny.
IFAI Expo 2014 Corporate and Commercial Photography by Mark Skalny

Down to business
Business seminars were held Oct. 15, with presenters focusing on three key issues: employee engagement, managing the generations at work, and leadership.

A main goal of business owners is to create a better place to work through employee engagement, which builds and strengthens employee retention within the organization. People must be motivated in order to perform. According to Amy Howard of Employee Strategies Inc., what motivates employees is autonomy: our desire to be self-directed; mastery: our urge to get better at something; and purpose: the reason for which something is done. It takes good leaders to evoke these things in employees’ leaders that inspire and motivate. Howard says that great leaders create great places to work for their employees and provide six characteristics in the workplace: work experiences that provide accountability and autonomy; the opportunity to do meaningful work; prospects for employees to see how they impact the organization’s performance; recognition of achievements; regular communication, including two-way communication and feedback; and unique rituals that create a fun environment and help build relationships.

With four different generations converging upon the workplace, business owners and managers need to be equipped with practical strategies to deal with the differences. Each generation has defining events and trends, and each generation has a set of general values and attitudes that determine how it functions in the work environment. Kit Welchlin of Welchlin Communication Strategies defines the four generations as Veterans (born 1922-1943), Baby Boomers (born 1943-1960), Generation Xers (born 1960-1980) and Millennials (born after 1980).

When training Veterans, avoid situations where older employees can “lose face” where others are watching or waiting, find older trainers to each younger trainers to speak the language of the Veteran and use larger text in printed materials. When developing Baby Boomers, provide them with developmental experiences, give them lots of projects they can cite, and encourage them to read business books. To motivate them, provide lots of public recognition and reward them for their work ethic and long hours. To help develop Gen Xers, tap into their ability to multitask—learning to do the task at the same time they’re actually doing it, keep training materials brief and scannable, and use headlines, lists, graphics and bullet points. Manage Millennials simultaneously, learn about each employee’s personal goals and develop a strategy for interweaving those goals with job performance. Establish mentor programs and consider matching young workers with the most seasoned employees with whom they say they resonate.

Leadership is not synonymous with authority. In her presentation “Leading from the Inside Out,” Petra Marquart of Petra Marquart and Associates discussed the three elements that define great leaders: confidence, communication and character. Confidence is having the personal power to be able to act. One of the key roles of leadership is to build and nurture intimacy, where intimacy is defined as “disclosure to the people we are closest to.” Marquart said communication is an exchange of meaning that leads to understanding, and to achieve understanding, the message must be communicated with congruence, meaning an agreement or harmony in the words, tone and body language. All three elements need to say the same thing. At the center of great leadership are personal integrity and character, and a moral compass that inspires people and employees. Leaders with character think positively, have the ability to look at mistakes or failures as learning opportunities, aren’t afraid to do work, value both process and outcomes, know they don’t know it all, and exhibit their compassion and concern for all living things.


Extra, extra
A bonus program on Oct. 15 took a further look at developments in advanced fabrics, from the role of design in the service community (specifically healthcare), to wearable technology and the different ways to incorporate electronics into fabrics, to smart, material-based textile actuators, sensors and energy harvesters.

With more young professionals joining the ranks, a special young professional panel discussion was held on Oct. 15. Participants discussed the emerging trends in the workplace, relating to the struggles of working with different generations, and offering solutions to similar challenges. It was followed by a well-attended young professionals’ happy hour, which allowed for additional networking.

IFAI Expo 2014 Corporate and Commercial Photography by Mark Skalny
The 2015 Specialty Fabrics Expo and Advanced Textiles Expo, featuring a new, stand-alone Shade Expo, will take place at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, Calif., Oct 6-9, 2015. Photo: 2014©Mark Skalny Photography, All Rights Reserved.

Taking the educational sessions beyond the classroom, attendees were invited to tour three local companies. The Graphics and Sewing Shop Tour was held Oct. 13 at Airtex Design Group, owned by Susan Shields and Mike Miller, and Pictura Graphics, owned by Paul Lilienthal. In addition to shop tours and product introductions, the business owners explained their business processes, answering any questions that came from the audience. On Oct. 15, marine attendees toured Banner Canvas, owned by Faith Roberts, who offered a demonstration of her collection of working vintage sewing machines.

See you next year in Anaheim
Planning is already underway for IFAI Specialty Fabrics Expo 2015, which will be held in Anaheim, Calif., with 85 percent of exhibit space already sold, networking events planned and speakers being booked for educational sessions.

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