INNOVATIONS IN BASIC CUTTING MACHINES IS WHAT KEEPS EASTMAN MACHINE COMPANY ON ‘PREFERRED’ LIST
KEEP IT SIMPLE’ SAYS WADE STEVENSON, EXPORT PRESIDENT, EASTMAN MACHINE COMPANY
Being one of the pioneers in the industry for over 12 decades, Eastman Machine Company is a name to reckon with for its manual and handheld cutting machines. The company’s solutions can be seen in the cutting room of factories around the world and the credit of this success goes to Eastman’s entire team. To be more specific, Wade Stevenson, Export President, Eastman Machine Company, is the man responsible for all the stupendous innovations and the systematically executed international operations of the company since many years. In an exclusive interaction with Team StitchWorld, Wade shares his company’s goal of value creation for its customers and his vision of nurturing business growth on a worldwide basis.
SW: Eastman has a history of 128 years. How has the business changed over the years? What has helped Eastman remain consistent in business for so long?
Wade: When I started working for Eastman, we had other domestic competitors, such as Maimin and Wolf. These two companies failed to see the possibilities of selling their machines and their technical know- how on a global basis. Today they no longer exist. Encouraged by my father, Mr. Charles P. Stevenson, I was quick to realize that if we are to survive and grow without meeting the same fate as others, we have to develop our business in Asia in general and in China in particular.
The Eastman Blue Streak II straight knife cutter is world famous now in the garment industry. Tens of thousands of companies, both large and small, are using the Eastman Blue Streak cutting machine every day to enhance their cutting room productivity.
As a result, I am proud of the fact that together with Mr. Aibe, formerly from Juki Corporation, we opened our sales office Eastman- CRA ( Hong Kong) Ltd. in Hong Kong in 1982. Some twenty years later, we opened a manufacturing facility in Ningbo, China. As a result, with the help of our sales and manufacturing, we became geographically close to our customers and are able to offer them value, efficiency, and the highest level of performance.
SW: Eastman Blue Streak is synonymous with straight knife cutting machine in the garment industry for almost half a century now. Still the machine is equally relevant and important in manufacturing operations today. Does this mean that technology has not advanced in so many years?
Wade: The Eastman Blue Streak II straight knife cutter is world famous now in the garment industry. Tens of thousands of companies, both large and small, are using the Eastman Blue Streak cutting machine every day to enhance their cutting room productivity. Over the passing of time, we have added new features to this legendary machine, such as variable speed cutting and its ability to adjust the bevel angle of blade sharpness. So, value additions have definitely been done to the previously existing technology. Variable speed cutting is one such feature which allows the user to adjust the speed of the knife in relation to the type of fabric he is cutting. For example, while cutting synthetic fabric, the user may wish to slow down the speed of the knife in order to eliminate the fusing problem. A dual speed option is also available and in many cases, works just as well. Very few customers today ask for a different type of bevel angle. A sharper bevel angle might be useful for cutting heavier fabric, such as denim. In reality, we have very little demand for a different bevel angle.
SW: Why Eastman discontinued variable speed cutting feature from its range in the Asian market (which are apparently sold in developing countries)?
Wade: We continue to offer these options, though many customers are actually not aware that we offer them. Also, the market today is more competitive than ever, and some of our customers are unwilling to pay for these additional options. But the truth remains that we have a wide range of options available for every cutting need. Our business is to meet our customer’s requirements and to maintain the highest level of customer satisfaction.
SW: Today, there are three types of cuttings that are most popular: straight knife, band knife and computerized cutting. Earlier factory combinations were straight knife and band knife; now computerized cutting is having more demand. Do you feel a company can operate with only computerized cutting machine and not a single straight knife in the factory?
Wade: Thousands of customers worldwide cut with our Eastman machines. There is no need for them to invest so much money in an automated machine when in
Eastman's single-ply cutters are fitted with a blue belt, a cutting surface made of polyurethane, a strong and durable belt. This smooth cutting area is perforated with millions of holes to ensure that vacuum airflow is evenly dispersed and textiles are secured for best cutting results. It is an ideal solution for traditional textiles, synthetic fibres and delicate silks because the materials will not stick or snag.
many cases, a manual cutting machine can perform just as well, and at a far cheaper rate. However, for those customers who can afford automated machines, we have many options available, including laser cutting.
SW: Every product has two market segments – mass and niche. Where do you think has Eastman positioned itself ?
Wade: Eastman targets both the mass and the niche markets. The mass market, for example, are the well known international brands manufacturing jeans or polo shirts and outerwear, intimate apparel, etc. Niche markets would include the customers making technical textiles, such as fibreglass or Kevlar and so on. The amazing success of Eastman Machine Company in both the markets does not go unnoticed.
SW: Computerized cutting or CNC cutting used to cost around US $ 0.15 million two decades ago and the same is continuing even now! Why do you think the cost of equipment did not come down over the years? Why are there no low-end (basic) machines available at substantially lesser price in computerized cutting?
Wade: We have developed our own Eastman computerized cutting machines, both single- ply and multi- ply, such as our famous Eagle conveyor cutter and Raptor automated cutter. These machines address specialized needs in the field of technical textiles and garment manufacturing. We provide value to customers in a wide variety of industries. It is no longer just apparel. Recently we had experienced strong demand from the
aviation and green energy business. When customers are offered a choice, the vast majority of them prefer to do their cutting with an Eastman machine. It’s because we align ourselves with our customers’ interests and requirements so that they can be successful wherever their factory or factories are located.
SW: Single-ply CNC cutting was started with drag knife & teflon porous surface. But nowadays even single-ply CNC cutters are fitted with reciprocating knife & bristle bed? Why?
Wade: Although many singleply cutters today are fitted with reciprocating knife and bristle bed nowadays, actually in garment manufacturing, our single- ply cutters are fitted with a blue belt, a cutting surface made of polyurethane, a strong and durable belt. This smooth cutting area is perforated with millions of holes to ensure that vacuum airflow is evenly dispersed and textiles are secured for best cutting results. It is an ideal solution for traditional textiles, synthetic fibres and delicate silks because the materials will not stick or snag. Heavyounce industrial fabrics, foams and composites are often cut on porous plastic with Eastman’s single- ply machines. Porous plastic can withstand higher cutting pressures typically required for rigid or thicker fabrics.
Eastman’s single- ply cutters feature drag and round knife blades. This type of cutting system is typically used in settings where greater cutting accuracy is required for high value goods ( or sample cutting) compared to multiply cutting for high volumes and lower cost goods.
Bristle block cutting surfaces are typical with reciprocating knife cutters, like Eastman’s Talon and Raptor models for multi-layer operations. The bristle block allows the knife to plunge into the cutting surface as well as many layers of fabric without losing accuracy from top to bottom ply.
SW: Currently, die cutting caters to minuscule percentage of total cutting in sewn products industry. Do you feel continuous die cutting will increase their percentage and reciprocating knife cutting will reduce?
Wade: We do not believe that die cutting machines have an interesting future. Our Eastman manual cutters, band knife machines, and single- ply and multi- ply cutters remain highly popular and their market share will continue to increase in the future. We are clearly living in a digital world, and the popularity of automated cutters is definitely on the increase. The growth is rapid and we are participating in that growth. We are constantly updating our technology and at the same time seeking to reduce the cost for our customers. We provide a high level of technology and a superb service. When a customer decides to work with us, they are not just buying a machine, be it a manual cutter or an automated one. They are getting an experience — the famous Eastman experience. No other company offers that. And that is why we continue to win.
"We are proud to offer ‘ sudden service’; we respond to our customers’ needs and enquiries the same day they are received. Again, we have been successful because we know how to create value for our customers." – Wade Stevenson
SW: What is the value proposition of Eastman in terms of service? How does it stand different from the competitors present in the market offering cutting machines at a much cheaper price?
Wade: Many competitors in low- cost countries have sprung up, making copy machines, more or less inferior imitations. Of course, they are able to sell these machines at a cheaper price. Why? They use cheaper parts that are not made for our specifications, their after-sales service is also often poor to non- existent. In a word, they fail to provide any value. All they can do is to provide price. At best, they are copycats. At worse, they are thieves of our cutting machine designs and intellectual property rights.
We are proud to offer ‘sudden service’; we respond to our customers’ needs and enquiries the same day they are received. Again, we have been successful because we know how to create value for our customers.
SW: Bringing back production is a drive which both US and EU are aggressively pursuing. We even have examples of Chinese companies setting up factories in the US with the State help. Is Eastman now looking more towards these hitherto retail markets, as fresh production bases for sales, compared to the existing production bases?
Wade: It is true that we are a US company, and which sometimes works to our advantage, especially today, when there is a certain push to bring back manufacturing, but we also have a big global footprint.
Wade Stevenson, Export President, Eastman Machine Company