Ten miles from Tampa, in a green, pleasant business park, future visions of garment finishing are regularly deliberated.

The park is the home of Unipress, a company which is keeping its position at the forefront of the garment finishing equipment manufacturing industry by offering “value engineering” and by anticipating tomorrow’s customer needs.

Next advances in finishing equipment, Unipress believes, will involve stepping up to even higher levels of productivity and, at the same time, developing machine design simplicity that affords further ease of operation and servicing.

Customer needs are monitored by sales representatives’ visits to shops and plants, and by attendance at industry shows.

Ideas are sifted and new developments progressed through research and development programmes – in which Unipress substantially invests. The company has been notably innovative – with the vacuum buck, the air-blown sleeve, and the complete, compact, one-operator shirt finishing unit.

Helping to deliver “value engineering” is sophisticated computerisation which allows finishing equipment design to be conducted with speed and thoroughness. The computerisation shows how components would be stressed in use, and gives a simulation of how built machines would perform.

Today, the first two prototype stages of a new machine are achieved on the computer screen rather than in a research and development department workshop. Furthermore, equipment is life-cycle tested by computer software.

Manufacturing processes are also of vital importance in making sure Unipress products represent value. Components are outsourced from go-ahead entrepreneurial suppliers which have some of the latest types of machine tool technology that allow economies to be made in the way in which parts are produced.

Components are brought together at the Unipress plant in the just-in-time Japanese style assembly method. Suppliers of parts are reasonably local, and the production output of some is almost exclusively for Unipress.

Over the years, Unipress and some of these suppliers have grown in size together.

The production of finishing equipment at the Unipress plant is streamlined, and the standardisation of assemblies assists with this. Skilled, experienced workers build the equipment – half the workforce has been employed by the company for eight years or more, a staff retention rate which is not common in Florida.

Unipress has 85 employees, 50 of whom work in the factory. In the product line-up are shirt finishing presses, general drycleaning presses, form finishers, laundry presses and coat cabinets.

Before leaving the factory, all machines are subjected to testing which includes operational running for up to half a day.

Service schools are regularly held by Unipress, with sessions geared to equipment familiarisation and knowledge updating. Service personnel and equipment users both benefit from the focused learning programmes.

Unipress sales representatives are fully able to conduct operator training when required – sometimes they are called on to provide sleeves-rolled-up technical back up. A team of engineers at the factory answer telephoned technical enquiries from customers and distributors. Parts are stocked for machines produced over the past 30 years.

Always a press specialist

Unipress was established 70 years ago as a laundry press manufacturer in Minneapolis.
Some 20 years later, a group of equipment dealers took over the company, significantly investing in it and expanding its operation.
In 1978, the UK-based company BMM Weston bought Unipress, for which it had been an equipment distributor since 1970. Nine years ago, Peter Hamlin and Gary Johnson bought out the company they were running – they are equal partners.
While general responsibilities are shared, Mr Hamlin oversees strategic planning and engineering areas while Mr Johnson looks after the day-to-day running of the company.
Michael Harrod, who has been with Unipress for about 20 years, is chief engineer and leads research and development.
Tom Stites, sales manager, co-ordinates the work programmes of four representatives in the US, and liaises with 130 distributors, 100 of which are in the US. He has been with the company for 14 years.
Peter Haggarty is service manager and has notched up 18 years of service. Don Clouston is production manager, and Ron Fisher is purchasing manager.