I was fortunate enough recently to spend some time with Peter Pano and his family at Palos Verdes on the outskirts of Los Angeles.

Pete has enjoyed a long association with the textile care industry having been the technical director of the Linen Supply Association of America (now the Textile Rental Services Association), and vice president of the Hydraxtor Corp, which brought him to England to award a manufacturing franchise to Thomas Broadbent & Co. He has been executive vice president to Ludell Manufacturing Co specialising in waste water heat recovery systems, and consultant for Thermal Engineering of Arizona. Now, in his freelance capacity he has served a portfolio of clients that includes Steiner Corp of Salt Lake City, AAA Linen Supply Co, which is based in Kansas City, Consolidated Laundry Machinery Co of Los Angeles, and Shepherd’s Linen Supply of Beaumont, Texas as well as Manteles and La Europa, which together are the largest linen suppliers in Mexico.

Privileged entry

I was privileged to be able to accompany him to one of his recent jobs, that of advising on the infrastructure to a denim jeans manufacturing and processing factory set up by Yul Ku, a Korean immigrant who designed and set up the factory which now employs over 1,000 operatives making, processing and dispatching 200,000 pairs of jeans a week to customers such as Calvin Klein and Gap.

For an outsider to get into such an establishment is like trying to enter Fort Knox, but the guard at the gate greeted Pete like an old friend and waived us through.

Introduced to Woon Yang, the general manager, I was taken on a tour of inspection of the factory and was absolutely knocked out by the sheer scale. The main factory is 175,000ft2 into which Pete introduced a 90,000ft2 mezzanine floor. The adjacent laundry is 100,000ft2. Yet despite the scale, the operation has a clear, logical route, allowing the cloth to be laid, cut, systematically assembled, pocketed, zipped and gradually emerge as a pair of jeans for labelling and being sent for special processes requested by the customers.

Washing and de-sizing is done by a battery of Milnor 175ft3 ruggedly constructed apparel processors. The laundering and finishing department has the ability to produce bleaching and, the stonewash effect is handled by a battery of barrel machines. The special “creaseworn” streaks are introduced by operators, dressed like space invaders, working in a specially constructed environment using sandblasting techniques along with acid streaking and other chemical processes.

Robot battery

Automatically transported back to the main factory via a curing tunnel, the jeans are then passed to the brushing department where Tonello “Brushrobots” occupy the entire length of the room. The final product is then carried to the area where pairs of jeans are folded, baled and barcode labelled ready for dispatch.

Computerisation is everywhere, from the initial entry and storage of the enormous bales of raw material straight from the mills, through the laying out and cutting of templates drawn up in the design department, to the automated machines that construct zips on site, and machines for sewing pockets to leg templates. It extends to mechanical handling systems that transport the semi-finished product from one station to another, and carries right up to the point of dispatch where labels are printed and pasted to bales prior to loading to delivery trucks.

The detailing was in the main to Mr Ku’s layout, and designed to make the working environment as pleasant as possible. Each work station is serviced by vacuum nozzles that collect the lint and threads from sewing machines and the cutters, channelling them to waste storage bins outside. Mechanical handling is installed throughout. I did not once see a fatigue-inducing task. Peter’s involvement was in the infrastructure of the laundry and finishing areas, water recovery and waste water treatment.