By Debbie Adams
The Precision Fabrics Group (PFG) has reached the goal set by the corporation for 1 million safe work hours.
According to Safety Manager Brenda Graybill, “In the middle of September, the PFG Vinton plant achieved the coveted 1 million safe work-hours goal. The last time we achieved this was in 2012. Our last lost time injury was in November of 2018, and it has taken over 1,000 days for PFG to reach this milestone.
“This is an outstanding achievement and one that is difficult to accomplish, particularly when you factor in the number of people within the plant and the diverse and complex machinery within all departments of the plant.
“This is a challenging and exceptional achievement, and all the credit goes to our folks for obtaining this goal,” Graybill said. “Our associates have really bought into working safely and looking out not only for themselves, but for one another.
“Precision Fabrics works hard to provide a safe work environment, but it is in the daily (in the moment) decision-making about the risk associated with any given task, with everything our associates do throughout the day or night, that allows this to happen.
“It’s the little things, like picking up a piece of pallet that has broken off and is in the floor so that someone doesn’t trip on it,” Graybill said. “It’s cleaning up a water or oil spill rather than waiting on someone else to do it. It’s following the safety rules and procedures that have been put in place based on our history of injuries. It’s reporting an unsafe hazard to the appropriate person; it’s stressing safety to our new associates when training them. It’s all these little things that add up to a huge achievement.
“PFG’s plant manager, Mike Maust, and our management team truly believe that our associates are the best in the valley—bar none—and our associates continue to prove it every day with meeting a safety goal like this. We are so proud of this plant and everything we do together every day to have achieved this milestone. We have the most dedicated and loyal associates and are so proud of them all. We would put our workforce up against any other at any time.”
PFG has evolved from a traditional textile company into an engineered materials business, focused on highly technical, high quality woven and nonwoven fabrics. PFG employs approximately 600 associates and operates plants in Vinton, North Carolina, and Tennessee. The local plant is one of the largest employers in the Town of Vinton.
The Vinton PFG plant, originally known as the Roanoke Weaving Company, was built in 1936, and then became Burlington Industries. For many years, regular textile fabrics were produced here. PFG bought out Burlington in 1988 and continues as a private company today, but with quite a different product line.
The Vinton plant specializes in weaving some of the most technically challenging continuous-filament fabrics in the world. Their nonwoven medical fabrics are used to create a broad variety of technical products used throughout the entire healthcare market. Non-finished or “greige” fabric leaves the Vinton facility and moves to the other PFG plants in Greensboro or Madison, Tenn., or to other companies for finishing. The fabric is their product, turned into finished manufactured goods elsewhere.
Most people think of weaving as turning yarn or thread into fabric on a loom; however, at PFG, the thread is continuous filament of many sizes with the appearance of fishing line. The fabric is woven by water jet, air jet or rapier technology that is capable of shooting the weft of the thread across the loom 600-1100 times each minute, using a force of water, air or thread grippers.
The state-of-the-art facility produces 80-100 different versions of specialty fabrics for diverse uses, from military products, including parachutes and active duty and combat uniforms, to hospital and medical products, to hypo-allergenic bedding, to window treatments.
“Million” is also the number of yards of nylon filter material that PFG donated to the World Health Organization campaign to eradicate Guinea Worm Disease in the 1990s. The disease is caused by drinking water contaminated by microscopic larvae, which migrate inside the victim’s body and grow into thin threadlike worms up to a yard long. The worms emerge from the body one year later through painful blisters, causing permanent scarring and polio-like crippling. In some areas of Africa, over 50 percent of the population became disabled by the disease, which can be prevented by filtering the water. With the help of PFG, the incidence of the disease has dropped by 99 percent; the number of cases has fallen from 3.5 million to less than 35,000.
Passengers onboard the US Airways jet that crashed into the Hudson River in New York in 2009 donned life vests made of fabric produced in the Vinton plant.
In a previous interview, General Manager Maust said, “In our business model, we make products no one else can make, that the customer can’t find anywhere else. Our research and development department finds solutions for issues, solutions not typically thought of. In many cases, customers come to us with specific requests for things they want to try and ask us to find the solution to their specific application.”
According to its website, “PFG can manufacture fabrics which are barriers to allergens, flame resistant, antimicrobial, or fluid and splash repellent. We helped to pioneer modern synthetic barrier fabrics that would require a microscope to see the particles blocked. Nobody in the industry has more experience with the material than Precision Fabrics. If nylon was invented on a Monday, we began weaving it on Tuesday.”
That flexibility has kept PFG viable.
PFG in Vinton employs approximately 185 workers running over 300 weaving and support machines 24 hours a day, seven days a week within 330,000 square feet of space on about 30 acres of property. The workers are highly trained in technical skills specific to the machinery that they are operating.
Graybill says that many employees at the Vinton PFG plant are second or third generation employees. She, herself, has been with the Vinton plant for about 40 years since it was Burlington Industries. She has worked in almost every department at the plant, becoming familiar with virtually every piece of equipment, and serving the “first female role” in several positions. That diversity in work experience has given her knowledge of what the safety needs are throughout the plant, and training for her job as safety manager, which she took on in 2018.
During the pandemic, PFG has been classified as an “essential business” on the frontlines in the production of woven medical fabrics for PPE, isolation gowns, surgical gowns, scrubs, drapes, aprons, and coveralls—“safeguarding human life.”
PFG continues to modernize its Vinton facility, adding new, faster-weaving equipment as technology advances.
“We certainly want to congratulate PFG upon reaching one million hours of safe working,” said Vinton Mayor Brad Grose. “It is truly an incredible achievement that demonstrates a dedication to safety by both management and staff. PFG has always been a great corporate citizen. We look forward to continuing the cooperative relationship we have with PFG. The million hours of safety is another example of why we are proud to have PFG here in Vinton.”
While PFG has been celebrating the workers, it won’t be standing still. Graybill says the PFG plant now has a new goal—2 million safe work hours.