In the first installment of our new recurring feature, we chat with Robert Berger, president of intelliFLEX member company MW Canada.
As a vertically integrated textile mill, this third-generation family business is able to shift gears quickly in sampling and production. Depending on customer needs, dry and wet textile processing can produce standard or unique end products.
In fact, Berger says about 80 per cent of the custom shading designs found in a retailer’s catalogue originate from MW Canada’s operations in Cambridge, ON. Last year, 97 per cent of the company’s business came from export sales. Major retailers stocking MW Canada’s products include Hunter Douglas, Costco, Home Depot and Blinds to Go.
In an industry that has been under siege in recent decades from overseas competition, Berger has kept MW Canada top of its industry by always looking ahead. That includes investing in the development of “technical” fabrics and smart textiles.
Q: How is MW Canada involved with technical and smart textiles?
Berger: We continue to work with other intelliFLEX members and the National Research Council on proof of concept and research projects ranging from organic photovoltaics for solar blinds to nanofilms for roll-to-roll fabrication and novel smart textiles for energy conversion and storage. We see a lot of business potential in fabrics, window coverings and other textiles that, for example, harvest energy, monitor environmental conditions and track human health.
Q: Why is MW Canada making this investment beyond its traditional business?
Berger: I am constantly mulling over new products that will help us differentiate and trying to look several years beyond the trends that are driving the market today. If you want to be successful in a global marketplace, you have to be ahead of the game and never happy with what you have. If you stay the same, you will disappear.
Technology is the future of our business. Any project we are involved in could change the future of materials science. For example, we can store enough power in the headrail of a solar blind for it to be raised and lowered several times a day, but we need greater breakthroughs in solar panel efficiency. With these kinds of technologies, we don’t have to be first, we just have to know how we can do it better or different to find our niche in the market.
Q: How must the Canadian textile industry evolve?
Berger: The answer to this question is very much evident in what we have done. First, we have automated every aspect of our operation for maximum efficiency and cost reduction. Second, we have established an in-house skills and learning centre to train a new generation of talent. Lastly, we always have to be responsive to what our customers the world over want in premier textiles.
This will increasingly be defined by adding technical functionality to what has traditionally been a relatively low-tech product. This includes creating “smart” textiles for applications in healthcare, filtration, defence, mining and wearables – you name it. That means companies like ours need to partner with technology companies that are developing the flexible electronics components we need to incorporate into our production to bring these new products to market.