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Reflecting a positive light in hi-vis uniforms


Reflecting a positive light in hi-vis uniforms

By Merredith Branscombe

Oct 1, 2006 12:00 PM


Metlon is one of those quiet companies — so good at what they do, so acute at listening and adapting to their customers' needs, that you might not notice them.

Well, you might not notice them except that their products can be seen from 500 yards away. At night. In heavy fog.

And that's really the point.

This Cranston, R.I. company, founded in 1947 as a custom slitter of specialty yarns to impossibly fine widths, has thrived by taking advantage of bright spots in the market — and then delivering the highest quality products and services, even building their own customized equipment if need be. And one of the bright spots that Metlon sees on the horizon is in reflective material designed to meet the ANSI 107/ISEA 101 safety specifications — the highest level of visibility, in uniforms for highway, construction, and safety workers — and also in uniforms you might see every day, but that also need to stand out in the dark, like airline ground controllers or baggage handlers.

Last year, Metlon became one of only five authorized U.S. distributors of 3M's Scotchlite™ reflective material, widely regarded as one of the “go-to” materials for any company trying to meet the ANSI 107 specifications.

“In the coming years, we're going to see quite a bit of growth in the ANSI/ISEA 107-2004 market,” says Wayne Etchells, Metlon Executive Vice President. “Prior to the 2004 version of the ANSI standards, the levels of visibility required were lower. It's still mostly a voluntary standard — but already Minnesota and Washington State are moving to make it a mandatory standard, and others may soon follow. That's the climate out there.”

Etchells says side-by-side comparisons of Scotchlite's products with imported competitors are startling. “At 50 miles an hour, you can cover 500 yards or so very quickly. The Scotchlite products really light up; you could see how that could make a difference.”

The fabric of light

Prior to becoming a distributor, Metlon since 1982 had been one of the world's premier slitters of Scotchlite, slitting it into what it called its RetroGlo fabric — threads so fine and subtly woven that they are invisible in regular light, silver-white when lit up at night.

Metlon can and does find any number of applications for these high-visibility fibers — from laminating webbing to collars and leashes to custom-making vests for departments of transportation.

Fashion, outdoor and athletic wear are also taking notice of the possibilities offered by RetroGlo fabric. Walk into any athletic or outdoor gear store and chances are you will shortly bump up against jackets or hats using Metlon's technology or products.

But one of the most ubiquitous, practical — and subtle — applications for RetroGlo has been in uniforms, where an organization wants to increase safety without sacrificing aesthetics or brand identity. Etchells identifies this as another area where Metlon is growing, and points to Northwest Airlines and Federal Express uniforms as good examples.

“Those organizations want to keep their corporate identity; they want to have some style; and they know the conditions where those clothes will need to light up to keep their employees safe. We can custom slit, weave or laminate RetroGlo into the fabric or onto stripes — just to the degree that the customer wants.”

According to Robert Hartz, owner of Watertown, N.Y.-based Hana Manufacturing, Metlon's ability to understand what the customer wants is spot-on. “Everything they do is A-1 — just the simple little things. Their delivery is good, their packing and turnaround are excellent. I'm saying that because the stuff we've gotten from other reflective companies is terrible. We're starting to purchase other reflective materials from them also since they became a distributor. They're just a pleasure to work with.”

Evolving with the market

Metlon's ability to adapt is fairly amazing — from its beginnings as a slitter of gold and silver yarns, to its discovery of a way to laminate them so that they would be less itchy — the company keeps reinventing itself and even its machinery to change with the times. “Disco was very good to us,” Etchells acknowledged, “but if you stop there, you don't have a business.”

In addition to their 3M and RetroGlo business, the company has also become a worldwide leader in custom slitting, finding a way to do jobs that seemingly no other company can — like the holographic film on credit cards, or automobile trims, or electronics to .00089 of an inch. That part of Metlon's business is thriving.

As is the reflective wearables and uniforms business. “Consumers are becoming more aware of the need for more reflective materials at night, and the quality, style and availability of reflective materials is higher — although you do still see joggers at night in black clothing,” Wayne chuckles. “We even laminate reflective webbing to leash and collar manufacturers. Once you start noticing it, I think you'll see it everywhere.”

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© Copyright Metlon Corporation 2006