Posted on: Thursday - Jun 16, 2016

We’ve all been there.

You’ve had one too many sleepless nights and decide it’s time for a new mattress. While walking around the showroom, you take inventory by visually sizing up each mattress, perhaps even touching a few, and then you approach a memory foam mattress. Without hesitation, you reach down and press your hand into the mattress in anticipation of seeing a hand-shaped indentation right where you just reached. And as you watch the image disappear, you find yourself already reaching back down to do it all over again.

The dedicated team at Sinomax knows this feeling all too well. In fact, they probably encourage it. Being in the business of sleep means making comfort a priority, and Sinomax is doing just that right in La Vergne.

Based in Hong Kong, Sinomax has been designing and manufacturing high quality memory foam products, including mattresses, mattress toppers and pillows, for over 15 years. The company’s products are sold at many retailers throughout the U.S. under various national and private label brands. Gov. Haslam and Commissioner Boyd even had a chance to tour their showroom while in Asia last month.

In November 2015, Sinomax announced plans to invest $28 million to locate its first U.S. manufacturing facility in Tennessee. At 350 new jobs, the project represents the largest jobs commitment made by a Chinese-owned company in Tennessee’s history.

“When we first looked at putting a facility in the U.S., we visited over 20 potential sites and ultimately picked Tennessee for being so strategically located,” said Frank Chen, CEO of Sinomax USA. “Not only will we produce and distribute products from this location, we will also import products from China and distribute them from here because it makes more sense from a cost perspective.”

The deal was finalized in November, but Sinomax didn’t take possession of the building until January. In just a little more than four months, the team has worked hard to transform what was once a dull, dreary facility into what it is today. While renovations are ongoing and equipment continues to be installed, they are on track for completion before the end of the year. 

“If you think about sleep and where you lay your head at the end of the day, cleanliness is key. Everything you see here wasn’t just painted. We basically took it all out and started over,” said Bruce Miller, vice president of operations for Sinomax USA. “We really wanted this facility to have that ‘wow-factor’ so that when our corporate customers visit, they can not only see how our product is made, but also our cleanliness, culture and how we hold our products to a high standard of quality.” 

The upgrades Sinomax is making will turn the site into a state-of-the-art automated pour and fabrication facility. The 520,000 square foot facility is complete with a manufacturing area – which will eventually house four production lines – distribution space and 39 dock doors. Once renovations are complete, there will also be a large meeting space and showroom overlooking the distribution floor, a chemical storage unit and a lab to conduct burn and density testing.

Currently, Sinomax is operating one production line for its memory foam pillows, which are sold at major retailers throughout the country. “We started production a little over a month ago and are working on a large order that will need to ship through July. So, having just taken possession of the building at the beginning of the year, we were eager to bring in the equipment and get it tested and certified,” said Chen. “We are working to gradually increase our daily production to fulfill the high demand.” 

So, what goes into each pillow? The same stuff you would find in a TempurPedic mattress. Miller explained that foam is made like bread and in order to make a mattress or topper, there is a little bit of scrap. The La Vergne facility alone generates over six million pounds in scrap each year. Instead of putting the scrap in landfills, Sinomax grinds it up and uses it in other products, like pillows, so there is very little waste.

The pillows are made by employees, dubbed “the Dream Team,” who each have their own ergonomically designed stations complete with an array of safety features and measurement capabilities to ensure that every single pillow holds exactly three pounds of memory foam. Members of the Dream Team also operate a metal detector that can detect objects as small as the tip of a broken needle, and a compression machine that condenses the size of each pillow in order to fit more product into each shipment.

And speaking of workforce, Miller says finding great employees has been a rather easy process. “We are very fortunate for the workforce. On the second day of training second shift, they hit 85 percent production, which is often unheard of. They have to learn so much about safety and quality, and familiarize themselves with the automated equipment that it would be typical to hit just 50 percent by the end of the week. But they far surpassed our expectations.” 

Once renovations and upgrades are complete, the facility will boast state-of-the-art machinery and automation including cutting and lamination machines, turntables that can load and cut up to six mattresses at a time, and compression machines capable of shrinking a queen-size mattress to fit into a 14” box. This convenient feature eliminates the wait time between purchase and delivery you would typically experience when buying an item as large as a mattress. “Our facility is unlike any other because of the automation and software integration. The machines can be synchronized giving them the ability to talk to one another and do more than one task, essentially lowering the cost in labor and overhead,” Miller explained.

The facility was initially designed to produce $300 million in revenue, but because of improvements and efficiencies, Chen says he envisions it’ll be more like $350 million or potentially $400 million once mattress production begins. “By the time it’s all said and done, this will be the best foam bedding factory in the world, right here in Tennessee.”