Myths of lean in the ap­parel in­dus­try

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Lean tools and tech­niques have been de­ployed in the ap­parel in­dus­try for quite some time. Over the years, Lean has been mis­un­der­stood, mis­in­ter­preted and has mis­led man­age­ment in many ways. As a re­sult of this, cer­tain myths have emerged about Lean. This ar­ti­cle by Anand Desh­pande, Founder and CEO, Ad­maa Con­sult­ing is an anti-dote to those myths.

Re­duc­ing in­ven­tory across the pro­duc­tion line guar­an­tees re­duc­tion of man­u­fac­tur­ing lead time: Wrong

Lean con­sid­ers in­ven­tory as one of the seven wastes that needs to be re­duced. How­ever, re­duc­tion of in­ven­tory be­low a stan­dard value across crit­i­cal points on the pro­duc­tion line, could in­crease the lead time.

In­ven­tory is rather a buf­fer against vari­abil­ity. The more the vari­abil­ity, the more the in­ven­tory that is re­quired to ad­dress it. For ex­am­ple, ap­parel man­u­fac­tur­ing starts with cut­ting and ends with fin­ish­ing. Cut­ting fol­lows a batch pro­duc­tion system and sewing is usu­ally a sin­gle-piece flow. In­ven­tory ( WIP-cut pan­els-worth one day stock) is kept be­tween cut­ting and sewing as safety stock for break­downs and feed­ing is­sues ex­pe­ri­enced in cut­ting and sup­ply chain re­spec­tively. Lack of WIP could starve sewing of pan­els just in case cut­ting ex­pe­ri­ences man­u­fac­tur­ing vari­abil­ity.

Man­age­ment de­cides to keep stan­dard WIP in crit­i­cal ar­eas across the pro­duc­tion lines to ad­dress in­ter­nal vari­a­tion. While one could say that re­duc­tion in in­ven­tory re­duces man­u­fac­tur­ing lead time, it does not guar­an­tee lead time re­duc­tion, be­cause it could lead to starv­ing in system, in turn, lead­ing to ca­pac­ity losses.

5S ( Work­place or­ga­ni­za­tion) will al­ways im­prove pro­duc­tion: Wrong

Work­place or­ga­ni­za­tion def­i­nitely as­sures ‘place for ev­ery­thing and ev­ery­thing in its place’. How­ever, the hy­poth­e­sis that 5S can al­ways im­prove pro­duc­tion num­bers is de­bat­able.

Im­prov­ing pro­duc­tion num­bers re­quires con­sis­tency in the ap­pli­ca­tion of :

• Work­place Or­ga­ni­za­tion

• Waste Elim­i­na­tion

• Process Stan­dard­iza­tion

• Con­tin­u­ous Im­prove­ment

Pro­duc­tion num­bers im­prove if we can iden­tify the ca­pac­ity con­straint (bot­tle­neck) and im­prove the flow through the bot­tle­neck. While 5S may re­duce the search­ing time, it does not al­ways im­prove pro­duc­tion num­bers un­less we re­move the bot­tle­neck across the pro­duc­tion lines.

Lean makes you work harder: Wrong

This is the most com­mon per­cep­tion about Lean. One fun­da­men­tal and strong pil­lar of Lean is ‘Just in Time’. An in­ex­tri­ca­ble el­e­ment of JIT is Takt Time plan­ning.

Takt Time matches the pace of pro­duc­tion to the pace of sales. Log­i­cally speak­ing, Takt Time es­tab­lishes the pro­duc­tion rhythm. Imag­ine that you are an op­er­a­tor on the pro­duc­tion floor, des­per­ately try­ing to re­cover pro­duc­tion num­bers to­wards the end of the shift. Mis­takes are bound to hap­pen with a faster than pos­si­ble rate of pro­duc­tion. More­over, over­bur­den caused to the op­er­a­tor re­sults in de­fects and ex­cess in­ven­tory cre­ation.

Lean es­tab­lishes a pac­ing mech­a­nism through­out the fac­tory. Adopt­ing a stan­dard pace across the fac­tory makes peo­ple work smarter and not harder.

Lean is more of a trans­for­ma­tional jour­ney in it­self, rather than be­ing a des­ti­na­tion. Most com­pa­nies de­ploy Lean tools and tech­niques for a pe­riod of 18-24 months. Some­times, qual­ity and pro­duc­tion im­proves only by ap­ply­ing th­ese tech­niques, but one ob­serves that un­less a strong cul­ture is es­tab­lished, the im­proved re­sults soon wither away.

Sin­gle-piece flow can only im­prove qual­ity and re­duce man­u­fac­tur­ing lead-time al­ways: Wrong

To achieve a con­tin­u­ous flow, the ul­ti­mate goal rec­om­mended by Lean is a sin­gle-piece flow. How­ever, sin­gle-piece flow may or may not al­ways im­prove qual­ity and lead time.

Take the ex­am­ple of a shirt pro­duc­tion line. We ob­serve that batch pro­duc­tion is usu­ally fol­lowed in parts pro­duc­tion. The rea­son be­ing that sin­gle- piece flow could ac­tu­ally in­crease one’s non-value add time. Cy­cle time on work­sta­tion con­sists of:

Value add time (stitch time – change in the fit, form and func­tion of the prod­uct)

Non-value add time (some­thing that process does not need at all)

Es­sen­tial non-value add time (steps that do not add value, but are re­quired cur­rently).

Most ex­perts point out that sin­gle-piece flow in parts assem­bly in­creases the ENVA (for ex­am­ple, the time it takes to pick the part from the UPS con­veyor to stick and place it back on the con­veyor, may take more time than the stitch time). There­fore, in such a case, batch pro­duc­tion is faster than the sin­gle-piece flow.

Qual­ity can be im­proved us­ing both batch pro­duc­tion and sin­gle-piece flow, usu­ally when labour-in­ten­sive work is in­volved. The out­put largely de­pends on the op­er­a­tor’s skills, and as long as skills are up­graded and con­sis­tent, the qual­ity also re­mains re­li­able as well.

Lean is a des­ti­na­tion: Wrong

Lean is more of a trans­for­ma­tional jour­ney in it­self, rather than be­ing a des­ti­na­tion. Most com­pa­nies de­ploy Lean tools and tech­niques for a pe­riod of 18-24 months. Some­times, qual­ity and pro­duc­tion im­proves only by ap­ply­ing th­ese tech­niques, but one ob­serves that un­less a strong cul­ture is es­tab­lished, the im­proved re­sults soon wither away.

Lean can only be sus­tained by re­in­forc­ing the fol­low­ing el­e­ments on a daily ba­sis:

Vis­ual Fac­tory (De­tect­ing ab­nor­mal­i­ties vis­ually)

Daily Ac­count­abil­ity (Cul­ture of hav­ing meet­ing at the right time and right place with the right peo­ple)

Stan­dard work ex­e­cuted at all or­ga­ni­za­tional lev­els

In­sti­tu­tion­al­iza­tion of a Con­tin­u­ous Im­prove­ment (Kaizen) Cul­ture.

Anand Des­pande has over 25 years of ex­pe­ri­ence in­clud­ing 14 years global ex­pe­ri­ence and 5 years of con­sult­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in Ap­parel In­dus­try of In­dia, Bangladesh and Africa.

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