BIG BRANDS ARE LEAV­ING MONEY ON THE CUTTING TA­BLE

Stitch World - - PRODUCTION MANAGEMENT -

Keep­ing up with con­sumer de­mand is a prob­lem for re­tail­ers glob­ally. They want prod­ucts fast, cheap, and well-made, and this pres­sure trick­les down through ev­ery part of the sup­ply chain. To cope up, ven­dors have sought the most ef­fi­cient pro­duc­tion tech­niques in pur­suit of agility, and brands like H&M, Levi’s, Marks & Spencer and VF Cor­po­ra­tion, have be­gun to re-ex­am­ine their qual­ity con­trol stan­dard op­er­at­ing pro­ce­dures.

To main­tain con­sis­tent prod­uct qual­ity stan­dards, many brands have qual­ity con­trol teams, whose job is to de­sign, man­date, and au­dit pro­cesses for ven­dors to fol­low through­out pro­duc­tion. In some ways, these qual­ity con­trol teams are the gate­keep­ers of the next order from that ven­dor. As such, ven­dors through­out the world must fol­low brands’ qual­ity con­trol man­u­als, even if the pro­ce­dures de­scribed do noth­ing to add value. One ex­am­ple of this is manda­tory fabric re­lax­ation. Many fab­rics, es­pe­cially knits, need to be care­fully han­dled to ac­count for stretch that can be warped and af­fects the over­all drape and fit of the fi­nal prod­uct. But at times, be­fore the fabric pieces are sent through the sewing line, the fabric rolls are mis­han­dled dur­ing spread­ing. “Walk into Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, In­dia, Pak­istan, or any coun­try where a lot of these gar­ments are made, and every­body will tell you, ‘ You’ve got to re­lax the fabric, this is a man­date,’” ex­plains Ram Sa­reen, Head Coach and Founder of Tukatech, a fash­ion tech­nol­ogy com­pany. He con­tin­ues, “This is per­fectly al­right. Ma­te­rial han­dling stan­dards are im­por­tant. But do brands know what is go­ing to the fi­nal prod­uct?” Typ­i­cal ‘re­lax­ation’ man­dates that a fac­tory takes a per­fectly rolled fabric, open it onto a ta­ble, and leave it there for a day or two to set­tle. In this process, not only is the in­tegrity of fabric harmed due to the han­dling and fric­tion, but also one to two days are lost in the pro­duc­tion cy­cle. When it is time for pro­duc­tion spread­ing, that fabric is usu­ally

Typ­i­cal ‘re­lax­ation’ man­dates re­quire that a fac­tory takes a per­fectly rolled fabric, open it onto a ta­ble, and leave it there for a day or two to set­tle. In this process,not only is the in­tegrity of fabric harmed due to the han­dling and fric­tion, but also one or two days are lost in the pro­duc­tion cy­cle.

han­dled by at least eight, and some­times by as many as four­teen or fif­teen peo­ple, who catch and pull the fabric out of pro­por­tion as they lay it down. This cre­ates un­even stretch about the fabric, and com­pletely negates any re­lax­ation that might have hap­pened while the fabric was ly­ing in a pile the day be­fore. Fac­to­ries are fol­low­ing the pro­ce­dures as they are given, but some­times these prac­tices di­min­ish the very qual­ity they are seek­ing. The same prac­tices are of­ten ap­plied uni­formly across all types of fabric, even if the ne­ces­sity is not there. For ex­am­ple, fabric han­dling pro­ce­dures for knit fab­rics may be ap­plied to denim, sim­ply be­cause it is a ‘stretch’ denim. Sa­reen ex­plains, “The stretch for denim is only in the width. You can re­lax the denim for ten years and it is never go­ing to come back in length.” These pro­ce­dures be­come in­grained in lo­cal pro­duc­tion cul­ture, and chang­ing these fixed pro­cesses be­comes very dif­fi­cult. Qual­ity con­trol teams are adept at im­ple­ment­ing pro­ce­dures based on brand poli­cies and man­u­als, but need to as­sess the ac­tual ap­pli­ca­tion and ef­fects of those pro­ce­dures. As Ram Sa­reen aptly states, “Large re­tail­ers and brands have been

chas­ing the cheap nee­dle to stay com­pet­i­tive, but now they need to fo­cus at­ten­tion on im­ple­ment­ing more ef­fi­cient pro­duc­tion prac­tices. Have big brands missed the most glar­ing loss of pro­duc­tion re­sources?” Labour in the above coun­tries is cheap, but labour ac­counts for less than 20 per cent of the to­tal pro­duc­tion cost. The cost of fabric, on the other hand, equates to 60-75 per cent of the gar­ment cost. It is in the best in­ter­est of both brands and ven­dors to fo­cus on han­dling fabric care­fully, so that the hu­man and ma­te­rial re­sources are not wasted, and the num­ber of steps and time for man­u­fac­tur­ing are re­duced. Sim­pli­fy­ing the fabric spread­ing process means re­duc­tion in the cost of labour, bet­ter prod­uct qual­ity, and a shorter lead time. “I’ve seen a team of four­teen max­imise their spread­ing ca­pac­ity at 2,000 yards,” ex­plains Sa­reen. When fabric spread­ing is done au­to­mat­i­cally with a ma­chine, or even on a mech­a­nised trol­ley sys­tem, the ca­pac­ity in­creases. “One per­son us­ing a US $ 1,500 push trol­ley can spread 4,000-5,000 yards in an eight-hour shift.” What is more, au­to­matic fabric spread­ing en­sures that ev­ery inch of fabric is aligned and gen­tly han­dled from the time the roll is opened, un­til the pieces are cut and ready for sewing. Au­to­matic fabric spread­ing ma­chines come with ten­sion-free mech­a­nisms to un­wind ma­te­rial from the roll, and con­stantly mon­i­tor the ten­sion dur­ing spread­ing to keep con­sis­tent ten­sion through­out the fabric. This means that re­lax­ation for most types of fabric can be re­duced or even elim­i­nated from the pro­duc­tion process, which saves one or two days, plus the re­quired labour cost, and po­ten­tial for lost fabric in­tegrity.

In ad­di­tion to au­to­matic fabric spread­ing, CAD sys­tems help au­to­mate fabric plan­ning and util­i­sa­tion, as well as other pre-pro­duc­tion prac­tices. Ac­count­ing for fabric shrink­age, for in­stance, au­to­mat­i­cally ad­justs the piece ge­om­e­try, even for very tricky fab­rics. Cut­plan­ning ap­pli­ca­tions then run order sce­nar­ios to en­sure the best lay plans, and nest­ing al­go­rithms cal­cu­late the best util­i­sa­tion of the width of the fabric ac­tu­ally re­ceived. Such prac­tices could save three to five days, 20 per cent of staff, and 3-12 per cent of fabric, as well as re­sult in bet­ter qual­ity gar­ments.

Ram Sa­reen de­scribes that even though ven­dors seem to un­der­stand the value of au­to­mated cutting rooms, chang­ing the pro­ce­dures re­quires ex­ter­nal in­puts. He wit­nessed this in a staff meet­ing at a fac­tory re­cently. “The mo­ment we get into en­gi­neer­ing the cutting room, ev­ery­one puts their hands up, say­ing,‘ We have to check with our buyer!’” This means that em­brac­ing au­to­ma­tion must come from the top and then move down­wards. “I think some train­ing needs to be done in the buy­ers’ of­fices. The brands and re­tail­ers need to visit the ven­dors and see how au­to­ma­tion af­fects the time and qual­ity sav­ings in the cutting rooms and use that knowl­edge to up­date their stan­dard op­er­at­ing pro­ce­dures, like oth­ers have be­gun to do.” It is im­por­tant to recog­nise that play­ers at all lev­els in the sup­ply chain have the same goal: ag­ile pro­duc­tion ca­pa­bil­i­ties. Try­ing to speed up cum­ber­some pro­cesses is like train­ing a bull to do gym­nas­tics: it’s just not go­ing to work. Choos­ing ven­dors based solely on cheap labour only goes so far to re­sult in over­all cost sav­ings, es­pe­cially when pro­duc­tion meth­ods them­selves leave much to be im­proved upon.

Au­to­matic fabric spread­ing ma­chines come with ten­sion-free mech­a­nisms to un­wind ma­te­rial from the roll, and con­stantly mon­i­tor the ten­sion dur­ing spread­ing to keep con­sis­tent ten­sion through­out the fabric. This means that re­lax­ation for most types of fabric can be re­duced or even elim­i­nated from the pro­duc­tion process, which saves one or two days.

Com­pa­nies of­ten place fabric on the floor which leads to com­pro­mised qual­ity

It is of­ten seen that about 8-10 work­ers han­dle fabric spread­ing which in­creases man­ual de­pen­dency

Ram Sa­reen, Head Coach and Founder, Tukatech

Brand and re­tail­ers need to un­der­stand how au­to­ma­tion saves time and im­proves qual­ity in the cutting room

Too many work­ers han­dling fabric some­times cre­ates un­even stretch in fabric

In case of au­to­matic spread­ing, the num­ber of work­ers re­quired to han­dle the fabric re­duces to one

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