Lean manufacturing for apparel industry

I have written the possible application of lean manufacturing techniques in textile and apparel industries sometime back. With my recent experiences I thought of writing this article which will help my readers from apparel industry in particular in identifying and removing wastes from their systems.

Although sounds simple apparel industry has one of the very difficult manufacturing processes. It is a labor intensive, skill based industry. This industry contains lots of wastes and therefore opportunity for improvement.

Apparel manufacturers allover the world is pressed to deliver high quality garments at low costs in shorter lead times. Most of the apparel manufacturers are turning to lean manufacturing to achieve these objectives. Manufacturing an apparel item involves lots of processes. Order inquiries, sampling stages, order confirmation, purchasing of raw material, inspection and storing of raw material, creation of cut plans and markers, cutting, sewing and packing are among key milestones of the process.

If we define the value from the customer’s point of view only the cutting, sewing and packing operations adds value to the product (apart from the design and pre manufacturing processes). Lots of processes happen to achieve the efficiencies in cutting and sewing and even in packing stages. But the reality is when it is analyzed in the bigger picture the total effect is negative on the system. For an example hours of time and tons of money is spent in calculating and ordering correct economical order quantities of RM, inspecting incoming batches of material (especially fabric) and creation of efficient lay plans and tight markers to save fabric. But at the end of the day it is difficult to use the saved fabrics in other orders due to minor variations in colors and the fluctuation of the customer demands. So the material ends as write downs. Every effort and saving is lost. This is a classic example of not aligning the total process to fulfill the requirement of the customer. In lean context this is known as sub optimization.

I have an ideal lean apparel manufacturing unit in my mind. There only the required quantities of RM will be ordered by the procurement department based on the pre calculated consumptions. Then the incoming materials will be delivered in small frequent batches. Supplier ensures the quality of the material. When the goods reached manufacturing facility it is ready for manufacturing. Fabrics will not be cut in lots. Single ply cutters will cut all the panels for one garment at once. This operation will be synchronized to the TAKT time of the operation. Single ply cutting will prevent the requirement for color shade matching and complex lay planning handling. But it might consume little more fabric than if it is done in a conventional way. But the reduction of cost and lead time in inspection, lay planning, marker making and rejects will bring a net positive result to the process. Every manufacturing module will operate with a single piece flow. Output will be packed immediately and will be delivered to the customer in small batches. This will reduce the cost of the product, improve the quality and will deliver the goods to the customer fast. And more importantly this will simplify the process.

Although there can be problems in achieving the ideal state described here I am sure you can achieve a near ideal solution with the application of lean manufacturing principles in apparel industry. Lean will bring the flexibility, high quality, shorter lead times and lower costs which are very essential for anyone in this sensitive market. No need to say that these improvements will bring you the competitive advantage over the conventional manufacturers.

9 thoughts on “Lean manufacturing for apparel industry”

  1. Hi there,
    The concept explained in the article covers the need of companies handling boutique buyers or very small order quantity.
    In mass production when we lay 100 plies at a time we consider it safe from shade variation or any such problem as they are going to be handled through bundle system.
    Please suggest how can we apply these concets in mass production with laying more lays as well as using bundle system or assembly line?

  2. I have seen one company with this lean concept .but they are doing this bulk cutting with the existing laying procedure but not in a single ply cutting .here instead of pushing to the cut panels to the sewing dept ,the sewing dept pulls the inputs from the cutting section that reduce full time worker in cutting section ,which means the worker in the cutting section worker may be used for fabric section and other dept also.but planning is very essential for lean system

    Senthil kumar-ILFS CDI

  3. AKIL,

    according to me we can not adopt the lean concepts 100% in cutting department ,this is what senthil also try to clarify..single pcs cutting by using the sewing workers is not at all possible.bulk cutting is the reliable effective method .as for as consider the single pcs flow in the sewing lines also not possible ..that is a concept/target we have to run towards that by reduceing the bundle size depends on the complication in our style..the thing is redusing WIP in sewing lines will spead up the flow..and reduce the handling.WE HAVE TO TAKE CARE THAT THE BUNDLE SIZE SHOULD NOT BREAK THE FLOW OF THE PRODUCTION ..NO OPERATORS SHOULD WAIT FOR THE PCS.it is most commenly seen in the garment industries..so the line balancing based on takt time is most important for a lean manufacturer..

  4. Guy,

    Can any one tell, If the cutting and stiching is done in bulk but how will to cut down the time in for packing- i.e. 100 of pieces are cut n stitched in automated machine..how to reduce the time in packing

  5. hi all,

    i used to work in lean dept in garment manufacturing and for your information all the lean concept can be implemented on production such as 1 pc flow, zero tolerance, pull system, kanban, self & successive inspection. production target set by the total cycle time and calculated based on cost per unit and manpower used, so production result are pcs/person/hour. this implementation proven can reduce cost and increase productivity as the same number of workers.
    believe it or not…this is true!!

  6. This is good thinking but when we talk about production this idea looks consuming more time rather than to cut a lay of 80 plies etc. In boths cases there are some merits and some demarits. Think in both cases we have to bundle and induct in the line. Somehow can we implement this theory in denim industry. If you have some sort of practical please forward me the information in figures and saving amount in terms of time at arfan.fsd.undp@gmail.com

    Muhammad Arfan Akram . . . . . . .

  7. One element of lean is continuous flow. Many of the apparel manufacturers use LINE concepts of manufacturing.

    Please share your views,whether having a conveyor will help in any way?

    Lean expert

  8. As per the Lean the WIP As much as possible the WIP should be minimum .But In any of the production system we cannot exactly bring drown the WIP to 1 level.As Akil said then the operator has to wait more.In response to the R.Duraiswamy i think conveyor can minimize the WIP some extend.But the entire Production system as you said Line concept(Progressive Bundling system) is not suitable for LEAN System.When you adopt the Lean to any product then the Product SMV should be very minimum.So Modular System is mostly suitable with Small SMV product.

    Senthil-ILFS CDI LTD-Senthil.b1980@gmail.com

  9. Hi all,
    Have a good day.
    I am K. Selvakumar working as GM- Operations / Production in apparel industry from 1990. I am implemented LEAN concept in my units like 1 pc flow, zero tolerance, pull system, kanban, self & successive inspection, JIT ect… And production targets set by the total cycle time and calculated based on cost per minute / unit and manpower used, so production results are pcs/person/hour as well as cost including in cutting also. This implementations proved that can reduce cost and increase productivity as the same number of workers.
    As Anonymous said believe it or not…this is true!!

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