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Framework for evolving from Traditional to Smart Factory

by Apparel Resources

27-September-2018  |  13 mins read

Digital innovation is today’s mantra to maintain the pace of change and to remain relevant in the market. Lately, the apparel businesses have started transforming digitally to gain critical information and generate insights. The importance of data lies not just in understanding the processes and taking discussions based on that, it has reached a step ahead from monitoring the processes to understand the customers’ needs.

Smart factory includes a combination of production, information, and communication technologies, with the potential for the integration of these technologies across the entire manufacturing supply chain. The core lies in the data collection and making real time discussions based on that. However, as far as the apparel industry is concerned, the transformation of traditional factories into smart factories is not being seen on a large scale. Today, when everything is being digitalized, the apparel manufacturers need to pursue innovation much before than their competitor does. There are plenty of technologies available in the market to help the businesses in achieving success and maintaining pace with the rapidly transforming world. But, using the technology in the right way and at the right place will help the businesses achieve the ultimate success.

According to Jagdish Ramaswami, Chief Digital Officer and Head of Business Excellence, Hindalco Industries Ltd., Aditya Birla Group, going digital to set up a smart factory offers numerous ways to successfully achieve greater efficiency and higher productivity. “Setting up a smart factory offers the ability to adjust and learn from data in real-time and makes the smart factory more responsive, proactive, and predictive while enabling the organization to avoid operational downtime and other productivity challenges,” said Jagdish. He added, “It’s only the right type of data being used at the right place and with the right people behind it that helps in making the significant changes.”

It’s a fact that the data analytics cannot be done for the entire area within an industry. The identification of the critical areas in the processes and collection of the data is the right way in order to get higher outputs. Any technology should not just be implemented because it’s new and has been proved successful to others. A proper analysis determining the critical paths and the areas where the technology is required should be the first step towards implementing the technology. “Despite the fact that I belong to the steel industry, I can say there are so many areas in the steel industry which are more or less similar to the apparel industry and where the digital transformation can actually take place. Safety is one of the areas,” averred Jagdish.

According to him, the garment industry should follow a practice where each of the managers should have an app in their mobile phones and that real time should tell them who in the factory is moving in unsafe zones. This alert will make them aware of the unsafe practices being followed by their subordinates and they can take an immediate preventive action for the same. “In our industry, we are following this practice,” claimed Jagdish.

Furthermore, starting with the identification of areas that are critical to the manufacturing processes, the three important areas, apart from safety, that are crucial to apparel manufacturing process are Equipment, Process, and Customer Relationship.

Preventive maintenance boosts OEE…

The quality of the garment highly depends on the equipment life and its functioning. Any fault and any difference in the functionality of the machine may hinder the manufacturing process and the quality of the product. The equipment maintenance can help increase the productivity and efficiency to a big level. The fundamental objective of maintenance is to guaranty quality of the product made by the machines and extending their working life. “The machines should be continuously monitored for the data collection. The further analysis of data helps in determining if the equipment is highly prone to failure. Also, the data recorded makes a pattern for a particular event. For example, when a machine requires a part replacement, it may show the same pattern of data; analysing the pattern, makes it clear what the event on the same pattern was before. Based on this, proper actions can be taken for preventing any further failure that may stop or delay the production,” elaborated Jagdish.

For a more precise and closer prevention of failure, the process (preventive maintenance) can be applied to each of the components of the machine. Monitoring each component gives you a better insight and helps with the prevention of overall equipment failure. So that, any change in any component when encountered can be tackled to see that the overall equipment efficiency is maintained.

“With preventive maintenance of each of the components, we have been able to boost the OEE (Overall Equipment Efficiency) from 66 to 90 per cent,” said Jagdish, further emphasizing that if steel industry can achieve this, garment industry should also step up to increase OEE.

Quality consistency plays a vital role…

Second area for the data collection is the everyday process and a brief monitoring of these processes can also help maintain the quality consistency. The hourly instead of daily production monitoring in apparel shop-floor can help rectify the faults and can help with the consistent quality. The end product should be checked for the quality and quantity, so that any change in that can be addressed to maintain the consistency in the next hour. The collected data over the process also helps in identifying the pattern so that it becomes easier for the Quality Checker to identify the source of flaw for quick handling of the situation. “One of the proven methods of the production monitoring is IoT solution which the industry is still not very receptive to adopt,” commented Jagdish.

Connectivity is key…

Enabling connectivity between the people of the organisation can also help in maintaining the continuity in the overall process. There are a lot of applications available, for example, chatbots, that make it easier to connect with the people. The approvals and quick queries help the production, quality, and design teams to handle the situation in the real time itself. Real time sharing of data and pictures can provide with the real time information that helps with the real time decision-making process. This can help to stop, make changes, alter or address any process at the point of origin itself, preventing it from affecting the end process.

“We have simplified people-to-people communication for faster delivery and dealing with quality issues and it has given us positive results as 1.28 per cent defects in our end products have reduced to 0.3 per cent,” said Jagdish.

The customer satisfaction is the ultimate goal that any company should aim for. There are few main areas that help in achieving the overall customer satisfaction like transparency, responsiveness, empowerment, and proactive engagement. Today, apparel buyers want to know every single detail of their orders for which they have invested in. Trust is the biggest factor no matter how well your product is; if the customer does not trust the company he is giving orders to, he will look for some other company. “Building trust is not just used for making new customers, it is also used for retaining your current customers. Making the cost and the position of the order available to them helps in maintaining the customer relationship while ensuring the retention of the customers,” stated Jagdish.

Challenges are surely there…

With the advantages of the technology, there comes the challenges associated with it. The major challenge for the implementation of the technology is convincing the people for the use of technology. Since apparel industry is more cost-centric where the struggle happens more to save cents than dollars, the apparel manufacturers sometimes do not understand what long-term benefits they can achieve by introducing a certain technology. The main reason is the lack of real-life experience of theirs. “They want to see a technology tested by others before implementing it in their own factories and sites. Till the time they see the profit and think of implementing, they are already behind the latest innovations and technologies,” emphasized Jagdish.

Secondly, using the right technology at the right place and at the right time is still an issue. Going digital does not mean making every single process digital without considering the delivery of it. Critical areas should be analysed for the deployment of the technology. The garment industry is human-driven industry, it largely depends on the efficiency of operators. A very good example of maintaining the operator’s efficiency that can be extracted from the steel industry and applied to the apparel industry is discussed below.

Strategy apparel industry can follow…

The steel industry’s end product is solely responsible for the working of the machines such as dye machines and heavy industrial machines; while the garment industry is driven by the sewing machines, which are operated by the operators. The stitching of the garment also depends on the concentration and experience of the sewing operator. The main focus of the worker’s eye while stitching a garment should be on the machine needle. The concentration/movement of the eyeball of the worker determines the operator efficiency, but at the same time, it is very difficult to measure the movement of the eyeball of the operator. The thought should be given to detect the eyeball movement of the apparel industry operators. The steel industry is already using the technology in the trucks going to the major highways, which detect the eyeball movement of the driver. When any change is noticed, for example- if a driver falls asleep or is moving in some other direction, the manager gets the notification and immediately calls the driver for the inquiry. The same can be applied to the garment sewing operator machines but as discussed earlier, with every technology comes the challenges associated with it. Using this technology requires the will of the operators and the biggest task is to convince them.