Each area of the production process has to work in harmony to reduce the amount of money spent on piece goods

Each area of the production process has to work in harmony to reduce the amount of money spent on piece goods

In this cost-conscious environment, apparel companies have to look everywhere possible for savings. Don't forget to check out the "rag bag," advises [TC]²'s Gloria McConnell, since the best use of material dollars can be key to generating a bottom line profit.
When we look at product costing in the apparel industry, we see that the largest amount of money is allocated to fabric, as much as 50% or more depending on the product. Each area of the production process from scheduling through sewing has to work in harmony to reduce the amount of money spent on piece goods.

In 1989 a South African study concentrated on these losses. This study conducted by the Clothing Industry Productivity Association (CLIPA) showed that there was an opportunity to save a minimum of 2.7% without touching the actual arrangement of parts in the marker.

A 3% target is possible for any firm that doesn't currently have a material utilisation programme, but even if there is a programme, there are areas that may have been overlooked.

Shortage versus invoice: Discrepancies can occur when fabric is purchased by the pound then cut in yards per dozen, or the rolls just don't measure up. Length and width can vary from the invoiced total.

Losses at roll start: Culprits in this area include: indelible marking to identify rolls, not squaring off the beginning of the roll, soil from being unwrapped and swatch cut outs. Something as simple as cutting the shortest length of the swatch across the roll instead of the longest can make a difference in utilisation.

End losses: can be at the end of a roll, when the fabric is not long enough for another marker repeat. Losses can be at the end of a marker section. Some cutting rooms allow additional space between marker sections so they can be separated and cut by two knife operators working on the same spread. The amount of fabric lost at the ends of a spread can vary with the lay-up method. Face-to-face losses are greater than one way up due to the fold instead of cutting straight across, or extending beyond the marks on the table. The amount of end loss is also affected by the end cutting method; scissors can cause a loss of 1" per ply over a cutter.

Width loss: Mainly due to variations in width between rolls of fabric issued. The marker is based on the narrowest roll. For example, some of the fabric may be 60" wide but the marker is created for 58". The question arises as to when was the measurement of that fabric known and how did the information get to the cutting room? In the past, when dozens of cut orders were issued for the same style, additional markers in increments of ½" may have been created as time permitted. If we paid for 58" and got 60" fabric, it is a loss of material but also a lost opportunity.

Discrepancies or unaccounted for from invoice: Things that may be included in this category are: taking off more when sewing between rolls and setting aside leftover fabric that eventually gets lost. An example of this is inaccurate formulas for determining bias cut rib for cuffs which result in orders held for shortages of rib. Another example: an operator uses fabric to wipe up a coffee spill on the floor. The main causes are neglect, poor recording techniques of damages, splices and remnants and the current incentive system.

Damages, re-cuts and remnants: Include things such as fabric overlaps and splice areas. Depending on a company's practices these losses may show up elsewhere. There are three choices in flagging defects: 1: don't worry at all - spread, cut and sell all; 2: cut out defects; and 3: flag defects, then re-cut individual pieces. Options 1 or 2 are more typical when the fabric is less than $5 a yard.

Marker fallout: This was 15% on average in the African study but is generally product specific and can be affected by the size mix. Marker efficiencies are "value added" and most companies have targeted percentages for their product.

How can a company realise savings?
One strategy might be if the plant could improve on yields, the company may feel they have "free" piece goods, and that this material could be used on new orders. If you get those new orders you win; if not, you lose.

Fabric types can change and you may end up paying for storing and insurance just to sell it later for pennies on the dollar. The company could have used that money for a more profitable item without having it tied up. Also, because of yardage estimates they could charge the first customer too much to be competitive and lose the business.

Another strategy could be to lower the "buy" figure, only buying what you need for the cuts you have. The result is less monies dedicated to material purchase up front, if the estimates are accurate and losses don't exceed expectations. If not, you may have to buy more at a minimum order size when the extra is not needed. A lower buy figure results in lower inventories and inventory carrying costs are reduced.

Assuming that we did a good job of estimating our fabric needs and markers, how can we save at purchasing? Bargaining for the best possible prices? Keep in mind that a lower cost point usually means lower quality piece goods, and more defects per yard.

Do we have a ready market for irregulars? Do we have a quality name we don't want to injure? Partnerships with piece goods vendors are important to improve the bottom line. Textile and apparel partnerships provide an opportunity to control delivery and inventory, to have larger rolls with fewer seams, specific widths and lengths of fabric, more consistent shades and better quality. All of these things will have an impact on material utilisation.

In addition to planning, procedures in place can help improve material utilisation. At fabric inspection check the widths of rolls; if there is time, re-make the markers according to fabric widths. Measure the length of rolls, verifying that you received what was ordered and paid for. Inspection processes and frequency depend on the cost of material. A fabric inspection programme gives a firm the ability to rate vendors for future partnerships.

Design is another area that can affect material utilisation. For example, in a rugby shirt with multi-colour stripes, a designer may specify the green stripe has to be 1" down from the top of the sleeve seam. This prevents laying the sleeve and body side by side and may increase yardage by 20-30%.

The company needs to define who has control over the final product - the designer, the merchandiser, or the engineer. Manufacturing needs input into the design process.

Pattern engineering can evaluate the width of seam allowances, the lengths of panels for hemming purposes, and the mitering of pattern corners. Can two pattern pieces be created from one piece? Generally smaller and more numerous pieces contribute to greater material utilisation, but increased sewing costs.

The origin of the "riser/back yoke" on jeans led to better material utilisation and better fit. Those savings will add up with every ply that is cut with the marker.

In this cost-conscious environment, companies have to look everywhere possible for savings. Don't forget to check out the rag bag.

Gloria McConnell is a senior industrial engineer who specialises in ergonomics and compensation systems. She has over 26 years of project and plant engineering experience and has assisted many companies with establishing engineering standards. [TC]² provides solutions for the soft goods industry specialising in technology development and supply chain improvement.