Blog: Leonie BarrieFactories of the future?

Leonie Barrie | 25 April 2008

I must admit I felt a bit silly taking a picture of what was essentially a hole in the ground when I visited the MAS Fabric Park in Sri Lanka at the end of last year. But today I'm so glad I did. Just take a look at the ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures of this pioneering new ‘green’ lingerie plant showing what has been achieved in less than six months.

Speaking with MAS chairman Mahesh Amalean at the time, it was clear the company wants to take its green experience not only to the rest of its business – but to the rest of the industry as well.

My insight into the numerous hurdles the company has had to overcome along the way came during an interview in the back of a taxi on the bumpy two-hour drive from Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo to Thulhiriya, where the factory is located.

The goal was to set up a model plant that would, in turn, be a manufacturing factory of the future. Since the facility supplies intimate apparel solely to Marks & Spencer, MAS worked closely with the M&S store development team to study aspects such as energy efficiency.

It also called on consultants from the environmental field and followed guidelines from LEED (the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) which ensure building projects are environmentally responsible and a healthy place to work.

But the company has had to strike a balance between designing for manufacturing on the one hand, and designing for the environment on the other. For example, among the least energy efficient – but most production proficient – equipment in a clothing factory are the cutting machines, and MAS said it is now looking at going back to band and straight knives for some operations.

There were also benchmarking issues to contend with, since most design work on eco buildings is northern hemisphere centric – not for tropical countries with their high heat, humidity and cloud cover.

It has therefore gone for hydropower rather than solar power, and has reduced the need for artificial lighting by bringing in as much natural light as possible and growing a lot of vegetation around the plant to keep it cool.

As Amalean said, “it’s not breakthrough technology, it’s just going back to basics.” But with a total investment in the factory of around $7m it’s clear the company sees this as the first step to the factory of the future. 

MAS Intimates Thurulie then and now: as it was in November 2007 - and at the opening today

SRI LANKA: M&S opens first green garment plants


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