When people ask about “manufacturing excellence”, I often tell then there is no such thing.
They will often look at me as if I am incompetent at best, and insane at worst.
Let me clarify.
“Excellence” comprises many individual items, and if done correctly, the actual physical manufacturing component is maybe 20%.
I am interested in the whole, which if done correctly, is greater than the sum of the parts.
When most people talk about manufacturing excellence, they are only thinking in terms of the actual physical manufacturing of an item. Not the peripheries that make a major contribution to manufacturing excellence.
As this is apparel related, think about a buyer, and what they need. This is not simply a finished garment. This would be too easy, and any half competent factory could do this. What a buyer wants, and what many factories do not realise, is an excellence from first contact, to handover of the order.
This requires excellence in many areas.
From excellent correspondence, excellent meeting of deadlines, excellence of sampling, excellence of quality and excellence of procedures.
Essentially, all of these combined, equate to manufacturing excellence. I am sure most readers could think of a few more, but these are the more critical ones.
We always begin with correspondence, and often it is mediocre, from both manufacturer and buyer. As a manufacturer you need to ensure your correspondence is excellent.
- Answering emails in a timely manner. If you cannot answer immediately, let the buyer know this, and tell him when you will answer. Make sure you answer when you say you will.
- Always confirm receipt of any correspondence.
- Write mails in a professional manner. Use the person’s name (amazing how many do not), make sure you’re spelling and grammar is correct (spell check and grammar check are on all word programs), and do not use abbreviations. This may cause confusion.
- Do not use any of your local words/English. IE, most foreign buyers do not know what a crore is.
- Ensure your mail layout is logical and sensible.
There are many more, but these are the basics.
Next we can look at every buyer’s area of most stress, and one of the areas a buyer will value above most others. Meet your deadlines. And if you cannot, let your buyer know this timeously. Do not blame your contractors, like your printer or dye house. You are responsible for these and their management, not your buyer. There is nothing worse, in my opinion, than excuses blaming the printer, mill, etc.
Take ownership and responsibility. The buyer respects this.
If you cannot meet an agreed upon deadline, advise your buyer timeously, and offer a solution, and another mutually agreed on deadline. You need to offer a solution, not more problems. But, do not offer a solution that involves more cost to a buyer. Any additional cost of missing a deadline, is the manufacturer’s responsibility. Whether is a cost of another screen for a print, or express courier, it is the manufacturer’s expense, as they missed the deadline.
This applies to all deadlines whether they are simple ones like lab dip submission, or delivery of final product. As another example, if a buyers goods fail final inspection, due to a quality issue, the manufacturer should pay for re-inspection.
Excellence of sampling is the next point of excellence. This would apply to items such as counter samples, strike offs, lab dips, trims, etc. Focus on getting it correct the first time, and if you are the merchandiser in charge of the order, ensure you personally check each submission before it is sent. Do not rely on anyone else. This is a Golden rule. If something is wrong, do not send. Tell the buyer and redo. On numerous occasions, I have received submissions from suppliers, with half the agreed contents missing, or incorrect. When I asked the merchandiser if they checked the items personally, most will say no. They relied on the sample room manager of this person, or a worker. Sorry, but there is no excuse for not checking things yourself. You have now wasted both time and money.
You also need to ensure that you only take on orders within your sampling ability. A factory with a four or five person sampling room, will find it impossible to take on a lot of brands, as these often require major sampling ability. Find out your buyer’s sampling requirements at the beginning.
Next, let’s look at excellence of quality. Self-explanatory. Ensure you have sufficient in line and final inspectors and quality control workers.
Ensure they are competent. Do not try to save by not training these staff members, as it will cost you in the long run. Assign responsibility to them, offer a bonus for various points, such as identifying a problem, solving a problem, achieving a pre-determined success rate for quality, award production lines that achieve high quality levels, etc. Some factories sacrifice quality for speed, believing this is more efficient. It is not. It is a matter of achieving the correct balance.
An additional point here is to find out the buyer’s required quality level, at the beginning of discussions.
There is no use taking on an order, where the required quality is higher than your factories ability. Some factories are better in basic standard items, like t shirts or hoodies. Do not take on complicated items that are outside your factory’s ability.
Excellence of procedures, is where many factories fall short. Procedures need to be put in place internally, not to ensure problems do not occur, for this is impossible. Rather, to catch problems early enough to be able to rectify them before it is too late. Needle policy is one important procedure often not implemented properly. In line quality control is another I often come across. All the quality controllers are at the end of their assigned line, instead of checking each machine operator individually, by walking the line as well.
If the operator at the beginning of the line makes a mistake, by the time the garment gets to the end of the line it is too late. Solve the issue at its origin. Also ensure you have you engineer check and adjust the settings on machines for each order, and continues to check settings when the order is going down the line. It is not enough to set and forget. The machines need to be checked on a regular basis. Maintenance is another procedure often not followed correctly. Especially preventative maintenance. Do not wait for a machine to develop a problem, and then come to fix. Prevent the problem, by having a correct maintenance schedule.
You may have another definition for “Excellence in manufacturing”, but the important thing is not to develop tunnel vision and only focus on the physical manufacturing. You do this at your peril, and it will cost you a lot more in the long run. A more holistic approach is the way forward, to achieve excellence.