Automating the Apparel Industry

This was posted on 2024-03-07


John Samarasinghe | experience to date of writing



When to automate

Having worked in the central automation arm of MAS for a number of years I have worked in a number of grand automation solutions ranging from automating the boxer leg hems to simple pick and place operations. However, with many of these automation solutions we had failed many times and sunk thousands of dollars in automation cost. It took the team many cycles to understand some basics to understand why this was happening.

One example of this is my work on the automation of the intimate underwear gusset attach operation which included gathering and stitching 3 loose panels on an overlock sewing machine. When this automation started we were to achieve a cycle time of about 20 seconds to be better than manual operators in a certain plant. This operation had many issues starting with handling lose fabric to balancing the stitch such that 3 panels of varying length are equally stretched to the same length. After many months and many, many iterations later we finally achieved a solution which took about 30 seconds. We were happy to have achieved the functionality of the operation closer to the cycle time. However, this was was very short as were quickly introduced to another plant in the same company which has manual operators who achieve a cycle time of less than 7 seconds with better quality than our automation.

There are a number of steps that need to be performed before stepping in to automation. It was introduced to be as a 3 step process as below. Although this is mostly used in high labour intensive operations, I belive it is applicable universally.

1. STANDARDIZE

2. OPTIMIZE

3. AUTOMATE

Once your have a standard operation across multiple operators and multiple plants and you eliminated all non-value added waste through optimization you are ready to automate the operation with higher payback due to standardization and longer applicability due to following the current best.


The Journey from Fabric to Appael

In the image below I have summarized the standard fabric movement paths applicable for most manufacting plants.

The image above can be broken down in to 3 major sections.

For the journey which takes a number of days to weeks in a standard process, the sewing operation which is the value added operation will only take roughly 10 minutes whereas the Pre and Post sewing operations are mostly non-value added to the customer and take up majority of the time and a signoficant manpower. This area should be a consideration for the Standardize, Optimize & Automate formula.

Automating the sewing operation is the most beneficial to your plant as improvements in this value adding process directly impact your bottom line. But before that we must understand of how the operation is planned. Capacity is key.

Capacity Planning

Your sewing process is goverened by capacity. It can be divided to three.

In your plant there are headcount who are directly contributing to the value adding process (Direct headcount). We must make sure this headcount is always fulfiled using a slack / back-up headcount as if this cadre falls short your entire plant capacity will drop. The slack percentage is usually equal to the absenteeism of the plant. There is another training headcount who will be going through training to be added to the value adding headcount. The percentage of members in this headcount is equal to the value adding member turnover of the plant.

Clock Hours = Working hours of Employees directly contributing to value adding process

When these employees come to work they will be clocking in and clocking out. During this time they will be contributing to your capacity.

Standard Hours Available = Clock Hours * Plant Historic Efficiency
Standard Hours Produced = Planned Time per piece * Number of pieces produced
Efficiency = Standard Hours Produced / Total Clocked Hours

Example ABC T-shirt Manufacuring Company

Total Lines

10

Lines

Planned Headcount per Line

6

Members

Total Direct Headcount

10 * 6 = 60

Members

 

Slack / Back-up Headcount

10

Members

Total Value adding members available.

70

Members

If calculations are correct. The total headcount on any given day should be 60 since you are always expecting 10 members to be absent.

Working Hours

8

Hours

Clock Hours per day

60 * 8 = 480

Hours

Historic Efficiency of the plant

65

%

Standard Hours

312

SAH

Total Time to make 1 T-shirt

2

minutes

Estimated T-shirt ourput per day

9,360

pieces

Number of additional Value adding members attended in certain day

8

Members

Example during 1 day

Line

Pieces Per Day

Clock Hours

Standard Hours Produced

Line Efficiency 

1

900

48

30

63%

2

700

48

23

49%

3

670

48

22

47%

4

500

48

17

35%

5

950

48

32

67%

6

800

48

27

56%

7

850

48

28

58%

8

790

48

26

54%

9

830

48

28

58%

10

400

48

13

27%

Total Standard hours produced

246

SAH

Total Clocked hours of members in line

480

Hours

Clocked hours by additional members from slack who came to work (8 members)

64

Hours

Total Value Added Clocked Hours

544

Hours

Plant Effieciency

45

%

Time per garment calculation

As you can see the Standard hours produced is governed by the time we set for the garment to be manufactured and not the actual time that it took for the garment to be manufactured. This is because in the industry there is a pre-defined time for each manufacturing operation defined by the best practices of the plant. It is important that this time to garment calculation is made standard and proliferated to all members of the plant so all members know how to perform the operation in order to achieve this defined time.

Standard Minute is the time value arrived at for a task based on the average rate of output which qualified workers will naturally achieve without over exertion provided that they know and adhere to the specified method and provided that they are motivated to apply themselves to their work.

Each operation in apparel manufacturing value adding processes has a defined (not fixed) Standard Minute Value (SMV). The SMV is calculated using 2 methods. (Standard Minute Value (SMV): Definition, Calculation and Use (onlineclothingstudy.com))

Manual Calculation:

Basic Minute = Observed Time * Performance Rating
Standard Minute Value = Basic Minute + Bundle Allowances + Machine Allowances + Personal Fatigue Allowances

Scientific Method:

Breakdown the operation into basic motions which are identified by pre-defined motion codes. Apply time value allocated to the predefined motion code.

PMTS software

In these codes, allowances are already captured as follows.

ChangeOver Losses

Changeover losses account for one of the largest types of losses in the production floor. When 1 style in your production line has completed, the process of changing over your line to a new style and ramping up your production to previous efficiencies include a large amount of output loss.

Before you automate the inefficiencies in changeover process you must ask;

Commonly used KPIs

Before automating in the apparel industry, it is also helpful to understand the KPI's in the factoryas they will give you a understanding of the current goals/pain points of the factory and where they are actively looking for improvement.


Data Analytics

When you want to improve the productivity of a system or a plant data analytics is your friend. The more granular you can capture your data, the better you can drill down in to the root cause of problems in your production as well as identify and track areas of improvement.

Investing some money in to data analytics using sensors, monitoring tools and simple processes can help your plant unlock larger hidden improvements which will help you recover your investment in very short amount of time.

Here are some examples of what you can track and what you can do with it.


Pre- and Post-Sewing Automation

In the current trend of having a journey to the Factory of the Future it is important to nail down an efficient pre- and post-sewing process. What should you consider when attempting Pre- and Post-Sewing automation?

Automations Assessment Critera

Automation Suggestions


Production Improvements prior to Automation

Areas to focus:

Focused Layout Improvements

Focused Needlepoint Improvements

Man

Machine

Method


Sewing Automation

Drive Operator standardization

Reduce Non-value adding motions

Within a larger value adding process such as Sewing there are many non-value adding motions which can be reduced to better utilize the time

Utilizing existing automated machinery

Where possible immediately transition operations done by manual machines like single needle machines to pattern sewers and bartack machines using jigs and fixtures to hold the fabric in place. These machines are already tested and available solutions which can easily offload the operators time to loading multiple machines while the machine takes care of the stitch.

Utilizing existing accessories

Using folders and Jigs

This is a quick way of boosting up your line productivity by freeing up operator time in aligning and matching.

Utilizing Fixtures and tools for uplifting ergonomics

Study of Manufacturing System: What is Motion Study? Motion study principles, Micro-motion study (manufacturingstudy.blogspot.com)


Modular Manufacturing

By breaking down your operations to the most basic motions you are able to create standard and repeatable construction patters. Whenever a new style is introduced to your plant you are able to use these repeatable modules to reconstruct the garment from the ground up. This allows your plant to maintain machine layouts and operators also in a modular approach thus minimizing the changeover time.

A garment construction tree is useful here.

Cell Manufacturing

When there are processes that are common across large number of products in your plant and is not reliant on the production process, it is beneficial to eliminate this process from the critical path and move this process as a collective operation to the pre-sewing area.

An example of this is the elastic ring making process. Elastic rings can be fabricated in bulk for all lines using the same raw material. By moving this operation to a seperate cell and including the prepared elastic rings in to the cut bundle we can save time in the critical path. At the same time we can fully automate the ring making process since the operation is highly repetitive.

Change-over Improvements


Buiding an Ecosystem

In building up a relationship with your ecosystem will benefit your company to;

Suppliers


Factory of the Future

Once your factory has the basics nailed down then you can consider the below automated solutions.

Robot Sewing Demonstration from Sewbo, Inc. from Sewbo on Vimeo.


Building Support Structure

Mechanic Training

 Your mechanics play a cruitial role in maintaining any automation that you introduce to your plant. It is important that these mechanics are elevated and motivated such that they are able to confidently upkeep automated solutions. The average mechanic on your production floor is able to perform basic sewing machine maintenance and machine setting but they need to be elevated such that they are able to handle and troubleshoot high tech machinery which will help your plant adopt new automations better.

A mechanic course could be structured as below.

 

Fundamental Course

Intermediate Course

Advanced Course

Introduction

Introduction to Mechanical Engineering

  • What does Mechanic Engineering entain?
  • What to mechanical engineers do?
  • Mechanical Engineering projects around us

 

 

Introduction to Electrical/Electronic Engineering

  • What does Electrical/Electronic Engineering entain?
  • What to Electrical/Electronic engineers do?
  • Electrical/Electronic Engineering projects around us

 

 

Introdution to Mechatronic Engineering

  • What does Mechatronic Engineering entain?
  • What to mechatronic engineers do?
  • Mechatronic Engineering projects around us

 

 

Safety

Workshop Safety

  • When and how to use the mechanical workshop
  • What PPE to wear when working in he workshop

Workshop Safety

  • When and how to use the mechanical workshop
  • What PPE to wear when working in he workshop

Workshop Safety

  • When and how to use the mechanical workshop
  • What PPE to wear when working in he workshop

Personal Safety

  • Safety when working on any project
  • Ergonomics

Personal Safety

  • Safety when working on any project
  • Ergonomics

Personal Safety

  • Safety when working on any project
  • Ergonomics

Device Safety

  • Safety measures to protect devices from damage
  • Device Conformity

Device Safety

  • Safety measures to protect devices from damage
  • Device Conformity

Device Safety

  • Safety measures to protect devices from damage
  • Device Conformity

Mechanical Engineering

Machine Health and Safety

  • Health and Safety when working with machinery

 

 

Component Selection

  • Common materias used in fitting
  • Common metals used for sewing machine components
  • Common bearings, nuts, bolts and other accessories used

Advanced Mechanical Components

  • Gears, pulleys, Wheel and Axle, Couplings, Levers, Jacks, Joints, Cam and followers

Material Selection

  • Material selection for different projects
  • Advantages and Disadvantages of different materials

Reading Datasheets

  • How to extract the information you need from a datasheet
  • Keywords to look for

 

 

Reading Drawings

  • What are mechanical drawings
  • How to ready mechanical drawings
  • Basics of geometric dimensioning and tollerencing

 

 

Measuring tools and equipment

  • Common measuring tools used in the workshop and how to use them

 

 

Fabrication tools and equipment

  • Common fabrication tools used in the workshop and how to use them
  • Introduction to Lathe & Measuring Instruments
  • Facing & Longitudinal Turning
  • Taper Turning
  • Thread Cutting
  • Knurling
  • Marking & Hand Tool Operation
  • Drilling, Boring & Reaming
  • Tool Grinding & Re-sharpening
  • Best machining practices
  • General fitting

Fabrication tools and equipment

  • Common fabrication tools used in the workshop and how to use them
  • Introduction to Lathe & Measuring Instruments
  • Facing & Longitudinal Turning
  • Taper Turning
  • Thread Cutting
  • Knurling
  • Marking & Hand Tool Operation
  • Drilling, Boring & Reaming
  • Tool Grinding & Re-sharpening
  • Best machining practices
  • General fitting

CNC Milling

  • Introduction to CNC milling
  • Modes of Operation (Manual, MDI, Editing, Automatic)
  • Different between ISO and HEIDEN HINE Format
  • Cartesian Contour Movements
  • Speed and Feed Calculations
  • Polar Contour Movements
  • Programming Cycles

CNC Turning

  • Introduction to CNC Turning
  • Modes of Operation (Manual, MDI, Editing, Automatic)
  • Programming Format of TRAUB CNC LATHE
  • Tool Identification
  • Setting on machine (Tool offsets, Work offsets, Tool- change point etc)
  • Turning with cycles
  • Turning with radius corrections

Basic Design principles

  • Basic component integration and how to make simple Mechanical constructs
  • Mechanical Prototyping

 

 

 

Basic Solidworks Design

  • Introduction to SolidWorks
  • Basic solid modeling

Complex Part Solidworks Design

  • Complex part drawing - threads etc

 

Basic Solidworks Assembly

  • Basic Assemblies

Complex Assembly Solidworks Design

  • Complex Part Assemblies

Basic Manual Drawing

  • including Scale drawings and Basic elevations, etc

Basic Mechanical Drawing

  • Basic Mechanical Drawings through Solidworks

 

 

Basic AutoCAD Design

  • Introduction to AutoCAD
  • Basic solid modeling
  • Basic Assemblies

Basic AutoCAD Design

  • Introduction to AutoCAD
  • Basic solid modeling
  • Basic Assemblies

 

 

Mechanical Simulations

  • Part simulations to test of stress in materials

 

 

Flow Simulations

  • Flow Simulation Software Package

 

 

CNC Coding

  • Introduction and Basic Codes

 

 

SolidCAM - laser cut

  • Software Usage

Electronic Engineering

Safety

  • Safety when working with Electronic Systems

 

 

Fundamentals

  • Fundamentals of Electronic technology

 

 

Introduction to sensors and actuators

  • What are sensors and actuators
  • Types of available sensors and examples
  • Types of available actuators and examples
  • Case studies to analyse use case of sensors and actuators
  • Reed switch, Inductive /capacitive proximity sensors, Optical sensors, Temperature/pressure sensors, Optical rotary encoders, Load cells, Flow and level sensors

 

 

Introduction to prototyping

  • Need for electronic prototyping
  • Tools available for prototyping

 

 

Basic Circuit Design

  • Circuit symbols
  • Current flow and voltage calculations
  • Circuit design

Useful Advanced Circuits

  • Multi-vibrator Circuits & their applications
  • Introduction of Digital Techniques & it’s industrial applications
  • Power Drive Circuits by using SCR & Combinable Circuits 

Useful Advanced Circuits

  • Multi-vibrator Circuits & their applications
  • Introduction of Digital Techniques & it’s industrial applications
  • Power Drive Circuits by using SCR & Combinable Circuits 

Reading Datasheets

  • How to extract the information you need from a datasheet

 

 

Reading Schematics

  • Identifying circuit symbols
  • Following nett symbols

 

 

Basic Module Selection

  • What are the hobby grade electronic modules available on the market

Selection of electronic components

  • Resistors, Capacitors & Inductors
  • Diodes, Transistors and simple IC's

Advanced Component Selection

  • Commonly used integrated circuits
  • Thyristors, Diacs, Triacs & their applications

Measuring tools and equipment

  • Common measuring tools used in the workshop and how to use them (Multimeter, Tester)

 

 

Fabrication tools and equipment

  • Common fabrication tools used in the workshop and how to use them (Eg. Soldering iron)
  • Electrical Isolation techniques

 

 

Debugging / Troubleshooting

  • Tools availabe for debugging electronics
  • Common causes for faults

Advanced Debugging

  • Tools availabe for debugging electronics
  • Common causes for faults

 

 

Debugging tools

  • Measuring using Osciloscopes
  • Using function generators

 

Cable Selection / Management

  • Selecting the correct wire guage
  • Cable Management tools and practices

 

 

 

PCB

  • What is a PCB
  • How to design a simple PCB

 

 

Introduction to Technology

  • Introduction to RFID, WiFi, Bluetooth communication

 

 

Proteus

  • Software Usage

NI Multisim

  • Software Usage

 

OrCAD

  • Software Usage

EasyEDA

  • Software Usage

Electrical Engineering

 

Reading Schematics

  • Identifying circuit symbols
  • Following nett symbols

 

 

Basic Circuit Design

  • Circuit symbols
  • Current flow and voltage calculations
  • Circuit design

 

 

Component Selection

  • Types of Switches, Protection equipment and timers

 

 

Health and Safety

  • Health and Safety when working with HV

 

 

Motors

  • Introduction to DC and AC motors

 

 

Cable Selection

  • Selecting the correct wire guage

 

 

Electrical Panel Boards

  • Basic Distribution and Control Panel Board Design

 

 

AutoCAD Electrical

  • Software Usage

 

 

Eagle

  • Software Usage

 

Programming

PLC Introduction

  • What in a PLC and how it functions

Basic PLC Programming

  • Introduction to Ladder Programming
  • Identify sybols and drawings of PLC circuits
  • Setting up and testing PLC circuit

Advanced PLC Programming

  • Advanced PLC simulations
  • Using Functions
  • PLC troubleshooting

PLC Wiring

  • PNP and NPN connection

PLC Troubleshooting

  • Common PLC problems and how to solve

Relay & Contactor Logic

  • Basic relay and contactor circuit design
  • Motor Star-delta

 

Basic HMI Programming

  • Basic HMI screens
  • Interation with PLC

Advanced HMI Programming

  • Advanced funtions

 

Data Types

  • Boolean, Integer etc data types
  • Boolean calculations

Advanced Data Types

  • Arrays, functions, classes

 

Basic C Programming

  • Basic C Functions

PIC / Micro-controller Programming

  • Introduction to microcontrollers
  • Demonstrations

 

Basic Arduino Programming

  • Program thinking
  • Basic C++ codes

Intermediate Arduino Programming

  • Using functions
  • Using libraries

 

PLC related Devices

  • Stepper Motors

Controlling Actuators

  • PID Control

 

SCADA

  • Basic SCADA systems and connectivity

3D Animation (Separate Course)

  • Software Usage

Robotics

 

Introduction to Robotics

  • What is robotics
  • Why using robotics is important

 

 

Robotic Applications

  • Current Robotic aplications in industry
  • Why robotics are the future of manufaturing

Robot Control

  • Robot control simulation
  • Basic calcuations

 

 

Robot Training

  • Basic Robot Usage
  • Mitsubishi / UR

Pneumatics

Introduction to Pneumatics

  • Characteristics and applications of pneumatics

 

 

Safety

  • Pneumatic Safety

 

 

Basic Circuit Design

  • Identify symbols & drawing of hydraulic circuit diagrams
  • Methods for the development of pneumatic systems
  • Basic pneumatic circuits
  • Pneumatics projects

Pneumatic Calculations

  • Engineering Terminology and Equations
  • Pressure / CFM / Force

 

Pneumatic Actuators

  • Commonly used pneumatic actuators and how to use them

 

 

Reading & Drawing Schematics

  • Identify Symbols and Drawing of Circuit Diagram

 

 

Component Selection

  • Selecting tubes, valves, speed controllers, etc

 

 

Control Devices

  • Electronically controlled valves

 

 

Troubleshooting

  • Trouble shooting of pneumatics systems
  • Identify faulty components and replace 

 

 

6-Sigma Practices

8 Step

  • Structured & Unstructured Problem Solving
  • 8 Step Problem Solving - Theory & Practicals
  • Step 01 - Clarify the Problem
  • Step 02 - Breakdown the Problem
  • Step 03 - Set Target
  • Step 04 - Analyze the root cause
  • 8 Step Problem Solving - Theory & Practicals
  • Step 05 - Develop Countermeasure
  • Step 06 - See Countermeasures Through
  • Step 07 - Monitor Both Process & Results
  • Step 08 - Standardize Successful Processess
  • Preparation for the Presentations

 

 

TPM

  • Introduction to TPM :
  • Introduction to Autonomous Maintenance :
  • Preparation : Creating AM awareness for safer work  conditions  and better identification of losses
  • Initial Cleaning : Initial cleaning for identification of minor machine defects and improving on the same
  • Counter measuring : Counter-measuring  for root cause elimination after understanding contamination sources, difficult to access areas and deterioration 
  • Preparation of CLIT Standards : Schedule and plan for CLIT on priorities machine areas as per the tentative visual standard
  • Introduction to Planned Maintenance  :
  • OEE & MTBF calculations
  • Machine Value Stream : current state / Future state
  • Understand / Evaluation the Equipment : Understand basic machine functions
  • Restore Abnormalities : Get all the machines to “Like New” condition / Original condition

TPM & WWBLA

  • General equipment Inspection : Stakeholder training for implementation of overall inspection and giving permanent  fixes.
  • Autonomous Inspection : Effective self equipment management and maintenance.
  • Customization OEE with few example
  • Information Management System : Use of MTTR & MTBF data to analyze
  • Build interval maintenance system (Periodic) : Define the time interval, based on the condition

TPM

  • Standardization : Systematize autonomous maintenance
  • Autonomous Management : Practice full self-management
  • Build predictive maintenance system : Diagnose the running condition and to conduct the maintenance depending on the situation / IOT
  • Evaluate the planned maintenance system :

Industrial Engineering

Work Study Introduction

  • What is work study.
  • Why work study Important to Production.
  • How to Make Cycle time.
  • What is the Basic work content & Ineffective time.
  • Work Study Components

 

 

Method Study

  • What is the Method Study.
  • 8 Steps of Method Study.
  • Method Study Symbols.
  • Method Study Tools.

 

 

Work Measurement

  • Work Measurement Tequniques.
  • Work Measurement tools.
  • What is Observed time.
  • Rating Introduction.
  • What is Basic time.
  • What is Allowance, Allowance type.
  • What is SMV.

 

 

Basic Calculation in Work Study

  • Targets calculations.
  • Efficiency Calculations.
  • Tack time calculatins.

 

 

Line Balancing

  • Basic pitch time, UCL & LCL calculation.
  • TML and Balancing loss calculation.

 

 

Utility

Electrical Distribution

  • Power Supply and Distribution Systems
  • Genertions of Single phase and three phase

 

 

 

Air Compressor

  • Principles of Pneumatics & Hydraulics
  • Compressed Air Generation & Distribution

 

 

Steam Boilers

  • Principles of steam boilers
  • Steam Distribution

 

General Engineering

 

Design Thinking principles

  • How to design for customer needs
  • Product design Architecture

Basic System Integration

  • Types of integrated systems
  • How to intergrate systems together
  • Safety margins

 

Selecting & Sourcing electro-mechanical parts

  • Where to source electronic and mechanical parts Locally
  • Where to source electrocni and mechanical parts from abroad

Engineering Standards

  • ISO standards for engineering and adhering by it

Basic Project Management

  • How to identify stakeholders
  • How to scope project

Preparing Cost and Schedule

  • Preparing BOM and Costing for Design
  • Project Scheduling

New Technology Introduction Process

  • Introduction to the steps of an NTI Process

Soft Skills

Decision Making and Problem Solving

  • Is able to gather all necessary information & look at multiple ideas before taking a decision.
  • Takes timely & effective action to implement the decision.
  • Is able to identify & understand issues, problems & opportunities using data to draw logical conclusions & reach quality decisions. 

 

 

Communication and Language Development

  • Is able to express himself/ herself.
  • Adjusts to various sets of audiences across levels.
  • Has the ability to listen & interpret messages appropriately.
  • Shows the ability to present oneself in clear, brief & impactful manner.
  • English language development - Spoken and written
  • Ability to read and understand manuals

 

 

IT Acumen

  • Ability to use and understand the MS Office package
  • Fluency in email and other communication platforms (Teams, Zoom, etc)

 

 

Personal Branding

  • How to present yourself

 

 

 

Builds Performance Agility

  • Achieves business results by working towards them with high focus & managing the complexities.
  • Holds self and people accountable for achieving goals.
  • Drives operational excellence through all activities to achieve desired goals.

 

 

Business Acumen

  • Is up-to-date with new practices & trends

 

Game Changers

Automation alone is not always going to turn your plant around to be the best all around. You should always look in to the following.

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