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The hidden cost in apparel production

  • Published at 08:24 am February 4th, 2020
RMG Workers

Quality should be maintained, but in the right way

The RMG industry continues to work hard to improve the efficiencies of workers and invent new methods to produce garments in less time with lower costs. However, it is still a concern as to whether enough efforts are taken to minimize the amount of loss incurred as a result of quality rejections during production.

There are huge financial ramifications here.

Consider the following scenario: If the rejection rate of a factory is 1%, and that factory has $1 million worth of exports per month, this is equivalent to $10,000 in losses per month -- a huge amount in an industry where margins are often low.

In a garment production unit, quality rejections occur due to both external and internal factors.

Skill levels of both workers and management teams, product awareness, having systems in place to achieve required standards, and the availability of a motivated workforce are among major factors required to achieve high quality levels.

Likewise, high quality raw materials are also important in order to reduce the number of rejections. Let’s start with the definition of quality which, in business terms, is something that customer is willing to pay for. From this definition, two things are very clear.

Number one is that you must meet the minimum quality expectation of the customer(s). Number two is that indulging in “over quality” might not give you an edge over the competition since there is a price for quality which you must incur and your customer will not pay extra for it. This is a balancing act.

What we are trying to reach here is the optimum scale where the needs of both your customers and your financial margins are met.

With the above in mind, let us see what is happening on our typical garment production floors. The term “quality” seems to be the sole responsibility of the quality department where employees such as in-line quality controllers and quality inspectors play a critical role in identifying defects.

Interestingly, it would seem their KPI lies in the number of defects identified by them. In addition, they often tend to induce additional processes like marking or additional ironing for better quality which could’ve been achieved through method development and innovations.

As mentioned before, it’s important to keep in mind that customers might not pay for the added processes. The production team relentlessly continues producing as they have to meet their production target of the day.

Quality might not be a priority to them since a dedicated quality team has been put in place to control it. On top of this, there is also an individual appointed by the customer or buyer who acts as an external body in the factory and tries to control quality as their representative. Often their KPI is the number of times they block production or “fail” an internal quality inspection.

This body often indulges in over-processing requirements which entails an extra cost burden. The good news is that many customers are now transferring the issue of quality into the in-house quality control team.

Now the big question is: What quality is the customer looking for and who is ensuring that this is achieved? But it is often ignored due to the confusing chains of command above. The result is unwanted and unnecessary quality rejections at different stages of the production process.

And the rejection triggers a devastating cycle of corrective measures which eventually cause tremendous monetary loss coming from the extra time and effort put in by different departments.

Moreover, a substantial number of rejections turn out to be non-repairable, depending on the magnitude and location of the garment. On top of that, very often, each rejection causes an enormous rise in tension among different departments creating inter-departmental conflicts and finger pointing.

Another concerning outcome of quality failure is losing customer confidence which might impact long term customer relationships and hinder future growth potential. But the answer to the question could be very simple. The quality comes form the needle point of a sewing machine, the operator of which is the first person to evaluate the correct quality outcomes.

It is important to mention here that multiple factors -- machine condition, ergonomic factors, workplace design, work-aids, etc -- play a vital role in consistent quality outcomes. But the magic still remains in the hands of the operator as he/she has to make sure the correct quality standards are met with or without rework (if rejected during quality check).

Therefore, the ideal role of an operator should be to understand very clearly the standards for the product and realize the importance to get it right the first time. Here, we touch on the concept of every worker playing the role of a quality controller.

So, the first operator must get their job done right first time and the second operator will do the same plus carry out a quality check on the second operator’s job. They will reject the piece of the first operator if they find mistakes. There should be a quality controller at the end of the line to record and reject any garment and the aim is to achieve a zero defect at this station -- get it right the first time, at the section/department level.

In addition, the quality department should take over the role of the expert and guide the production department on quality issues by taking not only post-process quality actions but also taking preventive measures to ensure consistent quality outcomes. The team should take the responsibility to educate the operator on quality standards and make wise anticipations of the potential quality concerns.

The earlier mentioned customer/buyer nominated quality expert can play a very important role to clearly translate the quality expectations. The factory should make sure that they’re getting sufficient training from the customers and delivering this message clearly enough to different departments.

The mechanics and engineering teams also have a big role to play here to prevent rejections -- but this is perhaps a topic for another day. Quality is a culture and should be an outcome of the production process. It can only be achieved through proper education, collaboration, and an understanding of the cost of quality.

Mostafiz Uddin is the Managing Director of Denim Expert Limited. He is also the Founder and CEO of Bangladesh Denim Expo and Bangladesh Apparel Exchange (BAE). He can be reached at [email protected]

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