When you think of it, it is kind of amazing that clothing factories in the USA are behind the curve in regard to lean manufacturing. With razor-thin margins and higher labor costs, efficiency and productivity are primary concerns. Clothing manufacturers could benefit immensely from adopting lean principles across their companies. Here is why lean management is possibly a solution to the challenges facing American-made clothing lines.
Lean Manufacturing Defined
All manufacturing can benefit from utilizing a systemic approach to reduce inefficiencies, eradicate redundancies, implement highly efficient processes, and eliminate waste. To do that, the best USA manufacturer will focus on transportation, inventory, process, and defect management. This is done by pinpointing interruptions, eliminating flawed and ineffective processes, and avoiding over-processing.
There are five principles that encapsulate the focus areas above and make them more efficient by minimizing the roots of certain problems:
- Eliminate unnecessary waste including time loss, raw materials waste, and defects
- Curtail lead and cycle times
- Implement stringent inventory management processes
- Initiate workforce productivity improvements
- Optimize equipment and space use
The lean strategy was the brainchild of Japan’s Toyota Production System. It emphasizes constant improvement that is attained through continuous assessment and improvement of storage, standardization, and sustainability, all of which increase product value that customers will appreciate. Obviously, not every industry can embrace the initial principles or guidelines entirely, but all can focus on constant assessment, production, and efficiency gains.
Use of Tools and Technology
By focusing on actions or systems that add value to a product while eliminating waste, lean manufacturing can help standardized or custom clothing manufacturers. Everything employees do should be focused on optimizing the final product and getting it completed as quickly as possible, but also on reducing processing time, costs, and time expenditures. The lean focus has to permeate the entire organization so it becomes a corporate culture and mindset.
This all means embracing new technology while reengineering existing tools and technology. Shop Floor Control applications, for instance, have been used to improve overall operational efficiency, eliminate redundancy, and improve systemic and individual productivity by reducing time loss. In addition, sourcing software coupled with comprehensive inventory management applications has achieved the same goals in inventory and transportation management. Other tools and technology include budget management tools, operational analysis that focuses on key metrics, logistics analysis tools, and scheduling/production management software.
All Hands on Deck
In order for lean manufacturing techniques to work, the entire company has to be on board. That means everyone has to be looking for ways to eliminate waste, reduce redundancy and downtime, improve production, and promote efficiency. If one area of the production cycle is not focused on lean improvement, the greatest productivity and efficiency will never be attained.
Lean manufacturing can help even the playing field in a market where margins are incredibly thin and managers are constantly looking for production improvements. Particularly in the USA, in order to compete with foreign clothing and apparel manufacturers, adopting the principles of lean manufacturing can be a game changer. There is not a lot that can be done to address the disparity in labor costs, but just about every other facet of manufacturing can be focused on and improved. To learn more about adopting lean manufacturing for your clothing company, check out Apparel Production, Incorporated.