TYPES OF TECHNOLOGIES USED IN THE GARMENT INDUSTRY Pre-production CAD (computer-assisted design) software package for design, pattern-making, and marker-making. These software packages can be used in a few different ways. A base pattern can be made out of cardboard (“the old fashioned way”) and then placed on a digitizing table and its coordinates traced out to obtain a digital image of each pattern piece. Alternatively, instead of making the base pattern by hand, a new pattern can be made by electronically manipulating an already digitized pattern. In this way, developing new but not radically different styles and patterns can be done with relative ease. Sizing rules tell the computer how the dimensions of people grow. These sizing rules are not standard; they vary somewhat between companies and significantly between countries. With these rules, the computer can “grade” the pattern and enlarge or shrink the base pattern to obtain the pattern pieces for other sizes. Grading was traditionally done by hand and is a slow and difficult process. Once a pattern has been graded into all of the required sizes for a particular production run, a marker is developed with the aid of the computer to maximize fabric utilization. A marker is a map of how the different pattern pieces are laid out on the fabric. According to some sources, fabric is usually about 30% of the cost of the garment, so fabric waste minimization is essential to keep costs down. Marker development can be done manually, although it can take several hours and fabric utilization is usually not as efficient as it is when the computer is used. When the marker is completed it is usually printed out on a larger plotter and then delivered to the cutting floor. Most facilities we visited used Gerber technology for design, pattern making and grading, and marker making. The benefits of CAD technology are efficiency and accuracy. With CAD technology, businesses can develop products faster. In addition, since grading and marking is automated, the patterns are more accurate and the percentage of material usage is higher. CAD technology was first used in the garment industry in the 1980s.9 It has improved significantly in terms of functionality and user friendliness in the last five to ten years. Another development in pre-production technology is 3-D body scanning. There are several different models of the 3-D body scanner, but they all do essentially the same thing—they automate measuring body dimensions. Automating this process does two things—it increases the accuracy of measurement (it is difficult to obtain accurate body measurements manually because of human variation and error),11 and it unobtrusively and quickly measures a vast number of body dimensions. Body scanning equipment, referred to as “booths”, ranges in price from USD $25,000-$225,000. Some believe that in the near future it will be common for people to go to body scanning boutiques to have their measurements taken, receive an electronic copy of their measurements, and then download this information to a virtual store to purchase custom-made clothing online. Body scanning technology is the perfect complement for electronic clothing boutiques. An individual can use his or her data to either order custom-made clothes online or determine whether a particular ready-made style fits their own body properly. It is estimated that 38%-40% of all clothing purchased online is returned. Garment industry analysts project that body scanning technology will significantly decrease the return rate and increase profits of online stores. Production Spreading/Cutting The first stage of production is cutting. Fabric is laid out on spreader tables in layers of 1 to 100, depending on the type of fabric and the size of the production run. A paper marker is placed on top of the fabric. Each pattern piece on the marker is identified with a code indicating the style of garment, size, colour, and type of piece. Smaller facilities with short production runs or custom-made orders do pattern cutting either with scissors or an electric hand-held fabric cutter. Some large volume facilities have invested in automated spreaders and cutters. At the plant, automated spreaders have been installed. Where ten people used to be employed to spread and cut fabric, in this plant it only requires two people, one to operate each machine. In the spreading area, fabric isbspread out into several layers on one end of a very long table. At the plant, air is blown up from the bottom of the spreader table so the fabric can be slid down the table to the cutting area once the fabric spreading is complete. In the cutting area, the table is equipped with a vacuum to keep the many layers of fabric in place. Although a paper marker is laid over the fabric, the electronic cutter does not follow the lines of the marker. The marker is used for labelling the pattern pieces. The marker is downloaded into the automated cutter. The operator starts the cutter and it quickly and accurately cuts the fabric. Once the cutting step is complete (whether the cutting is done by hand or with an automated cutter) the fabric pieces are bundled, labelled and sent to the sewing area. United Production System (UPS) A UPS is an overhead track where garment pieces are moved from one sewing step to another, in sequence, until the garment is complete. It was developed in the 1970s to help streamline the production process. It can save time and can improve efficiency by bringing the work to the sewing machine operator (SMO). The plant that we visited with the UPS system makes only one type of garment. The UPS system is ideal for this type of production because the production steps do not change. For facilities that make a variety of different garments in a variety of different styles. UPS set-up must be flexible because the order and number of sewing steps changes with each type of garment. Modular Sewing In modular sewing, a team of usually four SMOs (sewing machine operators) work together to complete a garment from start to finish. Each team member may be responsible for two or three steps in the construction. This type of work usually requires highly skilled and experienced sewing machine operators. They must be trained on a variety of machines and understand a multitude of different operations. a modular team system has been implemented to reduce in-progress inventory and speed up order filling so that rush orders can be shipped to the customer within 48 hours. This system also allows the firm to monitor the performance of each team and base bonuses on the number of garments produced above quota for each team. Bonuses are team-based rather than based on individual performance. If a team member is not performing to standard, the rest of the team pressures that person to increase their output.Thus, peer pressure as well as bonus incentives encourage SMOs to work harder and faster. Stand-up Sewing Machines There is some debate as to whether stand-up sewing machines are desirable. The workers initially rejected the stand-up machines and many walked out. Given time, we were told, the sewing machine operators who remained on began to prefer them to the sit-down machines, and some SMOs who quit heard that it was a positive change and asked for their jobs back. Stand-up machines are in theory less fatiguing because they offer more mobility. While operating a stand-up machine, the operator stands on a micro-sensor pad to reduce fatigue and controls the machine using light-touch foot pedals. We were told that sitting down and bending over a machine all day is much more fatiguing and ergonomically taxing than standing at a machine. Thus, it is said that workers have accepted stand-up machines because they find the work less fatiguing and they also achieve higher efficiency, which means more bonuses and higher pay. Others facilities have not embraced the stand-up machines. Other Sewing Machine Technology Other sewing machine technology, such as thread cutters and machines that automatically place the sewing needle in the down position once the machine is stopped, have increased efficiency and ease of sewing. Automated embroidery machines have replaced hand embroidery. An electronic copy of the desired logo or inscription is read by the machine and automatically stitched into the fabric. This type of work used to take hours of skilled labour, but now an operator simply places the fabric under the needle, instructs the machine to read the electronic file, and presses a button. Other production technology has focused on “small parts preparation”, work that is standard and simple. Other “small parts preparation” technology, such as automatic back pocket and label sewing, reduce the time and skill level needed for these steps. For large-scale manufacturing, the lower labour costs in developing countries such as China and Mexico make a considerable impact on the cost of each garment piece, enough to easily make up for increased shipping costs and lead times. Communication Technology Large garment manufacturing firms in rely on sophisticated communication technology software systems. Communication technology is critical for larger multinational corporations in a variety ways. First, plants facility operate on an automatic ordering system. When the inventory levels of key garments for their customers (at least those who have agreed to use the automatic reorder system) drop below a certain point, an order is automatically placed at the plant. Once the order comes in, it can be shipped within 48 hours (if the items are in their standard colours—otherwise the order will be shipped in over 48 hours). This ensures that stores have sufficient inventory, but stores do not have to overstock because thereorder time is so short. The second type of communication technology involves relaying design information from design shops to manufacturing facilities in developing countries. Once a new garment has been designed, and the pattern developed and graded, the information must be sent overseas and the instructions for the garment construction must be communicated. Good communication is key, due to the cost of miscommunication and the significant barriers to communication, such as language and geography. Communication technology to relay and discuss the information has been developed by CAD software companies, such as Gerber and Lectra, as part of their full suite. However, when one sight has a Gerber system, and the other has a Lectra system, there can be compatibility issues. Finally, another important feature of a software package such as Gerber or Lectra is specification communication. Companies that have their products manufactured in a number of different locations around the world must maintain standards and quality. Using industry-particular software, companies can communicate fabrication specifications to all of their customers to ensure their product needs are understood and met.