Flexible Manufacturing System - A Competitiveness Tool

Flexible manufacturing. A competitiveness tool

For textile manufacturing companies

What is Competitiveness?

In the field of economics, competitiveness refers to the ability of a person, company or country to obtain profitability in the market compared to other competitors.

In this sense, factors that affect competitive capacity are the relationship between quality and cost of the product. The price level of inputs (accessories, fabrics, consumables, etc.), as well as the level of wages in the producing country. Likewise, other very important aspects to increase competitiveness are the efficiency of production systems or techniques. In addition to taking advantage of the resources necessary for the production of goods and services, that is, productivity. 



Thus, a company will be more competitive in a market if it manages to produce more at a lower cost . With high levels of productivity, efficiency and quality, all of which translates into high profitability per unit of product. In this sense, the most competitive companies are those that can assume a greater market share compared to less competitive companies.

The loss of competitiveness, on the other hand, implies a situation of increased production costs that negatively affects the price or the profit margin that it yields. All this without making improvements to the quality of the product. The loss of competitiveness, in this sense, threatens a company in the long term. 


Competitiveness in the company

After reading the meaning of Competitiveness and what it entails, it is clear that our factories are no longer competitive. With regard to the increase in production costs that negatively affected the prices of the product and especially the profit margins of the company. As says Eli Goldrat

in his novel "La Meta". Except in state-owned companies, where other economic and social canons apply, the goal of every company is to earn money as the main goal. A company that does not make money cannot pay the salary of its employees. You cannot buy raw materials to continue manufacturing the product you sell. Ultimately, a company that doesn't make money simply goes bankrupt. Leaving its workers on the street, weakening its suppliers by losing another customer. and leaving the industrial fabric of your country diminished. Also making the society where it lives weaker.

We in the West lost the competition for a clear reason, the level of wages in the producing country. China and the other Asian countries have had very low wages and working conditions unthinkable for many years, for example in Europe. Endless working hours 7 days a week . Obviously it was not a fair competition, nor of equal to equal, but it is what there is in an increasingly globalized world and where business profitability is the only thing that matters. Our companies decided to manufacture there, and what was obvious happened, we deindustrialized and the textile clothing sector was destroyed. Not only the clothing sector, but also the manufacture of fabrics of all kinds and that of trimmings were lost for this very reason. 


An opportunity for change, let's get the best of this crisis

Something unthinkable just a year ago, such as the pandemic, has made us reconsider. We see these days that there is a new current of thought that advocates the reindustrialization and relocation of production in Spain. I am a fervent defender of this thought, although today it is only a utopia. But if this becomes a reality, we must also reconvert our production systems to systems that have already proven, and for many years, that they are much more efficient and competitive than Mass Package Manufacturing . I'm talking about the '80s at Toyota car factories in Japan 40 years ago. And that today they are the manufacturing paradigm in this highly competitive sector.

These systems are Flexible Manufacturing and Lean tools , such as 5S and Value Stream Maps , which make it much more dynamic and efficient to implement it. Being as competitive as possible and for this, productivity and sustainability is very important. 


What is Flexible Manufacturing?

Lean Manufacturing is also known as “ Flexible Manufacturing” . Both concepts attempt to eliminate lead times, movement of components within the factory, excess production, excess unnecessary production phases, reduction of inventory, reduction of defects, and elimination of transportation. As well as trying to improve the value of the products manufactured where the customer is the most important link. In other words, it minimizes to the maximum of our manufacturing all the " waste" of time, travel and product in progress.

In Flexible Manufacturing , the usual thing, although not a fixed rule depending on the type of garment, is usually cells or modules with a maximum of 4 or 6 operators. Although they can even be one-person cells. Designed the distribution of machines in "O", "U", and "L".

Also, for example, in a company of made-to-measure shirts, although the flow is 1X1, and the models are totally different from each other, with a straight line designed with a bench or transport rail in the middle and the machines positioned in ZIG- ZAG. These machine distributions make us considerably reduce the journey of the garment in the plant. Have you ever calculated the meters walking that a garment has, without adding value to the product. From the moment it is cut until it comes out through the warehouse door to the outside. All those meters, not necessary to produce, is a waste that is very important to eliminate. 


Advantages of flexible manufacturing

What are the advantages of flexible manufacturing versus mass batch manufacturing (economies of scale)?

Flexible manufacturing enables us to be more competitive in productivity and sustainability that manufacturing nearby entails.

In order to implement a Flexible Manufacturing system, we have to work on several points that are very important to do it successfully:

1st) Take care of the human part of our people , professional motivation and humane treatment. To convey that we work in a true team, where the contribution of each one is equally important.

2nd) Continuous training , we must achieve the greatest polyfunctionality in all of them. And the only way to achieve this is by training each worker in as many machines, operations and philosophy of Flexible Manufacturing as possible . It is very important to be able to see what qualities each one has to favor and enhance them.

3rd) Standardization of Methods and Times. You cannot design any type of manufacturing cells or lines, nor cycle time, quantity, buffers, “in progress”, etc., if we do not know for sure how to do it (method and ergonomics). Nor how much does it cost us in time (typical or assigned times), with each frequency and fatigue coefficient of each element, in each operation. 


What we will achieve with flexible manufacturing

-More competitiveness: We will be able to serve the exact quantity of orders earlier and in the established time. Since our productive capacity will be adapted to the quantity of the order when we need it. We will not have to manufacture everything at the same time, or with sales histories, which sometimes are fulfilled or sometimes not. We only manufacture what they ask us ...

-Higher quality: Quality is self-managed within the cell, module or line. Since where there is an error, it cannot be continued and right there it returns to the previous sewing station for immediate correction. It is not discovered in the end, with the usual cost of operations and cost. In addition to making their arrangement more difficult.

-Lower costs: By eliminating all the waste that I mentioned above, costs decrease in proportion to the improvements achieved.

-Increase in the variety of parts to be manufactured: We will be able to change more efficiently and quickly the models to be manufactured based on the need for customer service. In quantity and time by not having to manufacture a model all at once. With the subsequent risk that part of the production remains stagnant in the finished product warehouse, waiting to be sold. Which may or may not happen, with its consequent loss of value.

-Reduction of batch size: In Flexible Manufacturing , 1X1 is the best manufacturing option, although batches of up to 5 garments, depending on the size of the garment, may also be worth it.

-Lower reaction times: By being able to manufacture minimum batches and with polyfunctional Cells or Lines (depending on the type of garment), reaction times are much faster.

-Shortening of travel times: Cell or Line designs, in "O", "U", "L" or straight line, are always made in the smallest possible space. This way we make it easier to reduce the route and eliminate this waste as much as possible. In Mass Manufacturing, the journey of the garment is not taken into account. Neither the overlap that can occur in certain machines by the different activities that of the operators.

-Reduction of stocks: Intermediate buffers are reduced to the minimum possible. This being the amount necessary so that the flow of the cell or line is not cut off, due to any unforeseen human or machinery incident. In traditional manufacturing, the buffers were in the machines until the packages that were of large quantities of garments were not finished.

-Use of the machines and the means of service: Reducing the intermediate buffers. Designing lines by group of garments and above all, making our operators as polyfunctional as possible. We will achieve higher utilization of machinery and means of service.

I have always verified in each project in which I participate, that we can have the best and most modern machinery pool, but if we don't have the best possible human pool, excellence will never be achieved ...

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