“An apparel manufacturer can lose 15 per cent to 30 per cent of their total production costs because their garments are not produced right in the first time” – shouldn’t this fact be haunting those who own factories and are operating business at very low margins? Quality is the most crucial parameter to achieve in the manufacturing business…And today we don’t just talk about product quality, but the in-house process quality, supply chain quality and even the quality of vendor and buyer relations, which collectively make a huge impact on business. That’s why the apparel companies should consistently look forward to evolve and improve their quality management system (QMS) and, in this process, the real question they should ask themselves is – how to put the supply chain in the best position to act effectively on bottlenecks before they wreak havoc?
Even ifa company – brand or vendor – already has mature QMS in place, they always tend to work more diligently under rapidly evolving fashion business. The feature highlights four practices/ways that will help the companies to continuously improve their QMS with the use of data collection, transparent methods, and digital tools.
- Always go for ‘consolidation’of Quality Control (QC) data
Let’s take an example of a garment shopfloor…Despite a number of QCs engaging in inspection – both on-line and end-line, no surety is there if manual errors aren’t happening! Not just errors, the floor requires to map and evaluate the collected data every hour to take better decisions. The shopfloor usually produces garments for multiple brands simultaneously (in different production lines).However it is necessary to keep track of orders and their real-time quality inspection in order to reduce rejection rates and improve delivery time. This requires a consolidation of quality control data to enhance inspection process. But, is that a scenario in factories? No! The most bizarre fact is – rarely one can see proper collection of real time data in factories!
It’s true that COVID-19 has brought in the concept of digital quality control and compliance, however it is yet to see maturity.
A professional quality control and compliance software can bring all of supply chain stakeholders to one transparent platform, allowing to consolidate scattered and siloed inspection data, and leverage it into actionable results. Consolidated, cross-checked data and detailed QC reports available from a single source – enabling the quality team to spot quality trends, identify hotspots and high-risk parts of the supply chain, and proactively intervene before quality issues spin out of control.
One of the errors that such digital QC tools are able to control is manipulation in the quality inspection of finished pieces. On end-line QC’s table, quality inspector is equipped with a tablet which checks a garment piece for an error. In manual method, the QC may pass the defected piece due to delivery pressure but once software is brought into the process, it alerts QC about the defect or rejection and the factories can set a time bracket (let’s say 5 minutes is the time between the first checking and the second inspection) before which the same piece can’t be checked through software. This is kind of time-controlled mandate that the QC inspector has to send the defected piece to the sewing machine rather than pass it as it is, get it corrected, rechecked and see if this passes all quality parameters now! What these quality tools are doing is they are collecting the defect data, recording the time taken for defect correction and calculating the frequency of a particular type of defect in an order being produced on shopfloor. This data is then consolidated by the factories to make decisions about improving quality control methods inside their premises.
There are a number of software available to perform online quality inspection such as Blue Kaktus, Res.Q, STITCH, Zilingo and QIMA.
- Realise the importance of quality and visibility in fabric supply chain performance
Businesses today rely on multiple suppliers and vendors across supply chain. However, the complex nature of apparel product manufacturing has resulted in a lack of trust along the supply chain partners. This creates disparate management systems that can make it impossible to see the real state of material or manufacturing quality in the sourcing ecosystem. With sustainable and ethical practices/products becoming a norm, tracing credibility at each stage of the supply chain is becoming very critical.
The journey of these products, from raw material to finished goods, often spans multiple geographies, manufacturing sites and agents, and very often courses through ruptured and distrustful networks. Despite the fact that the manufacturing is determined to become more efficient and effective than ever before, due to increased automation and computerisation across pre-production, production and post-production processes, how can a product cycle ensure that there is no breach of trust and the product is delivered as promised with no contamination or tampering of certificated produced? Simply put, the brands/buyers cannot control raw material quality, or reasonably predict shortages of components when their upstream suppliers are hit with disruptions.
Take fabric value chain for example…Opportunity is there both in providing multiple online test results at all stages within the process and allowing visibility of the full traceability of raw materials throughout the supply chain. In our conversation with the team of leading IoT-enabled software company Datatex sometime back, we got to know that this (online test) is already a requirement for audits on recycled fabrics which can be done electronically better than any manual system available. These online recycling audits are helpful in identifying the authenticity of recycled fabrics. If a brand wants to claim that it is using recycled fabric, it is imperative to know the complete detail while receiving recycled fabrics from textile mills. This means fibre level information is required at the fabric level or at the garment level. This information is tracked from start (at fibre level) to end (at fabric/garment level), and is then provided online with the help of ‘Lot Management’ tool that Datatex is providing.
The test results can be collected and presented both from test laboratories and for tests conducted on the shopfloor.In addition, presentation and calculation of the full defect map of every piece produced are available, also to be used in the future for cut optimisation facilities. This is predominantly for fabric inspection for which software, like Datatex, are available to maintain defect data of fabric lot at fabric mill’s end before dispatch.
Hence, this process of maintaining fabric quality and then garment quality can be obtained now through innovations which was a bit difficult to do through technology previously. With real-time and accurate supply chain data reflected as actionable insights, the factories can make any quality, compliance and sustainability markers visible to their supply chain partners and stakeholders as they deem relevant.
- Varying QC approaches based on supplier performance
Performance in the sourcing network can vary greatly from supplier to supplier and one approach to quality management will not fit all.If Quality Management System (QMS) has the ability to capture supplier performance data, consolidate it and present it to stakeholders in an easy-to-understand way, factories can use those insights to create a risk profile for every supplier. Based on those insights, factories can decide how much scrutiny each supplier needs.
For example, mature garment factories with a good track record of production and delivery can be empowered to self-inspect a part of their production order, while new and higher-risk suppliers will need third-party inspections. Having the data to make these decisions will help factories/suppliers make the best of their quality control budget, and manage supplier relations effectively.
- Roll out consistent and standardised quality and compliance parameters
Brands do conduct different meetings within different departments and the outputs of these meetings are shared with their suppliers/factories to help them achieve better results. If the insights of these meetings are collected manually, there is no way to know how a particular vendor is performing on quality front! The best way is to ensure that the data collected by quality inspectors is accurate and that can only happen if brands standardise workflow for all auditors to follow – in-house or third-party auditors. The auditors have to go through the standard checklist and share their inputs on received information through the installed quality app in their phones of tablets. These tools help identify if shared information by factories is correct or not… This way, it’s easy for brands to pull out reports from the dashboard, showing how a particular vendor is performing.
When suppliers and inspectors can work from standardised processes and specifically designed workflows, it makes it a lot easier to monitor adherence to quality and compliance requirements, and ensure that the quality data is internally consistent, instead of being stuck comparing incomparable parameters.
Professional QMS software comes pre-bundled with a library of checklists and templates, designed by industry experts based on best practices, and updated based on regulatory changes. Both brands and vendors can use those libraries to set up their quality control and compliance workflows.Furthermore, if all the inspectors and suppliers are connected to the same platform, the companies can roll out updated standards and procedures with just a few clicks.