Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Introducing the Future Factory Models of Demand Sourcing 4.0


Digital factories have one common mission… they transform a digital virtual inventory of SKUs into physical product. It doesn’t matter if the factory is making furniture parts with CNC cutters or assembling cars using robots the mission is the same.  However, the concept of a Micro-Factory as a single structure is misleading at best and doomed to fail at worst.
Integrated demand sourcing digital factories are capable of providing an unlimited array of dedicated factory footprints task organized for specific profit and sustainability goals. How the symphony of different technologies is integrated to efficiently complete each individual quality product and deliver it on time, at a profit, environmentally and economically sustainable is a highly complex orchestration.

Digital apparel factories tend to fit in four different general structures.  Each of these generic types is based on production segment of the market or the supply chain.  Each factory is specifically tuned to support an individual business plan.  The experience gained by building each of the factory types and their variations since 1996 has provided a wealth of lessons that are available at AM4U.com or by visiting the Fashion Technology factory demonstration area in SOURCING at MAGIC next February 4-7 at Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas.

The demonstration of different factory configurations at SOURCING at MAGIC created a substantial buzz and sales for the exhibitors. Demonstrating the integration of the role of Digital Manufacturing and the impact of real time sourcing on the financial well-being and future global sustainability is a mission of SOURCING at MAGIC. Joining these factory types together with the 3D of visual design, the Augmented Reality (AR), retail/online merchandising, social marketing software and Virtual Inventory (VI) is planned for the next SOURCING at MAGIC, February 2020 in Las Vegas.

The Direct-2-Garment (DTG) Demand Factory

This factory custom prints, imprints and/or embroiders decoration directly on athletic and leisure finished apparel.
It can be placed almost anywhere and provides outputs from 100 to 600 units per eight-hour shift depending on the printer output. The thousands of small to large DTG T-shirt factories reside in garages and small and large factories throughout the country.

Some of the key characteristics of the DTG production sites are:
  • The small factories require no special power or air service, they operate at normal house power and a small commercial compressor can handle any air requirements.
  • Most DTG operations do not require sewing capability because they are normally operating with blank pre-sewn garments.
  • These facilities also can operate using either direct to garment printers or images applied to the garment through sublimation or transfer.
  •  In most states DTG operations do not require either regulatory labor permits or expenses to dispose of toxic waste chemicals or water. This is because the printers used do not require dangerous chemicals or significant post-operational cleaning or garment washouts.
The downside of the DTG opportunity is oddly a byproduct of the low cost of entry and easy operation. Since there is very little barrier to entry the nationwide proliferation of DTG sources has created overwhelming competition and price pressure for small operations. Focusing on very short run custom printing has provided some relief but eventually DTT factories will have to expand from printed T-shirt blanks to additional cuts of athleisure apparel and accessories.

Because of the high level of competition DTG providers need to find a space in the sourcing path for local boutiques and small specialty retailers this opportunity will come as a result of the expansion of the product line beyond T-shirts.


 As stated, these factories are used to produce the initial stocking order for large multi-location retail chains and brands. This technology allows sourcing systems to become extremely lean because there is no requirement for time-consuming prepress or multi-location transportation of product. These factories also allow buyers to take full advantage of the digital design systems that can provide virtual inventories with wide ranges of choice and the ability to create multiple SKUs dedicated to various locations and fast-changing Internet trends.

Some of the key characteristics of the Digital Production factory sites are:
  • The DP factories require special power or air service, including a minimum of 800 amp electrical service, numerous transformers and a complex compressed air delivery system.
  • Most DP operations can require significant sewing capability based on their structured capacity.
  • These facilities also can operate using either direct to fabric printers or images applied through sublimation.
  • With the proper additional equipment DP’s are capable of permanently spot color dyeing fabric using change-on-the-fly technology without the use of any water.
  • In most locations DP operations do not require either regulatory labor permits or expenses to dispose of toxic waste chemicals or water. This is because the printers and dying technology used do not require dangerous chemicals or significant post-operational cleaning or garment washouts.

 Unfortunately the downside of the adoption of digital production has been an industry that has a legendary resistance to change. This resistance coupled with significant requirement for capital investment and a microscopic supply of technically trained interdisciplinary workers and management will cause this necessary change to be roughly the equivalent pushing a brick in the mud.  Currently, the lack of integration between the digital technologies of merchandising, design, coloration, cutting and sewing are making the seamless vertical combination of these multiple technologies extremely difficult.

The Forecast Based High Volume Digital Production (DP) Factory


This high-volume factory design is used primarily for Retail and Brand initial stocking orders it included overhead sewing delivery systems, multi-ply digital cutting and high volume printing. This design requires at least 400-600 amp service and compressed air distribution and multiple transformer power supplies.  These factories can output 3000- 6000 m² per hour of fabric with no minimums or pollution.
High-volume digital production is the likely replacement for current coloring, printing and cutting technology. DP factories are still likely to be overseas or at least in areas with lower labor costs. This type of factory still demands huge sewing facilities with hundreds if not thousands of product handlers, sewers and other support individuals. Until sewing is sufficiently automated high-volume factories are likely to remain offshore.
 As stated, these factories are used to produce the initial stocking order for large multi-location retail chains and brands. This technology allows sourcing systems to become extremely lean because there is no requirement for time-consuming prepress or multi-location transportation of product. These factories also allow buyers to take full advantage of the digital design systems that can provide virtual inventories with wide ranges of choice and the ability to create multiple SKUs dedicated to various locations and fast-changing Internet trends.

Some of the key characteristics of the Digital Production factory sites are:
  • The DP factories require special power or air service, including a minimum of 800 amp electrical service, numerous transformers and a complex compressed air delivery system.
  • Most DP operations can require significant sewing capability based on their structured capacity.
  • These facilities also can operate using either direct to fabric printers or images applied through sublimation.
  • With the proper additional equipment DP’s are capable of permanently spot color dyeing fabric using change-on-the-fly technology without the use of any water.
  • In most locations DP operations do not require either regulatory labor permits or expenses to dispose of toxic waste chemicals or water. This is because the printers and dying technology used do not require dangerous chemicals or significant post-operational cleaning or garment washouts.
 Unfortunately the downside of the adoption of digital production has been an industry that has a legendary resistance to change. This resistance coupled with significant requirement for capital investment and a microscopic supply of technically trained interdisciplinary workers and management will cause this necessary change to be roughly the equivalent pushing a brick in the mud.  Currently, the lack of integration between the digital technologies of merchandising, design, coloration, cutting and sewing are making the seamless vertical combination of these multiple technologies extremely difficult.

The Demand Based Integrated Micro-Factory

This factory design works directly with the point-of-sale information from retail and online clients to replenish only what is sold or required to maintain proper shelf stock. The Integrated Micro-Factory (IMF) represents the most significant change in the traditional sourcing structure.  The IMF is a substitute for the projected on-hand inventory of product in excess of the initial stocking order.  The IMF allows merchandisers/buyers to replenish in-store or online sales as they occur rather than purchasing the entire forecast and holding finished product awaiting sales.  The IMF’s mission is to increase product offering while removing inventory risk. The IMF is best placed in or near the distribution center and can operate on 3 to 5 day delivery directly from consolidated POS data.

Some of the key characteristics of the Integrated Micro-Factory sites are:
  • This factory requires a minimum of 5,000 sq. ft. in a dedicated space with compressed air distribution and 400amp service.  An IMF can output 300—1500 units per 8-hour shift depending on sewing capacity.
  • IMF’s can operate using either direct to fabric printers or images applied through sublimation.
  • With the proper additional equipment IMF’s are capable of permanently spot color dyeing fabric using change-on-the-fly technology without the use of any water.
  • The IMF with the proper additional equipment is capable of full dye and print in the same pass as well as art composite placement and piece drop dying production technology.
  • The IMF configuration is also the best suited for higher volume (more than 200 units per day) Purchase Activated Manufacturing (PAM) or custom one off production.
  • In most locations IMF operations do not require either regulatory labor permits or expenses to dispose of toxic waste chemicals or water. This is because the coloration technology used does not require dangerous chemicals or significant post-operational cleaning or garment washouts.

The Mobile Project/Event Micro-Factory

 The Mobile Micro-Factory (MMF) design is specifically built to fit on a single truck and be installed in a 200amp facility within 3 to 5 days. Its purpose is to provide provisional production for license products and other apparel and accessories, which may have a specific lifespan. It is also used to support events like concerts and fairs. It can produce up to 1000 units per eight-hour shift depending on configuration.

Some of the key characteristics of the MMF sites are:
  • The MMF can operate from a truck, tent (with a 40kw generator) or a space with 200amp service.
  • The mobile factory normally requires 3-5 days for installation and product testing.
  • MMF’s are designed to convert a pre-established Virtual Inventory of multiple designs to finished product on demand.
  • These facilities also can operate using either direct to fabric printers, images applied through sublimation or embroidered patches.
  •  In most locations IMF operations do not require either regulatory labor permits or expenses to dispose of toxic waste chemicals or water. This is because the printers and decoration technology used does not require dangerous chemicals or significant post-operational cleaning or garment washouts.

Summary

Virtual inventories, digital manufacturing and real-time demand sourcing are here to stay.  Ten years ago 50m2 was a top speed for printing fabric today inkjets can operate 100+ times faster and change images and colors on the fly.  Today, we can transform a digital file into a pair of shoes.  Today, a picture of the Internet can shift a fashion trend 180° in just hours while a style forecasts still takes months of prep and conventional production.  Today, the World Bank says that 20% of the world’s water pollution comes from coloring and processing textiles while the digital manufacturing technology is available to dye and print using no w