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....TECHTALK

A lot has been written and discussed about various manufacturing systems in the Apparel
Industry. Different experts have different opinions on advantages and disadvantages of
one system against the other. But most of the time we neglect to cover all aspects of the
system when analyzing, and thus are unable to realize or visualize the actual
comprehensive picture, before implementing the change in the manufacturing set-up. In
fact, many times decisions are taken without even a proper analysis of various options
resulting in big disasters.
Manoj Tiwari, Asst. Professor, Dept. of Fashion Technology, NIFT, Gandhinagar, shares
his experience garnered while working in both Assembly Line and Modular Manufacturing
System in Vogue-Velocity International, Egypt, Textrade International DRDO and LNJ
Group India, to provide a guideline to adopt when opting for a suitable manufacturing
system for the plant.

Assembly Line vs. Modular System

A Comparison on Reality Grounds


To initially set up a garment manufacturing unit, investment in three critical areas is required. They are:
Man, Machinery, Space.
The ultimate objective of any business is to have the best utilization of above three factors, so that profits
can be maximized. Since margins are shrinking in the garment industry the profitability of a company is
dependent on needle movement consistency of running machines, and to ensure smooth operations
money has to be invested on worker training, automation, attachments and folders to increase
productivity, and appropriate space required where both men and material can move unobstructed and
systematic.
Further, to achieve the competitive edge companies are using various manufacturing systems like make
through, conventional bundling, progressive bundling, flexible production, unit production system or the
modular manufacturing system.
In the Lean Thinking, experts advocate the benefits of modular manufacturing for maximum efficiencies.
Modular manufacturing is a type of flexible manufacturing system, which provides faster and efficient
throughput and better balancing of work by keeping lower WIP and requiring less space. The modular
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throughput and better balancing of work by keeping lower WIP and requiring less space. The modular
system enhances multi-skill development of operators, which helps in quick response to style change
with achieving quality standards. Besides, it increases team spirit which helps organization in improving
work environment.
Modular manufacturing groups operate in teams, or modules. The team works on one or a few garments
at a time instead of a bundle of garments. The operators stand/sit at their stations and rotate to different
machines as they work, becoming familiar with multiple steps in producing the garment. They also
simultaneously inspect their teams own work, catching and correcting mistakes as soon as they happen.
Early experiments with modular manufacturing show that besides inspiring teamwork and improving
morale, it also enhances quality and reduces worker turnover. While making a garment using modular
manufacturing or the unit production, the throughput time is reduced. But then how assembly line system
compares itself to the modular system.
[For comparison and calculations the product taken is 5-Pocket Denim Jean, Assumed SAM-14.0
min./garment].
Considering a shift of 8 hours per day, total available minutes per shift will be 480. SAM given is 14
minutes, which includes time for ironing, quality check and trimming activities.
Production Calculation for Assembly Line
So, as per the above table (Figure 1), manpower required for assembly line will be = 50
(Considering sewing operators, iron man, quality checkers and trimmers only)
Expected output per shift
@ 65% efficiency
= (50 X 480) X 0.65/14
= 1114 units/shift
Total labour productivity (assembly line)
= 1114/63 (Total number of the operators)
= 17.68 units/person/shift
Production Calculation for Modular System
Expected output per shift
@ 65% efficiency
= (21 X 480) X 0.65/14.0
= 468 units/shift
Total labour productivity (modular system)
= 468/22
= 21.27 units/person/shift
Cost & Expense for Assembly Line
Expenditure on wages/day (assuming an average of 30 days in one month) for assembly line
331000/30 = INR. 11033/day.
Cost/garment for assembly line = 11033/1114
= INR. 9.9039/garment
Cost & Expense for Modular Systems
Expenditure on wages/day (assuming average 30 days in one month) for modular system 133000/30
= INR. 4433/day
Cost/garment for modular system = 4433/468
= INR. 9.4729/garment
Gain/garment by using modular system over assembly line = INR. 0.4309/garment
Prima facie opting modular system over assembly lines seems a good deal, but it does have its own
bottlenecks as Mark Twain said There are three types of lies LIES, DAMN LIES and STATISTICS.
Type of
Requirement for
Manpower Salary/Month Assembly Line
(Indian Rs.)*
required
(Nos.)
Sewing

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Requirement for
Modular System
(Nos.)

Cost/Month (Indian (Indian Rs.) for


Rs.) for Assembly
Modular
Line
System
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Sewing
Operator
Iron man
Quality
Checker
Helper
Trimmer
Supervisor
Total

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6000

40

20

240,000

120,000

3000
5000

1
7

1
*

3000
35,000

3000

2500
3000
10000

11
2
2
63

*
*
1
22

27,500
6000
20,000
331,000

10,000
133,000

The same may happen here also, as we have not covered some crucial factors, which may directly or
indirectly affect this statistical figure.
1. Machine usage vs. Idle Machine cost In a modular system machine to man ratio is always kept
more than 1, so that the multi-skilling can be utilized efficiently. It means there are always some
machines idle at any given point of time. Generally for a 5-pocket jean modular set-up, we use 25
machines over 20 sewing operators; hence 20% of the total machines are always kept idle. Keeping the
sewing machine idle is definitely a cost, and it shows somewhere we are not properly utilizing the
available costly resources, if we calculate straight, by working with 8 modules for a 5-pocket jean , we are
using (unknowingly) 40 extra machines, by which you can successfully run an assembly line.
The another important point, in case there are small orders of different styles (For example: One style
having asymmetric back), in this case clubbing of machines is not possible due to frequent change in
machine settings and we have to go for separate machines for each module.
Assigning/allocating 2 different separate machines for individual modules is a costly affair and at the
same time machines are not fully utilized referring to their capacity.
2. Consistency in the Sewn Product quality level Believing in the modular manufacturing concept for
garments, the quality of sewn product has to be ensured by the modular team itself, there is NO quality
check as each operator is responsible for checking and rectification in the product (if required), there is
provisions for audits only, once output is done.
In this scenario when there is production pressure, operator misses to check the quality (uncut threads,
wrong sewing margins, unmatched notches, and wrong parts attachment is very common problems). As
there is only final audit in modular system, till the time you come to know about poor quality of the product,
a big loss of time, material and money has already been done, which results in cost of poor quality.
Producing and making things wrong are bigger losses than less/no production.

3. Consistency in daily production Assuming that on a day 1, a modular operator, who is trained for 3
operations is absent. Unfortunately if he is a crucial operator expert in inseams or waist band attach, the
production and productivity of that day for that module is in serious danger.
In a country like India, where festive seasons, health issues and climatic calamities are very often, this
scenario of key operators absent is very normal. Here as a replacement you are left with two options
either use a multi-skilled operator from somewhere else or use three different operators for these
operations both the solutions are going to add extra cost to the process with no guarantee of achieving
required quality level. At the same time if the operator is absent in assembly line, you have to deal with
only one operator, who does only one operation and finding out a replacement for it, is not too different.
4. Space Utilization In general practice for a 5-pocket jean, the space consumed by 2 modules is equal
to 1 assembly line. Apart from it, we have to provide space for sewing preparatory for individual module
and space for the non-productive or idle machines in the module.
It has been observed that on an average a module takes 2 years to get matured, till that time one has to
compromise with daily average production of 250-300 pcs/day (against 468 units/day as calculated above
@ 65% efficiency) and in the same conditions a line starts producing output average 1100 units/day (as
calculated above) from 8th or 9th day of the line starts. It means from a space of 2 modules, the factory
will get approximately average 500-600 units/day output, which is equivalent to a space of a line, whereas
a line can easily give 1100 units/day.
Hence its clear that, to get equivalent output to an assembly line, 4 modules (equal to the space of 2
lines) are needed to get a logical output from the given space. Space is definitely a big cost, and the
above results show that it is better to have an assembly line over modules.
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5. Operators mentality This is one of the most crucial factors which decide the future performance of
any manufacturing system but most of the time we skip this point taking as a secondary priority.
This is a well known fact that operators training and making them multi-skilled takes a good amount of
time, resources in terms of money and manpower as well as managements patience also.
Now lets think about this concept of multi-skilling from operators mind set, he may think below two
points:
a Why he should learn different operations or different works when salary is going to be more or less
same. Multi-skilling will put extra burden on him without giving any significant monetary benefits.
b He will learns more than one or two operations and will become a multi-skilled operator, but as soon
as he learns all this, he will leave this job and join another company who can pay him better.
In both the cases, the management who invested so much time and money on the operator training and
multi-skilling is the loser. These scenes dont occur to such a scale while working with assembly line.
Conclusion
From above discussed points, its clear that such a strategic decision like converting a set-up from
assembly line to modular system or vice versa may decide the future of the plant and a good deep
thought or brain storming considering all the aspects should be done before decision making.
No doubt, there is nothing left all across the globe for modular systems to prove further. Their success
stories reveal the uniqueness and excellence right from automobile sector to apparels.
Modular philosophy has its own advantages and benefits, but the requirement is to run modules with
discipline and religiously. There must be no compromise with fundamentals; otherwise blind follow-up of
modules may throw bigger challenges.

Other related articles on Modular Manufacturing System in StitchWorld


Intelligent Automation in Shirt Making Roberto Inglesi Edition: January-2009
Flexible Manufacturing in the Indian Apparel Industry Dr. Rajesh Bheda and Prof. Prabir Jana
Edition: April-2006

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