Technology, IE and Training: The core parts of Bangladesh apparel industry

by Nitish Varshney

03-May-2019  |  11 mins read

In today’s time, buyers are constantly asking to reduce unit prices, whereas the cost of production for the manufacturers is going up because of increase in the input cost and also because of huge investment made towards enhanced social and environmental compliance norms. This, as a whole, increases the financial load on the manufacturers. In such circumstances, the only available path is to increase productivity by having a complete control on the entire supply chain within a garment manufacturing unit.

The control can be done in various ways such as using automation in the most efficient manner; following proven IE practices to make processes smoother and viable; deploying available workforce in multiple operations to make the best use of manpower; and, of course, training them on exact modules which are needed inside a unit. Bangladesh, the world’s second largest apparel manufacturing destination, is effectively working on all these factors to make their manufacturing even stronger. Team Apparel Resources recently visited Mahmud Group and Laila Styles Ltd. based out in Dhaka and observed that each of them is implementing something unique in terms of improving productivity and making a strong work system to make themselves stand out. Let’s look at the practices these companies are following.

“Line Layout is Must” – Mahmud Fashion Limited

Timely deliveries, building all operations in-house under entirely compliant conditions, being competitive in pricing and a lot of emphasis on quality have always kept Dhaka-based garment manufacturer Mahmud Group at the forefront of manufacturing. The group produces 60,000 denim bottoms per day in its old factory named Mahmud Jeans Ltd (MJL). That’s a whopping per day output compared to many other jeans manufacturers who claim themselves to be big but actually are struggling to get even 1/10th pieces per day output than what MJL is achieving. Not just this, in May 2017, the group further added one more unit named Mahmud Fashion Ltd. (MFL) to cater to increased orders from buyers and the factory is exemplary in terms of technology use and Industrial Engineering practices.

Susanth Ranjith Ekanayaka, GM – Maintenance, Mahmud Fashions Limited
Susanth Ranjith Ekanayaka, GM – Maintenance, Mahmud Fashion Limited

Currently, MJL has 8 operational lines (at the time of interview) with 60 machines in each line. The unit has already planned to make 8 more lines operational by June ’19 and a total of 48 lines will be workable till 2019 end. Line balancing is the utmost priority of Susanth Ranjith Ekanayaka, GM (Maintenance), Mahmud Fashion Ltd., who, since the starting, has focused immensely to improve line balancing and reworked on the line layout to increase productivity. “Wages have increased, overheads have gone up, lead time is getting shorter and buyers’ pressure is already there which are collectively reducing profit margins. When MFL became operational last year, we designed our lines in a way which can get us more productivity using limited resources,” explained Susanth.

MFL has a special maintenance team which is taking care of production lines. The team plans 15 days before changing the layout and in that period of time, it uses the team members’ expertise as to what kind of product categories are supposed to come in production lines and what should be the action taken to modify a particular line. If the same design is carried on adjacent lines, Maintenance team replicates the same structure.

It’s not that MFL could achieve the proper line balancing in order to increase output quite easily. “A lot of issues were there before we planned line layouts. The major problem was scarcity of skilled manpower,” commented Susanth. It’s a fact that attrition rate is high here in Bangladesh. So by the time a person gets through the process, he/she is gone and someone new comes in and then it takes time for a factory to train freshers again. The same was an issue with MFL when it became operational. But, the maintenance and production teams together had to tackle this challenge and they did it. In production lines, they identified critical operations first. Then IE people were told to train manpower in a batch of 50 people on all aspects to make them efficient enough to carry multiple operations. “So, while we plan a layout and an operator quits the factory, we don’t have to face issues in finalizing the layout as we have everything in place, right from strategy that we need to follow to the workers who we are going to use,” averred Susanth.

“Training and Technology are our priority” – Laila Styles Ltd.

Laila Styles Ltd. is one of the prominent names in Bangladesh apparel manufacturing industry which started operation in September 2018 and yet to become fully operational. However, the partial operational unit, with its massive infrastructure; technology use in production floors; and focus on operators’ training is achieving what it plans. In this new unit around 3500 workers are churning out woven bottoms; denim and non-denim day in and day out in 35 production lines out of which 20 lines are fully operational.

Bodiuz Zaman, General Manager – Admin, HR & Compliance, Laila Styles Limited

According to Laila Styles, it is not just installing technology which will boost the business level over the night, it’s all about how a manufacturer utilizes the installations to the fullest, making a balance between manpower and machines. On one hand, manpower remains the most crucial part in Bangladesh garment industry, while on the other hand, molding the fresh available operators in skilled ones is even more challenging task, failing to do so can cost a manufacturer loss of production datelines. “You will always need a technically strong team to make the best use of the machine; a team here means both technical supervisors as well as operators who ultimately are responsible to handle sewing machines. We have that strength and experience which assist us in such a way that our investment does not go in awry,” shared Bodiuz Zaman, General Manager-Admin, HR & Compliance, Laila Styles Ltd.

To upskill the workforce, Laila Styles Ltd. has set up a training center within the factory premises which can accommodate 40 operators at a time. The unit has not only installed basic SNLS machines in the center but also the high-end special sewing machines to train operators on both. “When we recruit them, we judge their skills. If we find them skilled enough, we place them directly on floor. If they are not up to the mark, we consider them as fresh and train them in our center where one month training is given to them,” explained Zaman. The trainers impart technical knowledge and quality skills to the operators as they know what type of skills an operator would be needing while working on Laila’s production floor. This way operators come prepared mentally and technically from the training center. Each of the operators who gets training is further evaluated by the production team after one month before allocating them any production related work.

Laila Styles

Focus on use of latest technology is as strong as training in Laila Styles. The company has kept the pace with continuous global transformation as far as technological up gradation and excellence is concerned. It is installed with 650 sewing machines (mainly from Juki and Brother) of which 450 are SNLS machines and rest all are special machines such as feed off the arm, overlock (Pegasus and Kansai) and jeans automats (Vibemac and Jam International). “To get quality production, we use all sort of automation except for auto-cutter which is actually not viable for us,” underlined Zaman stating that maximum time is taken by spreading operation for which Laila is using auto-spreaders. “Cutting is not that difficult so, for the time being, we are not investing in auto-cutters rather using straight knife cutters to solve the purpose,” stated Zaman. Currently, per month capacity of Laila’s cutting room is (operational) 300,000 pcs. And, soon it will be 600,000 per month once the pending lines will be operational by May this year.

Reducing human intervention is another need for garment manufacturers in order to stay relevant in this cost-competitive era. Since Laila is manufacturing denim bottoms too, it has invested in two of the renowned technologies Vibemac and Jam International; both are from Italy, which are known for clubbing multiple operations on one automat. JT 882 model of Jam International assists Laila in carrying 5 different operations on one machine, needing juts two operators. While, in regular machine to perform these 5 operations, 7 people are needed which is an enormous saving of manpower and great increase in productivity. “We are proud of having technical excellence in our machining department,” concluded Zaman.

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