How much money are you leaving on the production table?
The answer may surprise you. Perhaps a better question is how long do you plan on being in the business of making that product?
If you are investing a lot of time and effort in making prototypes, the answer is likely that you plan to make a lot of that product over a long time. If you will be adding these prototypes to your IP portfolio, the real answer is that these prototypes are your business and market success strategy for the next several years or a decade.
You may have a short-term need of rapidly entering a market with this prototype, with long term goals of leading that market. Getting your sample on budget is important but getting your production speed at optimum is critical to the success of your product, your profit, and ultimately your business.
Sphere bladder restrictor
Often the shortcuts taken in sampling make their way into production. Later the lack of time and budget typically lead to reusing those short cuts rather than taking the time to design the product properly in the first place. The accumulation of short cuts and compromises during the sampling phase that make their way into production are known as technical debt. Short cuts and compromises have a real cost throughout the life cycle of the product.
So, why not take the time to build your samples with production in mind?
First off, how many of that product are you planning to make, a couple hundred or a couple hundred thousand? To your company, speed to market should be just as important as making your production as efficient as possible.
For example: if you are making 10,000 units and your prototype unit takes 25 minutes to make. Say it costs 0.26 cents per minute in SAMs (Standard Action Minutes) = $6.50. These SAMs can be anything from knitting, cutting, weaving, sewing, labeling, and any labor that it takes to produce your product. If you can save 10 minutes per unit, that is real money – a savings of $2.60 per unit in this case for the ‘variable expense’ in your cost sheet. Now multiply that savings of $2.60 per unit times your 10,000 pieces. That is $26,000.00 in savings. At 1000 unit, it’s still $2600.00 savings. Anyone with the skills that can save you that kind of serious money, is worth listening to.
Production is usually stated as the number of units in a given amount of time. Your efficiency relates to how well that happens – how many units minus damages and waste. Divide the Net units by the energy, resources and time it takes to make those Net units and that is your efficiency rate.
Net Units= gross units – (damages + waste)/ energy + resources + time
So how much did that production really cost? The real cost not just the numbers above. What happens to the damages and waste? You are indirectly paying not only to make the waste, but to get rid of it. Are your prototyping engineers experienced in your industry? If not, that could cost you additional technical debt in profit margin in lost efficiencies, and not making best practices your standard.
Manufacturing optimization addresses all cost points in the production process not just the digital aspect. The aim of any good team – R&D, Design, Operations and Management – is to produce the highest number of products, using the least amount of resources and time, while maintaining quality. No WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) computer, or machine, has skills to figure these technical production puzzles out. Computers and programmers can organize it, yes, but build your entire process, with all the hands-on know-how variables, no. Skilled people with years of production experience, materials management knowledge, textile engineering, pattern making, marker making, planning assembly lines, after processes, and dealing with real people in sewing factories ensure this part. It is as much digital knowledge to organize and program what product you want to build, as it is hands on experience of how to physically build that particular product, which prevents mistakes in any phase of prototyping from rippling exponentially through production.
3D knit box for a speaker
In technical textiles, especially shaped products, efficient and effective prototyping to optimized production parameters is as critical to your operations flow, as it is to your bottom line. These products are not perishable fashion that averages itself out in next season’s production. In fashion there are good reasons for accepting technical debt - speed to market for one, and budget for another.
These technical products last in your company’s line for several years to a decade or more, and so do all the shortcuts and compromises taken in the R&D phase. In flat knitting, optimization means eliminating as many SAMs from the unit as possible, while balancing what is easiest sewn, with what is fastest and most accurately knit to avoid damages from human error.
Myth busters: 3D costs more than cut and sew?
Many things can’t be knitted or knitted to shape or in 3D. But, what if they could? Now, what if on top of that savings in SAMs, you can save 10% to 60%+ of the materials used, by eliminating cutting and some of the sewing? In fully fashioned, 3D knitting and technical knitting, that waste factor savings is significant. This is especially true when materials are expensive. For one benefit, you have clean finished edges that don’t unravel, and you are building your fabric at the same time you are building your product.
It is repetitive and scalable, no sewing mistakes or sewer fatigue. Engineering change orders can be immediate; no need to phase out old materials, and no dead stock. Stocking raw materials streamlines your warehouse and gives you agility to adapt quickly. No cutting room, and nearly zero waste means you may have budget to improve your product to the next level of bells and whistles, or you could just pocket the cost savings as extra margin. Even if you are making things off shore, you might think, labor, material waste, and production time are not my problems. But, they are, and you are likely paying for all of it in some way.
Right: Integrated seat cover ripple. The machine makes it the same spot every time - no sewing - no human error, no fatigue.
Why optimize now?
A better question is why should you be wasting time and resources from the very beginning, especially when very soon you may need to expand capacity fast? Or, what happens when a customer starts squeezing your margins?
Later, what happens when your product gets out there, and everyone is trying to knock you off? You have reached the top of your business model for that product in the prototyping stage. Your in-house manufacturing, or your off-shore vendor can no longer produce any additional volume of a product without taking from other product production resources.
Your vendor has no incentive to lose other business and disrupt their factory flow to figure out how much technical debt is in your product. You are in a corner. Your first thoughts are to find another vendor, but that takes time you don’t have. Your next thought is to make it cheaper, sacrifice quality.
Optimizing from R&D is long-term strategy.
One might have a bit more time after the product launch to optimize production, but at that point your people have moved on to the next project, and your formula is already set in your PLM and ERP systems. If you have every tried changing an ERP system, you know what moving mountains and approvals that entails.
From the get-go, why not do the best possible optimization in pre-production planning, and leave far less of your first to market margin money on the table? It may or may not take a little extra time to put your product through a preproduction optimization, but your company reaps the benefits for the life of the product and all line extensions and derivative products.
Does this prototype reflect your company’s personality or is it just ’good enough to sell?’
In flat knitting, these R&D challenges are not about just banging out a WYSIWYG proof of concept with no soul as fast as possible. Some may like to present it fast and loose that way, but that is not how R&D of technical textiles works, or you will end up spending a fortune on the backside, getting your proof of concept to be something your company can actually sell. Your prototyping process is about building a product that is engineered with your company’s DNA all through it from the beginning. You need to ensure that it’s optimized for manufacturing capabilities that your company can actually execute in a production reality.
You need to ensure that your product meets the design criteria your managers want, and most of all, meets your company’s end customer expectations, so your sales people can sell the heck out of it. All this cannot be added later. Well, it could, but it will likely cost quadruple, plus umpteen engineering changes.
In life there are 3 colors, 10 digits, and 7 notes. It is what we all do differently with them that means the difference between the average and the talented. In the same way, knitting to shape, 3D, and technical textiles can be average or extraordinary. Using the WYSIWYG knit, tuck, miss, and transfer programming, where everything is modularly composed in the same cookie cutter way, is little or no help in inserting your company’s DNA while also trying to optimize production. That WYSIWYG production may not be on a level that is required to lead, for any longer than the span of a fashion trend in a competitive market. Just about anyone can learn the basics of WYSIWYG programming in a couple months but understanding how to translate the spirit of a company into an efficient prototype for a particular market, and make it compatible with other manufacturing processes, is the difference between cut and paste and real expertise.
What is your bottom line?
What you and your shareholders want is quality goods being produced at the lowest possible cost with the greatest output, to fetch the best market price.
Optimized product development is achieved when your product is created (prototyped) and produced at its lowest total costs, without wasting resources. To achieve that, your company’s goal should be to use the best skills and experience available to find a balance between the use of resources, rate of production, and quality, to launch your product, and maintain your market lead for the life of that product, which in the case of technical textile could be years. Don’t skimp on R&D attention and be pound foolish in the long run. Why leave production money on the table due to newly minted WYSIWYG programmers using modular cut and paste software and having no production, pattern making, textile engineering experience or knowledge that serves the rest of your business?
So, in choosing your prototyping house, choose wisely.
Connie Huffa – Fabdesigns, Inc.
Copyright © 2017 Fabdesigns, Inc., All rights reserved.
Newsletter for manufacturing technical textiles & 3D flat knitting
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