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With the havoc in retailing, do you think the time for On-Demand Manufacturing has come?
Maybe even for your company or your own ideas?
Over the last few years, there has been a shift in the way new products are brought to market. It seems more and more sales are moving on-line, leaving retailers holding dramatic amounts of unsold inventory. Nowhere is that more prevalent than fast-fashion. Maybe fast fashion has run its course? Perhaps much of brick and mortar retail is also falling by the way side?
One woman, who was passionate about designing great clothes, but had significant financial challenges and set backs in selling to brick and mortar and department stores back in the 80's and 90's, became a visionary for on-demand manufacturing. Based in Los Angeles, Brenda French was the creator of French Rags, an on-demand manufacturing company way ahead of its time. Before the internet, Brenda sold from trunk shows with sales associates around the country direct to the consumer. Customers chose their fabric, color combination, silhouette, and customized the silhouette lengths to their liking. She had no inventory except yarn. Only what customers wanted was produced, reducing production overhead, raw material waste, and her garments were customized to fit the wearer, reducing production waste by about 95%. (Disclaimer: Brenda was a client and good friend of Fabdesigns, Inc., She sadly passed away December 2, 2018)
What if shoes, clothes, and everything else could truly be made when we needed them?
There’s been a lot of talk for years about on-demand manufacturing, about instapreneurs, who have nothing more than a design, and they can manufacture jewelry, T-shirts, furniture and just about anything. They have no factories or warehouses, no upfront costs or minimum order quantities. Perhaps the next revolution in making is upon us?
What’s interesting is previously it was small businesses and individual creatives that were most interested in On-Demand manufacturing. They could literally manufacture and sell anything in only a few minutes. We’ve all seen the Esty and Shopify success stories. This type of virtual designing, where a third-party ships directly to the customer is sometimes called ‘Cloud-Manufacturing.” All the intimidating engineering, complex manufacturing headaches, code writing, time consuming back and forth and wallet eating activities are streamlined in a platform that makes it easier, a lot more fun, and far less expensive to make things.
Today, many more large brands are starting to see on-demand manufacturing as a way of selling direct to consumers and reclaiming margins, but also to have closer contact with the end consumer and what that customer actually wants – what we want. Until recently, product developers have looked only at building products in a manufacturing system that was developed to support the needs of volume driven businesses. Now, companies are seeing an unexpected benefit of On-Demand Manufacturing, reshoring their products and focusing on ‘Total Cost” of ownership (TCO) and improve on the previous Just in Time supply chain model (JIT), by not being tied in to production forecasts. They are finding that they may not need one huge factory making everything, but several smaller, more focused and compact micro-manufacturing facilities that are more streamlined and closer to the customers they serve. Sometimes they are looking to leverage other platforms like Amazon’s massive distribution and marketing platforms and they are relocating closer to large shipping hubs.
What is On-Demand Manufacturing?
The phrase "manufacturing on demand" (MOD) or On-Demand-Manufacturing is a process wherein goods are produced when or as they are required. In traditional manufacturing, an assembly line works on standard shifts to produce large quantities of products, which are then kept in inventory, typically in huge warehouses, until they are purchased.
With On-Demand Manufacturing, the system is broken down to make “eaches” or individual units rather than massive quantities. On-Demand Manufacturing is scalable and adjustable in production and assembly processes, where work is focused on putting together customized bundles based on real-time or current data from a client. The platform technology creates the ability to group many small orders together, keeping costs down for everyone and eliminating the need for minimum order quantities. In many ways, manufacturing on demand has been made much more profitable through advances in technology such as 3-D additive manufacturing, automation, software advances and the debut of the iPhone in 2007 changed the way we shop. Zazzle is a site that is setting the bar for consumer expectations of customized on-demand production across many product platforms. Instapreneurs can link up to their websites, Shopify or ecommerce sites, and sell one, dozens or thousands.
What does this mean to our industry?
In our industry, apparel, specifically our knitting industry there are a couple of stand-out companies utilizing knit-on-demand. One is Ministry of Supply.
It is truly, “A whole new way of thinking about manufacturing,” building beautiful garments with a very agile supply chain. Knitting to shape reduces waste to a bare minimum.
Another company is Variant. (Disclaimer: Variant was a client of Fabdesigns, Inc.) In 2018 Fabdesigns helped Variant create a platform that allowed individuals, brands, creatives, and anyone who wanted to express their own creativity in fabric format to customize their own products on line. They could choose bodies, colors, jacquards, sizing of jacquards, layouts of backs fronts and sleeves, and even upload their own designs into the existing bodies and manipulate until they were happy.
Brands had the ability to use the existing bodies with their own style guides or build their own templates, which are pre-engineered and size graded to work with the customizing platform. That was the front end, but the back end that Fabdesigns builds was equally impressive, with an automated knitting system where no one has to write programs, input graphics, or do any of the things a typical knitting factory must do to knit down a product. Production at Variant was streamlined and everything the customer input on the computer or mobile to be there design, knitted out the back end seamlessly and was assembled with no cutting and nearly zero waste. Variant had men’s and women’s garments in their cloud manufacturing library.
Even though on demand and customization has been around since the late 80's in flat knitting with Brenda French and many others, what is happening today is embracing sustainability and looking at the technology with new eyes. It is quickly becoming truly, “A whole new way of thinking about manufacturing,” building beautiful garments with a very agile supply chain. Knitting to shape reduces waste to a bare minimum.
Brands today want to use the existing bodies with their own style guides or build their own templates, which are pre-engineered, and size graded to work with the customizing platform. One example is Adidas "Knit For You," a test store opened in Berlin in 2016. Another company gaining steam in this on demand sector is Unmade in the UK. Companies want to be agile in manufacturing, nimble, like Nimbly made.
In internet user interface is the front end that many web builders can create, but the back end, the manufacturing applications that drive the heart of the company is what is really impressive. With an automated knitting system where no one must write programs, input graphics, or do any of the things a typical knitting factory must do to knit down a product, is what is capturing the attention of many companies wanting to use flat knitting machines like the robots they truly are. Fabdesigns has built their own back end manufacturing interface system, based on much of the technology, it's had since the days of automating Brenda French's Factory and others. Both Stoll and Shima Seiki, also have impressive automated knitting systems. Stoll's also has body scanning.
Why On-Demand Could Be the Future of Manufacturing
We live in an increasingly on-demand world. Retail is in a flux. Everyone would like to blame on-line sales. Some of that is true. But it is also true that huge factories are making merchandise for multiple retail channels and everything looks the same no matter what store, because of that fact. it is also true because retailers have traditionally dictated what they 'envisioned' their stores to look like seasonally, including colors, textures and direction. If everyone is using the same expensive trend services, and buying office locations, wouldn't it be expected that everything looks the same for that reason too? People want things fast, but they also want them the way they want them. They don’t want to look like everyone else. They want their own little piece of specialness built into the products they use, wear and drive.
Retailers like Nordstrom are toying with the idea of "stores without merchandise," creating stores that are 3000 square feet rather than 140,000, and putting in wine, beer, and expresso, but no merchandise to purchase. Customers might be able to try things on, but merchandise is shipped for pick up with tailors available at the location for alterations or the merchandise is shipped to a location of the customer's choosing (home or work). Things are getting smaller and more focused. and warehouse space is a lot less expensive than retail space. The modern retail experience is definitely changing in different ways. People like different clthes, that fit in different ways. The future is a space where production is streamlined and everything the customer inputs on the computer or mobile to be their design, knits out the back end seamlessly and is assemble with no cutting and nearly zero waste, and made to their fit requirements.
Given that people are looking for these changes, as well as so many creative people and companies are looking to serve customers, while at the same time wanting to have the next big thing, perhaps it’s worth thinking about how On-Demand Manufacturing may already be a revolution the manufacturing sector needs in so many ways.
Why is On-Demand Manufacturing Advantageous?
· Finished Product Inventory Management
· No Minimum Order Requirements
· Minimal inventories of only raw materials
· Order Fulfillment and Shipping
· Improving Cash Flow
· Flexibility in Design
· Giving people what they want
· Better sell through rates
· Selling DTC collects more MSRP
Are you ready for better manufacturing?
Connie Huffa – Fabdesigns, Inc.
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Bruce Huffa working on Stoll ADF knitting machine