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The New Factory Floor: Apparel Makers Integrate Fit, Patterns, and Cut

If you’re looking to trim your cycle time in the apparel industry, the importance of a dextrous and agile supply chain is obvious–but not only for your sourcing and shipping processes. When aiming for maximum efficiency, and therefore profits, savvy companies are now starting with their own factory floors. As Paul Epperson, high-level exec at Lectra, put it, “Inefficient use of production equipment, and an inability to meet fluctuating orders can have a devastating effect on profits.”

Flexible practices in the cutting room–from pattern-making to marking and fabric cutting–are a crucial part of supply chain agility. They may even be the most crucial part, according to Epperson. “The cutting room is no longer just a piece to the puzzle,” he said. “It’s fast becoming a means of securing a company’s competitive advantage.

In the past, a company looking to improve factory production times was limited to hiring more workers, or making their current workers work faster. But as new technology emerged, companies could train their workers to use the new tech. Now, a manufacturer can simply insert a new device into their pre-existing system, creating what are called “islands of technology.”

The problem with the islands, of course, is that every time a tech improvement comes along, each island needs to upgraded separately. Problems also arise when new islands, created by different companies, aren’t fully compatible with one another.

Smart companies are now installing holistic, fully integrated systems, called “cut order planning” systems, into their factories. These platforms integrate and streamline pattern-making, marker-making and cutting. For new companies, or for old companies looking to manufacture more in North America, the platforms can help maximize efficiency, despite the shortage of skilled laborers in North America’s garment-making sector and the comparatively high cost of that labor. Accordingly, U.S. factories have been quick to invest in cut order planning systems.

Two of the leading cut order planning systems are Lectra’s Optiplan and CutPlan, a platform created by Florida-based AMS. Both promise to improve any company’s profitability and efficiency, offering packages that streamline cut order planning, fabric roll allocation, and materials utilization, customized to a specific factory’s needs. The platforms are also deeply flexible–they can be upgraded or re-adjusted, at any time, to match a company’s changing needs.

But investment in a cut order planning system isn’t right for every company–because of the high level of customization, installing such a system is no simple endeavor. Doug Adams, manager of industry services for [TC]2, warned that such a sophisticated platform “requires a company to have the expertise to support it.” Adams also cautioned that companies that produce only one or two types of goods might not need such a flexible platform.

That said, the cut order planning trend is looking like anything but–AMS’s CutPlan system has been adopted by Calvin Klein, Burberry, Liz Claiborne, L.L. Bean, Nautica, Oscar de la Renta, and Perry Ellis, to name a few, while Lectra’s Optiplan is used in clothing factories from India to Portugal to the UK.



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