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Digitalizing Factory Operations with a Universal Platform

It’s time for factories to forget about the clipboard.

The fashion industry landscape has changed dramatically in the last two years, with a huge push toward digitalization to speed up processes, cut costs and stay flexible. However, while brands are usually the ones driving tech adoption, factories on the other side of the world are often left behind.

This is a missed opportunity for manufacturers, who would be wise to optimize their own operations with a universal digital platform that works across all their internal procedures—including integrating with the software their raw material suppliers use as well as technology used across other departments in the company.

At the factory level, manual processes and slow decision-making both lead to higher costs. Further, analog processes don’t allow production facilities to collect data that could ultimately benefit them, like identifying corrective action plans that could have lasting benefits.

Even factories that have adopted tech solutions often lack a single source of truth. For instance, a quality system can capture good quality output while a production system may also capture output, but if the two systems don’t integrate, you get conflicting data. Another example is an ERP system that doesn’t talk to the quality or production system, necessitating users to download data from one system, reformat, then upload to another system. The same issues occur when engineers set up a manufacturing line layout for the sewing machines, only to require  the mechanics to upload or manually create a work order in the mechanic system. And at the brand-facing level, a dashboard might only work with one company that set it up, funneling data back to the brand and leaving the factory out of the loop.

“Factories are tired of buying systems that don’t work with anything else,” said Herman Kam, general manager of Hong Kong-based solutions technology company LTLabs, which built a universal platform that factories can use with their upstream raw materials suppliers as well as across factory departments that may use other systems. “The endgame is for the whole industry to work together.”

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Focusing on the users

Trepidation to digitalize operations is not surprising for factories still clocking and recording production speeds via stopwatch and clipboard, especially in countries with a less educated work force.

The solution is an accessible UI/UX—User Interface and User Experience—two key acronyms for anyone developing user-friendly dashboards for those outside the tech world. It’s all about a low barrier to high technology. People might not understand the technology behind a smartphone, for example, but everyone knows how to use it.

To further boost accessibility of its software and dashboards, LTLabs’ system operates on any Android phone or tablet—readily available in Asia at very low cost—so factories don’t need to purchase proprietary hardware or spend money to customize it.

Keeping the production line productive

A factory needs to see the ROI of any software investment, and data that uncovers which operations are leaking money can illuminate where to trim costs. After all, a factory can’t uncover hidden values until it has transparency of data.

From a management standpoint, that means making the production line priority number one as it is directly connected to the bottom line, then finding a system designed with an operator in mind.

To answer that need, LTLabs created Team Connect, which is comprised of three team-focused applications—LTie, LTquality and LTmechanic—that target the areas and users most instrumental to optimizing the production line.

LTie: Focusing on the industrial engineer (IE) team that monitors, tracks, plans and balances out the production line’s efficiency, LTie is designed to discover and fix bottlenecks and inefficiencies, plus re-allocate workers on the line due to ability and output time per piece. A key feature is the Digital Skills matrix, where operators’ skills are captured to build a live matrix. “Our system calculates the metrics and automatically graphs them to show where the bottlenecks are so they can adjust,” says Kam. “Our system can do in less than an hour what the engineers would do in one to two days with manual operations.”

LTquality: Quality control solutions are highly competitive on the market, but LTLabs aims to differentiate itself with its user experience. “We’re not just putting a paper form online to fill out with huge pull-down menus,” says Kam. “It’s a much more guided approach allowing QC to quickly ‘pass’ garments and capture defects. Plus, it doesn’t just cover the assembly line, but every single quality inspection point in the factory, including fabric inspection, value added processes and pre-production.”

LTmechanic: Time is money, and quickly identifying a production line problem and sending over the right mechanic with the right tools to fix it is essential. Mechanic performance, repair holdups or escalating issues all show up on the screen with emails deployed to notify supervisors. “There’s a lot of hidden, useful data in there,” said Kam.

To learn more about how LT Labs’ Team Connect can help streamline your factory, click here