Endless Re-Engineering in apparel manufacturing – Why “5-2+2=4” ?

March 3, 2020

The Industrial Engineering is concerned with the design, improvement, and installation of integrated systems of people, materials, money, equipment, and energy [Merriam-Webster dictionary].

Following this definition, the IE (Industrial Engineer) is a person who develops work methods, makes innovations on the equipment’s, defines procedures, performs operator trainings, follows the KPI’s, controls the manufacturing, is in charge with the suppliers, finds the solutions and … could be continued.

Judging with some experience behind, exist companies where the above listing of the IE tasks isn’t it an exaggeration.

The Industrial Engineering is the use of machines to manufacture products, and the study of this [Cambridge dictionary]. This content  fits better in case of the garment manufacturing sector, with an acceptable restriction.

Here are discussed the limited duties of the IE.

“Tomorrow” in Europe is “Today” in Australia

Nowadays the textile and apparel industry facing new challenges with the increasing customer demands for the sustainable, personalized and functional products.

The orders getting smaller with increasing variation of models, showing, not so far, the “Meade To Measure” as universal rule.

The deadlines become closer and the expected quality higher, the evolution of the fabrics, trimmings and equipment’s require the agility of work. The change in the behavior of the operators and a new approach from the industrial engineers’ side for innovative processes are a must.

What else are these expectations if not the demand for continuous Re-Engineering ? –  continuous changing and improving the way a company works.

In the fashion industry the cost-based pricing is the practice of the past, pages in the books.

The RMG manufacturing companies or runs on price-based costing or not running at all.

From the necessary resources – Material, Machine, Man – the “Material” is a given thing for the CM manufacturer. In case of full product, the situation is close to be similar, just is in a gift pack.

The IE professionals has the mission to carry the pressure of the prices, to perform the work studies with celerity and to provide the innovation based added value from the shop floor.

Engineering of the work methods, innovations on the equipment’s, re-engineering of the workplaces and efficient training of the operators reduce the work content. Reduced work content results in cost savings on all items of the direct costs, form the labor up to the energy consumption.

As the competitors are on guard the management expects the results and solutions for “tomorrow”, on each segment of the supply chain.

No time to measure the time

(partial text from the article “Productivity – Why to switch from pieces counting to SAM?” published on February 4, 2020)

To keep the competitiveness of the company the IEs must focus on the Productivity, not as on Fata Morgana but with the scope to implement it [1] and improve it.

The Productivity is the only internal and global KPI (Key Performance Indicator) being under the control and influence of the company. It’s a reference for the comparison with   competitors. Improvement of it requires to eliminate the waste (Lean) and the continuous improvement (Kaizen), continuous re-engineering.

The Productivity could be bought, embedded in the new and performant equipment’s, and could be created by the IEs [1].

A healthy Productivity improvement means the existence of a balance between the investments in equipment and investment in the quality of the human resources.

The special fabrics, the requirements on the new styles may ask for special machines but the brands and buyers expect to create the Productivity. By investing in the human resources with competencies development, knowledge transfer, trainings, workplaces engineering the IEs develops the necessary skilled capacity of the company.  

Otherwise the equipment’s are available at the buyer’s place, why to have such a logistics costs, plus the stress generated by the set of unpredictable values of the variables regarding quality, quantity and delivery time ?

Productivity = Method x Performance x Utilization [1]

Improving any of the three parameters will result in improved Productivity.

Only the last parameter (Utilization) includes the machines but this parameter is influenced by the applied Methods.


Means motion patterns, organization and training. Could provide motivation and could increase the Utilization too. [1]

Developing standard methods, reducing the work content and defining the SAM contributes to the methods improvements.

The right method development makes the tasks distributable among operators.

The key parameters of the line balancing are the right competences (workers) in the right places assuring the bottleneck free flows.


Reflects the motivation of the worker and is measured against the standards with the efficiency formula: (Engineered standard time) / (Used time for the execution). [1]

Training, control, incentives and instruction of the workers improves the performances.


Measured by (Time used for creating value) / (Planned work time of the equipment) [1]. It could be influenced by the applied methods as part of the performed workplace engineering.

The condition of the equipment, the knowledge level of the maintenance team, the production planning and control are the musts for this parameter’s improvement.

An equivalent formula is:

Productivity = Effectiveness x Efficiency x Management

The best approach of it is coming from Peter Drucker: “Efficiency is doing things right, effectiveness is doing the right things.”

With the above complete and simple statement, the Productivity improvement tasks are defined by default :

• Analysis of the work content

• Measure the performances against standards

• Perform the production planning

The accent is on the work content analysis, with common words, on the “work study”.

This process is systematic both in the investigation and in the development of the solution and it’s the most penetrating available tool [2].

It includes both the “Method study” and “Time study” (or “Work measurement”) processes.

With the “Method study” the operations are examined in small details and the improvements are applied where is necessary.

Because of the market context, the “Time study” with stopwatch-based methods have a well-deserved place in the history. Should be practiced to learn it and understand it. As the time has become a critical resource even for measurement itself the computerized PMTS (Predetermined Motion Time System) today is a must to get the engineered time. A large list of software solutions is available. Each solution has its individuality, the IEs could select from the widely known ones to the real cost-effective, Cloud based, “pay as you go” model of timeSSD® by DataS.

Building up the methods from predefined motion elements by default documents all steps. Using the predefined elements with their standard times requires for the operation development a 6 – 10 times less effort than the stopwatch-based procedure. In addition, no chance to have the same detailed, structured and consistent description of a method without PMTS.

As results the operations are simplified and the safety and working conditions are improved.

The “Work study” is the most accurate tool to settings standard of performance.

Provides accurate basis for productivity monitoring, benchmark for manpower and capacity planning, supports the perfect workloads and the balancing of the lines to operate with seamless flows, provides target times for appraisal, scheduling and labor cost forecast.

The work study results should be applied to produce the productivity improvements. The workers training, the continuous activity tracking, control and feedback are part of the improvement process which requires new practices in the company.

“1 + 1 = 3”

The values of the main KPIs (Efficiency, Off-Standard, Productivity, Maintenance, Quality Index, On Time Delivery, Order to Ship, Absenteeism, Labor Turnover) are the compass of the IE. Any deviation from the target should light the red bulb and the IE starts to localize the source of the problem, to eliminate it.

The problems are rarely generated by only one source and eliminating the sources – with the necessary avoidance protection for the future – rarely could be solved by an IE alone.

For example, a bottleneck could be generated by a missing worker or by the defect of the machine.

In the first case it could be illness or simple absenteeism when the HR should be involved … and at the end the protection for the future avoidance could be the introduction of an incentivization system. The incentives could be linked with the individual attendance parameter and / or efficiency parameter.

In the second case the sources are located (most probable) in the interior of the maintenance team. The causes could be multiple, again, staring with the lack of knowledge, negligence and until the already discussed absenteeism.

The periodically Re-engineering is necessary, by involving all parties, to redefine the structures, processes and decisions with the aim to find and apply faster the poka-yoke based solutions.

This require transparency between different teams, a wide collaboration of the garment, mechanical, electrical, electronic, IT and automatization engineers, sometimes involving the HR and even the representatives of the top management.

The cohesion focused team building trainings are recommended time by time and their results could be observed soon by the increased productivity, overall.

In meantime the IEs should keep in mind that the workers have the same – sometimes even higher – curiosity and creativity than the engineers. With and without will, all participants in the process will create unforeseen situations. Part of them are problems.

“5 – 2 + 2 = 4”

The word of “asset” immediately brings in the mind buildings, equipment’s, cash, the automatic cutter bought last year or the latest multi headed press seen at the last week’s fair.

The garment manufacturing is a labor-intensive industry.

The most valuable and biggest asset of the apparel manufacturing unit are the workers.

The company using the worker’s time and the worker’s knowledge to manufacture the product.

To have a clear picture regarding how the main asset are performing two indicators should be accurate, are main part of the productivity parameters and must be tracked and controlled minimum once per day:

  1. Individual efficiency : How good is using the worker own time to provide added value, is shown by its individual efficiency level related to the attendance time but without off standards.
  2. Global efficiency : How good is organized the production – related to the value of the workers –  is shown by  the:  (efficiency indicator related to attendance time without off standards) / (efficiency indicator related to full attendance time)

 The necessary data to have the above Efficiency indicators are :

  • SAM of the operation
  • Accurate attendance time data per person
  • Allowed off standard reasons list;  must include minimum the following two reasons : a. Machine broken ; b. No work (the worker waiting for the pieces)

plus, the data collection procedure which could be in batch mode – at end of the shift – or in real-time by terminals installed at each workplace.

If the individual efficiency is low than the target :

  • The workplace check could clarify if the method described conditions are met
  • The worker should be included in a training program
  • Individual Learning curve function should be defined and tracked (maybe linked with a premium system in function of the different operations known)
  • An incentivization function should be applied in function of the individual efficiency level, mandatory combined with the individual quality index

The incentives could be in money, or kind of gifts, or free days / free time, or / and the workers name listing on visible table, other.

With tracking and rewarding the workers their loyalty increases, with results on low absenteeism and low labor turnover.

The multi skilled workforce is the aim of all shop floor supervisors. They are flexible, can work multiple operations on different machines on constant efficiency and quality level.

Employees are the treasure of the company [3]; the absenteeism affects the predictability and makes complicated any production planning.

The high labor turnover affects the discipline, increase the quality problems, requires high patience and generates additional costs with the newcomers training process, in the time of the downtrend of the manufactured products.

The business environment, conditions, targets, employee’s behavior and scopes are changing by time. The once established tracking and premium systems should be changed – as part of the re-engineering process – as well.

𝛑 = 3.14159265…

What can be done in a moment’s time?

The general answer from the human is “nothing”. It would be interesting to know the answer from a mayfly, which has a lifetime few hours only.

Is more a rule than exception that, depending on the product types, one garment factory in Asia producing annually millions or tens of millions of pieces per year.

A simple T-Shirt of 5 minutes needs more than 10 operations, excepting cutting, to get ready.

A company with 600 workers, during a year, manufactures more than 10 million pieces of T-Shirts. 10 million pieces of simple T-Shirts needs minimum 100 million of operations to be manufactured.

How long does it take a blink ?

The scientists measured 100 – 400 milliseconds for the duration of a blink, for easy comparing 300 milliseconds (0.005 minutes) will be considered.

Saving the duration of only one blink on each operation it saves, during a year, one and half workday for the whole company.

This could mean one more holiday day for each worker or could mean more than 54.000 pieces of simple T-Shirts manufactured per year, with other words more than 20.000 USD sales per year for a CM factory in Asia.  

“Little details have special talents in creating big problems!” – Mehmet Murat Ildan.

During company visits but confirmed by the timeSSD® evaluation reports too, made by the IE departments from apparel manufacturers, I have observed a usual deskwork for the methods development and time engineering. In each case the used computerized method was an Excel table with vague description of the method steps, maybe enough in the time when Bill Gates developed the Excel v.1.0. The operations had attached a SAM titled number with two decimals, again enough accuracy to express the time required to run “around” 1000 meters.

In practice, if the “Pi” is used with two decimals then we have never satellite. If the blink duration is used with two decimals, then the company can’t produce in addition 20.000 USD sales.

Only the desk work brings nothing. The IE should be on the shop floor to observe and re-engineer the methods and the SAM, to save the blinks.

SAM difference examples (source : timeSSD® ) :

  • (Pick up piece from 60 cm) – (Pick up piece from 35 cm) = 0,007 min > blink

How is organized the pieces transporting system ?

  • (Pick up chalk and mark) – (Using laser marker)            = 0,027 min > 5 blinks

What kind of additional tools are used / developed ?

  • 2 x (Pick up piece from 30 cm)  – (Pick up 2 pieces simultaneously from 30 cm ) = = 0,014 min > 2 blinks

Are in use any storage places upon the sewing machine for the small pieces ?

  • Regrasp with hand movements at 25 cm                      = 0,008 min > blink

Is it installed on the machine a simple guiding tool ?

Observe that the focus is on to re-engineering the SAM in strictly concordance with the reduction of the necessary efforts from the worker’s side.

25 > 52 – a true Conclusion

Brands and buyers are placing orders in developing countries because their total costs with labor, logistics and stress is less than to investing and using the latest automation technology in their places.

Following the customer’s demands for sustainability and customized products the market conditions are in continuous changing along the supply chain, forcing the “Made To Measure” as universal order. The expectations compressing the manufacturers time faster than the speed of increasing the prices and the competitors hunting the first weak point.

With the price-based costing the pressure is on the back of the IEs to re-create and implement the productivity in short cycles.

The companies must implement new practices, should focus on their main assets – the human resources – to be multi skilled, flexible and satisfied with the job. The introduction of the customized incentivization systems is unavoidable. With the evaluation functions are in charge the IEs who must acknowledge that the engineering job is an endless re-engineering.

New practices enforce new approaches, new tools, real transparency, close cooperation between participants and higher attention to the details.

The things happen on the shop floor, the ready product is a result of a series of blinks. The shop floor isn’t it a resting room, nor a medicine research laboratory, but the SAM accuracy requires to work on the steps with four decimals … because of the blinks.

The IE should hang its stopwatch on the wall as historical piece, instead of it should have a camera, a notebook, an internet connection and a comfortless chair as only the deskwork brings nothing. The camera can capture the copy of any number of  certificates and titles, but the papers (related to company and individuals)  and their copies have zero effect on the shop floor and sales. The notebook isn’t it dedicated for the infinite development of colored, multicolumn and multiline Excel tables, to be published on different social network pages,  they have the same null effect on the sales figures.

The internet is the fastest and cheapest sourcing place of the novelty solutions. There are available ideas, creativity enhancement applications, logical games, best practices and investment free predetermined motion time software for methods development.

     Higher prices are paid for sophisticated products with high added value, ordered by premium and luxury brands, in limited quantities, as confirmation of  a level of trust achieved. Trust requires cooperation, transparency, predictability and continuous progress. These expectations could be met by the manufacturer only with an efficient, organized and well managed shop floor.


  1. Sakamoto, S.: Beyond world-class productivity – Industrial engineering practice and theory. Springer-Verlag, London (2010)
  2. Kanawaty, G.: Introduction to work study (fourth edition). Geneva, International Labour Office, 1992 ®
  3. Schaefer, F. : Fairy tale of Innovation in Garment Industry. LinkedIn, 2020