Pretty Sweaters, the 2nd largest sweater manufacturer based in Dhaka (Bangladesh) with around 12.7 million pcs output in 2018, is riding high on technology. It was only in 2013 when the company came into existence and made all positive headlines due to its inclination towards the technologies which were unheard back then by other Bangladeshi sweater manufacturers. “Idea behind transforming production floor of our factory was to use those technologies which Bangladesh sweaters manufacturing players were not using and we were amongst the first ones who used advanced Japanese knitting technology of Shima Seiki and Italian Linking technology of Complett to manufacture our products,” claimed Sunil Marasinghe, GM, Pretty Sweaters.
Sunil further underlined that previously major components, such as panels, in sweaters were handled manually which resulted in low production. “The use of technology has helped us increase our production by 50% over the years,” asserted Sunil. The factory used to work on ‘Make through System’ where an operator assembles a single piece of sweater at a time by carrying out all the sewing processes necessary to assemble a sweater. In this system, an operator was provided with a bundle of cut work pieces and he/she continued to assemble them based on his or her own method of work. But, the method is not efficient when bulk production is there. It takes an immense level of operator skills and time to manufacture a sweater so Pretty Sweaters switched from ‘Make through System’ to ‘Line System’ seeing the huge quantity of orders placed by Japanese and European buyers.
“My intention was to go to line system from the start. 1 operator, 1 machine and 1 operation out of around 20 operations that are there to manufacture a high-end sweater,” said Sunil. Pretty Sweaters has installed 1500 Shima Seiki knitting machines that auto-knit shaped panels of the huge quantities of sweaters. Normally, one operator can do 6 to 8 piece of sweaters in a day, while with the induction of Shima Seiki knitting technology, the factory increased to 200 per head as 1 operator can now handle 10 machines simultaneously.
Notably, the main difficult part is to handle the labour in the assembling of sweaters which is a serious thing to consider. Taking this difficulty as a challenge, Sunil and his team worked hard to eliminate this using line balancing and the use of technology. The team set up dedicated lines with all necessary linking machines and divided components in these lines operation-wise. Whatever the manual operations are needed in those assembling processes are too added in these lines. Once shaped panels come to these assembly lines, linking method is used in almost every design of sweaters to join those panels. However, in some cases, shaped panels are joined by sewing process as well. “22 machines are there in each line. One machine can reduce 2 to 3 operators which is a great saving for us,” claimed Sunil.
Pretty Sweaters is in all support of using expensive but proven technology because of long-term benefits of this. According to Sunil, linking machines of Complett cost almost 10 times higher than normal sewing machines but it reduces 3 workstations and 6 to 9 operators. “ROI is also just 8 months and average sweater production per head in assembly is 40 to 60 per day as compared to around 20 to 30 in other manufacturing units who work on normal machines which is a massive difference. It’s not that we ‘eliminated’ the manpower but we can say that we increased the capacity to almost double,” explained Sunil.
In another development, Sunil has kept ergonomics standard on top of priority for the operators performing linking operation. It’s a fact that linking operators have to move on both the sides and bend forward to carry out the operation effectively but the standard chairs are difficult to sit on with so much activities to perform for an operators resulting in increased fatigue level and back pain. Sunil and his team have developed C type chairs with rollers underneath which move according to the movement of the operators. “You won’t find this development anywhere else. We have to look at the comfort of operators as well and imbibing technology should not the only thing to consider,” boasted Sunil.
Not just garment technology, Pretty Sweaters is also using tools to collect data which help them in decision making. The company has RFIDs to rope in a proper system for data collection and to eliminate the chances of playing with production data on shop floor. Asserting the same, Sunil concludes, “At least 5% production data prepared manually by most of the garment units is not correct. We wanted to keep a watch on working progress on production floor using RFIDs to know where we stand and what all tasks are left to do. At each and every area, we have a data which helps us in decision making.”