In this article, Amit Bahl, highlights the challenges in conceptualizing and building a garment factory, and clears many architectural misconceptions.
Amit Bahl is the Associate Partner at DAAT India. DAAT India is an architectural firm that has made its mark in the apparel industry, having designed more than 10 factories in Delhi-NCR over the last two decades. These include Mercury Fabrics, Nenu Holdings, Triple A, JPR Exports, Style Stitch and Joyline Exports, amongst others.
It was during the late 1980s and early 1990s that the apparel industry began to move from unauthorized colonies and garages to organized and plotted development. “It was around this time that we designed our first apparel factory in Udyog Vihar, Gurgaon, India followed by five more in the same region,” recalls Amit, who got his breakthrough in the industry through his mother, an apparel exporter. The other factories he designed include Triple A, JPR Exports, Style Stitch, Joyline Exports, to name some. At that time, architects like him would be asked to design apparel factories without any briefing on what would be installed there and how it would function. “Things have changed completely and the approach has become very professional. Now the architect, structural engineer, construction contractor, electric contractor, green building contractor, technical consultant and machine supplier work together as a team under a designated project manager. The entire team’s aim is to build a safe, compliant and efficient unit,” says Amit.
The process of preparing a blueprint of an apparel or textile factory’s design and layout takes around a month. It starts with understanding the purpose and scale of the project, followed by understanding the nature, type and number of machines required for each manufacturing process, and the raw material flow from one process to another. The floor layout plan is prepared keeping in mind the material flow, the space required for each process, the related machines’ size and weight, the desired aisle space between rows, the requisite lighting and ventilation, comfortable ambient temperature, inflow and outflow of workers during peak hours, ETP, and many other such considerations that make for an efficient factory. In fact, there are numerous details that have to be taken into consideration while preparing a factory’s blueprint.
Clarity necessary for a successful project
As an architect, Amit attributes the success of a project firstly to the owner’s own understanding and clarity of what he wants, and how the project manager can translate that into a proper execution. “Usually, companies are pretty clueless about the number of machines they would like to install initially, and how many more are planned for the future. They are even clueless about the material flow, the necessary lighting, drainage, plumbing, temperature control for workers’ comfort, etc., all of which impacts a building’s planning and interior design, and are therefore necessary to assess and determine before the plan is made,” asserts Amit.
Below are the layouts of Mercury Fabric’s new printing facility, adjacent to its existing facility in Bawal and is the second fabric processing project taken up by DAAT India. The first one being the existing facility. “We had only done sewing units till now and Mercury Fabrics was a challenge for us, as it was completely integrated with yarn processing, knitting, dyeing and fabric processing, all of which was being done in-house within a single multi-storey setup,” shares Amit, who visited 11 knit fabric processing and manufacturing plants in Turkey, Greece, Italy, Delhi-NCR and Kolkata with Babbu Sachdeva, Managing Director of Mercury Fabrics to understand how they functioned.
What Amit finds very amusing is the over-emphasis on numerous windows on the shopfloor. “One has to understand the manufacturing process first and then decide whether it requires sunlight or not and accordingly placement of the windows are defined,” says Amit. Usually, windows in factories made on walls facing south end-up being covered most of the time due to prolonged exposure to sunlight throughout the working hours causing discomfort to the workers. Also, as the day progresses, varying degree of sunlight can also hamper the work of a sewing operator or be a distraction to someone doing needle work. “What is the logic of having such windows, instead natural light can be used efficiently by having windows facing north or east, or by having slit windows and skylights,” he adds. At times due to the wrong placement of windows, machines cannot be positioned against the wall or at a particular angle due to the abundance of sunlight coming in; hampering work flow.
Similarly, the architect needs to consider whether an area needs to be air conditioned, air cooled or naturally ventilated, which again would depend on the manufacturing process to be carried out in it. Amit is also amused at the unnecessary amount of money spent on making elaborate office spaces for the owner and top management, as also on the building facade and exteriors. He feels that this money should be judiciously spent on bettering the manufacturing processes and worker safety. Having acquired ample experience in the apparel sector, Amit has developed a checklist of things to take into account before creating a blueprint, which he submits to the project manager for his inputs and approval, before executing them.
Science behind Vaastu
Amit also points out that many people blindly follow Vaastu without even understanding the logic of the placements. ‘Some clients’ belief in Vaastu is so strong that it has pervaded all aspects of architectural design, and clients can often be very finicky and illogical in their demands,” he observes. For instance, as per Vaastu, anything which generates heat (here it would be the boiler and generator), should be placed in the south or the west direction because the wind in our part of the country blows in from the north-east called purvai. So, if the boilers or generators are located in the south or west direction, the heat generated by them is blown away from the premises instead of blowing in… Similarly, light from the north is very good as it has no heat because there is no direct sun; so the science behind Vaastu states that windows should be placed in the north or east side of a building. In apparel factories, we are often requested to keep the entrance through which raw materials are brought in, in the north and east direction, store rooms should be in the south and west direction, but the STP and ETP should not be towards the south-west, the boiler should be towards the south-east, and the despatch should be towards the north and west direction,” shares Amit, who is not a trained Vaastu consultant but has picked up the nuances from his clients in the industry. He informs that the load on a company’s HVAC system can also be reduced by closing all openings in the south and west directions. “Unfortunately, people fail to understand the science behind Vaastu and tend to get superstitious about the ill-effects of not conforming to its tenets,” he says.
Multiplicity of sanctions & certificates
It goes without saying that a building’s layout, structure and landscape has to be in accordance with Government norms that specify the permissible amount of open space, height of the building, its access points including ingress and exit points, staircases, fire safety and security norms, etc. But what troubles Amit is the lack of clarity in many norms as also the ambiguity of certain requirements, specially relating to inspection for safety of the building. The provision starts with the words, ‘If it appears to the inspector…’, which implies that the important norm of whether a factory is safe is on the subjective understanding of the inspector. “There are no clear guidelines for basic amenities and often the exporters follow the guidelines set by the buyer rather than those prescribed by the Factory Act. In the pursuit of achieving the compliance norms defined by the international buyers, the Government defined norms are automatically met as they are part of the buyers’ checklist as well,” asserts Amit.
Review of Many Important Factories In India
Animesh Saxena, Managing Director, Neetee Clothing, Faridabad
Our factory has four storeys and a basement. The basement comprises of raw materials and finished goods inventory along with the centralized cutting department. The ground, first, second and third floors are self-sufficient sewing floors with 140 machines on each, and with part preparation, final assembly and finishing at the end of the sewing line, due to which, there is no material flow from one sewing floor to another. The laundry is also centralized and is on the 4th floor of the facility. The cut parts are supplied from the centralized cutting to the sewing floors; the sewn goods are taken from the sewing floors to the centralized laundry and the finished goods are checked and packed on the ground floor for dispatch. The canteen is not a part of the main building; rather it is constructed on the back of the building as part of a three-storey building. Every floor has linkages to the canteen on the back, which occupies two floors. Hence when the departments take break for lunch, there is no rush nor congestion in the main staircases since everyone enters and leaves through the floor-specific passages.
Mandeep Singh, GM – Production, Richa Global Exports, New Delhi
Our factory in Mayapuri Industrial Area has three floors with a basement and terrace. The cutting and raw materials warehouse has been centralized at the basement along with the bundling. The ground floor houses the merchandising department, administrative offices and sampling department as the merchandising and sampling interact numerous times on a daily basis. The first floor has the finishing, final checking and packaging departments along with the boiler. The whole idea behind keeping the boiler and finishing (ironing) on the same floor is to reduce the loss of heat and requirement of pressure for transporting steam from the boiler to the pressing irons; keeping them on the same floor saves a lot of energy. The second floor houses the entire sewing department with 325 sewing machines and washing machines, and from where finished goods are transferred to the finishing on the first floor. The canteen is on the terrace, and accessible through the two staircases that link each floor.
Pravin Singhania, GM – Operations, Mantra Exports, Mumbai
Unlike the regular practice of keeping cutting at the bottom of the factory and then moving the goods against the gravity, we have kept the cutting department on the top, i.e. on the 2nd floor of all our factories in Mumbai, Chennai and Tirupur. The cut parts move down to the sewing department on the 1st floor, then to the finishing department on the ground floor, from where the goods are dispatched. The effort required in bringing goods with the gravity is less compared to the same required for moving goods against the gravity. We do not have a lift installed and man-material movement takes place through the two staircases. Since the pressing is on the ground floor, the boiler is located on the same floor, to reduce the energy and pressure required for transporting steam. The finished goods and inventory area is part of the ground floor and in some cases, part of a different building on the same plot, but has been kept on the ground for easier dispatch.
Jitin Pal Singh, Director, Nancy Craft, New Delhi
We follow the conventional layout in our five-storey manufacturing facility. The cutting is centralized on the ground floor along with the raw material and fabric storage. The 1st, 2nd and 3rd floors house the sewing lines; the finishing is on the 4th floor, and the canteen is on the top, i.e. the 5th floor. There are two staircases for movement of people, besides a central lift for the movement of material within the facility. The reasoning behind this is to ensure movement of the lighter components against gravity. But the plant layout is subject to change depending on the nature and quantity of the products.