The garment manufacturing sector about a decade ago was an unorganized and small-scale industry with factories coming up without much planning. As the industry matured, factory owners began to realize the importance of proper layout and design for enabling a fast, efficient and stress-free workflow between the different departments within a unit. Today, a factory’s well-planned layout through architecturally sound interventions, based on an understanding of the manufacturing processes, assembly line systems, machineries, lighting, safety concerns and atmospheric issues such as ventilation, humidity, etc., is shaping the way garment factories are being built. In this article, Piyush R Vyas shares what a structurally sound and well-laid out multi-storey factory should entail. Team StitchWorld speaks to industry experts, consultants and an architect, drawing a string on issues related to setting up an apparel manufacturing unit from site selection to department allocation to internal material flow.
In most of the instances, we live by compulsion and constraint – having ‘inherited’ a building and the fact that a factory has to be established… There are cases when one buys out an outgoing garment factory and all the designing/zoning then goes around the available infrastructure. I feel, more important is the ‘balancing’ of each department so that the capacities of warehouse-cutting-sewing-finishing are matching.
The process of setting up a Greenfield project or even reorganizing an existing factory (Brownfield) starts with:
• Identifying target markets and target customers
• Defining customer profile – merchandising cycle (buying cycle)
• Product profile and mix
• Minimum production run per style aka the frequency of style changeover
• Prevailing production systems within the company, which will help decide the production layout
Ideal factory layout would be a flat factory – one simple flow on one floor. Considering the basic principle of “logistics” – the flow has to be uni-direction – either straight or a turnaround ‘U’ cycle.
Avoid zigzag and back and forth motions. However, in India and even Bangladesh, real estate is too expensive and hence a factory has no choice but to go vertical to make the capital (cost) work efficiently. While India may have 3 to 4 storeys factories, Bangladesh has exceeded the limit of vertical expansion (extension) – with factories going up to 8 storeys.
Before ‘zoning’ has to be decided, it is important to look for the ‘set back’ area in the factory premises where the services are to be located.
Services infrastructure could include:
• HT transformer yard, metering cubicle, VCB, generator sets with fuel storage
• Switchgear panels
• STP/ETP plants
• Boiler yard with storage of fuel; water softening plant
• Scrap yard
• Emergency egress area and meeting point area
• Security gates for IN & OUT
• Docking bays for loading and unloading
• Control point area where goods are counted
• Crèche and Dispensary – could be within the building or outside
• Vehicle parking – if space permits
Next comes each floor plate size, which shall determine the need for number of stairs (at least two) and number of freight elevators. The elevators will determine the goods movement (flow) within the floor.
Zoning & size of each department
Utmost care has to be taken in deciding the size of each department, taking into consideration the product profile and size of each order. It has been often observed that cutting department is designed for over capacity while the finishing department is always under strain. Let’s keep in mind that the finishing department is always overburdened; with couple of re-screenings happening because of which the whole schedule of other orders goes haywire.
Hence, space allocation for the finishing department should be at least plus 20% more than the production capacity of sewing. Also thought has to be given to storage of empty cartons, hanger cartons and of course the finished goods storage. The finishing and packing department takes precedence (over others) if the factory has to be CTPAT-compliant.
The dining & canteen area has to be decided first
With space and cost constraint, most of the factories have the dining facility on terrace under truss roof. Considering this compulsion, there is no option but to make everybody climb vertically. Even a worker on ground floor has to travel right up to the top (terrace) floor. Lunch timing being just 30 minutes – one batch would be going down with next batch ready to go up. This situation has to be well-monitored and disciplined.
Ideal situation – the dining area should be on the middle floor which gives the advantage of workers’ movement. While one batch of workers from lower floors after finishing their lunch comes down, the next batch from the top floor shall come down to the dining area. Clash of movement is avoided. Beyond the lunch hours, the central location of dining area can be used to maximum advantage. A large hall is a good place for conference, workers training, celebrations, etc.
With the dining area (location) decided, the rest of the planning will start from the office block. Ideally, the office should be on the top floor – away from the noise and it also gives a good view and ventilation. On a lighter side, it is easier to topple people (staff) from the upper floors – law of physics. The material movement has to be uni-direction – completing the circle in case of vertical factory.
Raw material warehouse
The best suited place for storing raw material is the ground floor. Warehouse being closer to the docking bay, it would be easier for vendors’ movement. Vendors need not go beyond the ground floor of the factory. A small laboratory should be attached to the warehouse. Depending upon the size of each floor, the finished goods warehouse should also be located on the ground floor. If space is a constraint, then finished goods can be stored on the finishing floor (ironing, packing and storing).
Sampling & CAD
Depending upon the space available in office block, the sampling can be on office floor. If there is limitation of space in office, then the sampling can be placed on cutting room floor – with CAD room attached to it.
The main raw material is fabric, which is heavy but less in the volume initially, but after the cutting operations, the volume starts increasing – cut bundles to stitched garments.
Hence in my view, cutting room should be on the top-most floor (just below the office block), as being ‘less’ in volume, moving the fabric to top floor, through elevator, is easier.
However, there is a counter view that the cutting room should be closer to the warehouse as the movement of fabric is quite less.
Embroidery, printing & transfers
Ideally, embroidery and basic printing/transfers should be attached to the cutting room so that it is easier to do the operations and bring it back into the bundling department. And in case of any rejections, the parts can be immediately replaced. So embroidery goes to the top floor with cutting. Again a counter view is that the embroidery department is always overburdened. This department tends to work 24×7 and hence security is a concern. This department needs a separate access even after factory hours. So the best place would be to locate the department on ground floor – with access from both inside the building and outside the building; also one should keep in mind the provision for toilet facility.
Law of Gravity – The flow should be from top floor to ground floor
• Top floor – office block
• One level below: Cutting floor with sampling & CAD + embroidery, basic printing/transfers
• Next level down will be sewing floors – number of sewing floors that will depend upon the capacity planned. If trimming, checking and button hole are part of sewing lines, then the goods move out to laundry for washing
• Next level down will be finishing, trimming, checking, button hole, washing out, washing in, pre-ironing, trimming/checking, ironing, folding and after passing through needle detection, the finished goods go into the sterile area for packing and final shipment
• Finished goods storage – either on ground floor or finishing floor
For a vertical factory, it would be better to provide large openings for ease of machinery movement, especially fusing or embroidery machines. Invariably the factory has to break the wall to move the machines and re-build the walls/windows. Change (being flexible) is the order of the day and hence let us make a flexible infrastructure.
Industry Speaks – Bangladesh
Amith Jayapalan, DGM – Merchandising & Planning, Intimate Apparels, Chittagong
When we constructed a new 5-storey factory adjacent to our older 3-storey facility, we realized the need to reshuffle many of our departments. We centralized our cutting room on the ground floor of the new facility and also centralized our finished goods warehouse on the first floor of the new facility. Similarly, we also centralized our raw materials warehouse on the ground floor of our old facility. Now with so many centralized departments, we significantly improved the internal material flow. Since our sewing is on the first floor of the old building, the finished goods move straight from the sewing to the 1st floor of the new building, where the finished goods warehouse is. Similarly, fabrics from the raw material storage on the ground floor of the old building move directly to the cutting department on the same floor of the new building.
The whole process is to minimize the efforts required in movement of the materials within the factory. But you have to do some trade-offs in deciding an optimum material flow, for example we still have to carry the cartons of finished goods to the ground floor for dispatch, but it is easier to carry the cartons then to carry the fabric rolls elsewhere. Moreover, to ease the movement of goods within stores, we have goods’ lift installed. The entire facility has four staircases which means every floor has four exits and at the top is the canteen which can accommodate 750 people at a time.
Bharat Bhushan, CEO, Floreal International, Dhaka
We try and maintain the workflow in the downward direction, wherein the unfinished material and raw goods are fed at the ground floor. The knitting department with 24 Shima Seiki machines is on the 3rd floor, followed by the linking and washing & packaging on the 2nd and 1st floor, respectively. I know that people are sceptical about keeping knitting machines at the top floors because of their weight, but we got our facility approved by structural engineers, for ensuring the safety of the workplace.
Moreover, if the number of knitting machines would have been greater than 24, than we would have kept the knitting machines on the ground floor only. The yarns are carried to the knitting department on the top floor via elevators and the knitted panels are dropped through specially developed chutes between the knitting & linking, and linking & finishing departments. The people just drop the goods through the chutes on the floor below; this minimizes transportation and avoids the need of physical labour.
Induka N Sudirikku, Director – Production, Concord Garments Group, Dhaka
The first fundamental behind deciding the floor-wise layout of the facility is that the heaviest goods and equipment should be preferably on the ground floor. Because of the same, we have our raw materials and finished goods warehouse, along with the finishing department on the ground floor. From here, the raw materials move up to the cutting, sewing and then come down to the finishing. The finishing department is on the ground floor as it, is closer to the finished goods warehouse. The cutting is just on the floor above the finishing area, and above it, is the sewing department. Basically, the raw materials go up and the finished goods come down. Moreover, keeping the issues pertaining to structural integrity in our mind, we have not gone for automatic cutting as the floor on which the cutting department is located, is not strong enough to withstand the load of an automatic cutter and spreader. We have placed the canteen at the top floor of our 6-storey building, which can accommodate 400 people at a time and people have their lunch in two shifts. People use two common staircases for moving within the facility. The same staircases are used to transport material between floors as the age of the building doesn’t allow us to install an elevator.
Md. Tariquel Hassan, DGM – Marketing & Merchandising, Energypac Fashions, Dhaka
We have changed our layout a lot since we started the company back in 2008 and our customers have been very supportive in terms of sharing with us the technical know-how and knitty-gritty of plant layout. In the beginning, our cutting was on the 2nd floor, but now we have moved it to the top floor by reinforcing the top floor, imparting it additional strength for future additions of automatic cutters and spreaders.
In the 4-storey building, the fabrics are sent straight to the top, from there, the cut parts move down to the sewing floors and then to the finishing department on the ground. As of now, the cutting floor is safe, structurally strong and approved by buyers like Walmart. We have already installed an automatic spreader, and we would be adding an automatic cutter soon. Having said that, the present cutting room is only sufficient for feeding the sewing lines of this facility, and for the future facilities whose sewing capacities would be greater than the present facility, we will certainly rethink on the positioning of the cutting department. For internal movement of people and material, there are two staircases. But we do have plans for installing a lift for the movement of goods within the facility.