Alliance and Accord have arguably initiated the largest ever drive for safe buildings and fire safety in Bangladesh which has put an average apparel manufacturer in a labyrinth hard to negotiate. Not only do the apparel manufacturers have to comply with existing compliance norms like WRAP, SEDEX etc. and the Bangladesh National Building Code (BNBC), RAJUK (Dhaka City Development Authority), but now they also have to address newly introduced Accord and Alliance Building Standards. Hence the most critical task is to comprehend the set of rules, analyze its implications and also understand which ones to apply to a manufacturing facility and how. In such a situation, the professionals that can help the apparel manufacturers are architects who have an understanding of the international compliance laws, laws of the land and a basic understanding of apparel manufacturing. One such person is Khalid Ahmed Khan, Architect-Partner, Neoformation Architects, who has been working with companies like Impress Group, FTML, Northern Corporation, Echotex Ltd., Ananta, Group QA, Misami, etc. since 1997.
Apart from few exceptions most of the RMG manufacturing units started its journey from a very small scale and its growth in business ultimately led to expansions of the project, in most cases which were done without associating the professionals with the development. The apparel manufacturing fraternity started feeling the need of professional help from early to mid of 90’s due to the increase in incidents of fire-related hazards and introduction of compliance issues from the buyers’ end for securing the safety of the workers. It was realized that designing an industrial grade apparel manufacturing facility is not merely the job of an individual, but help is also needed from architects, structural engineers, Industrial Engineers, MEP Consultants, Process Layout Experts and technology providers, all having some or specific understanding of apparel manufacturing. The biggest task faced by an architect is getting the apparel manufacturer to define the project in clear terms. What they wish to manufacture and how much at the beginning is probably the easiest of all tasks, but their expansion plans in the same premises ensuring a sustainable growth to forecast where the project wants to set its target is rather more challenging as it is necessary to know that since every infrastructure has its peak limit for which it has been built. “The first step of every project should be to define the saturation point of the structure as most of the incidents take place because the saturation point of the structure was not defined and hence exceeded,” asserts Khalid. The saturation point is defined by Khalid as the ultimate target production capacity of the plant with its required number of workers that the management can control effectively within the confines of the factory area ensuring the number of processes or departments to be associated with, in other words the only way to increase the output beyond the saturation point is by adopting automation or increasing the efficiency in production process.
“The apparel manufacturers are very forthcoming, so we do not have to push too hard towards compliance or sustainability as we are experiencing a significant amount of effort in restoration and expansion following the code of practice and due to this strong will, I see Bangladesh becoming the most compliant apparel manufacturing nation in the world in a time of 2-3 years.” – Khalid Ahmed Khan, Architect-Partner, Neoformation Architects
LAND – Foundation of the Project
The only aspects looked into before buying or acquiring a land, by almost all manufacturers, are its connectivity with the highways, presence of auxiliary facilities and supply of power, gas and water. There is hardly any guideline from the authorities to accommodate the growing industries with its proper infrastructure other than the EPZs which is very minimum compared to the actual requirements. One can see numerous apparel manufacturing units along all the major highways in Dhaka and Chittagong. “This practise should be abolished because the land could be suitable for agricultural purposes or a natural water reservoir in monsoon, which should not withstand the load of industrial developments,” emphasizes Khalid.
Another aspect which defines the size and type of land is the existence of an ETP in the facility because different types of ETP plants require varying sizes of land and it also depends on the quality of wastewater to be treated, flow rate, the type of treatment procedure to be used and the orientation of different treatment units. “On an average, the area required for a Bio-Chemical ETP plant is sometimes 20% size of what is required for a Biological ETP plant, if the flow rate is constant,” shares Khalid. Although the land required for an ETP can be reduced by making it in layers, using extra pumps and piping with stronger structure – a very common practice in Bangladesh, but we must try to avoid that to make the plant more energy-efficient using gravity flow in maximum areas reducing the involvement of chemicals as less possible.
The first ‘must’, according to Khalid, is identifying the land type defined in DAP in which the facility is to be established and the Approval Authority to approve the building design. Entrepreneurs faced lot of trouble to choose among City Development Authorities (like RAJUK, CDA etc.), ‘Pouroshava’ and ‘Union Parishad’ mostly for the land which are located around the peripheral suburban area. But recently the Government has given a circular to get rid of this trouble. The building which is not within the City Development Authority area will be submitted to the office of concerned District Commissioner who will be equipped with a team of architects, engineers and planners. For large scale projects they will take help from the Architecture Department and Engineering Department of Ministry of Housing & Public Works. There still remain two other authorities who issue Approval separately – the BEPZA and the Cantonment Board, where the set of guidelines are very much simplified and in lot of cases differ from the Imarat Nirman Bidhimala and BNBC as well.
INSIDE THE STRUCTURE – Balancing Compliance and Feasibility
“Strictly following the Imarat Nirman Bidhimala and other land use and building construction guidelines prescribed by BNBC is what I firmly believe will safeguard most of the apparel manufacturers from national and international scrutiny, and since it is not followed religiously in the country, it brings so much embarrassment and hardship to the country. For my projects, I mostly prefer to keep at least 40% open spaces as you will also find Imarat Nirman Bidhimala also directs keeping the land occupancy between 60 to 65% varying from land size and road width,” elaborates Khalid.
A single storey or at least two storey factories are always better than a multi-storey one because apparel manufacturing is a linear production process, due to which single storey factories become the most sustainable structures. According to Khalid, when one sets up a multiple storey factory its energy consumption increases, as one cannot use sunlight on all the floors, also the amount of transportation of both men and material increases and you need to define more fire exits and stairs. This is equally true that Bangladesh is a small country and land is a very limited resource. Here comes the challenge for the architects to design the facility in multi-level due to smaller land size ensuring maximum efficiency in production. Though Khalid accepts multi-storey factories as a challenge but discourages setting up knit composite units in multi-storey buildings. “If there is really no choice, only then one can locate the circular knitting machines, flat knitting machines, day yarn warehouse and rotary screen printing or table screen printing unit in upper storeys, but it is quite definite that dyeing-finishing, yarn dyeing, warp knitting, beam dyeing or all-over printing facilities along with all utilities (generator, boiler, etc.) must have priority in the ground level as the complexity of the equipment with its size, operating loads, foundation and drainage systems always demands its most feasible location on the ground level,” says Khalid.
“The reason behind Rana Plaza and a discotheque collapsing in Brazil was the same – both the places were not designed to sustain that kind of a load,” points out Khalid. Therefore, it becomes of utmost importance to discuss with the consultants and architects the process in detail which would be carried on a floor, the future advancements in terms of new machinery installation that might take place and most importantly the number of people that would be working on the floor. Based on which after the final schematic layout we must prepare a Load Distribution Schedule for the design engineer to follow. “As per the code, the designer selects appropriate live load limits for a particular operation to design the structure which includes the man, machine, product, furniture and utilities. For example; a sewing finishing operation we consider 125 psf live load to design with,” shares Khalid.
It is not as if it is simpler to setup a single floor factory, shares Khalid while defining the intricacies of a single floor factory layout. “The direction of wind of a region also plays an important part in deciding the layout of the project as if a single storey factory is facing south in Bangladesh having the dyeing machines placed as the first department facing South, then all the heat from the department will be carried into the facility raising the temperature of the whole facility,” he says.. Sharing another example he adds, “A generator or a compressor absorbs lot of air from its surroundings and if the circular knitting department is near to that, then due to the lint produced by the knitting machines, the generator will get clogged as it absorbs the same.”
Balance between height and width of the building plays an important role in ensuring comfortable working environment. We must get out of the practice of 10 feet high floors in an industrial building which we have in practice from designing residential building module. Though code of practice advises 12 feet but we are now practicing at least 14 feet where the floor sizes are more than 30,000 sq. feet considering ducts, utilities, lightings and ventilations. Otherwise in large scale floors it becomes suffocating and very uncomfortable to work in.
However, with all the codes and guidelines in place, Khalid feels that people at times lack the understanding of the same, misinterpreting some of the guidelines. “It has been wrongly interpreted that the fire department circular says that every 25 metres you have to put a fire escape. Actually any person in a floor must have alternative approaches in a radius of 25 metre. In such a case the distance between the stairs can be anything within 50 metre. So it does not mean that you have to have a staircase in every 25 metres, in fact BNBC is even more flexible for a floor with multiple exits and fire fighting systems.” It is expected that a most desired revised and updated National Building Code is going to be published in near future which will address all these discrepancies and dissimilarities taking note of the current practices and international standards in account.
The machine layouts are very much dependent on the kind of product, production system or manufacturing process that the manufacturers follow, which varies from company to company. While some companies manufacture lower value products in huge volumes, others manufacture high value products in small quantities. Such diverse product styles require different manufacturing systems; it may be assembly lines in each floor with common make section, cutting and finishing for large volumes of a single type of product or the current trend of modular set-ups with individual cutting sewing and finishing making independent facilities in each floor of the factory.
Importance of Feng Shui & Vaastu
The entire process of designing the layout of a factory is not just to address the compliance requirements of the buyers or keeping in mind the efficient work layout but also all the aspects of fringe requirements like Vaastu and Feng Shui. “I personally don’t practice Vaastu or Feng Shui. But our design is mostly dominated by such elements, which automatically covers a large footprints of Vaastu or Feng Shui,” shares Khalid.
Success of the project
Success of a project depends on the following issues:
a. There must be a well-balanced project team which ensures participation of all required and relevant departments and professionals working in the same platform on the basis of a Project Execution Plan.
b. This team leader or the Project Head must have technical understanding of the project with prompt decision-taking ability and his honed communication skills to clearly act as bridge between the service providers, contractors, equipment suppliers and professionals. The role of a Project Manager should be to identify project procurement needs, identify and select reliable procurement sources, verify products and service quality levels, assessing quality and competence of the contractors and finally ensure successful execution of the contracts.
c. The project must encourage engaging professionals as solution providers instead of giving that responsibility to the suppliers to act as a turnkey contractors.
d. We must appreciate introduction of appropriate technology.
e. Every spending should be cost-effective and for the sake of cost curtailment, we must not head towards the cheap solutions which don’t ensure value for money.
f. Documenting each and every decision in the execution of the entire project is critically important not only from the compliance point of view but also from the point accountability of each person and process. “Not only should various test reports be documented but even the discussions done and briefs given to consultants, machinery providers and architects should be documented. Such in-depth documentation hastens the process of compliance and audits as the authenticity is supported by documents,” emphasises Khalid. Such a document is called a project charter, which formally authorises the project and also authorises the assigned Project Manager to utilize the resources (like team members, equipment, and materials) for the project. The project charter may include the project Statement of Work (SOW), which comprises all of the high-level deliverables with proper schedule. “The main idea is to document everything from project inception through project closure, so that the main objectives of the project can be reviewed any time during the project. In case of any changeover, if everything is documented the new successor can also move ahead with the same idea of the project and continue the project as earlier,” concludes Khalid.