Among the three important factors which influence buying, quality has always been a major factor. Raising the bars of quality needs, an investment is a cause for triggering headache among manufacturers, who have been trying to jump multiple ships of efficiency, rework, cut-to-ship ratio and profit margins. Realizing this problem of manufacturers, Hirdaramani Group, Sri Lanka’s topmost apparel exporter, together with H One, the IT arm of Hirdaramani, has built a solution called RES.Q. It is an Industry 4.0 enabled quality management system that digitizes the inspection data to make it actionable.
Team StitchWorld, in an exclusive tête-à-tête with Rakhil Hirdaramani, Director of Hirdaramani Group and Samath Fernando, Chief Executive Officer, H One, explores the cloud-based smart solution and the ways by which it helps to enhance the quality on the shopfloor.
SW: What was the motivation and the idea behind the development of RES.Q? Where did you feel its necessity/void?
Rakhil: Apparel manufacturers are under constant pressure to produce garments with high efficiency and at the lowest cost. The biggest issue lies in the cost of quality. Higher is the cost of quality, reduced is the profitability percentage. And in a cut-throat competition of today, they are weighed by problems like increasing efficiency, minimizing rework and improving their cut-to-ship ratio.
We introduced and developed RES.Q to address this issue, to relieve these manufacturers of the relentless efforts they put to lower the cost of quality. Moreover, there aren’t many apparel quality-focused solutions in the market. Typical ERP and other tech solutions do not adequately capture quality or address quality needs. There is a gap that needs to be addressed and RES.Q fills that gap.
SW: Our readers would like to know about the functioning of RES.Q. What are the advantages?
Samath: RES.Q is a quality management solution hosted on the cloud. The solution converts paper-based quality inspection into a simple, real-time digitized process which runs on tablet devices. It is easy to use and requires minimal training. It allows users to capture defects, pinpoint their location and notifies users of repeated issues with its colour-coded alerts. This means that at a glance, users know exactly where the issues are and how often they are occurring.
The key to RES.Q’s success is that it looks at quality from the ground up. Everyone on the shopfloor, from the sewing operator to the final auditor, is responsible for quality. Dashboards on the shopfloor help to pinpoint issues, right down to the operation and this live data serves as continuous feedback motivating everyone to improve and produce better quality garments.
Users no longer need to wait hours for a report, to make critical decisions. Decisions are based on real-time data captured straight from the factory floor, and teams can now prevent defects from impacting production within a matter of minutes. By cutting down these time lags, they are now able to remedy defects quickly and save a tremendous amount of time, money and resources that would otherwise be spent on rework.
The information is collected, organized and stored in an extensive solution archive which can be accessed to solve issues and identify potential risk in future production. RES.Q’s Solution Center helps teams track corrective action and provide issue resolution. In an industry where retaining skill has always been a challenge, this is especially important. RES.Q helps organizations preserve valuable knowledge that would otherwise be lost when an employee leaves.
In today’s apparel industry, manufacturers must not only embrace technology, but also be able to make faster, precise and more effective decisions on the go. RES.Q gives apparel manufacturers the edge to stand out and be competitive.
SW: The aim of RES.Q is to make data visible to people. Don’t you feel that skill enhancement training will affect quality more than digitizing the quality inspection records?
Rakhil: There are many components of quality, and skill is one of them. And it is mainly impacted by several factors like defects. There are several categories of defects that may occur. The same style running in two production lines could have different defect rates. Quality is also impacted by design-related problems, fabric defects, machine-related issues and even fabric-dye interactions. To manage quality, all these aspects must be managed.
Although it is true that skill enhancement training will help to improve quality, but to understand and improve quality, one must first understand who requires training and on what he/she requires training. Without knowing this, training every operator is a waste. Blanket trainings don’t work and they take valuable resources away from the production line.
But, when one digitizes data, data is available in real-time and becomes actionable. Quality issues can be identified and resolved quickly and accurately. This reduces the amount of time, resources and money spent on rework and improves overall production quality. RES. Q does the same.
SW: How will RES.Q be helpful in decision making for both quality inspectors and managers?
Samath: Managers can’t always be present on the factory floor. Many a time, they need to manage several factories and travel between them. They need to be able to access information and make time-sensitive decisions on the go, wherever they are. With RES.Q, we aim to create a data-driven shopfloor that enables users to make better informed day-to-day production related crucial decisions.
In a factory where RES.Q is deployed, the quality inspectors are equipped with a tablet that provides them with a real-time understanding of whether garments produced ascribe to accepted quality standards. If there is a defect in an item, the quality inspector can immediately address the issue at the point of cause. Not only them, but also the sewing operators will get a complete visibility into their defect counts with the help of LCDs on the shopfloor indicating the number of defects in each production line. This Industry 4.0 solution will also help managers analyze trends, make strategic decisions and resolve systemic issues.
RES.Q even helps organizations to identify production lines with higher defect rates and detect precise skill gaps and training needs right down to the operation. Instead of holding mass training sessions for sewing operators, which takes them away from the production line, sometimes, for extended periods of time, it enables management as well as the HR to provide much more focused training to the team members who require it, and to make the most use of their training dollars.
SW: How easy is the implementation of RES.Q on shopfloor in terms of cost?
Samath: Implementation has never been easier. RES.Q allows for easy configuration and set-up within a day. Powered by Microsoft Azure, it allows manufacturers to minimize the cost of their infrastructure. Also available on opex model, RES.Q is a device-agnostic and can run on any device with a moderate spec. It does not require high-end devices. This allows manufacturers to scale in line with growth.
Further, RES.Q requires minimal training and is easy to use and adapt to. It has dual language capability which means that shopfloor users can work in the comfort of their native language. Ease of adoption means that the costs of change management and training are drastically lowered. Users also benefit from training and certifications to ensure they can make the most out of the solution.
SW: Since it’s a paperless solution, does this mean that the user must store its quality data in the RES.Q server? Does this signify that the quality database is continually enriched with data from different user companies? Does RES.Q use any AI (Artificial Intelligence) tool?
Samath: RES.Q was built on Microsoft Azure. As such, data is stored on cloud because the customers own their data and can access it any time. RES.Q does not have any such access.
Right now, AI does not feature in RES.Q. However, we do have plans to introduce AI bots to RES.Q, which will allow users to interact with bots to get quick answers, for example, on important reporting numbers.
SW: Will it be available on subscription-based model?
Rakhil: Yes, RES.Q is available through a subscription-based model to enable customers to benefit from scalability. The model also lowers upfront costs associated with hardware or infrastructure costs.
SW: How relevant do you feel is the concept of Industry 4.0 in today’s apparel manufacturing units? We have countries like Ethiopia and Myanmar that still do not have high-skill level and in such places, these concepts will take a decade to imbibe.
Rakhil: Industry 4.0 is the concept of cyber and physical systems working together to create a virtual/digital ecosystem on the shopfloor to provide decision-makers with real-time actionable data upon which they could act instantly. The apparel industry is highly technical and dynamic. To cater to its unique and challenging needs, the industry has to adopt a hybrid approach. Every minute counts in the apparel industry. As such, the need for real-time information is crucial. When a single production line produces close to 300 units an hour, decision-makers can’t afford to wait hours for manually generated quality reports to be compiled, to make decisions.
Though I feel that Industry 4.0 presently may seem too technical a concept to be applied in the apparel industry where technology and skill levels vary. The apparel industry has evolved tremendously over the past two decades. It is now one of the most competitive and challenging industries to be in. The manual and conventional systems that were responsible for the industry’s initial development are unable to keep it competitive. Due to high levels of competition and the emergence of new manufacturing destinations, processes and costs have never been tighter. Manufacturers turn to technology to find an edge over their competitors.
The gap that exists is that large apparel companies tend to invest in technology, but the vast majority of apparel manufacturers do not.
SW: Sri Lanka, on the other hand, is tech-intensive and has better knowledge. Is your solution relevant for manufacturing facilities in India, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Ethiopia?
Rakhil: Sri Lanka is known for its tendency to embrace and adopt technology faster than its South-Asian neighbours. Businesses are open to investing in tech solutions that improve efficiency. As RES.Q is simple and user-friendly, does not require any specific level of skill or education and requires minimal training, it is, therefore, relevant for manufacturing facilities in any country. The dual-language interface allows users to choose between English and a native language, further easing its use.
With RES.Q, we also aim to uplift the workforce and make them feel respected in the industry. Exposure to smart technology and certification paths will add great value to their careers.