The manufacture of small batch garments, in the textile industry, cut from roll & sewn together, is often carried out by small companies willing to tolerate the high levels of product variation, set up time and high direct labour content, that larger firms are not. Products included in this category range from clothing, shoes and tents to ready made curtains. Within Europe there are more than 3600 SME's [ref 1] involved in the manufacture of textile garments, 1300 SME's [ref 1] involved in the manufacture of leather garments and foot ware and a further 200 SME's [ref 1] manufacturing specialist ready made curtains. The combined sales of these three sectors alone equates to 1.52 billion ECU [ref 1] per annum. For the vast majority of market segments, manufacture of clothing from leather & textile materials, is a traditional, low margin and labour intensive business. The consumer market is heavily influence by continually changing trends in fashion, leading to high product variability and low production batch sizes. Typically, SME's in this sector are organized such that small batches of work in progress (WIP) are transferred manually between machinists (sewing stations) carrying out sequential operations on the garment. As batch size decreases, the additional labour content required in operation, set up and transit between stations rises proportionately. As a result, the domestic market has become progressively more vulnerable to lower cost base importers, especially those from Indonesia, Venezuela, Morocco and South Africa. For instance, 30% of the European consumer markets for garment sales are imported from outside the Union. Unable to compete on price alone, European SMEs have started to differentiate their offering by providing increased added value to their customers. They have specifically targeted improvements in speed of response, through the reduction of total time from order to delivery and increased traceability, through quality systems such as ISO9001 & 9002. Large companies in many sectors already enjoy the benefits of automated product transfer and handling systems, through belt and chain conveyors between production processes. However, these companies tend to manufacture medium to high volumes of a small range of products, thereby enabling them to amortise the relatively high capital costs of traditional conveyor systems over the generally longer product lives. WIP handling between work stations, in the textile sector, is still done manually, typically by the skilled machinist in bulk stillages. The WIP handling process is thus both discontinuous and slow, resulting not only high levels of WIP stock but also reduced output from the skilled machinist. Applying traditional belt, roller or chain drive conveyor systems to connect each machinist station, flexibly to enable any carrier to visit any station in any sequence is already possible, but would cost between 230-290 ECU/metre of conveyor. This level of capital cost prevents SME, small batch, garment manufacturers implementing flexible, automated systems. It is therefore essential that the technological and business advantages yielded by automated and flexible, WIP handling systems are provided to SMEs in the textile sector, advancing their aggregate state of the art, relative to their competitors outside the EU. The industrial objective of the proposed RTD is to provide European SME's with a novel, low cost drive medium that incorporates fewer engineered parts. This will be achieved through development of a novel drive concept, in which a channel profile encapsulates a stream of solid rolling spheres or 'beads'. By pushing on one bead, via localised drive mechanisms, the next bead in line is caused to move, transferring force and motion along the stream of beads. The principle of operation of the concept system is shown within the sketches in Appendix 2. The proposed system will: * Avoid the labour cost of WIP transit between stations, reducing total labour input to the manufacturing process, by 10%*Enable 100% product traceability through the production process, by individually RF tagging the garment carriers and recording, what processes are carried out by which operators at each stage of manufacture.* Improve speed of response, from order to garment dispatch, by 15%, through the integration of automated ordering placement and MRP software systems with conveyor hardware, required to deliver the materials to the correct work station in the correct processing sequence.
Funding SchemeCRS - Cooperative research contracts
LE13 0PB Melton Mowbray - Leicestershire
TF9 4AG Market Drayton
CF44 6DA Abedare