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Streamlining Color Management

Sara Lee, National Textiles work to deliver quality and on-target color quickly, cost-effectively and electronically.

Supply Chain Management TW Special Report Streamlining Color Management Sara Lee, National Textiles work to deliver quality and on-target color quickly, cost-effectively and electronically. The process of ensuring that the color a designer picks is an exact match to the finished garment is one of the more complex aspects of apparel manufacturing. Leading manufacturers and suppliers throughout the apparel supply chain are implementing new and better technologies to streamline the color cycle. Consider the supplier portion represented by Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Sara Lee Branded Apparel, and one of its suppliers, National Textiles LLC, also in Winston-Salem. National Textiles fabric goes into such well-known Sara Lee brands as Champion, Hanes, Hanes Beefy-Ts, Hanes Her Way and Just My Size. Color CommunicationIn 1999, Wal-Mart, one of Sara Lees major retail customers, began exploring the possibilities of electronic color communication. Wal-Mart chose a color communication system developed by leading color technology provider Lawrenceville, N.J.-based Datacolor. Through Datacolors Color Information Management System (CIMS), every aspect of the supply chain has the capability to share electronically precise reproduction, analysis, manipulation, and communication of color data and images. The system utilizes familiar tools such as color measuring instruments and color management software, as well as innovative elements such as calibrated computer monitors and accurate visualization of digital color information.Both Sara Lee Branded Apparel and National Textiles agreed to participate in a pilot project. Our company has a strong history of building relationships with our customers, suppliers and other business partners to provide the high quality, high value products consumers demand, stated Scott Crump, Sara Lees director of quality resources.National Textiles President Jerry Rowland and Vice President of Textile Manufacturing Gene McBride shared this philosophy as well, and were open to integrating new technology into their operations. E-Dips: The First PhaseAccording to Luke Roland, color development lab manager at National Textiles, while the heavy volume in the color lab made it a perfect place to start testing the efficacy of the new system, there was initial skepticism.  

Learning any technology represents a tremendous learning curve and many highly experienced color technicians, those highly knowledgeable in the art of color development, have their doubts. But, when all is said and done, there just arent enough of those color masters around to keep up with demand. New electronic color channels offer a method of capturing that knowledge and making it available in a totally non-subjective manner, Roland stated.Approximately one year ago, National Textiles began electronically submitting its lab dips. The process virtually eliminated physical samples and the challenges inherent with any physical sampling process. Physical standards, for example, are often on a different fabric from that to be dyed in production. The standard may be physically small, making it difficult to handle or measure. The characteristics of physical standards printed on paper may cause flaring in certain lighting. And physical swatches susceptibility to light, heat and humidity can change a fabrics color substantially. Plus, there can be distribution delays in moving physical samples from one location to another in order to create a physical standard for each plant.Suppliers regularly need several dye plants to produce the same color. Using the same electronic standard loaded by central color development allows each one to dye to an identical target. The end result is a uniform color and better test results.Independent testing lab Consumer Testing Laboratories (CTL) is able to evaluate e-Dips both numerically and visually. The numerical assessment of color difference and pass/fail are based upon standardized color practices. Visual assessment of e-Dips is possible through precise monitor calibration and imaging an integral part of the CIMS color management solution. The use of e-Dips in the color development process shared between Sara Lee and National Textiles has led to significant reductions in the development cycle. Now we can submit a lab dip to CTL electronically and receive a response in less than 24 hours, said Bill Poore, manager, color development, dyes and chemicals, National Textiles. Instant e-mail also eliminates shipping costs. This kind of reduced development cycle, in turn, significantly improved resource utilization at all key points at both companies, considering the number of new colors each season and the number of lab submits that must be evaluated. At the manufacturing level, National Textiles color lab matches more than a thousand new colors per year, often encompassing three to five seasons.And the in-house skeptics Theres just no arguing with results, Roland said. Now, when the customer sends us an electronic standard, we can be absolutely sure that we have the exact standard, no question. That fact alone has saved us enormous time and effort in response and approval times. Electronic Shade BandsEarlier this year, National Textiles, in full cooperation with Sara Lee, began extending the viability of electronic standards by testing electronic shade banding. After lab dips have been approved, examples of the production runs, or shade bands, need to be sent out for customer approval. With multiple textile manufacturing facilities operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, National Textiles was constantly up against tight shade-development cycles.Although much of Sara Lees branded consumer apparel products are basic apparel products like T-shirts, underwear, and socks that endure over time, a significant portion of its lines changes seasonally. In every instance, however, product development begins months before products will actually be available in the stores, requiring retailers to predict what colors and styles will be popular. We need to be able to satisfy our customers needs for shortened lead times while delivering a quality product, Crump added. While final tests have not yet been completed, the company is experiencing a pass rate of well over 90 percent. Weve already experienced remarkable efficiencies with having the bulk of our volume shades incorporated into an electronic system. Over the coming months, we will have supplied CTL with enough production data to develop color-specific tolerances. The goal is to begin e-mailing shade band information directly to CTL and receive a response within the hour, Poore said.Electronic submission of shade bands has been particularly useful for companies having multi-locations like National Textiles and Sara Lee. National Textiles has four manufacturing locations and a cotton distribution center located throughout the Southeast. Sara Lee has three production facilities in the Carolinas. We are able to see the variations that are occurring from plant to plant, and totally eliminate them before they become costly. The reduction in re-dyes and reworks alone has been worth it. Weve been able to totally eliminate the overhead costs of sending clerical help to and from our various facilities and to CTL with physical swatches. This money can now be funneled into other key areas such as new product development and technology, Poore said. Positive ConsensusSara Lee Branded Apparel and National Textiles agree that the new electronic color communication system has improved quality overall. From the efficiencies experienced through e-mailing digital color information to shorter development cycle times and lower development costs, the companies have ensured unprecedented accountability at every key point in their color development and production approval processes.Weve had outstanding success so far with this new method, moving from trial to a fantastic turnaround time, Johnson revealed.The impact on our decision-making process has been outstanding, Crump said. Weve always worked well with our suppliers such as National Textiles, as well as with our major customers. Now, we have the tools to respond to seasonal needs and really any customer request, almost real time.Perhaps Poore sums it up best. It comes down to communication. We are building a complete color communication system that seamlessly links and controls color, from the moment it is conceived to the time the consumer buys it. December 2002