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Integrated Manufacturing Systems

Emerald Article: Quick response in the textile-apparel industry and the support of information technologies Cipriano Forza, Andrea Vinelli

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To cite this document: Cipriano Forza, Andrea Vinelli, (1997),"Quick response in the textile-apparel industry and the support of information technologies", Integrated Manufacturing Systems, Vol. 8 Iss: 3 pp. 125 - 136 Permanent link to this document: http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/09576069710181947 Downloaded on: 24-01-2013 References: This document contains references to 28 other documents Citations: This document has been cited by 12 other documents To copy this document: permissions@emeraldinsight.com This document has been downloaded 2518 times since 2005. *

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Cipriano Forza, Andrea Vinelli, (1997),"Quick response in the textile-apparel industry and the support of information technologies", Integrated Manufacturing Systems, Vol. 8 Iss: 3 pp. 125 - 136 http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/09576069710181947 Cipriano Forza, Andrea Vinelli, (1997),"Quick response in the textile-apparel industry and the support of information technologies", Integrated Manufacturing Systems, Vol. 8 Iss: 3 pp. 125 - 136 http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/09576069710181947 Cipriano Forza, Andrea Vinelli, (1997),"Quick response in the textile-apparel industry and the support of information technologies", Integrated Manufacturing Systems, Vol. 8 Iss: 3 pp. 125 - 136 http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/09576069710181947

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Quick response in the textile-apparel industry and the support of information technologies

Cipriano Forza, Andrea Vinelli Institute of Management and Engineering, University of Padova, Vicenza, Italy
Underlines the importance of quick response strategy in the textile-apparel industry chain and presents some considerations concerning the organizational, management and technological conditions necessary for its achievement. Provides examples of the utilization of telecommunications in the textile-apparel industry, and highlights what changes have been made and the advantages gained. Analyses the role played by information technology in the interaction between the actors in the chain. Examines the conditions and elements which make quick response possible in the chain. Concludes that quick response is a timebased strategy which requires greater collaboration along the whole textile-apparel chain.
the course of the last two years with the managers of leading textile, apparel and retailing companies such as Marzotto, Levi Strauss Italia, Benetton and Coin. After presenting the signicance and strategic importance of QR, the paper provides examples of the utilization of telecommunications in the textile-apparel industry, and highlights what changes have been made and the advantages gained. An analysis of the role played by information technology in the interaction between the actors in the chain then follows. Finally, the conditions and the elements which make quick response possible in the chain are also examined. The success of QR initiatives, in fact, brings about changes both within the company (such as modications to the organization or the production technologies) and outside it (such as an evolution in relations with the chain partners, or, more generally, in the production context).

Introduction
This article intends to underline the importance of quick response strategy in the textile-apparel industry chain and also present some considerations concerning the organizational, management and technological conditions necessary for the achievement of this strategy . Quick response (QR) strategy acts on the single phases/activities throughout the entire chain right from the producers of yarn up to the sales outlets with the aim of reducing the time spans that elapse from the textile design stage to the purchasing of the garments by the nal consumer. In QR strategy, time compression is seen as a goal on the one hand, and on the other, as an instrument for the improvement of company performance in terms of efficiency and the level of service offered. This improvement can be translated into an increase in company competitiveness and, for the nal consumer, it can also have the effect of a reduction in prices. Information technologies and telecommunications constitute one of the means which can be exploited by textile-apparel companies for the improvement of time performance[1,2]. However, when a company in the textileapparel chain considers the possibility of adopting these technologies in order to obtain QR, some questions naturally emerge: what are the advantages? What kind of information is actually exchanged between the various actors implementing QR? Are electronic data interchange (EDI), bar codes, point of sales technology (POS) the only elements necessary in order to obtain QR? If not, what are the other technological, organizational and contextual conditions relevant for QR? The paper aims at nding some answers to these questions. Given the innovative nature of the problems analysed, in particular the lack of widespread and consolidated company applications, the research methodology used is based on rst-hand knowledge, on the considerations and experience of privileged operators in the sector, and of managers of leading companies belonging to the various links in the textile-apparel chain. The ndings of the paper are a result, among other things, of meetings that have taken place in

Quick response strategy


The strategic importance of QR
A signicant reduction in forecasting errors is the basic assumption which moulds QR strategy As the name itself implies, the main . aim of QR can be considered the compression of response times by the various actors in the chain. At the moment, response times in the chain mean that the distributor has to make orders four, six or eight months in advance. Traditionally, in fact, the textile-apparel chain works in response to orders from the distributors, but these orders are based on forecasts both in terms of volume, product mix, timespans involved, demand segmentation, etc. which have to be far in advance of the actual events forecast. It is clear that no matter how rened and correct the planning stage was in a turbulent context, the probabilities that these forecasts are an accurate photograph of reality as it is evolving are very low. The cost results are high costs of stock maintenance, stock breaks and merchandise sold as sale goods[3]. By now, this operative system is rmly rooted in the culture of the companies in this

Integrated Manufacturing Systems 8/3 [1997] 125136 MCB University Press [ISSN 0957-6061]

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Cipriano Forza and Andrea Vinelli Quick response in the textileapparel industry and the support of information technologies Integrated Manufacturing Systems 8/3 [1997] 125136

sector, to the point where the times and events which regulate the normal functioning of the chain, such as trade fairs, exhibitions, the presentation of collections and sample collections, are rmly established. On the other hand, the succession of these events, in their rigid temporal sequence, has had a strengthening effect on this whole operative system. This operational mode of the chain, however, seems on the whole to contradict two important characteristics of presentday competitive strategy . First, it contradicts the growing importance given to aspects of customer service, because it decreases, when it does not actually negate it, the proactive role of the nal customer. With advance orders of six months or more, it becomes slightly ridiculous to hope to satisfy the expectations of the nal customer completely, by offering the right product in the right place at the right time, or better still to exhaust customer demand by making it possible for the customer to decide what he/she wants.

time-based competitive strategy which focuses on the time compression of the value operative chains, and which emphasizes the collaboration between all the members of this chain, from the textile producer to the nal customer (see Figure 1). QR is an extension of the JIT philosophy in that it is applied to the entire operative chain system, by means of a collaborative vision in which all the actors are ready to exchange in an interdependent way information concerning sales, orders and stocks[1,2].

Benets and advantages of QR


The strategic advantages deriving from the application of QR, as well as the compression of overall lead time, are numerous. In the light of what has been said, it clearly emerges that rst the application of QR strategies produces an overall fall in entrepreneurial risk along the whole chain, due to the fact that decisions can be taken much closer to the event. Second, the reduced overall risk is shared in a different and more homogeneous way between all the individual players. In fact, in a QR approach, the whole value chain system[5] no longer operates on the basis of a logic which hinges on orders from a downstream player well in advance of the event (see nal distributor), but on a different mixed logic in which certain production phases can be based on reliable, short-term forecasting, in that it is based on up-to-date sales information. Third, the adoption of QR makes it possible to achieve a considerable improvement in the

We do not always manage to nd what we actually need, and only very rarely does what we are offered derive from our precise and specic requests
Second, it does not favour an overall vision of the chain, when this is dened as a value chain system. The functionality of the chain is based on the optimization of operations at a local level with each individual actor acting in a totally independent way Each of the . individual subsystems the production of yarn, textiles, and garments and nally, the distribution operate by seeking to acquire maximum efficiency, but, as has now been shown in several different company contexts, the sum of individual efficiency maximums does not correspond to the maximum efficiency of the whole system (see productivity paradox[4]). Moreover, this operational mode of the chain also implies a very unhomogeneous and unbalanced distribution of the risks between the actors which is to the disadvantage of the nal distributor. The examples of the above are experiences common to all of us in our role as customers in the sector. We do not always manage to nd what we actually need, and only very rarely does what we are offered derive from our precise and specic requests. It is considerations of this type that have been the catalyst for the complete rethink to which the operation logic of the textileapparel sector has been subjected in the last few years and which can be summarized as the quick response approach. QR is a

Figure 1 The actors in the textile apparel chain

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Cipriano Forza and Andrea Vinelli Quick response in the textileapparel industry and the support of information technologies Integrated Manufacturing Systems 8/3 [1997] 125136

level of service at the sales outlet (see nal customer in the chain) without compromising the variety of products offered. In a long-term prospect, in fact, in the face of the growing variety and variability of customer expectations and preferences which imply ever wider product ranges which are offered to an ever more segmented clientle paradoxically only the made-to-order garment will simultaneously be able to satisfy the two above-mentioned requirements. On the one hand, it can guarantee the full satisfaction of customer expectations, in terms of service and personalization, and on the other, maximum efficiency, in terms of elimination of risk, waste and opportunity costs.

Where QR has been achieved between textile producers, clothing manufacturers and distributors, the concrete results have been an increase in sales up to 50 per cent
Thus, QR can be seen as an efficient information system, or rather as an excellent scheduling system which keeps production in line with distribution. There are several studies available today which emphasize the advantages deriving from the application of QR strategies. Where QR has been achieved between textile producers, clothing manufacturers and distributors, the concrete results have been an increase in sales up to 50 per cent together with a simultaneous drop in the maintenance of stocks which is estimated at between 20 and 40 per cent[6]. Kurt Salmon Associates calculate that the adoption of QR, once it is working at capacity, produced increases in the ROA of around 7-12 per cent for the distributors and of 6-13 per cent for the producers, with an increase in sales at retail levels of 20-40 per cent. To cite some specic examples, QR between Milliken (textiles), Seminole (clothing) and Wal Mart (retail distribution) when applied to the production of trousers, has meant a 31 per cent increase in sales and a 30 per cent reduction in stocks. Or again, QR between Burlington (fabric), Oxford (garments) and J.C. Penney (retail distribution) for the production and distribution of clothing has brought about a 59 per cent increase in sales, a 90 per cent increase in the warehouse turnover, and a 50 per cent decrease in forecasting error[2].

management. In particular, the integration which is made possible by telecommunications produces, for example, an overall picture in real time of the different activities of the various actors which are interested in the same operative process. In terms of specic company realities, the relations with telecommunication support can be classied in a sliding scale from the traditional types of relation in which only the order is exchanged to the more advanced ones. The latter are characterized by high levels of reciprocal services, timeliness, completeness and reliability of the information transmitted. The order management cycle in relation to every individual actor in the chain in the characteristic phases of collection, transmission, elaboration, preparation, despatch and payment represents a set of operations in which signicant benets are produced by the use of telecommunications. In fact, the order management cycle seems to be a fundamental process in which the need for information integration between actors involved both upstream and downstream in the value operative chain system is growing, and in which the new telecommunication services are beginning to be used effectively . More specically, the information exchanged electronically concerns: product order; exchange of administrative documents (invoices, delivery notes, etc.); and exchange of information of a commercial and logistic type (price lists, material availability, sales levels, stock, requests for reassortment, etc.). Tables I-IV show some examples of how these telecommunication systems/services are used by leading textile, apparel and retailing companies such as Marzotto, Levi Strauss Italia, Benetton and Coin. In 1994 Marzotto Group exceeded 1,400 million US dollars, placing it among the major producers in the world in the textile-apparel chain. The Marzotto Group operates in three different businesses: yarn, textiles and clothing. For every type of bre produced (linen, wool and cotton) and for every segment of the chain (yarn, textiles and clothing), the activities are organized as completely autonomous and independent businesses, regarding both input and output. The companies which constitute the group cover many phases of the transformation cycle of the natural bres (wool, linen and cotton) from raw materials to the nished article. Even if there is not a completely vertically integrated cycle, because only part of the upstream process output is used internally in the downstream processes, there is nevertheless strong

Information technologies and telecommunications in the textileapparel industry


The role and support of information technologies and telecommunications
The new information technologies represent a fundamental support in company

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Table I Telecommunication links with suppliers From: Company (production) To: Suppliers From: Suppliers To: Company (production) From: Suppliers To: Company (distribution point)

Benetton: operative instructions for customer product packaging Levi Strauss Italia: orders Benetton: packing list per article-customer-boxes Levi Strauss Italia: electronic packing list

Table II Telecommunication links with design and manufacturing process From: Design/industrialization To: Company (production)

Benetton: Boxes: that is, knowing product cut and size (from the pattern design system to the development of the size, etc.) Marzotto: product technical data

Table III Telecommunication links between production and the distribution network From: Company (production) To: Company (distribution point)

Benetton: customer data, article data, price lists, packing lists, invoices to subsidiary companies Levi Strauss Italia: order advancement state; production advancement check, packaging list (number of boxes, content: article colour, size, relative production order), state of order advancement, label printing, modication of bar code catalogue Marzotto: warehouse loading slips, customer despatch slips

From: Company (production) To: Agent From: Company (production) To: Customer/sales point From: Company (distribution point) To: Company (production)

Benetton: customer les, article les, price lists, order conrmation, order situation (state of advancement per order/article), customer credit situation, availability of merchandise at sales point Marzotto: work order production advancement Benetton: despatch advancement, copies of customer invoices Levi Strauss Italia: monthly need over 12 months, production order per size, completed order consignment, invoices, request to point labels for contract workers Marzotto: despatch lists for invoicing Benetton: orders, colour instructions (for garments ordered in grey yarn)

From: Agent To: Company (production)

Table IV Telecommunication links between in-house distribution and customers/agents From: Agent To: Company (distribution point)

Benetton: copy of orders Levi Strauss Italia: replacement orders both for the present season and for the future one, new customers, messages, information requests, commission invoices Marzotto: order collection Levi Strauss Italia: sales per article size, daily take, replacement orders, inventory adjustments, general stock situation, messages Levi Strauss Italia: transmission and order and invoice acceptance Levi Strauss Italia: messages and commercial information, accounting information, updating of product register, variation of active customers, data for preparation of invoices and commission

From: Customer/sales point To: Company (distribution point) From: Company (distribution point) To: Organized distribution From: Company (distribution point) To: Agent

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integration, above all in terms of organizational culture. In addition, integration from the logistical point of view is sought, as well as all possible synergies in the various production phases. Levi Strauss & Co. is a multinational organization operating in the casual clothing sector targeting primarily youth. The head offices are in San Francisco. A total of about 35,000 people are employed for a total sales of over six thousand million US dollars in 1994. This gure makes Levi the worlds largest clothing business. Levis European general offices are in Brussels which controls European production of the core business (denim, both jeans and tops) and sales locations and distribution in most European countries. Production plants are located in several European countries. Every sales and distribution outlet is responsible for following the local market. European sales are over 1.700 million US dollars for about 60 million garments sold. The invoices of the Italian branch exceed 380 million US dollars with sales of over 10 million garments. In terms of units sold and invoiced, Italy is one of the top four branches in the world. In such a widespread situation, the possibility to communicate between the various units was one of the priority requirements in the denition of the information systems. This vital need has made Levi a pioneering company in the area of EDI. The Benetton Group is a world-class company in the design, manufacture and distribution of apparel for men, women and children. The headquarters are at Ponzano Veneto, Treviso, Italy The Groups consolidated rev. enues in 1994 exceeded 1,800 million US dollars and generated a net prot of 140 million US dollars. Benetton produced more than 80 million items of clothing in 1994. These came from its 35 factories which have been set up all over the world. In the course of 1994 the company prepared almost 5,000 models for its various collections, (Benetton, Sisley, 0-12), which were sold through 8,238 points of sale in more than 100 countries. The stores in Benettons sales network are managed by independent entrepreneurs who sell the companys products. Eighty per cent of production is carried out by outside contractors who are linked to Benetton through relationships that have been established over the years. Both the denition of the items for each collection, and the advertising campaign, commercial distribution and planning and control of the production by outside contractors are all co-ordinated centrally . The Coin Group is one of the largest Italian retail distributors in the non-food sector. Coin operates 40 stores directly while a further 40

franchise operations are located throughout Italy The Groups consolidated revenues in . 1994 exceeded 860 million US dollars. The Group marketing philosophy is founded on the early recognition of increasingly personalized customer requirements which are met by a shop within a shop strategy Current . commodities are for the most part clothing, but perfumes, home furnishings and household goods in general are also present. The product offered is closely tied to style and seasonal factors (80 per cent of sales), and only a minimum part (20 per cent of sales) has the characteristics of continuity in the selections. Market presence is carefully controlled by strategically differentiating the products sold in each segment. The above examples suggest that knowledge of the sales data in real time allows the clothing manufacturing companies rst to nd out which product is doing best, and therefore to nd out market tendencies in an aggregated way Second, it allows the head . office to know the shop, that is, to know the stock situation in all the shops and to suggest exchange of merchandise between shops, whenever there are stock leftovers which are needed by another shop. Third, the sales data are used to suggest to the shopkeeper what to order. The optimal order is suggested to the shopkeeper (who then is responsible for accepting or modifying it) on the basis of the information about sales in that shop and in comparison with the sales in other similar sales points. In the light of what has been said, it becomes clear that improvements are possible in terms of the service offered: on the one hand, the risk of stock breaks or lack of merchandise for the shelves is reduced to a minimum, and on the other, the product mix responds to the needs and expectations of the customer in more targeted and precise way .

Telecommunication services and value operative system integration


From the examples and analysis above, it is clear that telecommunication links assume an important role[7] in communication between operative value chains of the actors in the chain. Information technology makes it easier to communicate, share information and respond quickly to shifts in demand. Nevertheless, it seems that the effects of IT on the evolution of the textile-apparel industry are not easily forseeable. On the one hand, adopting IT reduces internal co-ordination and control costs. This could favour the adoption of a more hierarchical organizational model, or at least one which is vertically structured. On the other, transaction costs are also reduced, thus favouring the move

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towards production decentralization and the market[8]. The diffusion of IT seems also to facilitate co-operative organizational models, network solutions or forms of value-adding partnership[9-11]. The establishment of new relations within the chain, based on the telecommunication exchange of information, contributes to the growing integration between the different value-operative chains[12-15]. The value-adding partnership emphasizes the collaboration and co-operation relations between players, thus obtaining the co-ordination and economies of scale associated with large integrated companies and the exibility and low overhead typical of small companies[11].

production-distribution-customer integration permits the reduction of outow uncertainty and variability and makes it possible to achieve greater response speed

With this approach, the adoption of technologies and telecommunications produces positive effects on numerous performance areas such as quality, time and costs[16]. In particular, the electronic integration of the design function with the production phases of suppliers (i.e. every upstream player) and with customers (every downstream player) has positive effects on the improvement of quality and the reduction of costs. The electronic integration of production and purchasing with suppliers offers signicant advantages in relation to stability, reliability and ow quality at entry Finally, production-distribu. tion-customer integration permits the reduction of outow uncertainty and variability and makes it possible to achieve greater response speed[17].

The achievement of QR
The areas for intervention
The growing relevance, both operative and strategic, of information technologies and telecommunications in the textile-apparel sector should not lead to false conclusions. As has been said, information technologies have a fundamental role in the realization of QR strategy, but their adoption does not necessarily imply the achievement of QR. A commonplace to avoid is to reduce the conception of QR strategy to the mere improvement of the order cycle due to the use of EDI and to other communication technologies. QR is much more than this, and implies not only investments in technologies/telecommunications, but also deep-seated and radical changes in

the design and production logics and the times involved typical to this chain. This reality is easy to understand when one compares the times involved with fashion/seasonal products: the use of electronic methods for the automatic transmission of information would not have signicant advantages in the textile-apparel sector as it is structured today, since it operates six months in advance, and a time reduction of a few days (three to four) through the adoption of EDI would not be signicant. At the moment, as previously stated, manufacturers response times are too long and require advance ordering of three to six months, although it remains obvious that no matter how rened and correct the design phase was in the end it is the fashion that makes the market. Only when the seasonal campaign has started and the market gives the rst signs of response, is the distributor able to assess how the situation is really evolving and how good those choices made so many months ago actually were. The sales data which are collected and transmitted from the POS systems, where they have been installed, make it possible to nd out in real time how the sales are going, but they cannot help to remedy the situation, if the forecasts and assortment decided on turned out to be very distant from customer expectations. The volume and mix exibility which could be requested by the market is, in fact, completely incompatible with the present response times of the majority of garment producers, the length of which is typically several months. This therefore explains the need to modify not only the order management system, or information ows in general, but also the production systems, in order to compress the time needed in the transformation phases, and supply relations. In order to compress the timespans between the various phases of the value operative chains, three relevant areas for modication are: information exchange; the product; and the production and supply cycle. The rst concerns the realization of what is known as the information pipeline, or rather a precise, accurate and bidirectional ow of information to and from all the partners in the chain (see Figure 2). The innovation introduced by QR is linked to the attempt to speed up the physical and information ow in both directions, thus overriding the traditional communicative sequence between players in the chain, which has always been based on supply and replacement orders, both as regards quantity and price. Thanks to the use of telecommunication technologies/services, the information exchanged acquires greater value compared

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Figure 2 Information pipeline in the operative chain system

to traditional situations because it tends to be more integrated into the decisional process, less out-of-date, supplied through an electronic support and in a standard form, presented at a level which is suitable for aggregation, and is more accurate and reliable. The increasing importance and the diffusion of EDI standards makes a partnership founded on information exchange technologically possible. It should be emphasized, however, that the exchange must be extended to all the actors in the chain. The other two areas needing modication in order to put QR strategy into practice concern operations regarding the product and the production and supply cycle. It is important to remember that the shelflife of clothing products depends greatly on their fashion content. Several studies have shown that as the fashion element of the product increases, so its shelf-life decreases. Figure 3 highlights that fashion articles have a useful selling period very much lower

Figure 3 Different shelf-life for different products

than that for basic or seasonal articles. Fashion articles must be available on the shelves with minimum error as regards both quantity as well as range. The risk, in fact, is to incur a signicant incidence of lost sales on potential sales because of inventory depletion or, in the event of not selling, price reduction or sale promotion. It can thus be understood how QR offers the maximum advantage in the case of fashion products. Nevertheless, other conditions being equal, carrying out QR is more difficult for fashion products compared to basic or continuing products, because the procurement times for yarns and textiles are much longer. In fact, in the case of fashion products, it is generally too risky even for producers to stock yarns and textiles. Therefore the real supply response times for yarns and textiles impede the replenishment of fashion articles in times acceptable to the market. Greater speed of transformation and different methods of supply call for greater rationalization starting from the design phase. This is doubly important since, together with the speeding up of the order cycle, the speeding up of the design cycle can also be achieved. This latter result, bearing in mind the tendency today for there to be a larger number of collections, emerges as a formidable competitive weapon, as has already been shown in the electronics and car industries. The adoption of QR requires changes in the manufacturing planning and control systems (MCPS). In the rst place, it becomes necessary for every player in the chain to be provided with an information system. Even today, many small-to-medium companies, above all clothing manufacturers, do not have an MRP system. Second, computer-based systems must be designed in an integrated manner to accelerate planning and support manufacturing and distribution along the

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chain. The various MPCS system packages, even considering the diversity of business environments, should guarantee more frequent re-planning, availability of adequate forecasting models, precise shopoor control techniques, and, to some extent, openness to the downstream players who are directly interested in the order status. To intervene on the phases correlated to the physical ow essentially concerns the possibility to develop the right product for the right market segments, by trying, for example, to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the new design technologies (CADCAE), and thus to combine the easy availability of fabrics and materials with the preferences of the different market segments that they will serve. In a general sense, the integration of design with production also produces advantages in terms of costs, time and quality Early antici. pation of problems and constraints, and increased satisfaction of customer needs are achieved through the pursuit of interfunctional design. This means that during the design process people should be included who are involved not only in different company functions, but also in different companies[18]. QR also requires the attainment of exible production methods on the part of the clothing companies. The types of exible production which can be adopted are the following: 1 Modular production (or cells) where a group of multifunctional operators are responsible for the entire assembly or subassembly of a garment[19,20]. 2 Unitary production systems (UPS) which are more suitable for the upper part of a range and small batches[21]. The American Apparel Manufacturing Association has recognized in value added management (VAM), the managerial approach to reduce waste and increase the percentage of production time which generates value[22]. VAM uses both modular production techniques and unit production systems, and is based on total quality control and worker involvement. VAM requires a new work organization, based on the multifunctionality and motivation of production cell workers[20,21]. The nature of the garment being manufactured has a great inuence on the setting up of the most appropriate VAM system. For basic product lines, for example, where it is important to minimize the capital invested in semi-nished supplies, the principal technological component is UPS. For fashion lines, on the other hand, which are characterized by strong seasonal and variable demand, the object is to reduce the reorder response time

as far as possible. The most appropriate solution requires cell modular type production systems, which require lower nancial commitment, but greater organizational and cultural investment[21]. Research by the Apparel Research Committee has shown that modular production reduces waiting time by about 800 times compared to traditional production in functional departments. The time cycle is one day on average; overall production increases by approximately 10-15 per cent with about a 40 per cent saving in occupied space, and with a notable reduction in employee absenteeism[23]. In addition to this, in the USA many companies are investing a great deal in the application of new dyeing and weaving methods and in the use of CAD-CAM. According to many experts, current dyeing and printing processes represent bottlenecks in the realization of the physical pipeline required by QR. It is probable that the need to operate with small batches, with the minimum amount of chemical waste and with special fabrics, will force the manufacturers to rethink the operative logics and the use of the dyeing machines that are employed today To . sum up, it seems that the realization of QR will require innovation in the planning and scheduling systems, the dyeing systems in the textile sector, and the introduction of more exible systems for garment production.

The conditions and constraints for QR


It is undeniable that the introduction of QR can produce enormous advantages and/or improvement opportunities for the companies in the textile-apparel sector. Nevertheless, for QR initiatives to be successful, radical changes in the logics, methods and time employed in the planning and production of yarn, fabrics and clothing phases are needed. To obtain QR, it is therefore necessary to analyse certain conditions and/or constraints both internal and external to the company These conditions have very high . costs and require huge changes both inside the company and in company relations with its partners and with the environment in which it operates.

Technological variables
QR aims to speed up all the processes of the textile-apparel chain and not only the process of order management completion. Therefore, this requires not only the reduction in order management times but also in design[24], manufacturing and production times. In the area of design, a process of technological and cultural transformation is in

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progress which is modifying the way in which designs are conceived, developed and transferred to machines for the printing of fabrics. An even larger cultural jump is that of the growing importance of the ability to industrialize the product, without diminishing the creativity of the designer. A good example of this (it is in an advanced experimental stage) is the simulation of clothing test, which is carried out using instruments based on the theory of elastic deformation. Moreover, it also seems certain that, in the fairly near future, digital designs will be exchangeable between machines all over the world and the projects (i.e. the designs) will be transferred from the design stations directly to the production stations. The production systems also need changing in order to adapt to the response times required by QR. The work on new methods of dyeing and weaving and on CAD-CAM systems is particularly interesting in that it makes it possible to respond more quickly both for continuative products and for fashion products[25]. The new dyeing and weaving plants allow greater exibility as regards the type of fabric and the designs that can be produced, including some types of weaving that are impossible with traditional methods. A further condition for the application of QR is better understanding of the colouring processes and a stricter control of all its aspects on the part of textile chemists. In fact, all the phases of the transformation process from bre into fabric, and the dyeing and printing phases present the biggest opportunities for innovation in the face of the growing environmental constraints[26]. To shorten the dyeing process lead time, whenever the type of product desired allows this, dyeing can be done in the advanced production phases, by locating warehouses in upstream phases. This reduces the global value of warehouses and increases their fungibility, reducing both the risks of unsold stock and the need to resort to clearance sales. Fabric delivery time can be dropped from the typical 120 days of bre dyeing to 30 days using piece dyeing and to 60 days using yarn dyeing. In addition to the technological adjustment of the dyeing equipment, a radical change is imposed on the modes of operation and in the distribution of risks between the various actors in the supply chain. The weaver and the producer of yarn must operate systematically and according to forecast, or better still, on anticipated orders and not only to order. This change in production launching criteria becomes possible if the variety of yarns and/or fabrics is reduced and the

information coming from phases downstream is used effectively If applied, these two . actions permit a reduction in forecasting risk, allowing shorter delivery times, without excess stock in the warehouse. It is also noteworthy that possible forecasting errors in the upstream phase are less serious than those downstream since the products are more fungible.

Organizational variables
The internal company conditions which are most binding in the process of adopting QR seem to of the cultural-organizational type. Nowadays, it is rmly established that good results can be obtained by the adoption of information technologies and telecommunications. Certain companies have highlighted the fact that the adoption of telecommunication services both requires and causes organizational changes. These changes due to the introduction of new technologies do not only affect operational procedures, but also technical systems, management attitudes and company roles: in short, they affect the whole organization of the company It is the view . both of managers and researchers who have seen and studied the introduction of information/telecommunication technologies, that this adoption modies the whole work process, thus making it necessary to dene new professional gures, and to redene traditional roles. The inuence of this is very relevant in marketing, where the use of interactive telecommunication systems coincides with the reduction of external sales personnel. In quantitative terms, fewer personnel are needed in order to achieve information exchanges in commercial-productive interaction (cf. technological innovation as a substitution factor). If, however, telecommunications have reduced the importance of the middle manager in the area of external relations, they have reinforced the role of managers in the head office, since they have to process the information and have direct control over operations (see technological innovation as a transformation/role-enriching factor). Whenever the adoption of these communication technologies is accompanied by the necessary organizational changes at all possible levels of action and is properly integrated with the existing information system, changes in the typical methods of the decision-making process occur, so that useful support is gained for routine decision making, but also for more complex decisions. In fact, faster access to greater quantities of

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information is obtained and, above all, this information park can be adapted to the information needs of the decision maker, so that the problem of bounded rationality is reduced. The achievement of an interactive information exchange between the textile manufacturer, the garment manufacturer and the distributor means that information coming from the downstream phases of the operative chain can be dealt with in real time, through centralized and co-ordinated elaboration between the various company functions, of the most appropriate purchasing and sales strategies in terms of each single reference for each customer. This contradicts the statement, often made, that the obstacles to the diffusion of telecommunication services also originate from the reduction in interpersonal contact. Company experience demonstrates the contrary: that the adoption of telecommunication services favours and indeed requires greater integration in both intra- and inter-company activities.

perception of what the applications and potential of telecommunications might be.

Context variables
The establishment of new relations between players in the chain, which have been catalysed and caused by information-telecommunication exchanges, is basic to the achievement of QR. This simple statement encapsulates the complexity of a change which needs the determination and involvement of all the partners if it is to become reality . As far as the role of information technologies is concerned, the managers in mediumto large-size manufacturers which have invested in these technologies seem now to have a broader vision of telecommunications and its potential, even if this is still only at a perceptive level, but it is often only latent in small-sized companies of which there are many in the very fragmented textile-apparel sector. As far as the distribution counterpart is concerned, the growth of structures and logics which are correlated to so-called modern commerce (large-scale distribution, organized distribution, purchasing groups, affiliation between sales outlets through licensing and franchising, etc.) should aid the overcoming of the organizational and cultural barrier which still today presents obstacles to information integration. The examples cited refer, in fact, to telecommunication links between manufacturers and distributors of a privileged type, which demonstrates that the establishment of information exchanges through telecommunication is made easier when the partners have good organizational capacities and the perception of both the problematic aspects and the current state of competitiveness between them and/or when one of the partners has a guiding role. Still on the subject of the external context, as far as the prerequisites or the constraints concerning the technical adoption of both EDI and bar coding of references and packages, there is considerable difficulty in dening de jure standards or in achieving de facto standards which can be universally useful. In particular, for EDI the rather limited diffusion seems to derive from a vicious circle, in many of the companies analysed: de facto standards cannot develop because of the lack of diffusion of EDI, and EDI cannot develop because of the lack of standardization. As regards this last aspect of the problem, mention should be made of Editex which represents a very important initiative towards greater denition and standardization in the textile-apparel industry .

management should be properly informed on the subject of EDI, and should know what benets can be obtained as well as the size of the investment

It can thus be stated that an indispensable condition for the successful adoption of telecommunication services is that management should be properly informed on the subject of EDI, and should know what benets can be obtained as well as the size of the investment. There is the feeling that a widespread use of telecommunications makes information exchanges unsafe in that they can easily be intercepted and manipulated, and also that data are less controllable as regards authorization and the legality of documents that are transmitted. There is also the fear that other outside organizations could gain access to condential data. Nevertheless, there are several technical solutions which already exist and ensure a full guarantee as regards the above-mentioned problems: EDI systems constructed in order to prevent direct contact between computers in different companies; data encoding; limited authorization for access to personnel; adjustment of laws as regards the legal status of documents that are transmitted electronically, etc. It is not, however, the technical objections that are most responsible for the inertia and resistance to change, but rather fear of the impact on the roles and the company functions that has been discussed above, and the limited and/or distorted

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Concluding observations
The results of this study, which has analysed QR strategy and the role played by information technology and telematics in the realization of this, can be summarized as follows. QR is a time-based strategy which requires greater collaboration along the whole textileapparel chain, from the yarn manufacturer, the fabric manufacturer, the garment manufacturer through to the distributor. Hence, the choices and behaviour of the guiding companies within the chain seem to be fundamental. Even though ultimately QR must be the common aim towards which all the companies in the chain should work, independently of their role or the product they produce or distribute in the chain (basic/continuative, seasonal, fashion), in that it is a strategy that makes it possible to increase company competitiveness, the application of QR today seems to be easier in the case of basic/continuative products. The operative integration of the players in the chain, a key requirement in QR, both demands and favours the full use of telecommunications, where the relations between telecommunications and integration strategies reinforce each other (cf. virtuous circle). The adoption of information technologies and telecommunications brings advantages such as the reduction of document transfer times between companies, and an increase in reliability, precision and certainty in data transfer, and the elimination of document insertion time in company information systems. However, QR strategy is achieved not only through the support of innovative technologies oriented to the management of the information ow, such as information technologies and telecommunications using the bar code and scanner systems, but also through the innovative management of the physical ow, such as the denition of planning and scheduling systems integrated downstream, exible-modular systems for garment production, innovative systems for textile dyeing, and new design systems in the garment and textile sectors[27]. The technological and organizational impact which this produces is enormous, and if the adoption process is to be successful it has to overcome the friction inherent to every process of change. The complexity of the process of change is also very high because of the necessary acceptance of a series of conditions, prerequisites and constraints, both within and without the company An illustration of this can be found . if one considers the numerousness and

diversity of the actors involved in their aims, operative methods, relations with the nal customers, and roles within the chain and the complex culture of the textile-clothing sector, in terms of the variety of products offered, purchasing procedures, and the expectations and habits of the customers. To sum up, it can be said that the operative strategy of QR could use the opportunities offered by modern technologies to redesign the processes of the entire textile-garment chain. In order to achieve this very difficult aim, serious business process re-engineering is necessary, as well as an in-depth analysis of current processes, in terms of creating links between the various activities and decisions, and comparing them with the new operative modalities which are becoming more widespread with the introduction of these new technologies into companies[28]. Thus, one aim of company planning must be to nd a new system which modies its activities and its traditional way of performing these activities. This is possible, as has been shown through the examples presented here, but not easy, since the obstacles to overcome in order to achieve competitiveness through quick response are numerous.

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