We’ve been talking about the requirements for setting up a small shop in the forum. Vesta writes:
I’ve gleaned some information from Kathleen’s book and blog about how to go about setting up a shop, but I’d love to have some input in one place. I am especially interested to explore this topic with a focus on lean. I don’t sew, really. So I’m coming at this from the perspective of someone who will not be able to apply first-hand best practices. I only know what I read or am told by the generous mentors in my life (I am truly blessed there).
So let’s start from square one. I have space. I have an industrial sewing machine that does the one thing that is needed for all of my products, at this point: single needle, straight stitch, light to medium-weight fabrics. I have professional, road-tested patterns. That’s it. No sewing machine operator. We have ongoing production in India, Guatemala, and Dallas. That will all continue. I’m thinking of doing some very simple products. They’re very simple, so I figure they’re perfect to cut our teeth on.
When I bring someone in to sew, I’m thinking of a sample maker-type person, with experience in a production setting. We would do very small production runs of, say, 30ish pieces. Pull production, from our current resellers. These quantities aren’t feasible with our current production partners. So it would be nice if we could launch untested products on our own, and move them to larger facilities if/when they take off.
Kathleen sent me an ad someone placed for work-for-hire: a sample maker in my area. I emailed them and am waiting to hear back. I have also found some really nice leads through the Texas Workforce Commission. So, what would y’all do next? Basically, what are the very first baby steps that y’all would do, if setting up a brand new shop. If you have a shop already, how did you start?
As for setting up your shop, think about the products, the seam finishes, and the order of operations. This will guide you through the equipment/tools you will need to support the venture.
This is good advice. Review pp 129-132 in the book for guidelines on seam analysis. You should also peruse the official seam classification charts. From there, you largely have to hunt/peck to find the machines that do each sort of assembly or you can go to your handy dandy local machine place (or get a referral) to find what sorts of machines perform those operations.
Then Crystal reminds us of the ergonomic handbook (pdf) provided by our lovely neighbors to the north.
I’m finding this really interesting to help decide what to put on the potential shopping list – it’s a sewing machine operators ergonomic handbook from the Canada Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees, Institute for Work & Health, and Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers, Inc. It’s making me think of variations in lighting, chair purchases, flooring – pretty much everything.
The link to the ergonomic handbook has been in the left side bar forever. There’s a lot of resources there (under apparel sites I like) that I think people forget about. With Chrystal’s reminder (since I forget these things too) I re-read the handbook and came up with a few ideas with respect to prioritizing your efforts because when you’re first starting out, everything can look equally important and you don’t know where to focus your efforts. Other than what I said in the book and what appears in the ergonomic handbook (you’ll have to review that for the list below to make sense), here are prioritized things to consider when setting up a small shop:
- Cutting tables (two, one for sorting) are often too low. Industrial cutting tables are adjustable so size the table to the operator. Commonly, pattern makers need their own table. These tables come in four foot sections and can be very pricey so I recommend buying them used. Amex Sewing Supply sells them so inexpensively (often at $25 a section) that it’s worth the drive to El Paso to get them. They don’t have any right now but they’d get them if they had orders. They also sell scads of other used things (also new); draw up a wish list, they’ll fill it.
- Spreader, you don’t need a pricey one at the outset.
- You need weights, clamps, staplers (tackers), large garbage cans and big push brooms.
- Mats mats mats mats mats. There are never enough of these in smaller shops. They’re expensive. Anywhere anyone is standing for any length of time needs a mat. This includes up and down the length of the cutting tables, sorting areas, ironing stations, inspection, packaging etc. This is an item ideally bought at auction. If your floors are wooden, this isn’t a problem. Also, you *must* insist that workers wear good shoes, particularly if they’re working on concrete. NO OPEN TOED SHOES, EVER. When I worked on concrete (my floors are wooden now) I wore big clunky shoes that construction workers wear. In the mornings they’d feel heavy and not particularly comfortable but by the end of the day, my feet never hurt. Tennis shoes, even the expensive ones will NOT provide the same function.
- The issue of chairs; often the seat pan is too deep for some (usually slender) workers. Chairs need to be individualized to the worker just as clothing is. One size does not fit all. The operator’s back often doesn’t rest against the back of the chair; these should be adjustable.
- Sewing machines. Customize the treadle and knee lift (some need padding) to the operator. Newer machines are better in this regard; many don’t have knee lifts at all. In general, older machines are a great buy cost-wise but they’re not as ergonomic. Newer machines (you can get these used too) are much better and additionally, cost less to operate as the machine design (motors) have evolved. As a matter of fact, the discussion in the forum from which this all comes, has evolved into a discussion of power requirements. This may or may not be updated on the front page at some point.
- Lighting lighting lighting. I can probably count on one hand (and still have fingers left over) the number of small shops I’ve seen that do have sufficient lighting. My current shop is poorly lit but then, I don’t have anyone working with me.
- Side tables (for sewing machines). These hold bundles and WIP. Observe the person sewing. Their shoulders should not raise nor lower in height moving materials on and off the tables.
- Work tables (inspection). Since inspection is done standing up (nearly always), these need to be sized to that job and these are nearly always too low. Again, the operators shoulders should not lower.
- Laundry carts are useful and again, should be sized for the job. C&A had little cute ones. The ones I have are large, designed to hold coat bundles which are bulky. Ideally, operators shouldn’t have to bend over too far to get things out of the bottom of a basket.
- Reduce repetitive motion. You can do this a couple of ways, through observation of the work in progress and work organization. Observation I can’t help you with because that’s as individualized as the dictates of your product. Strategy wise you can reduce bundle size (meaning, a single repeated operation). Second, switch out operations and vary the sewing operations that any one operator does. This is another benefit of “hand made” (single order processing by one operator; makes one item start to finish). Third, rotate duties as much as possible. A sewing operator should ideally be cross trained to cover floor girl duties, shipping, inspection etc.
- Observe your pressing stations. Operators should not have to lift their shoulders to press, nor stoop or bend over to process work. Having catchers will reduce the degree of effort an operator needs to exert to keep the work piece in place. There are more problems than this of course but most newer irons are ergonomically designed. It’s great if the weight of irons can be buttressed with springs. Pressers also need mats.
- Regarding final assembly stations, z-rack bars shouldn’t be too high; a worker shouldn’t need to lift their shoulder. Bars should be just high enough to clear the lower bar and any metal edges the garments may brush against in transit through the work place. If finished items are placed on rolling shelves, the shelves shouldn’t be too high or too low or if that is unavoidable, stools would be helpful to rest against.
- If you have any hand sewing done, these require still other work tables with larger work surfaces. The item should not rest on the worker’s lap (causing the head to tilt forward and down, neck strain), the worker should not have to work to restrain or keep the item in place. It should rest independently of the operator.
Feel free to add your two cents worth. JC reminds me I have pictures of all this stuff from my shop. Do you all need to see this? Part of me hesitates because I think it’d be redundant since it’s all over the web but what do you think?