Eliminate Decoration Quality Returns by Integrating Art in the Order
EmbTrak has helped customers of all sizes reduce customer quality returns to almost zero while reducing quality control labor.
EmbTrak's first engagement was in early 2000 with Slazenger Golf in Greenville, SC. We were asked to redevelop their proprietary laptop Sales system used by 42 field sales reps. Slazenger was pleased with the result and asked if we could do anything to improve their order fulfillment process for sales orders decorated with embroidered logos. As we reviewed their processes we found that customer returns were routinely in excess of 2% of sales, in spite of multiple quality checks. We also found that nearly all customer returns were due to wrong location, wrong logo or wrong thread color selection. The problem was that the final quality checker was evaluating garments based on bad order data. The garment and stitching could look great and they could match the order instructions but the checker could not know when the instructions were wrong.
Throwing more labor into quality checking is the typical approach to improving quality, but does not get at the root problem.
The company used a major Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system which received orders from the field sales reps and managed inventory, shipping and financials. However, for order fulfillment, the ERP simply printed a paper order for the embroidery department. This order listed garments and had instructions from the sales reps. All art work, thread selection, proofing and even work orders were managed manually. The colorist would start by calling the sales rep to clarify the notes and confirm the logo choice. Then the colorist would search through paper files for previous orders by the same customer to find out what color ways were used on previous orders. Then color way paper files were searched to find the standard coloring instructions for the logo. Finally, the colorist looked up the stitch file and used digitizing software to select thread colors by stop. Paper work orders were typed up using a Word form with thread numbers for each colorway. Once printed, corrections were handwritten.
The shortcomings in this process were obvious. Manual transcription leads to errors. Handwritten corrections are often unclear. Manual lookup of previous orders and color cards is time consuming and prone to error. A single colorist could prepare about four typical work orders per hour. The process was only acceptable because it was typical of every other company in the golf apparel business.
EmbTrak decided to develop a single computer program which would integrate the live stitch file image (just like digitizing software), thread color selection by stop and order data on one screen. Additionally, the program should save all color ways for every line item on the order and retrieve those combinations automatically for reorders. Finally, all the information necessary for embroidery machine operators should be printed on one sheet with an image of the actual logo.
EmbTrak developed a proprietary stitch file viewer and built the first version around the 'Color Coordination' function. We also developed an interface between the Slazenger AS/400 based ERP sales order system and our program so that sales orders would arrive in EmbTrak automatically and correctly. With EmbTrak, users were able to see newly imported garment orders on the screen, select the logo and visually confirm it was the right one. They selected the logo position and also entered manufacturer thread colors on each line. They could see a bitmap picture of the garment behind the logo. The screen also contained a panel in which color ways could be created and saved. Paper file lookup was eliminated. Not only was the process anywhere from two to six times faster than the manual approach, but it was also error free. Why? Because the user could see the logo and see the selected colors in the logo image on the screen for each line item on order. Also, the printed work order accurately presented all this data clearly for production workers.
The quality impact was immediate. With proper instructions, the machine operators could produce flawless work. Customer returns dropped to almost zero. Quality control labor decreased. One colorist now able to do the work previously done by three. As one colorist said at the time, "It's a beautiful thing--you select a Work Order, you select a design from the customer's drop down list, you click ‘Match’ and all the thread colors come in, and you're done!"
The EmbTrak solution for Slazenger quickly became the industry standard and has now been implemented at most leading golf apparel brands in North America, from small shops like Martin Golf and DJ Ross to major brands such as Cutter and Buck and TaylorMade-Adidas Golf. Very low customer quality returns and quick fulfillment times are now the standard in this very competitive market.
Although the EmbTrak program has grown to meet the needs of the entire decoration industry, from small embroiderers to large screen printers, we continue to stress our process oriented approach to improving business performance. And, our unique Color Coordination capability is still the heart of the product.