Magazine Article | February 16, 2007

Reduce Order Turnaround By 80%

Source: Innovative Retail Technologies

Customized embroidery and apparel manufacturer/retailer Ashworth, Inc. makes its supply chain logistics processes paperless and reaps all kinds of benefits.

Integrated Solutions For Retailers, March 2007

Ashworth, Inc. is a golf-inspired, customized apparel manufacturer/retailer that markets its products worldwide in golf pro shops, upscale department and specialty stores, and more than one dozen Ashworth retail outlets. One of the challenges of Ashworth's business is that many of its customers prefer to order small quantities (e.g. fewer than six garments) of each style at a time. This used to cause the company's embroidery machines to be constantly stopped and retooled with new threads, creating a bottleneck in Ashworth's workflow.

Following a licensing contract with Callaway Golf Company and the acquisitions of Gekko Brands LLC, Ashworth constructed a new manufacturing facility and changed from a manual, batch-based workflow to a highly automated workflow. The result was a $30 million, 200,000 sq. ft. embroidery and distribution center (EDC), which is outfitted with the latest inventory and materials storage carousels, RFID (radio frequency identification) tags and readers, display terminals, and ASRSs (automated storage and retrieval systems).

Simulate Logistics Success, Then Make It Happen
Ashworth's design team of Matt Peters, VP of embroidery and distribution; Jan Buettner, program manager; and Mark Massen, project manager, headed up the project. The team used a simulation tool to design a new work environment. Ashworth also created its own logistics software to integrate its conveyors, carousels, ASRSs, and scanners. Several vendors were called upon to develop the manufacturer's new work environment, including FKI Logistex for the conveyor system and totes, White Systems for the carousels and ASRSs, and Gartner Storage & Sorter Systems for the RFID tags and readers, automated garment hangers/clamps, and trolleys.

Don't Expect RFID Plug And Play Installations
During the rollout, a big challenge was getting the RFID tags and readers to work properly. "RFID is very different from bar code technology," says Peters. "Our equipment was from Germany, the RFID chips were coated in France, and the RFID readers were assembled in the United States." An engineer from Gartner Storage & Sorter Systems conducted a site survey to detect and reduce the number of obstacles interfering with the RFID signal.

The new logistics system uses software that calculates the most efficient work for each embroidery machine and assigns garments to each workstation. Each garment is placed on a hanger/clamp, which is outfitted with an RFID tag that is programmed with the work order instructions. Every time a garment passes by an RFID reader, a display screen lights up showing the operator which customer the garment belongs to and which steps in the work process need to be completed. Two other timesavers in the new system are the carousels and the ASRSs. Prior to using the carousels, each operator had to determine the correct thread color from a 650-color thread library, select the amount of thread that was needed, and return the remaining spools of thread for another operator to use. Under the new system, the correct thread color and amount of thread is automatically selected for the operator. Once a thread carrier approaches a carousel, one of the bin positions lights up, letting the operator know which thread to pull.

According to Buettner, the automated system has reduced the number of times an operator handles each garment from 85 to 10 (and as few as 3 times if a garment doesn't need embroidering). "We are now able to offer customized embroidering services to our customers with an average turnaround time of one day compared with five days previously," says Buettner.

Buettner estimates that efficiencies gained with the new logistics solution will provide the manufacturer/retailer with the capacity to more than double its current business. More important, however, is that Ashworth has gained a competitive advantage in the golf apparel market.

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