On Point Manufacturing Interview
To talk about how OnPoint began, we need to talk a little about the book manufacturing industry. Kirby Best, Chairman of On Point, dedicated 35 years of his career to revolutionizing book manufacturing, the book supply chain and book information analysis. What people don’t realize is there are extraordinary similarities between the book and apparel industries. He start many of his speeches with the question: “Can you name a product that is made out of fabric and is cut, sewn, folded and shipped directly to the customer?”
Everybody says a suit, a shirt or a blouse, and his reply was: “actually a hard cover book.” A hard cover book is made out of cloth and is cut, sewn, folded and pressed". They quickly saw how an on-demand model would benefit the environment and eliminate waste. The book industry had very similar issues to the apparel industry in that there were warehouses full of unsold books that would end up being destroyed if they didn’t sell. There was the added benefit that with on-demand a product theoretically never goes “out of print.” On-demand allows any book to stay in print forever and the same is true for the apparel industry. Our on-demand model allows any garment to be reordered at a later time.
Using this experience, when Kirby left the book industry, he began a small manufacturing business of performance sleepwear. This was really in direct response to a need his wife had, due to an illness, for sleepwear that was moisture wicking, comfortable and looked nice. At the time, moisture wicking fabrics were far from mainstream. They were only used for professional athletes who needed performance gear. As their sleepwear gained in popularity, the company transitioned into using that material to make medical uniforms. They also learned that everyone wanted something different – a pocket here, two pockets there, short sleeves, long sleeves, etc. This confirmed that personalization was really important to the customer. It was at this point that OnPoint Manufacturing was born. They moved into their current Florence, AL facility in 2014. Now in addition to medical uniforms and sleepwear, they produce high-end womenswear, this all on-demand and personalized.
A NEW BUSINESS MODEL
The apparel industry has been operating on Henry Ford's in-line manufacturing system which revolutionized factories beginning in 1913. It has remained almost unchallenged since then. OnPoint takes the best of the in-line practices and adds a whole new dimension of automation, computer integration and a unique new element, "on-demand" customization. They developed a technologically advanced manufacturing and distribution system from order entry to delivery. Nearly all aspects of the manufacturing process are automated and driven by complex software systems, while retaining the fine skills of the seamstress. Each new system they implement makes their manufacturing process more efficient an helps their customers from creative concept to production faster.
They've been able to shorten the production cycle to 3-5 days and are currently working to shorten that time even further. Traditional manufacturing is typically 90/120 days for overseas production and around 45 days for domestic production. With such quick turnaround times, their model gives their customers the ability to get to market faster. They can also offer personalization options and expand their size options since their garments are not manufactured until an order is placed.
THE MANUFACTURING PROCESS
“Fit is not a sizing issue. It’s an inventory issue.” This is incredibly important. OPM can fit any person in the world, but no store wants to carry that much inventory. They can’t afford it, nor would the supply chain be efficient with it. That sort of statement is the start to rethinking everything.
OPM have the ability to make 40 million sizes for one garment. They're trying to figure out ways that will satisfy the customer’s fit requirements, but will not create excess inventory, multiple handling, or anything that’s inefficient or bad for the environment. Their system will allow a garment to be made exactly for an individual, rather than for a group of people that are a similar size in terms of weight and height.
A BETTER SOLUTION FOR THE ENVIRONEMENT
There is very little waste with on-demand manufacturing. The textile and apparel industries use a “push” business model, but on-demand uses a “pull” model. We manufacture a product when it has already been sold - one at a time. We’ve seen the issues that are present with excess inventory in this industry. Most inventory that sits in warehouses is never sold. What happens to it? It’s either heavily discounted, some may be recycled, or in the worst case it ends up destroyed/ burned, like we saw with Burberry a few years ago. An on-demand model eliminates the need for this excess inventory and warehousing of product. They also offer complete fulfillment services which eliminates multiple handling of items, reducing an item’s overall carbon footprint. It’s a highly efficient, environmentally friendly way to make clothing.
ON-DEMAND: THE NEW NORM?
They would love to say that on-demand manufacturing will become the new normal, but to think that it will take over 100% of the business. On-demand will play a very important role in the global manufacturing of goods, especially garments. But some items will always remain in mass production and will be better off mass produced, such as plain socks. But if you’re buying a blouse or a suit or shift dress, why not have it made exactly the way you want it made, the exact length you want, with the pockets where you want them, etc.? There are just so many advantages to it.
Back in March, OPM saw the shortage of PPE materials and wanted to do what they could to help the efforts. They have an incredibly skilled team of sewers who quickly created a mask pattern using their medical scrub fabric which is infused with an antimicrobial agent. They made the decision to switch their production lines to manufacturing masks late on a Thursday night. On Saturday they switched some equipment around, and by Sunday they were in full production and ramped up 100%. It was a very fast turnover and Kirby thinks that flexibility is important. It has been an interesting time as they shifted their process to a more traditional system manufacturing in bulk versus one-at-a-time. We’ve already begun to switch lines back to our on-demand model as PPE is starting to flood the market again from overseas. But what we’ve learned is being able to make these moves gives us what we call, “burst capacity.” This is the ability to maximize production in areas of high demand, like PPE. The ability to adapt quickly for burst capacity will become increasingly important in the future.