On Demand Production – Is it possible ? A Talk With Andrea Monti – SEI Laser

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We recently spoke to Andrea Monti from SEI laser recently regarding an important topic related to our industry- On Demand Production. With growing uncertainties in the industry in recent years, it is increasingly being felt by retailers and brands that they would like to limit their long exposure through shorter lead times between conception and delivery – essentially producing goods on demand. But this is an utterly difficult proposition given the complexities involved in creating processes to highly speed up production processes.

SANDEEP:

My guest today is Andrea Monty who is manager and consultant at Sei laser Italy. Sei laser Italy is a company born in the 80’s with laser applications in a great number of fields. May I welcome Andrea for the talks.

ANDREA:

Thank you very much Sandeep, I’m very glad to be here and join you with this beautiful audience and this very welcome friendly chat with professionals.

SANDEEP:

Thank you Andrea, most welcome and as we all know we’re going through a big crisis and we have to change our way of working and we have to adjust, we have to adapt, we have to come out with new solutions. My first question to you would be about the current situation in Italy, Please tell us about that . 

ANDREA:

We all know that our country after China has been the first to be hit and it has been badly hit actually. Our company is really in the area which has been most hit by the Covid 19 and we are now facing an evolution in the situation which was very bad at the beginning but now we have a sensible reduction of new cases. 

There’s much fewer deaths every day compared to previous periods and that led our government to ease the very tight lockdown which was established at the very beginning in order to face this exceptional and terrible situation. 

On our side as a company as SEI laser, somehow we have been lucky because we are laser experts and we work in several different fields. It means that it’s not just textile or denim for us but we work a lot in other applications. Some of these applications deal with the world of medicines so blisters for instance , for the industry medicines or laser cutting machines for plastic gear that it is used for protection nowadays against Covid. 

So we really never ended our production and now we are back to 100% of production. We follow all the protections and the SOPs from our government. The situation is really getting better and the industries have already started to recover.

SANDEEP:

So, coming to our topic of today’s discussion- On demand manufacturing, . So there have been a lot of interpretations about this- a lot of also talk about it. What is your definition because people define it differently.

ANDREA:

Oh yeah true absolutely there has been a lot of talking regarding that. 

A couple of years ago, we were approached by e-commerce companies. They knew we were laser experts and they came with a very interesting question. Basically they said well :

‘Andrea, we have a problem or at least we feel we have a problem. Our usual supply chain has timings and volumes that for us are difficult to cope with ,our customers who are the consumers basically want to see something on the web, they like it, they click on it, they pay it and then within three days maximum they want to receive that home. ‘

Now with the usual supply chain we have to work a lot in advance with that and we have to walk your quantities, make it trials. We are never 100% sure what is going to be received etc. And we have to make a lot of samples and it takes a lot of time for transportation by ship from manufacturers to other locations, massive quantities and so on. 

We asked them what would you like then? 

Well we want our customers to receive a ready-made garment made to their taste, personalized possibly and maybe with his specific size of the garment in three days from the order. 

You can imagine our first answer was okay, forget it, it’s impossible thank you bye bye. Then they came back and they said that again and for the second time we said okay it’s impossible, forget it. 

Then they came a third time and the third time our team sat down and we said –

Hey! look we have to change the angle of view of this thing we have to think that this is possible simply we have to face, we have to understand what do we need to make it actually possible, every single step. And in a way we were lucky because of our history. This company is a company of engineers of laser experts who has been working with lasers for over 30 years, I mean in every possible application or field: name a material and we produce the machines to cut it or to engrave it, etc (stone, paper, glass, metal, textile) and we realized that from a hardware point of view, we already had the solution in our hands coming from a completely different field which had nothing to do with textiles but it was a very massive solid reliable hardware.’ 

So our technicians, our engineers they said -hey look we need to adapt, we need to improve, we need to enhance the capacities of these machines and adapt them according to the customer needs and then we’d started hearing– talking to customers, to brands to garment makers and asking them what do you exactly need and a lot of questions came out. 

A lot of interesting things and finally we made this innovative product that would be on the market now. Actually it’s a system that starts working from the fabric and basically you get at the end all the pieces of blue jeans. In this case, made through laser engraving, cutting at the same time and with a robot solution that will pile all the pieces up so that they can reach the stitching lines. 

The interesting thing is that we can basically skipped most, if not 100% of the usual laundry operations so there is very little water consumption: is only at the end for a normal wash and basically no chemicals so a dramatic way, a dramatic improvement towards eco-sustainability and to shorten up the supply chain.

Now, the interesting thing is the concept of these systems, we heard what customers were asking, is that it can be placed anywhere, it doesn’t need you know air conditioning or special rooms or whatever. 

You can put it in the desert, you could put it in in the middle of a city and in fact our first installations are going into Los Angeles, there will be fully operational I believe by the end of the year and thanks to an agreement with one of our customers which actually is a south Asian company which has opened these branches in the United States. For these on-demand, fast quick manufacturing of blue jeans. So what was impossible at the beginning has become possible ultimately.

SANDEEP:

So what is the total lead time, let’s say from the time the order is placed by a customer and the fabric, the time and everything put together, how much time it should take to complete the garment?

ANDREA:

We are entering a phase where we have to ease the relationship between the designers, the brands and their specific needs and the garment makers. So we have embedded a 3D software that we have developed ourselves because originally this company was a company of software at the very beginning and the interesting thing is that this software is capable of working in 2D and 3D, so it means that a designer can descend to the company that has the machine its own layout 2D or 3D the machine will absorb it, will transfer all the design on a 3D model. You can work actually on that 3D model on the machine, no need to go to Photoshop or other software or whatsoever, you do it there in real time at the moment and once you’re satisfied with the garment you ask your customer “do you like it”, if they say yes, you push the button and then the machine will automatically transform that again into a 3D layer but optimizing immediately every possible size that you have put inside and it will do automatically the sizes for the cutting because this particular laser solution does the marking, the design and the cutting at the same time.

So let’s say that a complicated garment will take a minute and a half two minutes- approx. to be done by the machine. Then picked up and sent to stitching lines: that allows, depending on the design of course, to have from some hundred to a thousand garments per day and so basically you can achieve the result of sending them to the final consumer within the famous two or three days or whatsoever, by using a local DHL or UPS or whatever delivery is available because it’s just the time of stitching, a home wash and then you send it. 

So it’s a little miracle that comes through and the fun part of this is very nice.

SANDEEP:

But the fabric has to be there because if the fabric has to be available that is a pre requisite.

ANDREA:

Of course you can work on with standard fabrics, you can also work with special fabrics. Now the interesting thing is that we we thought of textile with all the respect for denim, that we love. 

We’re denim lovers and denim is a part of textiles so with this system you can work also other fabrics- you can work 100 percent cotton fabrics, you can work artificial fabrics, you can work even on TPU and you can even make shoes if you want or accessories depending on your final market. From that point of view, there is no limit outside. I mean it’s interesting, it’s a disrupting technology and we think that you know I would really speak of close to the customer manufacturing. 

SANDEEP:

So do you see this, let’s say if this model is successful and there’s a lot of productions. Let’s say in the U.S people want to do it close to their cities, they want to make the production in their country itself in different places. So how does you balance the production which is going on

in other countries in Asia, Turkey & other places?

ANDREA:

This is an important question, Sandeep. I think there’s a misuse of the word called the re-shoring. I would say instead of re-shoring, proximity manufacturing, because there is something lying below it that makes you assume that this technology is against the traditional technology or not at all. I mean this technology is for services, for giving solutions to customers. In fact, here in SEI Laser we say we don’t sell machines, we sell laser solutions because we need to understand what customers really want. 

In this case, this technology goes hand in hand together with the traditional production, because mass production will always be there. Mass production will increase even in the future, obviously it will have to be more eco-sustainable, it will have to be rethink sometimes with more attention to certain areas but this new high tech is not a revolution: is an evolution.

It’s something that is positive, it will lead most probably exactly the same players who are doing the blue jeans nowadays to make them not only in the country where they have their mother company, but in other countries as well, in order to give the local quick support to that fast fashion or fast production that is needed. 

Now I’m not saying that there will be no new incomer but this is also good news. Obviously, there will be some new brands, some small companies that cannot afford big productions. They will seek solutions like that in order to be close to their customers and give them the service that they want. 

We’re all in the industry and industry needs to make profit at the end. So this is something that will lead to profit for special things and it will be calling the traditional production because any company everywhere around the world that is capable of giving the good answers to their customers specific needs is a winner.

SANDEEP:

Absolutely, it’s all about solutions and innovative solutions that we can give to the customers. So do you feel that these are two complementary things they don’t need to compete with each other basically they are supplementing each other ?

ANDREA:

Yes, absolutely, you know this near-shoring or proximity manufacturing has also some other positive very positive points, because this will also create new jobs. This will finally give back profit to many companies. If we have to say what are the main problems that many traditional companies are facing nowadays is that most probably the actual supply chain is too slow. 

It takes too much time and time is essential nowadays and there is also a lot of waste. I mean just think of the amount of garments which are wasted every year. You know either brands that dig a hole in the ground and then they burn them which is absolutely absurd. The main point is changing the business model or adapting to changes, which in any case are forced or will be partially forced by this situation and that will lead to evolution. The first word that all of us should bear in mind is ‘No more waste’ means saving money, saving time, giving new opportunities, new jobs. 

Just think for instance the impact of technology and the impact of digital technology: we are fully into that. Some say this is the future… no it’s not, it’s already happening! With the advent of these 3D software for instance and as I said we have put our own 3D software on a machine that works 2D and 3D etc. 

In the real time with a real laser just think of the fact that usually when the designers make new collections only 15% of that is accepted by the final customer, by the brand. All the rest is the 85%, is rejected. Now when you adopt 3D modeling, you are able to communicate immediately with the counterpart on the other side of the world and you can send it to them immediately, directly online. You can show them how the garment will be and you can send to them in two days the physical final garment exactly as they have seen it on the screen. 

The rejections will drop because you are already doing something which is exactly close to what the customer was looking for. We all know that a new sample cost is between $1,500-2,000. 

So just imagine how much money already you save at that very first step and then you know, the usual procedure to make new samples usually takes ages – 20, 25, 30 days. Now this is a matter of hours, you can have it in real time. It’s just the time zone difference, you play with that and it happens something which makes an incredible difference. Obviously this opens the path to new jobs, for sure there will be a lack of specific technically prepared designers but we are not talking about rocket science. This is something that even normal people can learn because it has to be simple and if it is simple it works.

SANDEEP:

Absolutely I think this is very important coming from the consumer perspective, you mentioned of course time is very important. They are looking for faster speeds, the retailers are all looking for speed, personalization, timely deliveries and apart from this what other changes in consumer preferences do you see coming up?

ANDREA:

Well yeah that’s a question that is spanning all around you know, because everybody is trying to have a sort of principle to answer to that. Having said that, apart from probably the first step of revenge buying, at the very beginning where people will be so happy that finally they can get out into shops and buy something and show it etc. 

But I think that there will be other motivations in the next future that came with this period and most probably they’re here to stay. We have all been talking regarding sustainability during these years. Nowadays, it becomes even more important than before. 

So consumers they will be back to shops but at the same time e-commerce and home delivery have become normality standard you know, and even the necessity of smart working and e-learning has suddenly improved. You know, the workers, the people’s perception towards the integration of digital and the real world so we really now understand it’s visible, it works and it gives advantages, I think there will be an evolution that will add to the usual models of creation, manufacturing and delivery. You know, one of the things that I think consumers will like in the next future, and companies like us, but even brands, everybody: is that we should seek for interaction with the final customer.

What is the real meaning of customization? It means to play together with customers, engage them. Just think that there are areas which were not even explored till yesterday in marketing and in garment making. I’ll just make an example of something that I’ve seen during these days which is pretty interesting- virtual garments, what is that?

I don’t know how you or our audience is familiar with the video games but there’s already some in the most common popular video games. There is already interaction between brands, between marketing, garment making and the games themselves. 

Making examples, in the video game The Sims, for the season there is a famous brand collection that you can buy and actually it’s a copy of the real garments that you can buy in shops. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the video game called Fortnite, my kids play with Fortnite now on. 

In Fortnite recently there has been a concert, a virtual concert, because obviously normal concerts are not allowed nowadays, but there has been this virtual concert by a famous rapper, can’t remember the name because this is for kids, but it’s a famous rapper and obviously it was his Avatar running the show, with his voice running the show inside the game. And inside the game, the avatar of this famous guy was wearing shoes which were sponsored by a famous brand and these shoes are available for real. 

Now, do you know what was the audience of that? 12 million people. 12 million people watching and loving online advertising and what you see there it’s something that you can manufacture for real and that you can do for real and that you can personalize for real, by putting your name, by changing the colors and whatever. 

So it really opens a new world also for consumers, it means that consumers will always buy depending on their spending capability.

Of course, depending on their age, depending on their geography, on their taste everything that we know but they will be keeping both levels- this new level and the traditional level. 

On top of that, I would like to remember all of us in an optimistic way of thinking that the world population is still growing and it will grow, I mean in the last 100 years it has been growing much more than for millenniums. 

I mean, at the beginning of the last century there were one billion people in the world and nowadays we are almost 8 billion so it will grow up and all these people will need clothes and they will need blue jeans. Now I’m not saying that it will be all luxury, there will be every possible level of buying, but it will increase in any case in terms of numbers and by using new modern means all these population of consumers will want things fast, beautiful, at reasonable price and so on. 

One last point, that is a thing you know is a personal reflection, I would like to spend few words regarding compassion, understanding, solidarity; why there has been a lot of talking during these days, because when the Covid spread around the world some brands panicked and they cancelled orders suddenly, creating problems to the whole supply chain. Somehow this was expected, but problems are there. 

On the other side, there are others who didn’t cancel the orders but they tried to reduce the costs or prices of the garments and then there are others who kept their commitments and uh I think that somehow in the next future, the consumers hopefully they will reward them, you know all those brands and manufacturers who have been showing, as I have said, fairness, commitment, understanding, solidarity, compassion. I think this is another important thing that we will all have to aim to.

SANDEEP:

Yeah, that’s a wonderful point and also your example of virtual presentation of garments in a show that is a very real life example of how we can reach out to a very large base of customers and get their reactions on those products and quickly respond to that. 

I would say and of course compassion is so important today as livelihoods of millions of people are at stake .

I’m really very not very sure how much consumers will remember after one year what the brands have done. But if they do remember it’s very good because we need to reward people who are fair, who are with their customers, who support their supply chain, who support their employees so I mean there has to be reward for fairness.

ANDREA:

Yes I think so and I would like you to also send it to you and to your audience a positive message because okay, we are all facing a very difficult tough situation as we in Italy we have been experiencing and we’re still experiencing it, you know in a very hard way somehow. But you know, when things get difficult, usually they put challenges and the human brain, mankind, finds solutions for that – is pushed to find solutions. 

So I would like to mention some words about this current situation of positive resilience. Thank god we are all into a very resilient industry which is the denim industry, that exists since 150 years and it has been proven to be resilient and it will be resilient, it will resist and it will live expansion because you know the market is still expanding because of that growth of population that I mentioned before. 

I would say: inception of new technology and the solutions opening of new markets, new opportunities, new jobs, increasing the number of pieces manufactured in garments it will not happen immediately but it will happen through this value chain that will give better and better opportunities, because this is becoming a moment of opportunities: is the dawn of a high tech digital evolution in the garment industry that will create new opportunities for new jobs.

And finally I would say sharing and sharing honestly. I have to public thank you for the excellent work that you’re doing Sandeep, because with sharing all these communications, all these know-how, this point of view in our industry, you are doing an extremely precious work for the community, for all of us. We are doing a tremendous great job I would really like to thank you from the deep of my heart and saying that, I would just add you know all these words I told you: resiliency, expansion, inception, opening and so on they are positive words. 

Let’s look with confidence to the future even if it’s tough. We are in the tunnel but there is a light at the end of the tunnel and I’m pretty sure that soon, hopefully soon,  bright new days will be back again.

ANDREA:

Thank you Andrea this is a wonderfully positive closing note here given. We don’t need to be demotivated by this situation currently, what we have and the key words that you’re given are very crucial. We need to be positive about the future. We will recover our business our lives in a couple of months or maybe let’s say in a year or something it should be back to normal and we’ll probably come out much better as a human race probably we might come out much better do much better. Take care of our mother earth and our people in a much better way.

ANDREA:

Yes, we all hope that and we are all aiming for that. Thank you very much.

SANDEEP:
Thank you Andrea it was a pleasure talking to you, thank you for sharing your talks and coming here.


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