SUN SPORTSWEAR POURING MILLIONS INTO TECHNOLOGY CAD, NEW PRESSES AND BAR CODES KEEP SUN ON TOP
Byline: ROBERT SPECTOR
KENT, Wash. (FNS)--Sun Sportswear is using the latest technology and equipment to maintain its niche as a high-volume, low-cost producer of screenprinted garments. Sun spent over $2 million to improve its technology last year and will spend another $2 million before the end of 1994, according to company president Larry Mounger. "We are going to be on the edge of new technology because the companies that have failed in this industry have either not had the right licenses or their technology was so far behind," Mounger said. Sun, which claims to be the nation's largest producer of silkscreened apparel, is already well established with licensing contracts. The company produced 21 million units last year, and sales totaled $105 million. Sun's license lineup includes The Lion King, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, Batman, Garfield the Cat, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, 101 Dalmatians, National Wildlife Federation, TV's Home Improve-ment and Looney Toons characters illustrated in combination with logos from Major League Baseball, the National Football League and the National Hockey League. Technology, however, is just as important as licensing contracts to Sun officials. Beginning in early 1993 and continuing into 1994, Sun added six Precision 12-color screenprinting presses and two Precision 16-color Ultimate screenprinting presses. Sun now has a total of 15 presses in its 230,000-square-foot headquarters facility, where 65 percent of its production is done. The company can screenprint 120,000 units a day. The Ultimate press can produce a 12- or 16-color spot print, a belt print or a print on both sides of the garment. "Normally, a press that will do a spot or chest print won't do the arms," Mounger explained. "Or you will have a belt print that will print on the arms or the bottom, but not both." By printing on both sides of the garment, the Ultimate eliminates one full production setup (which takes one hour), saving time and money. Sun's decision to add the new presses was based on high customer demand for designs with more colors and more printing. "Once you start showing customers 12 colors and [16-color] Ultimate designs, that's what they want," said Mounger. "They don't want to go back to the four-color spot prints." The new presses added more production internally and at a lower cost. In 1993, without those presses, Sun was forced to subcontract more than $3 million in production. Mounger, however, admitted that Sun is not fully exploiting the new machines yet. "There are a few little glitches that have to be worked out," he said. "It's brand new technology. The promise is there. But, at this point, it's not up to 100 percent production efficiency." Sun's in-house maintenance engineers and research and development departments perform much of the modification and adjustments of the machines. The company also receives help from the manufacturer. Sun is upgrading technology in its art department as well as on its production floor. To improve the productivity of that department, Sun added a new Macintosh Quartra 650 computer-aided-design system last year that is run on Sun's own customized software. "We are trying to get more finished artwork out in a shorter period of time," Mounger said. Previously, Sun's artists would do hand sketches, followed by a black-line sketch and then a full-color sketch. It would take eight to 10 hours to do a completed sketch and produce a comp of the design. Now, when an artist is fully trained on the new CAD system (which generally takes about two or three weeks), the artist's initial black-line sketch can be loaded into the computer. The artist produces the finished artwork on the computer. It is then transmitted electronically into finished transparencies. "It cuts out a great deal of time, makes our artists more productive, produces better completed artwork and decreases overall production costs," Mounger explained. Mounger said Sun is "just starting to see the results of the CAD system. We feel our staff will be fully trained by the end of the third quarter. Once we get everyone trained proficiently on this equipment, it's going to cost us less to produce finished art." Sun works on a just-in-time production schedule. The company acquires blank garments by either buying packaged goods from mills or buying fabric and trim and then contracting to have garments manufactured to its specifications. Garments are not printed until there is an order. For new designs, the company shows the customer the finished artwork, which is usually done on comps. "In order to avoid any interruptions in our manufacturing flow, we have to standardize as much as possible," said Mounger. "We have to have larger orders because individual, non-standardized orders interrupt our high-volume flow." To achieve just-in-time production and be able to replenish customers' inventory as quickly as possible, Sun is working on a new bar-coding inventory system. For example, if a customer such as Kmart places an order for 12,000 dozen garments, Sun will ship 6,000 dozen. Then, once the goods hit the floor and the customer gets sell-throughs, that data is transmitted to its corporate office. Then every Sunday night or every other Sunday night, a purchase order is transmitted to Sun, which then replenishes the stock. The company screenprints with non-toxic plastisol and water-based inks. Sun makes all of its own inks and works with suppliers to develop them. Non-toxic solvents are used to clean the equipment. Sun has no immediate plans to add more printing equipment. "But we're always looking," Mounger said. "We've got to stay ahead of the curve." Sun's sales for the year ending December 31, 1993, were $104.8 million, compared to $70.6 million for 1992. Net income for 1993 was $2.7 million, or 49 cents a share, compared to a loss of $517,000, or 9 cents. Almost 75 percent of sales were made to three customers: Wal-Mart, Kmart and Target. Because most of Sun's sales go to these three major mass retailers, the company is geared to long manufacturing runs.
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