The first thing you notice upon entering the 60,000-square-foot Nygård pants manufacturing facility on Notre Dame Avenue here is that none of the sewers are sitting down. They’re all on their feet. The second is that the plant looks more like a mini car-assembly line than a regular sewing operation.

It’s all part of the unique modular manufacturing process called ARTS2 that sets Nygård apart from the competition.

ARTS2, the company’s Automatic Reorder to Sales continuous replenishing program, links the manufacturing process to a network that’s tied to all Nygård stores and major retail accounts to keep customers fully stocked at all times.

For example, when a store like a Dillard’s sells a Nygård product, the model, size and color are transmitted to the ARTS2 facility, which automatically reorders fabric and begins manufacturing a replacement that is shipped the same day.

The company is prepared for any contingencies such as a shipment of fabric that arrives late. Above the stockroom a sign reads: "Go to stock when the truck gets hit by a moose," in reference to a common excuse by truck drivers when they arrive late. But Nygård is prepared with a large inventory of stock.

The way products are made at ARTS2 is also unique. Computerized spreaders roll the giant bolts of fabric back and forth along a long table according to the order size.

"We try to use 100 percent of the fabric by inputting information into a computer which picks out the best pattern before it gets cut," said Ernie Chaves, director of logistics and 26-year company employee. "It used to take two weeks to cut for a purchase order. The computer does it in seconds."

The Gerber cutting table is tied into Nygård’s IBM AS/400, which downloads purchase order information such as the number of units in the order and the elements required for each garment.

The entire process is designed to eliminate inventory and speed up the manufacturing process, explained Chaves who added the plant produces up to 75,000 pairs of pants a week.

Another less automated plant on Church Street manufactures about 10,000 fashion items a week for the Tan Jay and Nygård labels.The Gerber cutting table at ARTS2 moves on a track and the cloth is separated into panels and numbered. All components required to make a pair of pants, including panels, tags and zippers, are loaded onto a moving hanger-like trolley and deposited at the appropriate cell or unit of four or eight sewers.

Above each unit is what looks like an electronic scoreboard giving the efficiency rating or output of each team of sewers. But this is no Big Brother type of monitoring system that spies on the workers. It’s designed to maintain an equal production output throughout the entire manufacturing process. And in an incentive and bonus-based company, nobody wants to fall behind.

Once the pants are finished, they’re put back on the hanger trolley, which takes them to be pressed. From there, they move on to be inspected and fitted with hang tags. Everything is individually scanned to update its availability for sale.

In the shipping department, each rack or rail is assigned an stockkeeping unit and orders are scanned and shipped to customers according to the purchase order. If a rack is empty or almost empty, it’s a signal that something is wrong in the reordering process and the problem is quickly tracked down.

In 1986, Nygård’s pick, pack and shipping process cost 45 cents per unit. Today it is down to 8 cents and the objective is to get it down to 4 cents.

The main distribution center is at the head office on Inkster Boulevard, about a 10 minute drive from the plant. Its holding capacity is 1 million garments and 150,000 are shipped out each week. About 75 percent of the garments arrive on tiered hangers from around the world, with four garments per hanger.

"Like FedEx, we know where the garment is in transit. But we go a step further because we know when the shipment will arrive, because we build in transit time based on lead time," Chaves said.

If the manufacturers have been certified and audited by Nygård, their goods are fast-tracked through the distribution center. For others, if there are six or more defects per 80 units randomly selected out of a shipment of 1,000 units, the computer sends a 30 percent charge to the supplier."It means the entire shipment must be checked, which compromises the promised delivery date to the customer. And if we scan the order for the right quantity and the variant is more than two per cent, we send another charge," Chaves said.

The company guarantees 100 percent shipping accuracy with its electronic fail safe system. Each order is picked by store, which is already in the computer system. The computer looks for the UPC scan and will determine if the correct UPC has been scanned against the order.

If the scan does not match the UPC, Nygård computers do not allow the shipping label to be printed, which guarantees the 100 percent accuracy of the contents.

All pickers are equipped with walkie-talkies for quick response in case a problem arises with an order. Each problem has to be resolved within a minute before a deduction is taken from an employee’s pay.

"We also videotape each order in case there is a dispute with a customer. The order is put in a box and shipped to the retailer. We tell them not to count the contents manually because that’s when human errors tend to happen," Chaves said.

There is also video surveillance at the loading stations to record which employee did the loading at what time and on what truck as another way to guarantee accuracy. The system is so efficient that Nygård is exempt from charge backs from Dillard’s, The Bay and Sears Canada.

About 25 percent of goods coming from the Far East are pre-packed by store by the manufacturers. Chaves sees the day when most, if not all, distribution will be done by the offshore manufacturers to improve lead times by one to two weeks.

"The process is backing up to the manufacturers," he said. "We have the technology to enable the manufacturers to pick and pack for individual accounts and our dedicated stores, which would reduce our distribution costs by about 80 percent."

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