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‘UPS’ Work-Flow Software Gets Smarter, More Agile

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Unit Production Systems (UPS) are undergoing major brain surgery. They won't look much different when they show up at the Bobbin exhibit in Atlanta later this month, but they'll be smarter.<BR><BR>Their computer software "brains"...

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Unit Production Systems (UPS) are undergoing major brain surgery. They won’t look much different when they show up at the Bobbin exhibit in Atlanta later this month, but they’ll be smarter.

Their computer software “brains” are being enhanced to handle new management programs, to reduce work-flow bottlenecks, to increase efficiency and flexibility and even to be “pals” to their operators.

“We will introduce several things that we have done to improve our system — things that have been refined to fit the requirements of the industry today,” said Steven McLendon, executive vice-president, Eton Systems, Inc. “We are designing more flexibility into the system to allow companies to have short production runs and long production runs simultaneously within the system.”

McLendon said the sewn-products industry is beginning to appreciate some of the theories and advantages of synchronous manufacturing. “As a result, our computerization will have some new functionality that graphically shows how the system can be used in a synchronous manufacturing environment from a planning, scheduling and actual management point of view. We’re also building in some significantly advanced planning and scheduling capabilities within the computer.”

Gerber Garment Technology will introduce three new ideas with its UPS, which is called the Gerber Mover. “We’ve included software that supports the ‘Drum, Buffer, Rope’ management philosophy,” said Hal Osthus, general manager of Gerber’s computerized manufacturing systems division. “We’ve installed it in a couple of places,”

Ed Hill, site director at Clemson Apparel Research, said the “Drum, Buffer, Rope” concept is part of the “theory of constraints” synchronous manufacturing philosophy that provides the apparel manufacturer with quick production lead times in a simplified management environment. “It is a very clever concept and a significant improvement to the weaknesses of modular manufacturing and other flexible manufacturing systems that have been so popular in the last few years,” Hill said.

Hill will explain the concept in a seminar during the Bobbin show. Eton has also incorporated the concept into its system. “Our system is on demonstration at the Clemson Apparel Research Center and it is a part of an ongoing project to refine the ‘Drum, Buffer, Rope’ concept for the U.S. manufacturing market,” McLen-don said.

INA’s production system has a software package that is compatible with the concept, according to INA president and chief executive officer Irving N. Arnold.

Other new ideas from Gerber include a planning program that solves some of the specific equations for managing the flow in a UPS to achieve the best possible balance. “If you give it a set of styles, it will tell you at what production rate those styles will balance the best,” said Osthus.

“We are also revising our standard data system within our Impact software to run under Windows and to be a little more state-of-the-art than our previous offering.”

The “PAL” computer program comes from INA. “It’s Personal Accelerated Learning,” said Arnold. “With UPS systems we’re able to reduce the working process, increase productivity and cut down on handling. This device added to the system is a personal device used by the operator to help increase his/her individual productivity. The reason we call it ‘PAL’ is because it is excluded from the company’s engineers; it’s excluded from management; it’s the operator’s own personal little pal to help increase productivity.”

Eton continues to make improvements in its flexible chain system. “This chain can be used to basically emulate a pair of human hands in helping the operator perform his/her job. The device drops the work over the operator’s shoulder and as soon as the work is performed, it immediately takes it away to the next operation,” explained McLendon.

Manufacturers say UPS is making a strong showing after a few years of industry movement to modular manufacturing.

“We noticed that interest in UPS stabilized in 1991, 1992 and 1993, and everyone was talking about the new buzzword being modular manufacturing,” said Arnold. “Now, they’ve gone that route and realize that it’s really nothing new. The fact is that UPS has proven itself as a productivity instrument. “

Osthus said, “I see UPS increasing in usage. It’s something that subsided a little bit when modular manufacturing gained in popularity, but now it’s coming back.”

“There has been so much learned about modular manufacturing that now people are more appreciative of the advantages of an Eton system,” said McLendon. “We’re starting to experience good success and are seeing a lot of interest from men’s tailored clothing companies — and that’s extremely positive news.”