November 08, 2006

Backtracking Production

Every now and then it becomes necessary to know when and where previous production was made. This issue may come up when doing quality auditing or reviewing customer returns. If there is no tracking information included with a garment, it will be impossible to backtrack through manufacturing to correct problems. If you manufacture the same item multiple times and/or in different places, a tracking system becomes absolutely essential.

The best way to backtrack is to include either a cut number or modified style number on a care/content tag. Modifying a style number is the simplest method and may be best if you work with only a few factories and few cuts. Say you are cutting style #1001 and sending it to Bob's Contract Sewing, your style # could read BCS1001. This method works well if you cut one style at a few different places, one time.

If you manufacture t-shirts, you may need a more complex cut number assignment. Let's say your t-shirts are cut every month at three different locations. In this case, you will need to devise a cut numbering system. Start by assigning a number for each factory. Your cut number should incorporate the style number, factory, date, and some number. If we are working with style #1001, at factory 3, for the month of November, and this is the first cut of the month, the number may look something like this: 1001-03-1106-01. I added hyphens in this example so you could see each number designation. If this number is too long, some people separate the style number from the cut number:

Style: 1001
Cut: 3110601

It is not necessary to place the style and cut numbers on the care/content labels, but that is the most convenient place. These numbers are frequently placed at the bottom of the care/content tag just before the country of origin. Sometimes it is found on the reverse side of the labels or even on a separate label stuck into a side seam. Here is one example of including it on a care/content tag:

100% Cotton
Machine wash cold,
use non-chlorine
bleach as needed,
tumble dry,
low iron.
Size: 9M
Style: 1001
Cut: 3110601
Made in USA

I have seen a variety of cut numbering systems, so feel free to devise whatever method will work for you. Make sure to keep some kind of log in a spreadsheet or notebook. You can track what numbers have been used, what cuts have been sent and returned, etc. The most useful reason for assigning a cut number is to track problems back to a factory. If a customer returns something because a seam opened up, you can go back to the factory and alert them to this quality issue. Some factories keep very careful records of the operator and operation performed on a cut, so you can imagine how far you can back track and correct problems.

If you would like more examples, check out product in any major department store. You will see they require their vendors to incorporate a cut numbering system. It makes for a good industry practice.

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