Single Piece Flow & Lean Manufacturing: How We Sew Sustainably & Efficiently, PART 1: Speed

Welcome to the first part of our series of blog posts on how we sew sustainably and efficiently at FRÈRE DU NORD. Please enjoy and feel free to write to us about any questions or comments you may have! 

FRÈRE DU NORD Factory in Oshawa ON

If you could pick one thing that FRÈRE DU NORD does that is central to our existence, it would be how we sew each and every one of our garments. We use a principle called Single Piece Flow, which is a tenent of Lean Manufacturing. No other aspect of our business integrates everything that we believe in so perfectly when it comes to design, efficiency, sustainability and quality.

First, we'll quickly take you through the traditional sewing process called batching, used by the vast majority of sewing factories around the world. You can probably imagine it -- the assembly line. Where one person is responsible for a single aspect of the garment - say the sleeves or a pocket or a collar - and the piles of pieces get passed down the assembly line to the next person that sews together those pieces and so on, until the garment is complete. Then it's on to the cleaning, steaming and pressing, which are other people altogether. Let's not forget Quality Control! This is the final check were any issues are identified and sent back down the line to the poor soul that has committed the error, most often to fix on their own time (i.e. unpaid).

We sew one piece at a time, where the Sewing Operator starts with all of the cut pattern pieces needed for one garment in a bundle, and moves from machine to machine, sewing each step along the way, until the garment is complete. Then they steam and press it, fold it and package it. The entire process is handled by a single person, who is responsible for the final product.

FASTER SEWING, LESS HANDLING

Since the pieces are always in the sewer's hands, handling time is significantly reduced because they do not have to pick up pieces from a pile and put them back down when they're done. This is always a tricky one for people to understand. People instinctively like to work down a pile and make a neat little new one. It makes them feel productive and fast. But it's surprising how much time is put into making piles in the batching process... however perversely satisfying, it is proven to be highly inefficient when actually measured. Every time we train a new sewer, we have to get them to time themselves doing both methods because no one ever believes that doing one at a time is faster until they prove it to themselves (look up "single piece flow vs batch" on YouTube for lots of examples).

We also eliminate element of uncertainty that comes from sewing pieces that someone else has worked on. The Sewing Operator knows everything about each seam, because they just sewed it in the previous step. The pieces probably didn't even leave their hands. 

Once the first garment is completed, the second one is always completed faster. And the third is even faster than that, and so on. The Sewing Operator keeps improving their sewing time with each piece, because they innately get more skilled at the entire process, and are actively thinking about the steps and finding new ways of improving their workflow and being more efficient. It's a fun challenge, and when employees are invested in thinking about reducing waste and increasing efficiency, and applying their own solutions to their workflow, magical things happen!

Up Next... we will talk about how Single Piece Flow significantly increases the quality of each garment!