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Starting in footwear production

How SATRA can provide a vital input to companies setting up a footwear factory.

by Peter Allen

Image © Jessica Liu | iStockphoto.com

Many manufacturing companies that have been successful in the textile and ready-made garment (RMG) sectors are now looking to diversify into other areas. Such companies have the experience of operating a successful manufacturing operation, working with overseas customers and exporting to a number of markets, including Europe, Japan, South Korea and the USA. They now want to apply the manufacturing and exporting expertise they have gained in producing textiles and garments to setting up a footwear manufacturing operation. This is evident, for example, in Bangladesh, which already has thriving textile and garment manufacturing export businesses.

Many companies from a textile or RMG background will have the expertise needed to run a successful export business. This includes a knowledge of employment, social compliance, working to specifications, the principles of material sourcing, exporting, the principles of laying out and equipping a production facility, day-to-day running of a manufacturing operation, operation financing, the importance of quality and testing, meeting customer deadlines, and working with export customers (brand owners or retailers) or sourcing companies. There are, however, some key and important differences between footwear manufacture and textile/RMG production which need to be considered.

In most cases, the design and manufacture of footwear is more complex than for a textile garment, involving more individual types of material and a much wider range of production processes. Sizing of footwear is very important, and can make a significant contribution to the comfort or discomfort of the user. In addition, the tolerances which need to be maintained for the successful fit of footwear are much tighter than those for textile garments. Footwear must also retain its three-dimensional structured shape during manufacture and in use. Assembly processes, depending on the type of footwear, include the use of adhesives for structural bonding, as well as moulding, stitching, pinning and riveting. When making leather footwear, the non-uniformity of hides and the different properties within the hide raise additional challenges compared to using a homogeneous, man-made textile.

Colour matching in a pair of leather shoes can also be important, and can require the cutting of leather components in handed pairs and incorporating these parts into the same shoe pair during the manufacturing process. Footwear also needs to withstand substantially higher loads compared to textile garments, such as the impact load at heel strike, along with compression, tension, flexing and shear loads induced in walking or running. In addition, footwear plays an important role in allowing the user to move around in safety – for instance, by providing sufficient slip resistance, ground insulation and stability. This can be particularly the case for sports, hiking or military footwear. These are only examples of the challenges particularly associated with footwear design and manufacture, and SATRA’s expertise and services can be invaluable in assisting a manufacturing company. While the new footwear factory will, most probably, look to recruit a key person or persons with an existing footwear manufacturing experience, SATRA can be a very valuable technical partner to support the new manufacturing company.

How SATRA can assist

How can a new footwear factory benefit from SATRA membership and SATRA services? Becoming a SATRA member opens up access to SATRA testing, technical expertise (such as in problem solving), training courses, technical publications, and SATRA manufacturing improvement systems and associated skills training. It also opens up the opportunity for SATRA laboratory accreditation, assistance with specification development and a discount on the purchase of SATRA test machines. SATRA member companies include global brand owners, retailers, sourcing companies, manufacturers, and material and component manufacturers across the whole supply chain.

SATRA can both provide test equipment and train operatives in its correct use

Over its 100-year history, SATRA has conducted fundamental research associated with footwear and footwear materials. The organisation has developed over 440 test methods which are widely referenced in the global footwear and leather industries, developed more than 300 SATRA test machines and devices which are supplied to a global market, gained extensive testing experience within SATRA’s own commercial laboratories over many years, and developed a detailed knowledge of footwear manufacture and footwear materials. This gives SATRA a unique capability to assist our members.

SATRA test methods are widely referenced in the global footwear and leather industries

SATRA has very comprehensive testing capabilities which are available to SATRA member companies. Unrivalled insight gained from product testing, comprehensive research and product knowledge over several decades gives SATRA an outstanding capability to help members solve problems. This experience allows SATRA to advise what to test, understand the results and solve problems in the event of footwear failure in use or during testing.

Test equipment

An important requirement for a footwear factory is to have an in-house testing laboratory. There are a number of reasons for making such investment. A laboratory allows checks to be carried out on critical production processes at an early stage, rather than after a significant volume of product has been manufactured. Tests can be conducted on completed footwear and benchmarked against the company’s previous products or competitors’ products. It is far better for the manufacturer to find and resolve quality issues than for design or production faults to be found by the customer as a result of field returns or audit testing. Failures which are discovered first by the customer (brand owner, retailer or sourcing company) can be very financially expensive, and can be exacerbated by the potential loss of customer confidence or, in some cases, the entire loss of the business.

A well laid out and efficiently run test laboratory can also be used to promote the quality commitment of the manufacturing company when meeting potential customers. An in-house laboratory can be invaluable for assisting with problem solving and validating new products, materials or production processes. SATRA is very well placed to give advice on what tests should be included within the scope for the laboratory, depending on the type of footwear being produced. There is a wide range of tests which can be carried out on footwear and footwear materials. However, an in-house laboratory does not need to cover all tests. It is quite common for such a facility to be developed in phases, with a small laboratory established to initiate the project, with additional tests and equipment incorporated in later phases of the laboratory development.

An in-house test laboratory is an important facility for a footwear producer

Along with the supply of SATRA test machines to SATRA members, comprehensive training can be provided to cover the use of machines, specimen preparation, the conducting and reporting of tests, and how to understand the results. SATRA’s ‘LabPlus’ can assist members to define the size, services, layout and conditioning facilities required for the laboratory, along with the needed specimen preparation equipment. SATRA members also have the opportunity to contact SATRA for advice if they encounter a testing issue.

SATRA Laboratory Accreditation

Another service available to SATRA members is SATRA Laboratory Accreditation. This is often specified by brand owners and retailers for their suppliers’ laboratories, although it is also taken up independently by many suppliers for their test facilities. The process helps the company’s laboratory to establish its quality credentials. A SATRA-accredited laboratory is required to have a number of formal quality assurance-based control systems in place and in active operation. These cover the laboratory environment, test methods and standards, test equipment, equipment maintenance and calibration, testing plan, staff training, reference materials (consumables), progress of work, reporting (including dealing with uncertainties of measurement – ‘UoM’ – if required), and test specimen and paperwork retention. All control procedures must be documented and recorded in the laboratory quality control manual. SATRA can provide a draft manual with full instructions for implementation for members committing to the SATRA Laboratory Accreditation programme.

At a later assessment stage (after the laboratory has been operating successfully for at least three months), procedures and records are checked at a formal audit and individual test assessments are carried out. Certificates are issued for those tests which have been successfully assessed – both for the laboratory and for the individual testing technician(s) who have passed the assessment. They are also included on SATRA’s website, where over 200 SATRA-accredited laboratories are currently listed.

Training programmes

SATRA offers wide-ranging, comprehensive training delivered via courses held at variously locations or, in some cases, delivered at a company’s premises. Training topics are comprehensive and draw on the experience gained over SATRA’s century-long history. Training includes meeting the demands of legislation and customers, carrying out effective testing, and understanding materials, products and processes – and how to apply them appropriately. The SATRA Accredited Footwear Technologist (SAFT) training and qualification is available to individuals working for SATRA member companies. Training is also an essential part of SATRA’s productivity systems, as mentioned below.

SATRA systems

SATRA offer three important manufacturing improvement systems, available to SATRA members: SATRA TimeLine, SATRASumm and SATRA VisionStitch.

SATRA TimeLine allows a computer simulation to be made of footwear production. The software program permits detailed elements of the footwear designs to be entered, along with information about the manufacturing stations, manning levels and grade of work. The program identifies inefficiencies and ‘bottlenecks’, as well as the production capacity and costs involved. The real value of this system is that changes can be made to any variable within production, in advance, to immediately see the effects of this alteration. The optimum layout can therefore be decided upon, before any investment is made. Apart from the clear benefit of time and cost savings, other advantages include improved efficiency, the setting of realistic performance and cost standards, being able to ensure that a style is profitable and making sure that the volume required can be delivered on time. Comprehensive on-site training is included within the SATRA TimeLine package.

SATRASumm is a widely-used industry standard for the efficient cutting of leather and synthetic materials. Improved leather usage and achievable cutting allowances can make a significant contribution to reducing costs and waste. SATRA cutter training, provided on-site, ensures that the predicted cost savings are achieved, and also improve quality standards. Another associated service is SATRA leather grading. This training teaches realistic and consistent grading between material suppliers and manufacturers. SATRA’s ‘one language’ approach is a powerful tool used to minimise quality disputes between factories and suppliers, which ultimately saves time and money.

SATRA VisionStitch is a complete improvement package for all stitching operations. It is designed to enhance efficiency and quality. The unique real-time monitoring software is easy to use in the factory and, when combined with SATRA’s comprehensive on-site stitching training, will improve all stitching operations, save costs and boost quality.

Implemented either individually or together, these SATRA productivity systems reduce inefficiency and waste at the same time as improving profitability, product quality and allowing the manufacturer to predict costs and production volumes.

SATRA publications

Eleven times a year, SATRA members receive SATRA Bulletin magazine – a publication which includes comprehensive technical articles relating to footwear and leather products. Members are also entitled to log in to www.satra.com/bulletin to access a considerable library of industry information on footwear construction, materials, manufacturing processes and testing, which is searchable by topic.

SATRA also publishes information on specific issues such as managing consumer complaints and world footwear markets, in addition to guides to personal protective equipment and restricted substances lists, which are updated several times each year in line with changes to worldwide chemical legislation. In addition, SATRA has published a book entitled Basic Shoemaking, which describes the entire shoemaking process from pattern cutting to final inspection and boxing.

These SATRA publications can be an invaluable source of information to the management team of a footwear manufacturer.

Recognised expertise

Taking up SATRA membership, for a new or existing footwear, leathergoods or component manufacturer, offers a comprehensive level of technical support and services. This can result in improved products and productivity, meeting legislative or customer requirements, solving problems, improving quality, reducing costs and wastage, enhancing the knowledge and skills of key personnel, and helping to validate new products or materials coming to market. SATRA’s name is widely recognised within the footwear and leather industries, and SATRA membership and the application of SATRA expertise and services are acknowledged by customers and potential customers of the manufacturer’s products.

How can we help?

Please email footwear@satra.com to discuss how SATRA can assist in any aspect of footwear production.

Publishing Data

This article was originally published on page 46 of the May 2019 issue of SATRA Bulletin.

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