Streamlining Color Management

Supply Chain Management
TW Special Report Streamlining Color Management
Sara Lee, National Textiles work to deliver quality and on-target color quickly,
cost-effectively and electronically.
 The process of ensuring that the color a designer
picks is an exact match to the finished garment is one of the more complex aspects of apparel
manufacturing. Leading manufacturers and suppliers throughout the apparel supply chain are
implementing new and better technologies to streamline the color cycle. Consider the supplier
portion represented by Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Sara Lee Branded Apparel, and one of its
suppliers, National Textiles LLC, also in Winston-Salem. National Textiles fabric goes into such
well-known Sara Lee brands as Champion, Hanes, Hanes Beefy-Ts, Hanes Her Way and Just My
Size. Color CommunicationIn 1999, Wal-Mart, one of Sara Lees major retail customers, began
exploring the possibilities of electronic color communication. Wal-Mart chose a color communication
system developed by leading color technology provider Lawrenceville, N.J.-based Datacolor. Through
Datacolors Color Information Management System (CIMS), every aspect of the supply chain has the
capability to share electronically precise reproduction, analysis, manipulation, and communication
of color data and images. The system utilizes familiar tools such as color measuring instruments
and color management software, as well as innovative elements such as calibrated computer monitors
and accurate visualization of digital color information.Both Sara Lee Branded Apparel and National
Textiles agreed to participate in a pilot project. Our company has a strong history of building
relationships with our customers, suppliers and other business partners to provide the high
quality, high value products consumers demand, stated Scott Crump, Sara Lees director of quality
resources.National Textiles President Jerry Rowland and Vice President of Textile Manufacturing
Gene McBride shared this philosophy as well, and were open to integrating new technology into their
operations. E-Dips: The First PhaseAccording to Luke Roland, color development lab manager at
National Textiles, while the heavy volume in the color lab made it a perfect place to start testing
the efficacy of the new system, there was initial skepticism.  

Learning any technology represents a tremendous learning curve and many highly experienced
color technicians, those highly knowledgeable in the art of color development, have their doubts.
But, when all is said and done, there just arent enough of those color masters around to keep up
with demand. New electronic color channels offer a method of capturing that knowledge and making it
available in a totally non-subjective manner, Roland stated.Approximately one year ago, National
Textiles began electronically submitting its lab dips. The process virtually eliminated physical
samples and the challenges inherent with any physical sampling process. Physical standards, for
example, are often on a different fabric from that to be dyed in production. The standard may be
physically small, making it difficult to handle or measure. The characteristics of physical
standards printed on paper may cause flaring in certain lighting. And physical swatches
susceptibility to light, heat and humidity can change a fabrics color substantially. Plus, there
can be distribution delays in moving physical samples from one location to another in order to
create a physical standard for each plant.Suppliers regularly need several dye plants to produce
the same color. Using the same electronic standard loaded by central color development allows each
one to dye to an identical target. The end result is a uniform color and better test
results.Independent testing lab Consumer Testing Laboratories (CTL) is able to evaluate e-Dips both
numerically and visually. The numerical assessment of color difference and pass/fail are based upon
standardized color practices. Visual assessment of e-Dips is possible through precise monitor
calibration and imaging an integral part of the CIMS color management solution. The use of e-Dips
in the color development process shared between Sara Lee and National Textiles has led to
significant reductions in the development cycle. Now we can submit a lab dip to CTL electronically
and receive a response in less than 24 hours, said Bill Poore, manager, color development, dyes and
chemicals, National Textiles. Instant e-mail also eliminates shipping costs. This kind of reduced
development cycle, in turn, significantly improved resource utilization at all key points at both
companies, considering the number of new colors each season and the number of lab submits that must
be evaluated. At the manufacturing level, National Textiles color lab matches more than a thousand
new colors per year, often encompassing three to five seasons.And the in-house skeptics Theres just
no arguing with results, Roland said. Now, when the customer sends us an electronic standard, we
can be absolutely sure that we have the exact standard, no question. That fact alone has saved us
enormous time and effort in response and approval times. Electronic Shade BandsEarlier this
year, National Textiles, in full cooperation with Sara Lee, began extending the viability of
electronic standards by testing electronic shade banding. After lab dips have been approved,
examples of the production runs, or shade bands, need to be sent out for customer approval. With
multiple textile manufacturing facilities operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, National
Textiles was constantly up against tight shade-development cycles.Although much of Sara Lees
branded consumer apparel products are basic apparel products like T-shirts, underwear, and socks
that endure over time, a significant portion of its lines changes seasonally. In every instance,
however, product development begins months before products will actually be available in the
stores, requiring retailers to predict what colors and styles will be popular. We need to be able
to satisfy our customers needs for shortened lead times while delivering a quality product, Crump
added. While final tests have not yet been completed, the company is experiencing a pass rate of
well over 90 percent. Weve already experienced remarkable efficiencies with having the bulk of our
volume shades incorporated into an electronic system. Over the coming months, we will have supplied
CTL with enough production data to develop color-specific tolerances. The goal is to begin
e-mailing shade band information directly to CTL and receive a response within the hour, Poore
said.Electronic submission of shade bands has been particularly useful for companies having
multi-locations like National Textiles and Sara Lee. National Textiles has four manufacturing
locations and a cotton distribution center located throughout the Southeast. Sara Lee has three
production facilities in the Carolinas. We are able to see the variations that are occurring from
plant to plant, and totally eliminate them before they become costly. The reduction in re-dyes and
reworks alone has been worth it. Weve been able to totally eliminate the overhead costs of sending
clerical help to and from our various facilities and to CTL with physical swatches. This money can
now be funneled into other key areas such as new product development and technology, Poore
said. Positive ConsensusSara Lee Branded Apparel and National Textiles agree that the new
electronic color communication system has improved quality overall. From the efficiencies
experienced through e-mailing digital color information to shorter development cycle times and
lower development costs, the companies have ensured unprecedented accountability at every key point
in their color development and production approval processes.Weve had outstanding success so far
with this new method, moving from trial to a fantastic turnaround time, Johnson revealed.The impact
on our decision-making process has been outstanding, Crump said. Weve always worked well with our
suppliers such as National Textiles, as well as with our major customers. Now, we have the tools to
respond to seasonal needs and really any customer request, almost real time.Perhaps Poore sums it
up best. It comes down to communication. We are building a complete color communication system that
seamlessly links and controls color, from the moment it is conceived to the time the consumer buys
December 2002