As companies across the globe look to transition to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) production, Alabama-based OnPoint Manufacturing seems to have figured it out with remarkable speed. We recently spoke with Kirby Best, who heads up both OnPoint and SPESA member PAAT, to learn more about the company’s ongoing efforts to support front-line workers and those most at risk from COVID-19.
First off, you are both President & CEO of PAAT as well as Chairman of OnPoint Manufacturing, Inc. Could you please tell us a little bit about the relationship between these two companies?
KB: PAAT, which stands for “Purchase Activated Apparel Technology,” is a software company with the goal of moving the industry forward in digital workflows and automation. We are building a marketplace which contains a network of strategic partners including our sister company, OnPoint Manufacturing, Gerber Technology and Kornit Digital. We’re working toward creating a global organization of manufacturers and technology providers that will receive orders from a centralized point. As orders are received at a centralized place, they will then be distributed to the manufacturer operating in the region closest to the consumer, which will substantially reduce logistical costs and the environmental impact of long-distance shipping. We are creating efficiencies that will streamline the entire supply chain.
OnPoint Manufacturing specializes in purchase-activated, on-demand, personalized apparel manufacturing. OnPoint has developed technologically advanced manufacturing and distribution solutions for the apparel industry’s CDM. Our factory model automates and integrates nearly every aspect of the manufacturing process from order entry to delivery. The integrated components driven by complex software solutions allow OnPoint to manufacture unique SKUs on demand, thereby eliminating inventory costs and streamlining the supply chain.
As the COVID-19 pandemic began hitting the United States, OnPoint quickly shifted its operations from producing apparel to face masks. How difficult was that transition?
KB: Several of our associates and colleagues had suggested that we make masks and we realized that we had the ability to help the growing shortage across the country.
We decided late on a Thursday in March to convert the plant. By Friday, two of our team members designed and patterned the mask and had it ready that day. On Saturday, we redesigned the company to handle the mask, and by Sunday we were in full production.
We have one of the most automated plants in the world, so being able to pivot and be in production in a matter of hours is the type of challenge for which the plant is designed. We are honored to do our part to assist the front-line workers that have risked their lives to fight COVID-19.
What role has technology played in your transition to PPE production?
KB: Technology played a pivotal role in our being able to make the transition to PPE production so quickly. Our manufacturing model is set up to produce one garment at a time. There may be multiple “ones” on occasion, but a typical day could see a delicate slip dress come through, followed by a golf skirt, followed by a boiled wool jacket, etc. We were able to convert 90% of our production lines to a more traditional manufacturing model in basically one day. And we’ll be able to switch it back just as quickly. We couldn’t have done that without the proper software systems in place.
What advice do you have for other manufacturers who want to follow in your footsteps?
KB: If you are a small garment manufacturer that has not been involved with PPE, I would first assess your ability to compete today, and then plan for a different level of competition when global markets open and we see an influx of PPE from other countries. I would recommend selecting one or two products that you can specialize in and become competitive with those.
Nothing makes us happier than seeing our members work together, so we were thrilled to learn that OnPoint recently joined SPESA member Gerber Technology’s PPE Task Force. What enticed you to make that decision?
KB: We have an incredible partnership with Gerber, so when Karsten Newberry came to me with their plans for the Task Force, it was an easy decision. We worked closely with them and supplied our mask pattern so other manufacturers could easily pick it up and use it. It has been gratifying to see many micro and small manufacturers in the garment business contribute to the COVID-19 battle. Political differences have been set aside and the community has pulled together for the greater cause.
The pandemic has taught us how important burst capacity and in-market manufacturing is to the supply chain. Every country should have the ability to manufacture a minimum supply of PPE for their needs.
What long-term effects do you expect to see on both PAAT and OnPoint’s operations post-COVID-19?
KB: Everything has been disrupted now and it should allow people to really analyze their businesses. But they’re going to have to analyze it from top-to-bottom, and some things are going to fall out of that.
Covid-19 is going to change the way the textile and apparel industries look and work. With on-demand manufacturing, we’re not naïve to think that one business model over another will win. We believe that a good combination of long runs and on-demand will be the ultimate solution.
The textile and apparel industries often silo their expenses, without looking at the overall picture. For example, the buyer might be incentivized to buy at the lowest price per unit, but that might end up costing a lot more in transportation costs, handling costs and warehousing costs. Companies are going to have to start looking at the full picture moving forward.
Today, we have the technology to create a better product, that we can personalize for the customer and not have an enormous amount of waste. We should no longer be looking at different parts of the supply chain in silos.
This interview was originally posted on www.spesa.org. Thank you very much to Kirby Best and to Carla Antonelli of OnPoint Manufacturing for taking the time to answer our questions and share your story.