Operational Performance Benchmarking Directing Catalytic Lean Intervention

Employing over 400 people, Sentinel Workwear manufactures workwear for personal protective equipment (PPE) suppliers and provides cut, make and trim (CMT) services to larger workwear firms. Sentinel Workwear joined the KwaZulu Natal Clothing and Textiles Cluster (KZN CTC), facilitated by B&M Analysts and participated in their Competitiveness Improvement Programme.

As part of the programme, B&M Analysts conducted an operational performance benchmark and found that although the firm was experiencing a period of high sales growth, there were a few operational challenges which, if left unchecked, would impact the firm’s competitiveness. The rapid sales growth was affecting reliability and productivity; employment was growing at a faster rate than sales; and value added per employee was lower than industry standards. It was therefore concluded that their rapid sales growth was impacting on their reliability and productivity. The firm’s strategy of increasing employment to cater for sales growth needed to be complemented by increasing the productivity of its existing workers such that they could carry the sales growth increase.

After undertaking the operational performance benchmark, Sentinel Workwear entered into a Competitiveness Improvement Programme designed and supported by B&M Analysts. The Competitiveness Improvement Programme (CIP) is an intensive programme of support designed to upgrade the product, process and people capabilities of participating members. The CIP includes software investments, in-firm expert support and skills training, as well as several sub-programmes with significant shared learnings for the broader cluster.

Through the CIP, Sentinel Workwear was able to conduct a number of activities to address its challenges including: best practice research on the use of standard minute values to improve operator efficiency; the creation of a production pull system; establishment of an in-house clinic to decrease absenteeism; establishment of an in-house training centre to train new operators; and the reduction of steps before dispatch from 23 to 9 steps. At the end of the interventions, operator efficiency had improved from 66% to 83% and the firm had increased capacity, allowing for more work to be undertaken.

Sentinel Workwear have continued to be actively involved in B&M Analysts’ cluster activities and have consequently become one of the industry leaders in the implementation of lean practices; currently with a two-year winning streak of the KZN CTC Lean Improvement Award.

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