The Australian Dyeing Company's core business is dyeing bulk quantities of knitted and woven fabrics, particularly 100% cotton and cotton blends, for sale to garment manufacturers. The company is a commission dye-house - it specialises in dyeing to order and does not manufacture fabric.
The company commenced operations in 1958 in the Melbourne suburb of Clifton Hill. A second plant was opened at Seymour in country Victoria in 1979. Each plant is integral to the operation of the other, with the combined production capacity peaking at 200,000 kg of fabric per week. Both plants are endorsed for quality to AS 3901 (ISO 9002) and have international quality accreditation.
A $5 million plant upgrade was undertaken between 1987 and 1991, which included diversification of production into single-colour rotary screen printing. Sales turnover following the upgrade averaged approximately $25 million per annum since 1991.
The dual impact of the recession and continued increases in clothing imports prompted the company to embark on a restructuring and rationalisation strategy in late 1992, in a bid to reduce costs and increase production efficiency. The aim of the company's restructuring and rationalisation strategy was two-fold:
- to assess new dyeing methods that could provide savings on raw materials and enhance product quality, and
- to minimise the impact on the environment by reducing the amount of dissolved solids and salt in the dye-house effluent.
Traditional methods for dyeing cotton fabric are tough on the cotton and the environment. To enable the dye to take to the fabric, undyed fabric rolls undergo many hours of rough treatment: a variety of chemicals are used, including bleach; machines cause lots of wear and tear; enormous amounts of hot and cold water are used; up to one kilogram of salt is needed per kilogram of fabric; and plenty of electricity is needed. For example, a 100% cotton fabric with a pre-bleach usually requires an average of ten hours of production processing, depending on fabric weave density, colour adjustments and drying time.
Cleaner production initiatives
The company investigated a number of alternative production processes in the light of their strategic goals. The company directors and technical staff viewed various plants around the world in search for the best methods. They quickly found that the key to cost efficiency was reducing energy usage and the consumption of chemicals. In other words, their economic and environmental objectives supported one another.
After months of investigation, the Australian Dyeing Company became the first company in Australia to introduce an advanced new process known as cold pad batch dyeing for open width knitted fabric. The process, which uses trickle wash-off, has been proven to be more ecologically sound and more cost efficient, and gave higher quality product than previous methods.
Two special items of equipment were installed - a padding machine to dye the fabric, and trickle washing stations. The pad/batch system is quite simple and compact. It features hydraulically driven rollers and beams on which the fabric is dyed and washed. Guiders are used to align the fabric to eliminate twist problems sometimes associated with traditional methods.
Special insulation and monitoring devices were also installed to keep production temperatures constant.
Advantages of the process
Using the cold pad batch dyeing process, the Australian Dyeing Company was able to achieve:
- 45% reduction in water consumption
- 48% reduction in steam consumption
- 33% saving in electricity consumption
- 100% reduction in salt consumption, totally removing salt from the effluent
- reduction in chemical use, volumes of damaging effluent and total factory floor space
- a higher quality product.
The fabric undergoes less turbulence during the cold pad batch dyeing process, and therefore retains a smooth, uniformly coloured appearance with added lustre and a soft touch and drape. It is also brighter in shade, has superior wet fastness properties, and has a better look and feel.
Cold pad batch dyeing has enabled the company to undertake larger runs of fabric of the same colour, providing it with greater ability to answer market demands for new shades and colour-ways. This has improved the company's competitive edge, particularly with larger customers.
The new production process is being continually refined and improved. Recently, flow meters were installed at a variety of locations throughout both plants to monitor water and steam usage at different production stages. The meters are expected to identify further potential for energy savings.
Cleaner production incentives
The branded name used by the Australian Dyeing Company for its environmentally superior dyeing method is Smart Cotton Colours. Even though the process requires an extra drying step, it still has a cost advantage over conventional methods. This enables the fabric to be price competitive, while its superior quality makes it good value for money, particularly for large production orders.
The Smart Cotton Colours process has also given the company an environmentally-friendly brand image, which harnesses the ever increasing consumer demand for environmentally superior processes and products. In this particular area of dyeing, the company enjoyed an initial 25% growth in market share, although the rate of increase of market share has slowed as competitors have also introduced similar processes. An extra five people have been employed as a direct result of the company's investment in the cold pad batch process.
The total capital investment was in excess of $500,000. The estimated pay back period on this investment was less than two years - an excellent result for an investment of this nature. Furthermore, the 25% increase in market share as a result of the company's cleaner production processes has resulted in a substantial increase in profitability.
Another very pleasing result has been that the increased production from the pad batch dye process has replaced many fabrics and garments that were previously imported. Australian Dyeing Company's large customers, such as Target retail stores, are able to offer an increased range of quality Australian products at competitive prices, secure in the knowledge that the local products have been manufactured through environmentally sound processes.
The Australian Dyeing Company strongly believes its cleaner production strategy leaves it well poised to achieve further sales growth and increased profitability.
The new dyeing process required different chemical inputs. Technical reviews of the process were undertaken by the company's suppliers, mainly large multinationals, who produced new dyes specially for use in the cold pad batch process.
The months of investigation to review alternative processes consumed large amounts of time of both management and staff. However, it has led to very good results. Moreover, as it involved the fundamental production issues for the business, it has placed the company in a position where it can readily keep up with future technical developments.