Development of a manufacturing strategy for apparel manufacture in Mauritius using a systems modelling approach
The liberalisation of world apparel trade by the year 2005 will eliminate quota restrictions on imports from a large number of low labour cost countries. This will impose a series of challenges to higher cost countries, involved in apparel exports, which so far have had preferential access to the markets like Mauritius. The competition against suppliers from low labour cost countries can only be won if companies can achieve competitive advantage in terms of factors other than cost. These include, for instance, design and manufacture of high value products, providing manufacturing flexibility for rapid change in garment style, providing better service to customers and fast responsiveness to meet changing market requirements. These conditions can be met only if the companies adopt the appropriate manufacturing strategy within the market context. The importance of the manufacturing function for the achievement of competitive advantage has been extensively covered in the literature. The process of deciding upon appropriate manufacturing strategies for their implementation in specific sectors however remains to be fully investigated. The present research is an attempt to illustrate this process for the garment making sector in Mauritius which is currently at the cross roads of its development as it faces fierce competition for market share in the wake of world apparel trade liberalisation. The project involved the use of the IDEFO system-modelling tool for the development of an apparel manufacturing system reference model to illustrate details of all activities taking place in a typical company. The model was used for the production a manufacturing strategya udit tool to enablec ompaniest o make an assessmenot f their current manufacturing practice, benchmark the same against better practices from the industry and select alternative strategies for implementation with a view to achieving enhanced product competitiveness. The audit tool is supported by a set of data that was collected from a range of sources including ten different companies in Mauritius such that the tool illustrates all possibilities in terms of manufacturing practice from average to better practices. A novel methodology for manufacturing strategy auditing through the use of the developed audit tool was tested in three case study companies. The results clearly demonstrate the effectiveness of the audit tool and the methodology, to enable companies to assess their current practice and embark upon alternate strategies to pave the way towards achieving enhanced competitiveness. Also, the audit tool was used in a sample of seventeen collaborating companies, which enabled sector wise analysis determination of the strategies that best suit the sector for maintaining its market share in a world of free apparel trade.