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A wooly tale

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Raymond, through its manufacturing process, showcases the many shades of its ‘complete man’.
BY INDIRA RAO

Modelled to meet international standards, Raymond’s Vapi plant has been set up on 113 acres of lush green land. “Since the very beginning our aim was to have a fully integrated facility out here, and hence the land was bought with that in mind,” mentioned A Bambardekar, works director, Raymond. At inception, the plant started off with processes like weaving and finishing which are usually done towards the end of the production cycle.
“Finishing makes the fabric feel like heaven,” said Bambardekar. “It is our major strength. Our competition might have the necessary machines and know how but they will never be able to replicate our finishing process. It all boils down to our company culture – The way we treat and work with our fabric is very different from the others and that is what makes Raymond stand out today.”
Once the market started doing well they started building on their goal of making it an integrated facility. Thus, in the second phase they started with combing, spinning, scouring, and manufacturing from the wool itself along with making the yarn and becoming completely independent. “In the third phase, we doubled all our capacities. The response from the market towards our products was that good! Also, we had already anticipated this response and the layout was planned much in advance. The entire shopfloor is a perfect ‘U’ and hence the job at every station is seamless,” explained Bambardekar.
With hi-tech machinery such as warping equipment from Switzerland, weaving machines from Belgium, finishing machines, automatic drawing-in and other machines from Italy, the company spearheaded towards excellence. In the last phase they added another finishing line where they now do only the PV finishing. “In as recent as 2013-14 it has become a fully concentrated and a grown plant,” stated Bambardekar.
The company primarily uses the Merino wool which is procured from Australia. They also use polyester, procured from Reliance, as a raw material. The manufacturing process starts with scouring of the wool. “The wool is scoured in a particular micron and these microns cannot be mixed. The scouring machine only cleans the wool, which contains a high level of valuable lanolin, as well as dead skin, grease, pesticides, and vegetable matter. Though the fibre is now clean it is still entangled. This has to be parallelised,” elucidated Bambardekar.
The wool now passes through a carding machine where they start getting into a row form from an entangled wool stage. The parallelising process is called as combing and gilling. “There are metallic pins which comb through the strands, which help it become parallel to each other. If you see the fibre sliver and the yarn, there is a vast difference. So what we are doing is we are reducing the weight per metre of that fibre. If earlier the fibre would have 20 grams per metre, it would go down to 0.2 grams per metre. That’s how the count starts. The wool is drawn and slowly twisted. This is what happens exactly when the yarn is made,” avowed Bambardekar.
Once the fibres are made into a top they are then combed to remove the short fibres. The long fibres are combined in subsequent gilling machines to again make the fibres parallel. This produces overlapping untwisted strands called slivers. The process is similar with polyester, which is an endless chain and has to be cut. “In a blend, I cannot have a 60-70 cm length fibre and an endless fibre to twist together. So I have to cut the polyester accordingly. In the converter there is a rotary cutter which is used to cut those fibres to the required length,” explained Bambardekar. The end product of this converter is a polyester top. The polyester tops are subjected to a sequence of gilling machines just like that of wool. Then the dyeing process starts where polyester and wool have to be dyed separately as they differ in their properties.

Wool is dyed using metal complex and reactive dyes while polyester is dyed using disperse. Bambardekar elaborated, “We have three types of dyeing viz. top, piece and yarn. There are pros and cons for each of them but I prefer top dyeing because the colour spreads evenly.” The biggest advantage of top dyeing, as explained by him, is that one can get varieties of colours. Different shades of polyester can be dyed to get a different shade of a combined yarn. When I was at the facility, I saw them combining five different shades to get the perfect blue!
After dyeing, is the recombing process where the fibres are blended. “To have a very smooth and even yarn, all the fibres must have the same length. And as it is a natural fibre, it may not be exact. Therefore, in recombing it goes through the four steps of defelter, blender, gilling and combing. In the final stage, a recheck is done of the blend and shade after which it goes to quality check. During checking, if it is beyond the tolerance limit of 4%, it is rejected. It will not go to spin. Recombing has to be done again. Agreeing Bambardekar added, “That is a very skilled job and the experience of the operator counts here.”
Further, yarn is made in the spinning department, which is divided into pre-spinning, spinning and post-spinning. The process gets completed by performing gilling, roving, drafting, twisting etc. “Once the yarn is made it is stored in the yarn room from where based on the requirement it is sent to the weaving department. Weaving is the most basic process in which two different sets of yarns are interlaced with each other to form a fabric,” informed Bambardekar. After the fabric is made it goes for mending. “We have around 130 women working in the mending section alone. Knots and fluffs, which are embedded in the fabric are removed at this stage. This is a very delicate job and hence we have women employees here,” averred Bambardekar. This process is followed by finishing.

A major highlight of the Vapi plant was that it successfully created the world’s finest worsted suiting fabric. This was done from the finest wool ever produced in the world – the super 250s fabric made of 11.4 micron wool. Bambardekar reminisced, “We first made this 11.4 micron fabric two years ago. Earlier the finest we had was 11.6, which was made at the Thane plant. Raymond has been making this fine micron since years. The manufacturing process for making the finest suiting does differ slightly. For one, there is no room for wastage as it is so precious and expensive. The entire thing is done on the principle of ‘first time right’ and is not carry forwarded to the second shift. As the head of the factory, I feel proud that my plant has made the finest wool.”
The design studio is another section which enthrals anybody who visits the plant. “We started it in 2007 and have actual machines there. In the studio, under one shed there is a model of each of the machines used in the plant. All the old machines are transferred to the studio where the designers get to test their creations and witness the result for themselves.”
There is a small loom in the studio along with a dyeing machine where about eight kilos of yarn can be dyed. “No other company can afford to have so much of paraphernalia for designing. Small handkerchief kinds of samples are made here. The designer can show the design on these swatches and the required changes can be made. There are 11 designers who are working at the plant. About 7-8 personnel work in shifts here. This can easily be called as a mini production unit!” said an enthusiastic Bambardekar.
The turnover of the Vapi plant is roughly 800 crores, out of which around 10-15% goes into R&D. “The R&D includes making different blends. For example, we have made fabrics with seashell fibres, soya and milk protein fibres, etc.”
This year Raymond is focusing on innovating linen and is going to provide three things in the product – anti-microbial, anti-odour and moisture management. “Also, we are working on travel suits, which can be folded into a book. It will be a suit without wrinkles and when folded can be stored in a laptop bag. It’s a very innovative product and nobody has ever come up with such a thing, yet, in the world,” concluded Bambardekar on a high note.

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