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Who needs a consultant – a cost-effective resource?

Summary

Engaging a consultant company can be a cost-effective means of solving both long-term and short-term needs and problems, although different consultancy companies may be best suited to the various types and length of assistance required. The consultant must be selected with care and should have the necessary expertise, personal integrity and ethical approach whilst not having any vested interests.

 Introduction

Consultancy companies come in different shapes and sizes, ranging from the one-person business to the large multi-national companies employing several hundred consultants. Such companies also fall into various categories regarding the services which they offer. Services based on purely office or desk-based activities; albeit with a need for on-site audits, cover topics such as management, personnel selection, financial, legal and architectural areas. Engineering service companies assist in the selection, purchase and installation of production plant, processing equipment and the necessary services whilst information technology service companies are similarly involved in computers and control equipment. Technically-based companies, which operate their own independent support laboratories, carry out technical audits, establish plants and provide the necessary technology but also carry out activities such as analysis and testing. In this latter category must be included research associations, research institutes (active in most manufacturing countries) and (often large) testing organisations, which can provide consultancy and laboratory services.

Consultants have become an established form of life in most industries but their acceptance in the textile industry, especially in the area of coloration, has been slow. The reasons for this are many and varied. The so-called ‘experienced manager’ may not take kindly to outside specialists, however well-qualified and well-intentioned, telling him or her how to run the business. In the past, consultants were often seen purely as ‘time and motion’ or work study practitioners, complete with stop watch in one hand and a slide rule (now replaced by an electronic calculator) in the other, whose activities ended in a headcount and inevitable redundancies. Many small consultancy companies created poor reputations due to their cavalier attitude and their inadequate administrative and laboratory support. Research institutes were often seen as a source of cheap technology through member services or club projects, whilst a so-called ‘free’ technical service (which never was) could be obtained from dye, chemical and fibre manufacturers and their agents. The lack of enthusiasm for engaging a firm of consultants and paying their fees can be readily appreciated.

This situation changed, however, from the early 1980s onwards when research institutes (through lack of such resources as government funding) had to become self-supporting financially and the chemical industry had to review technical support activities as a result of harsh economic pressures and over-capacity. Other categories of laboratory work became more important than technical service. The lack of trained and experienced personnel became a major problem and laboratories in production units were slimmed-down as a result of economic pressures. Globalisation of the dye-making, textile production and coloration industries has resulted in a major migration of these industries, including research, development and education, to the developing countries of the eastern hemisphere. The need for certificates of conformity and the growth in the importance of accredited laboratories encouraged the expansion of the analytical and testing sector.

Categories of consultants and projects

Consultancy in the textile industry, including wet processing and coloration, is usually available in two major categories.

  1. Studies concerning the macro-structure of the industry in a particular country or audits of large multi-process companies are usually carried out by large consultancy organizations which may sub-contract specific areas to specialists. The end product is usually a large report, perhaps containing recommendations, but seldom are such projects continued to implement these and no problem-solving or trouble-shooting is carried out by the specialists that are involved in the project. The parent ‘consultant’ company is often not sufficiently qualified to carry out such work! The projects in this category can produce useful bench-marking data and are often large ‘number crunching’ exercises but with little processing technology input. These still form a significant proportion of consultancy projects with the ultimate client companies obtaining few benefits, especially in technology.
  2. By comparison, relatively small projects for specific areas of technology carried out by technical and experienced experts, often backed by laboratory facilities are very different in outcome and value. In these projects an initial technical audit defines the problems or company needs, a report is produced and work is then carried out to implement the recommendations made. Such projects cover the whole range of textile activities from fibre to finished product, marketing and costs. Where the second, implementation phase has been carried out, major successes have been achieved in all areas. In coloration, areas where major successes have been obtained (both technical and economic) include colour measurement technology and achieving ‘right-first-time’ (RFT) production.

However, even in this second category of project, less successful results have been obtained when the client company has attempted to implement the recommendations from the initial audit without further assistance, as a cost saving technique. In both categories of projects, cost savings are attempted by clients who are often prepared to invest major capital sums on equipment without adequate technical assistance to ensure that this investment is made on appropriate equipment, that it then operates successfully and that the objectives identified in the initial audit are achieved. Such (usually successful) assistance can often be as low as 1 to 2% of the capital expenditure.

A major exercise in ‘whistle-blowing’ described [1] the antics of large, multi-national, multi-industry, high-cost consultants to obtain the initial contracts and to maintain these over a considerable period of time. Low success rates were shown to be the norm. It is hoped that consultancy projects carried out in the textile industry and particularly the coloration sector are more successful and ethical.

Technical services in coloration

Independent consultancy companies with their own support laboratories, including the research institutions, can offer a wide range of services including the following to suppliers and users of machinery, dyes, chemicals and auxiliary products:

  1. technical audits allied to product and process improvement
  2. feasibility studies and capital expenditure projects
  3. dye evaluation, testing and screening
  4. colour measurement, including the preparation of database
  5. colour matching, palette generation and the production of engineered standards
  6. the provision of machinery, support facilities, technology and management expertise to achieve RFT production.

Although all such projects must be confidential to the individual client, it is possible to publish information about some of the savings that can be made by such projects and show that a cost-effective project can be carried out [2].


Selecting a consultant

Some sterling advice has been given regarding the selection and optimum use of consultants [1]. The important factors include:

  1. use a consultant only when there is an issue that people within the company cannot solve
  2. diagnose the problem correctly first (management in trouble often wrongly diagnose the problem)
  3. hire a consultancy that wants to solve the problem, not just to sell what they know how to do
  4. make sure the consultancy employs people with the right skills to solve the problem
  5. make sure that the consultants with the right skills are available to work on the project and that they don’t just provide ‘warm bodies’
  6. the time frame and budget should be agreed in advance
  7. watch ‘incidental’ expenses
  8. explore existing systems before developing a new one
  9. use a consultant with no pre-conceived ideas and with no vested interests, such as equipment agencies.

Providing appropriate and detailed CVs are an essential factor in the negotiation process whilst stringent terms of reference (TOR) have to be met.  There is a demand for competent, technical consultants who are well-established, qualified and experienced with high levels of personal and technical integrity (with or without independent laboratory facilities) who can be selected on the basis of the criteria discussed above. This demand is likely to increase in the textile and coloration industries for a number of reasons and major industry changes, which include:

  1. long supply chains making communication difficult
  2. long supply chains require consultants to give more ‘hand-holding’
  3. the move from production-led to market-driven manufacturing
  4. the migration of industry to developing countries
  5. the demise of industry and qualified staff in developed countries
  6. lack of qualified and experienced staff in developing countries, even when the best available facilities have been installed.


Available technology

Irrespective of the country, there are a few textile and coloration plants that are poorly equipped but equally there are many plants that have installed modern equipment and support services [3]. Even in developing countries, there is, for example, the equipment and technology available in coloration facilities to achieve RFT production, provided that management of the correct calibre is available to exploit these. The industries in these countries would then be unstoppable. This situation is not unique to the textile sector but applies to most industries. Most of the information required to operate a successful textile wet processing business is available. Indeed, much more R&D has been carried out and published than can perhaps ever be exploited or implemented [4]. This availability of knowledge would also appear to be the case for almost all industries. Management needs to deploy existing technology in a more effective manner [5].

‘Within-project’ difficulties

A major area of difficulty is that client companies do not always believe that the technology has reached the state-of-the-art indicated by the consultant and, therefore, doubts that the recommendations, potential targets and results given in the technical audit can be achieved. Many client companies have an inflated idea of their technical capabilities, are producing to relative low standards with wide tolerances and exhibit an unwarranted arrogance in their capabilities.

As a result of this lack of awareness by clients of current state-of-the art technology actually being utilised in successful operations, there are often large information and skills gaps between the technology currently being used by the client company and the best-practices, currently available and accepted technology which constitute the state-of-the-art situation. This is true of both management philosophy and processing technology. This can often be a gap equivalent to two or three decades. As examples of this in the technical field, it is perhaps not widely known and realized that the philosophy of dyehouse automation has been established for more than three decades [6], that the important parameters in dye selection were identified thirty years ago [7], particularly as these parameters impact on the ability to achieve RFT coloration.

Purchasing of dyes, auxiliaries, chemicals (and even a wider range of materials) by a tendering system is still practised in some countries. This ignores the fact that so-called ‘identical products’ may not be identical from different suppliers, that there may be a technical ‘market leader’ and that dyes and auxiliaries must be selected after evaluating a large number of properties and considering such factors as application equipment and method. Large organisations, often with many coloration units, abandoned this approach to purchasing many years (if not decades) ago.

Instances are known where several consultancy teams have been engaged by a client company, all of which made the same recommendations and all of which were ignored with no action being taken. Perhaps an outstanding example of this is the client company, who over a decade engaged four teams of technical consultants to evaluate the coloration activities of the company, to make recommendations to improve quality and obtain a high level of RFT production. One of these teams was from the country in which the client was situated while the others were from Japan, America and the EU. All four teams reached similar conclusions and made identical, realistic and achievable recommendations – all of which were ignored.

Conclusion

The use of an independent, technical consultancy company, supported by its own laboratory, can be a cost-effective service, by relieving pressure on management and laboratory resources, providing additional expertise and avoiding the purchase of additional equipment. Such consultants have a useful role to play, particularly in the transfer of available technology, provided that the correct selection criteria are followed and they are honest, suitably qualified and experienced.

References

[1] Rip off, David Craig (London: The Original Book Company, 2005)
[2] J. Park, Textile Today, March 2013.
[3] J. Park, Textile Today, Sept/Oct 2011
[4] J. Park and J. Shore, Color. Technol., 122 (2006) 117
[5] J. Park, Textile Today, Nov/Dec 2011
[6] I. Gailey, Text. Chem. Colorist, 9 (1977) 2-11/25
[7] J. Park and J. Shore, Rev. Prog. Coloration, 12 (1982) 1

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