Independently run since 1797, Johnstons of Elgin makes beautiful knitwear, clothing and accessories from luxurious wools. The company is synonymous with unique heritage, craft and style; yet, it continues to lead the way in technical innovation, using state-of-the-art techniques and tools to create timeless products for the world’s leading luxury fashion brands.
In 2011, with increasing pressure on companies to curb carbon emissions, together with spiralling energy costs, Johnstons of Elgin wanted to analyse its energy usage across the main business units of dyes, weaving, logistics, finishing and yarns. At the time, it was very difficult to differentiate across the company the exact costs associated with each of these utilities and energy costs.
An initial consultation with Interface and a site visit led to a project scope designed to investigate options to improve company performance whilst reducing costs through energy and carbon management.
James Dracup, Group Managing Director commented:
“We were looking for support in developing our new energy strategy to identify affordable, low-carbon energy options whilst ensuring the solutions were cost effective for the business and, most importantly, dependable. Interface helped us to define the initial project requirements, saving us a lot of time and effort. In particular, they sought out relevant expertise across the universities, helping to facilitate new connections”.
Interface identified expertise in six universities and subsequently brokered a partnership between the company and The Energy Academy at Heriot Watt University.
Through a PhD studentship, a project was initiated to review strategies that would enable the company to reduce energy costs and market the carbon footprint in each area of the business as well as each product.
To further elevate its own brand, improve its global competitiveness, and improve productivity, Johnstons is now innovating in the quality control and measurement of the finish on high-end cashmere fabrics.
A reliance on human touch and feel in assessing the quality of such luxury products has traditionally been standard in the industry and is estimated to be a direct contributor to the 25% rework rate recorded in Johnstons’ finishing process. This existing subjective measurement approach leads to product variability and waste.
An Interface enquiry resulted in a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with the University of Strathclyde to carry out pioneering research into innovative techniques and technologies for objectively measuring traditionally subjective finish attributes of its woven cashmere pieces.
As a result of the KTP brokered by Interface, Johnstons went on to partner with National Physical Laboratory (NPL) through A4I (Analysis for Innovators) to design and develop a system for objective and quantitative assessment of its product finish. The system developed will not only help Johnstons to drive down its costs associated with reworks and remakes, but it will also verify the potential for scaling up to 100% inspection of product moving at speed through Johnstons manufacturing line.
These projects were partly funded by £60k of Innovate UK funding.
Chimaeze Onyeiwu, KTP Associate at Johnstons says
“Johnstons of Elgin is a highly creative company that constantly seeks opportunities to collaborate and innovate. Our Partnership with NPL through the A4I programme has been particularly rewarding not just as a result of the solutions being developed for the product-finish measurement problem, but also because of how the relationship has facilitated investigations and generated solutions to other unrelated operational issues.”
Company - This measurement system has increased their accuracy by 30%, reduced their rework rate by 90%, their rework waste by 30% and reduced the cost of producing their quality fabrics by 80%. In a world where finish is artisan and considered subjective, being able to satisfy high-end designers with more precise specification of choice of finish is invaluable.
Academic - The KTP Associate has since been employed by the company in the role of Technical Director.
Tom Syme, Operations Director at Johnsons said,
“The KTN signposted me to the Innovate UK A4I funding which was instrumental in exploring and finding a solution to this problem. We were already engaged with a KTP from Strathclyde University to explore and define our challenge. The Innovate UK funding was good to enable us to fund the project, however the collaboration with NPL which was instigated as part of this process really made the biggest impact. As a traditional business, we have a vast workforce of specialist experts, however we know we could be left behind if we don’t bring in external expert knowledge and experience to help us scale and grow the business and take advantage of new innovation opportunities.”