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Key departmental publications, e.g. annual reports, budget papers and program guidelines are available in our online archive.

Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time. It may contain references to activities or policies that have no current application. Many archived documents may link to web pages that have moved or no longer exist, or may refer to other documents that are no longer available.

Supply Chain Environmental Management Program - Auto Textiles


In many manufacturing processes, the environmental and economic impacts of wastes produced along the supply chain can be costly to the companies concerned. When the supply chain partners involved in the production of car seat covers for Toyota came together to discuss their business, an array of environmental issues and cooperative opportunities arose. By working together to reduce the amount of waste produced along the supply chain, these partners predict they will able to save $800,000 per year while reducing the adverse environmental consequences of their manufacturing processes.


Imported polyester yarns are knitted into an array of fabric designs for auto seat covers and interior trim. The yarns are treated and dyed into a variety of colours by the speciality chemicals division of the CIBA. Autofab, a Melbourne based company, that knits the yarns into an array of fabric designs for auto seat covers and interior trim for major car manufacturers. These fabrics are supplied in rolls and are backed with a polyurethane foam at Australian Fabric Laminators (AFL) in Laverton. The rolls are warehoused by Toyota Tsusho, who then supply Toyota's seat manufacturing facility, Trimfab, at Port Melbourne (fig 1.).

Figure 1. Toyota car seat cover supply chain.

Figure 1. Toyota car seat cover supply chain.

Supply Chain Environmental Program:

In 2001, Environment Australia engaged Dr John Cumming, of Infotech Research, to undertake a supply chain partnership program to develop environmental management systems (EMS) for supply chains in the textile industry. As part of the project, Dr Cumming enlisted the support of CIBA, Autofab, AFL, Toyota Tsusho and Trimfab to form a supply chain group to look at environmental issues with the aim of improving efficiencies and saving wastes along the manufacturing supply chain.

In early discussions between the supply chain partners it became clear that the major environmental issues were likely to be related to the wastes generated throughout the supply chain. As a result, waste auditing, waste streaming, causal analysis and the development of waste reduction opportunities were applied across the supply chain. The group looked at the key large wastes (raw material / product wastes) and the potential for group, or cooperative solutions.

Environmental Issues:

The waste audit revealed a large volume of raw material wastes in the manufacturing of the material for the seat covers and trim. Significant amounts of product waste were also created through piece cutting wastes and failure to meet quality criteria. The amount of waste generated over the supply chain meant that that a little over half of the polyester yarn bought to make car seats finds its way into the finished product.

Raw Material Waste

Raw material wastes total 1419 kg/day, or 67% of total seat production of 2118 kg/day. 90% of this waste is directed to land fill. A breakdown of raw material waste is at Fig 2.

Figure 2

Figure 2

The fabric waste is recycled but fibre cropping waste and the laminated fabric waste are sent to land fill as there are limited opportunities for recycling these materials. This waste has a low density and presents a large volume at landfill.

The environmental impact of these wastes is a function of material losses and landfill requirements. The polyester yarns and the polyurethane in the foam backing are very stable and will not readily biodegrade.

Laminated Fabric Waste

Waste auditing revealed the major sources of laminated fabric wastes occurred through accumulation of trim and piece cutting table off-cuts and roll off-cuts (fig 3).

Figure 3

Figure 3

Causes of these wastes are inherent to the process technologies but considerable opportunities exist to improve efficiencies and reduce waste levels. The amount of piece cutting wastes generated relate to the matching of cutting area to the pattern used. As the cutting sheets are taken from rolls of laminated fabric, roll length and width are critical to final cutting area.

Supply Chain Initiatives:

This was the most important environmental and economic issue to be addressed, they set about identifying opportunities for improved process efficiencies and reduced waste levels.

Roll length

Roll lengths for the laminated fabric come in five different sizes ranging from 22 metre to 26 metre roll lengths. While the differing roll lengths offer some flexibility in matching the required pattern to the laminated fabric it was found that standardising roll lengths to 25m will save 2.28% of laminated fabric over the current specified roll length of 22m. This works out to a saving of 43 kg of production for AFL per day. (Figs 4 and 5).

Figure 4

Figure 4.

Roll length 22m* 23m 24m 25m 26m
Average meters lost per roll 1.69 1.90 1.35 1.35 1.6
Percentage of roll to waste 7.68% 8.26% 5.63% 5.40% 6.00%
Percentage of saving from current loss 0.0 -0.58% 2.05% 2.28% 1.68%

Figure 5.

A full study looking each stage of the supply chain, starting at the specified roll lengths (18kg) from Autofab and the same roll lengths after lamination processing and the actual losses at Trimfab, documenting the lay lengths used and the cutting batch length used will elucidate where the losses occur, be it in the standard lengths or the non standard rolls. This will enable further action and savings to take place.

Roll Width

A trimming process is currently done (at lamination) on one side of the fabric to provide a sharp edge to line up the lay lengths of fabric on the cutting table. Currently the allowance is 30-40mm. Studies are being carried out to try and reduce this allowance and tolerance to 20 mm, thus allowing the fabric to be made to that reduced width, making a saving of 42% of trim, or 67kg per day.

At a laminated fabric value of $35 / kg the total savings in product value for these measures amounts to $3,920 /day (Yearly value ~ $800,000). Plus a reduction of product wastes to land fill of 22,400 kg/year. (Disposal cost ~ $4,000).

There are other options that the supply chain can utilize to optimize the pattern layout on the fabric rolls, such as width optimization within a 6-7cm range and efforts are continuing to manage the process from fabric design onward to minimize product waste.

Trimfab at Toyota are investigating opportunities for off-cut recycling which will remove the remaining piece cutting wastes from land fill (130,000 kg/year. This recycling facility may be used by the other supply chain members to further remove product waste from land fill.

Packaging waste

Packaging waste across the supply chain is significant though most of it is recycled. Up to 140 kg of packaging waste per day is recycled through external recycling agencies if it cannot be reused. A further 40 kg per day of cardboard cores for rolls is reused through the supply chain going back from Trimfab to AFL and further back to Autofab. This effectively diverts 36,000 kg of waste from land fill per year.

Other Environmental Issues

Heat setting of the finished fabric and the flame lamination processes generate air emissions of volatile oils and breakdown products from heating. The heat setting emissions carry odour and require emission controls as detectable ground level odour emission outside factory boundaries is not permitted by environmental regulation. Autofab emissions require scrubbing and trials have determined that an electrostatic precipitator could be installed to remove smaller particles from air emissions.

Waste water is produced by Autofab during the fabric washing operations prior to heat setting and at 11,000 litres per day represents the largest single waste stream in the supply chain. This wastewater contains emulsified mineral oil residues and is directed to sewer. Water consumption is an issue as Melbourne has limited water resources and Autofab has water efficiency improvement as an environmental target.

Other projects are underway to use the supply chain to improve the quality and lower the amount of spinning lubricant applied to imported yarns. This will reduce the need to scour lubricants of the knitted fabric and reduce odourous air emissions. Autofab is working with CIBA to improve the efficiency of the scouring process to use less chemical additives and water in conjunction with the raw material improvement.

Advantages of the Process:

By maximising the amount of laminated fabric (at $35/kg) used from each roll length the total savings in product value amounts to $3,920/day with a yearly value of $800,000. The reduction of product wastes to land fill of 22,400 kg/year also achieve savings in disposal costs of $4,000 p.a. These savings are achieved through improved process efficiencies and without any additional expenditure.

All members of the supply chain environmental group assisted one another with process efficiency improvements and environmental control measures. These efforts have strengthened the supply partnerships between these organizations even when they didn't directly supply each other. The program also brought issues to the table that the major manufacturer, Toyota, could learn from. Toyota has been able to see further down the supply chain and find out what the key supplier issues are and what waste and environmental impacts a Toyota design, or purchasing decision may have.


Environmental liability is seen as an important issue by Toyota and other major manufacturers. This liability extends to suppliers and to meet these requirements, Toyota Australia has provided assistance to suppliers in environmental management. This has established environmental management as a key development for AFL, Toyota Tsusho and Autofab. Quality system auditing and risk management programs have highlighted environmental issues as potential non-conformances with significant cost to business. The strong partnerships developed between Autofab, AFL and Toyota Tsusho have assisted in the initial development and smooth functioning of this supply chain program.


The small firms involved in this supply chain program did not have the resources to devote to waste auditing and improvement planning. On the other hand the large firms have many suppliers and can see individual supply chain initiatives as small programs with a relatively low priority.

Waste reductions that translate into significant cost savings present an important dilemma in the distribution of the savings across the supply chain members. Improved efficiency in roll size may deliver results such as less laminated fabric purchased by Trimfab and cost savings could potentially sit exclusively with them.

There is a clear need with all supply chain improvement programs to establish equitable distribution of the benefits in line with the effort put into improvement. The coupling of the organizations involved in this program strengthened supply ties and built stronger business partnerships that are of particular value to smaller suppliers.

This case study was prepared by Infotech Research as an initiative in delocalised environmental management.


Toyota Tsusho
Kris Pacanowski

Phil Saunders

Andreas Kammel

Australian Fabric Laminators
Matthew Borchin

Graham Dickinson

Infotech Research
John Cumming (coordinator of program)
Tel: 03) 98677446