In today’s highly uncertain, demanding and competitive environment, it is very critical to digitalise operations both at the manufacturing and retail level. While retailers are fast adopting digitisation, the concept is still relativity slow to pick up at the manufacturing side of business, particularly in the fashion value chain. Doing business in the traditional way is a recipe for failure and players need to understand how digitalisation of an apparel factory can lead to better efficiencies, better profitability and better sustainability.
Digital transformation journey starts from automated machinery, passing the IoT integration and aiming at ecosystem coordination. It is a long journey across all industries, which all starts from the hardware technology advancement. Besides quick and accurate operations, a major aim of digitisation has been to decrease the labour density, for which initially hardware evolvement was applied with different technologies such as a smarter AI-driven cutting laser or a data-collective sewing machine.
Subsequently, there was a revolution in development of software and IoT solutions to manage the supply chain and the factory operation. The second stage of the evolvement usually takes most of the time, and the players of hardware and software do not have much connection and linkage with each side. The integration of hardware and software maximises the power of data and further enhance the efficiency of the manufacturing production, towards which the apparel industry is currently moving. AI technology is expected to enhance the system in both software and hardware – which is the fourth stage in the Evolvement of Digital Transformation in the apparel industry ecosystem coordination.
PATTERN & CUTTING
The first step of production involves a lot of different technologies and innovations being applied to the hardware machinery. Continuous cutting is possible with the computer NC machines (CNC machine) and the supporting programs (CAD/CAM). However, if the focus is only on the cutting technology, there are ways and tools such as knives, lasers, water jets, plasma and ultrasound depending on different cutting styles. Therefore, the main areas of current innovation in cutting are related to elaborated sub-functions or supplementary assistance to the existing cutting technology, whichever can increase the productivity, versatility and pattern-matching capability.
Sewing represents 35–40 per cent of the total apparel manufacturing cost and gives another huge opportunity to the factories to control their cost. In the past decade, sewing manufacturing factories were located in developing countries. However, the strategy proves harder to maintain as more and more brands are planning to centralise their production line, and the labour market in Asia is no longer the cheapest. Therefore, digitalisation is the new approach to reduce cost in the long run, especially post-COVID-19. The production process of sewing can be divided into two sub-functions – handling of material and joining of fabric components.
HARDWARE + IOT
In addition to digitalising hardware, the integration with IoT is also a popular approach in the sewing process. The key factors of Smart Factory which the IoT technology delivers are as follows: De-bottling of Production flow; Increased Efficiency; Lower Downtimes and Quick Changeovers; Optimised Utilisation of Resources with seamless identification of idle/underutilised resources; Quick Reaction Time (especially to maintenance issues); Visual Quick Monitoring – by online, real-time data publishing and Integrity Transparency – by eliminating manual intervention in data management. The major impact is the shortening of Learning Curve.
Although there are fewer mature hardware players which introduced their IoT solutions toward digitalisation, more solution providers are joining the competition from the software’s perspective. To step into the competition to provide digitalisation solution, Zilingo and Coats both chose a fast way to strengthen the technology feasibility, as says YCP’s report. They leveraged on their inherent strategic partners and stakeholders in the apparel supply chain which includes manufacturers, retail merchants, distributors and global brands. This is the future and companies need to seriously look into what best can work for them and start the process of digitisation.
Apparel Sourcing Week 2023, a two-days Sourcing Show not only provides the Asian manufacturers a platform to showcase their products & manufacturing capabilities to the Brands & Retailers from all over the world including India, but also extends them a chance to attend the multiple seminars (headed by industry experts), workshops, open-house discussions and networking opportunities organised during these three days, which would help the manufacturers get a better understanding of Indian and International Retail and evolving dynamics of sourcing in various markets and retail formats.
Apparel Resources is well known for its benchmark publications – Apparel Online, StitchWorld and Resource Guide published from India, Bangladesh & Vietnam. These publications have been around in the industry for over 35 years, supporting, guiding and standing by garment exporters and the retail industry globally, providing them a platform to source better.