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Technologies Transforming the Apparel Industry


 Israt Jahan Eusha, Research Assistant, Textile Focus

As a developing country Bangladesh has always been a follower in terms of new technology adoptions in the industrial sector. Although, Bangladesh apparel industry is the 2nd largest exporter in the world, unfortunately, there is still no mentionable examples of groundbreaking innovations in the area of technology indigenously form the industry. Business is too competitive today and without embracing technological innovations it will become impossible in the upcoming days to remain competitive and sustainable. Specially, as the Industry 4.0 emerges, industries must transform accordingly for long term sustenance. This article puts light on the top technologies to look for Bangladesh apparel industries for the upcoming future

Technology is the most groundbreaking aspect of modern business which is offering various trends of automation and innovation in apparel production. The dynamics of these technologies comprises different aspects of the apparel supply chain starting from fibre manufacturing to fashion tech. For example, fabrics with value adding properties such as sunblock, waterproof, odor controlling, flex & stretch are the creation of advanced technologies. Retailers and merchandizers depend on technology for the analysis of trend forecast, outfit construction, fast fashion, e-commerce and product visibility in the global market. So, innovation is changing taking place in both product and process technologies in terms of the global apparel value chain.

Image: Can Sewing Robot Technology Disrupt the Apparel Manufacturing Industry in Developing Countries?

Image: Can Sewing Robot Technology Disrupt the Apparel Manufacturing Industry in Developing Countries?

Futuristic Technologies in Apparel

The scope of technology in the field of apparel industry ranges from economical design options to garment digital printing, embroidery, conventional sewing, embellishment attachment, heat transfer, laser decoration and what not.

This is just a fact that businesses are facing challenges in the transition to digital businesses.  However, reference to  a recent   survey   of   EU   businesses   shows   that, 75%   of businesses  think  that  digital  technology  is  an  opportunity and  64%  of  businesses  invest  in  digital  technology  that produces positive results. It’s very early stage in the apparel industry. With improvements in technology like AI, machine learning, big data etc.

The first step for a totally automated production system would be the computer vision powered robots which have the ability to sew footwear, t-shirts pillows, bath mats, automotive mats, etc. It has solved the problem with material handling by making the sewing needle move around the fabric and not the other way around. With present technology, only the mass production of the t-shirt has been made possible reducing the time to 22 seconds. Only one operator can produce the same number of t-shirts as 17 manual sewers.

Some companies like Lectra have already started influencing the fashion and apparel industries towards Industry 4.0.  For them, this new manufacturing system will be able to combine customer’s demand and the ability for customization converting large scale production to smaller run production with higher profit. To them preparing for Industry 4.0 would require companies to digitize their supply chain to achieve enterprise-wide transparency by connectisystems, process and people together.

Image: Fashion Design and Fabric Cutting is More Adaptive now with Lectra

Image: Fashion Design and Fabric Cutting is More Adaptive now with Lectra

Use of Smart PPE is another stepping stone to become engaged with modern technology. Smart PPE can be defined as “Intelligent personal protective equipment”, which integrates technical textiles and smart materials, components and ICT solutions enhancing product multi-functionality. In other words, smart PPE are designed using industry 4.0 technologies such as: sensors for body functions and environmental monitoring (temperature, humidity); wireless communication devices and systems; devices for personal localization (GPS) and geographic information system (GIS); cooling and heating elements; active PPE acting as an emergency stop or reducing the hazard; smart textiles; wireless tracking and identification of devices; physical security information management and augmented reality.

All these cyber physical systems are the merger of digital with physical workflows. In textile production, this means that the physical production steps will be accompanied by computer-based processes

Bangladesh is Transforming but a Long Way to Go

Apparel industry has brought plenty of good stuff in Bangladesh. The economic value of this sector is continuously being up-scaled. Education on textile has been institutionalized which is giving more people access to learning textiles and thus encourage prosperity.

The apparel industries of Bangladesh have employed advanced technologies in terms of CAD/ CAM, automatic cutting machine and laser technology for denim washing. The massive investment behind these technological advancement may need to be increased in near future to meet the global buyers’ demand of the smart-wear and tech-driven products.

Image: 3D Printed Ladies Wear

Image: 3D Printed Ladies Wear

On a less brighter part, speed and optimum use of resources will be the key to future business success and sustainability. Looking further forward, 3D printing technologies is anticipated to bring major disruption in fashion manufacturing and retailing.

Bangladesh hardly has any stake in the global market of technology driven clothing of about 150 million. So, this second largest apparel exporter needs to go a long way in the field of technological advancement to become better or sustain its position.

Many companies face the challenge to assess the diversity of developments and concepts summarized under the term industry 4.0 and to develop their own corporate strategies. However, as many disruptive developments before, industry 4.0 is also accompanied by hype and overenthusiasm. Therefore, many companies and organizations are exposed to a dilemma of neither to wait too long with their industry 4.0 implementation nor to start too early and commit fatal errors. There is a lack of research of the potential use of Industry 4.0. Nowadays, it is unclear what important factors influence the potential use of Industry 4.0.

How the Technologies Will Influence the Future Business?

The constantly advancing innovative technologies will impact the future business of apparel industry to a huge extent based on artificial intelligence and machine learning. The scary part is if businesses doesn’t decide to transform at the right time, it can bring catastrophe. Examples can be drawn from the recently closed and bankrupted garment factories in Bangladesh who were forced to leave business. A rational reason for their fate was because they were too reluctant to consider the market signal and decided not to change. This is why it is really crucial for businesses staring from manufacturers to retailers to consider the technology forecasts and market signals so that they can prepare early. Technologies like Blockchain, AI and Smart Contract can change the whole scenario of the apparel supply chain on its head.

Blockchain is a distributed, decentralized public ledger that would ensure transparency in apparel industry resulting in ethical practices among the manufacturer countries.

Smart Contract will bring efficiency in terms of time & money and will save the industry from loads and loads of paperwork of contracts, purchase orders, invoices, supplier manuals, documentation of audit, delivery report, supply chain report and import-export documentation.

Artificial intelligence will track customers’ buying data resulting in predicting fashion trends, maintaining low-cost inventory, developing perfect pricing range that will compel the customers to buy more often than ever.

So, it is really important to understand and reevaluate the influence of this technological innovation on everyone’s business. The ever increasing competitiveness in apparel industry requires innovative genres in designing, enhanced manufacturing & sales of clothing, reliable quality, rapid response to customer resulting in excellent service. All these requirements can be met with the help of technological establishment & development by actively encouraging automation and artificial intelligence.

A question is drawn to consideration in the very beginning. The answer is the readers’ to pursue. The question now is, would the veterans & specialists of apparel industry leverage these radical technologies?