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Will Indian apparel industry be able to capitalize on Industry 4.0 concept

Image Courtesy: bdcmagazine.com

The apparel manufacturing industry, all over the world, has been witnessing change in the demand and the method of manufacturing. This ‘change’ is surely said to disrupt the conventional ways of apparel manufacturing. While some seem to proactively work towards the change, others fear this change owing to lack of knowledge. In such times, steady preparedness along with right knowledge and right resources will help the ship to sail smoothly despite the rough tides.

As soon as China started to lose its momentum, India took this as the right opportunity to capture some of its orders. But, for how long will this happen is the question of the hour. While the future remains a mystery, only those who keep up with the trend of ‘Industry 4.0’ will be able to sustain. “How many of us are fascinated with driverless cars delivering our orders at our homes? In fact it is not too far away before the apparel industry sees such revolutions. Low-cost labour has brought us this far, but robotic automation will be an integral part in future,” avers Dr. Mike Fralix, President and CEO, Textile Clothing Technology Corporation [TC]2.

Millennials and their ever-changing demands and hunger for ‘new’ are the reasons behind the fashion industry and the manufacturing industry requiring to be ‘disrupted’. The growing trend of customization and expectation of faster delivery times has made us arrive at the point where manufacturing doesn’t even start till the customer places an order.

Mike points out at the millennials and their ever-changing demands and hunger for ‘new’ to be the reason behind the fashion industry and the manufacturing industry requiring to be ‘disrupted’. According to him, the growing trend of customization and expectation of faster delivery times has made us arrive at the point where manufacturing doesn’t even start till the customer places an order. Producing near to the consumer will shorten the gap between the manufacturer and the customer, all of which is possible through technology.

Recently appointed as the Technology Evangelist in SoftWear Automation to support the company’s expanding autonomous Sewbots’ worklines for the sewn product industry, Mike feels that single operation is dead, the path forward is automation from roll to finished goods. Mike sums up Industry 4.0 as the ‘integration of technologies for customer satisfaction through advanced manufacturing system’.

The debate on the proper meaning of Industry 4.0 has not yet arrived at any concrete answer, but the different views of industry stalwarts give a different aspect to the term and the ways it can be used to amend manufacturing. “30 per cent of garments produced worldwide do not go on human body,” says Dietrich Eickhoff, Chairman and CEO, Duerkopp Adler in a shocking statement.

Sustainability, that is, creating with the minimum possible waste, has not been given proper focus in apparel manufacturing, and that’s something that needs to be changed. The next 25 years in the industry will turn things upside down. As per Eickhoff, Industry 4.0 is not a tool to enhance mankind, but a tool to help us keep up with the challenges of the future.

Apparel 4.0
L-R) R.C. Kesar, Director General, OGTC; J.D. Giri, Vice President, Shahi Exports; Dr. Rajesh Bheda, Principal and CEO, RBC; Dr. Darlie O. Koshy, Director General, ATDC; Raja Shanmugham, President, TEA; Vinod Aiyer of Fortuna Colours; and Gunish Jain, MD, Royal Datamatics

Currently, a lot of waste is generated on the shopfloor in terms of rejection, repairs and reworks, which does not let manufacturers win the price wars. “Industry 4.0 will help manufacturers to avoid these wastes in production and price wars,” affirms Eickhoff. A number of Industry 4.0 enabled solutions such as fully automated sewing lines with robotic arms and intelligent handling systems, production data in central server, etc. have made sustainable manufacturing possible.

As a machine manufacturer, Duerkopp Adler considers itself as a part of Industry 4.0 and recommends its use for sustainable production with Qondac system. QONDAC NETWORKS is the most sophisticated intelligent machine network solution which manages data collected from sewing machines in real time and digitizes service and maintenance processes.

Another major concern of the industry is the declining interest of younger generation on the production floor, to which ‘smart factories’ can be the solution. The lack of attractiveness on the shopfloor and the use of old methods in manufacturing, have turned the youth out of production. “Introduce new technologies and methods on shopfloor to bring back the young people and their new thinking,” says Eickhoff.

While the next industrial revolution will certainly help to face challenges, it is not something that can be brought from the shelf.

Hirdaramani Group, Sri Lanka’s top apparel exporter, carries a different approach on Industry 4.0 (which is synonymously used with robotics). Samath Fernando, Chief Information Officer, Hirdaramani Group, informs that the company has been heavily investing on the data.

Business Intelligence (BI) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are the main components of Hirdaramani’s Industry 4.0 strategy. With the sole aim of improving the supply chain, the company is focusing on getting data insights for which it has taken certain mandatory steps. Every software used in the company is cloud ready and mobile ready, which are accessible from anywhere. To connect through the geographical distances, ERP central database server is connected to the cloud.

A recent survey indicates that since 2010, manufacturing has collected 2,000 petabytes of potentially valuable data, but discarded 99% of it. “Every data we capture goes to data mining software where we can use the data for further analytical purposes,” informs Samath.

An example of the same can be seen in the way Hirdaramani maintains a complete profile of its buyers, the orders that it receives from them, the line on which the order is being executed. The company then examines, with the help of the software, those product types which are giving them actual profits. Manufacturers tend to go for buyers with larger FOB, but the number of samples developed or the marketing may cost more than the profit generated from that particular buyer.

“Start looking inwards rather than outwards”, states Samath. A similar and a holistic approach is taken by Hirdaramani in its factories to predict the efficiency, downtime and defect ratio. By capturing the data and using AI to analyse it, the company has been able to improve its ‘cut to ship ratio’ which stands at 98%. RES.Q, an in-house built quality management system, helps in capturing the data, which later on helps in doing the profiling of line, which means deciding which line is best for next order.

The company follows a sophisticated skill matrix which records the data of each operator by each machine and each operation. The system is capable of telling which operator is suitable for which operation or which lines are most suitable.

From the perspective of India, what Indian manufacturers think and plan to do is of foremost importance. J.D. Giri, Vice President, Shahi Exports is apprehensive about the workers’ future with India steadily increasing its focus on employment generation and technology. “At Shahi, we are conscious about technological developments and also about the golden hand of workers. There has to be a balance between both,” says Giri.

Thus, the upskilling and reskilling of workers’ skills are very essential to fight against this growing threat upon the Indian industry. “It is an opportunity for us to improve and grow, together with Government’s support, it is possible,” says Raja Shanmugham, President, TEA. Stressing on the importance of data, Gunish Jain, MD, Royal Datamatics believes, that the first step is organizing data which is critical. In future, integration between customers, retailers and manufacturers will take place.

Placing technology at the second position, Vinod Aiyer of Fortuna Colours underlines mindset as the first thing that needs to be changed and getting prepared for the right thing. Supporting the same, R.C. Kesar, Director General, OGTC, points out, “The Indian manufacturers appreciate technology but wait for the right time to implement the technology. If we keep on waiting for the ‘right time’, the time will never come when we are (actually) ready for Industry 4.0.”

Dr. Darlie O. Koshy, Director General, ATDC, opines that one spectrum is technology and the other is creativity. India has creativity but is scared of technology, but all studies say that technology cannot suppress creativity.

“We seem to be caught in a situation where we don’t realize our strength. Only with fashion and value addition, we can prevent onslaught of technology. India need not follow other countries blindly over Industry 4.0, but what it needs is a strategy that focuses on technology and creativity,” concludes Koshy.