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Sev­eral re­search and de­vel­op­ments are tak­ing place across US and Europe for au­tomat­ing the sewing process com­pletely. Re­cently, a Chi­nese firm mak­ing T-shirts for Adi­das has adopted fully au­to­mated sewing lines from SoftWear Au­to­ma­tion. Do you think this is re­ally fea­si­ble across the globe? Do you think Asian man­u­fac­tur­ers should also ex­plore the op­tion of au­to­ma­tion of sewing, es­pe­cially when wages are ris­ing in metro-cities and there is non-avail­abil­ity of skilled labour for qual­ity gar­ments?

Yes, I be­lieve that fully au­to­mated sewing lines are what we need to pur­sue in ap­parel man­u­fac­tur­ing, es­pe­cially in Asia. Be­cause, as we all know Asia is the big­gest ap­parel man­u­fac­tur­ing hub. So, I be­lieve au­to­ma­tion will bring in a very dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive to the global fash­ion cal­en­dar.

I think the main is­sue here is that we haven't seen any proven ex­am­ples yet. I know Adi­das and Nike are mov­ing on and some other man­u­fac­tur­ers are also do­ing small-scale au­to­ma­tion. But, op­por­tu­nity here in Asia is mas­sive. We have great scope for the ex­e­cu­tion of au­to­ma­tion as far as sewing lines are con­cerned. All we need to un­der­stand is that labour cost will keep surging in the fu­ture and adop­tion of au­to­ma­tion is the only key to counter this cost.

If we take the ex­am­ple of Brandix, we do have par­tial au­to­mated pro­cesses, for ex­am­ple pocket set­ters, some types of stitches, etc. Ad­di­tion­ally, we are do­ing ex­per­i­ments to see whether we can au­to­mate fab­ric in­spec­tion. Things are chang­ing in Asia, and that’s all I be­lieve in at the mo­ment.

NUWAN WASALTHILAKA Gen­eral Man­ager, Brandix In­ti­mate Ap­parel, Sri Lanka

In my view, au­to­ma­tion is ex­tremely im­por­tant for any com­pany as it helps to re­duce cost, im­prove ef­fi­ciency as well as qual­ity. How­ever, the level of au­to­ma­tion for a com­pany de­pends on its size and the kind of prod­ucts it is mak­ing.

For a gar­ment com­pany mak­ing T-shirts, it might be easy to au­to­mate the sewing process com­pletely as they are mak­ing a sim­i­lar prod­uct over and over again where the ba­sic blocks re­main more or less the same. How­ever for a com­pany which man­u­fac­tures high-fash­ion gar­ments and pro­duces over 1000 styles in a year where all blocks are dif­fer­ent, it might not be pos­si­ble to au­to­mate the sewing process com­pletely.

A com­pany must al­ways con­sider the in­vest­ment it needs to make and the re­turn it is go­ing to get, based on which it should de­cide the level of au­to­ma­tion it needs to get into.

BHARAT SAHNI Di­rec­tor, Wear Well In­dia Pvt Ltd., Noida (In­dia)

I would say that his­tor­i­cally, the gar­ment in­dus­try has been the first step on the lad­der to in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion. It has been a force for eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment pre­cisely be­cause it is labour­in­ten­sive, es­pe­cially in Asia and Africa.

Tech­nol­ogy may dis­rupt th­ese hu­man ef­forts to a cer­tain ex­tent but I don‘t be­lieve the tech ad­vances will be quick enough to mean­ing­fully change the trend of gar­ment pro­duc­tion. I agree that USA and EU are more in­clined to­wards the au­to­mated so­lu­tions but if I talk about the fea­si­bil­ity of au­to­ma­tion across the globe, I be­lieve we first need to build the hu­man ca­pac­ity rather than look to­wards re­plac­ing hu­man be­ing with tech­nol­ogy.

We have peo­ple in our tech­ni­cal team who have pre­vi­ously worked with the Asian man­u­fac­tur­ing units and all I can say is that ‘de­vel­oped’ coun­tries can opt for au­to­ma­tion but as far as small and ‘de­vel­op­ing’ coun­tries such as Myan­mar,

Cam­bo­dia, Ethiopia and Ghana are con­cerned, au­to­ma­tion can be adopted in th­ese places at a later stage too.

PALOMA PINEDA Co-founder & COO, Eth­i­cal Ap­parel Africa (EAA), Ghana

USA and EU are the pioneers in au­to­mated man­u­fac­tur­ing. Though Asian ap­parel man­u­fac­tur­ers are putting their hands into au­to­ma­tion, com­plete ad­vance­ment of the op­er­a­tions in­side fac­to­ries might take years since we are a labour-in­ten­sive in­dus­try.

I agree on the point that au­to­ma­tion is manda­tory to mit­i­gate risks from the per­spec­tive of qual­ity, de­liv­ery and cost. Var­i­ous costs such as labour wages, gas and elec­tric­ity, and lo­gis­tics are in­creas­ing and we are not get­ting proper skilled labour to make fash­ion­able items in our sub­con­ti­nent.

Nowa­days, the buy­ers even de­mand for QCD (Qual­ity, Cost-com­pet­i­tive­ness, and De­liv­ery) and this, I assume, is only pos­si­ble with au­to­ma­tion. But, be­fore in­vest­ing in lat­est ma­chin­ery to re­place hu­man in­ter­ven­tion, the com­pany needs to work on fea­si­bil­ity anal­y­sis like ROI, Pay­back pe­riod, NPV etc. Based on fea­si­bil­ity, the man­u­fac­tur­ers can then start with semi­au­toma­tion in­stead of opt­ing for full au­to­ma­tion at the first step it­self.

SHIMUL SHAHIDUZZAMAN Sr. Pro­duc­tion En­gi­neer, Tar­get Corp., Bangladesh

It is al­ways ad­vis­able to use au­to­ma­tion in ap­parel man­u­fac­tur­ing since it re­ally helps to con­trol the ris­ing wages. I be­lieve that apart from UK and USA, the Asian man­u­fac­tur­ers should now also start to adopt this more ef­fec­tively. But the man­u­fac­tur­ers’ ca­pac­ity to in­vest in the au­to­mated pro­cesses is a key fac­tor which as­cer­tains the ex­tent to which th­ese au­to­mated pro­cesses can be im­ple­mented.

The tus­sle be­tween hu­man ef­forts and au­to­ma­tion will al­ways be there in Asia since we are a labour-in­ten­sive re­gion. In fact, skilled labour is a ques­tion in most of the coun­tries mak­ing qual­ity gar­ments. How­ever, there should be a bal­ance be­tween man­u­fac­tur­ing cost and what is be­ing paid for it. Cost can go up to a cer­tain limit only to sur­vive in busi­ness, whether au­to­mated or oth­er­wise.

As Viet­nam is one of the most prom­i­nent emerg­ing hubs in gar­ment man­u­fac­tur­ing, our com­pany is go­ing with the trend. We are also ap­ply­ing tech­nol­ogy to a cer­tain de­gree in our sewing area de­pend­ing on the cost of ap­pli­ca­tion and ROI. If it is fea­si­ble for us to go ahead with th­ese tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ments after cal­cu­lat­ing the ROI pe­riod, we in­vest in such au­to­mated so­lu­tions so as to man­age the ris­ing salaries and the man­u­fac­tur­ing cost at the same time.

UPUL PATHIRANA Head of Op­er­a­tions, Epic De­sign­ers Viet­nam Ltd., Viet­nam

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