DO YOU THINK ASIAN MANUFACTURERS SHOULD EXPLORE THE OPTION OF AUTOMATION OF SEWING?
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