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De­spite great strides in man­u­fac­tur­ing achieved by the au­to­mo­bile and avi­a­tion in­dus­try in re­cent times, ap­parel man­u­fac­tur­ing units re­main un­changed, some­how, as far as com­plete au­to­mated pro­duc­tion is con­cerned. How­ever, au­to­mated ap­parel pro­duc­tion has started to be im­ple­mented across the globe and has moved from the US to the other side of the Pa­cific where low labour costs help to meet the con­sumer de­mands for more in­ex­pen­sive goods. Ac­cord­ing to a study by the United States Fash­ion In­dus­try As­so­ci­a­tion, 43% of Amer­i­can fash­ion com­pa­nies be­lieve that ris­ing pro­duc­tion, labour and sourc­ing costs are some of the most dif­fi­cult busi­ness chal­lenges. In the same con­text, Pete San­tora, Chief Com­mer­cial Of­fi­cer, SoftWear Au­toma­tion, and Dr. Mike Fralix, CEO, [ TC] Tech­nol­ogy Evan­ge­list, SoftWear Au­toma­tion (USA) ex­plain how au­toma­tion in gar­ment man­u­fac­tur­ing would cre­ate a revo­lu­tion never seen be­fore.

How do you think Robotics will im­pact sewing tech­nol­ogy in the com­ing years?

Ro­botic tech­nol­ogy for the sewn prod­ucts in­dus­try was de­vel­oped in the US in the 1990s as a strat­egy to help com­pa­nies com­pete with the in­creas­ing cost of labour. Un­for­tu­nately, such de­vel­op­ments were aban­doned be­cause pro­duc­ing off­shore in low- cost labour coun­tries was less ex­pen­sive over­all. As a re­sult, the cur­rent sewing tech­nol­ogy has been de­vel­oped as­sum­ing that hu­man op­er­a­tors are re­quired.

There are at least three key is­sues/glitches with the cur­rent ap­parel man­u­fac­tur­ing sup­ply chain strat­egy.

1. The cost of labour and the cost of trans­porta­tion have con­tin­ued to in­crease to such a point that there are not many cheap- labour coun­tries left. And, those which are there do not have the nec­es­sary in­fra­struc­ture in place to meet the needs of U. S. brands and re­tail­ers.

2. The global sup­ply chain has be­come ex­pan­sive and very com­plex. This com­plex­ity re­quires high in­ven­tory, more ac­cu­rate fore­cast­ing and ad­di­tional fi­nanc­ing in or­der to pro­duce qual­ity goods on time. Un­for­tu­nately, the ex­ist­ing sys­tem fails quite of­ten be­cause of preva­lent is­sues like weather sys­tems, Gov­ern­ment pol­icy changes, G20 sum­mits, smog con­trol, labour wage changes, ship­ping, and cus­toms’ is­sues. A lot of things have to be right to re­ceive prod­ucts on a reg­u­lar/timely ba­sis. As a re­sult, sev­eral re­sources are con­sumed on fore­cast­ing prop­erly, fi­nanc­ing the in­ven­tory, and then stor­ing that in­ven­tory.

At SoftWear Au­toma­tion, the fab­ric dis­tor­tion can be rec­og­nized in real-time and then robotics can be used to move the fab­ric into place be­tween each nee­dle strike. This tech­nol­ogy looks more like an au­tonomous driv­ing car than stan­dard au­toma­tion.

3. Most new prod­ucts are still very slow to get to the mar­ket. Mar­ket share of global brands is be­ing eroded by very quick and nim­ble start- up com­pa­nies who have cus­tomer loy­alty. And, with low- cost labour con­trol­ling man­u­fac­tur­ing, im­prove­ments in speed, ef­fi­ciency, and in­no­va­tion have been slower than they might oth­er­wise have been.

The ro­botic sys­tems that were put on the shelf in the 1990s are now be­ing re­placed by more so­phis­ti­cated tech­nol­ogy and com­pa­nies which are now re­think­ing their sourc­ing strate­gies. As ro­botic tech­nol­ogy is im­ple­mented on the man­u­fac­tur­ing floor and cheap labour is re­moved as a bar­rier, this gen­er­a­tion of au­toma­tion will rad­i­cally change the cost, ca­pa­bil­i­ties,

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