HOW TO BUILD SMART FACTORIES
In recent years, ‘smart things’ have swamped our lives whether in the form of smart homes, smart watches, smart cars or smartphones. All these devices are driven by technology and upgraded within the software. But considering the apparel industry, the dawn of smart factories is driven by market pull. Every year, the buyers visit suppliers and ask for cost slash, thus placing order in small quantities, and this has adversely impacted the businesses of many Asian countries as they face a huge crunch in profits. Building ‘Smart Factories’ can be a solution. Team StitchWorld, with the help of two industry experts, one from within the apparel industry and the other having diverse industry experience, discuss about how to go about building smart factories. Smart factory and the position of the apparel industry…
Smart factory includes a combination of production, information and communication technologies, with the potential for integration of these technologies across the entire manufacturing supply chain. The core lies in data collection and making real time discussions based on that. IT and automotive industries are frontrunners when it comes to building smart factories. However, as far as the apparel industry is concerned, the transformation of traditional factories into smart factories is not being seen on a larger scale. Today when everything is being digitised, the apparel manufacturers need to pursue innovation much before their competitors do. There are plenty of technologies available in the market for that which help the businesses in achieving success and maintaining pace with the rapidly transforming world. But using the technology in the right way and in the right place will help the businesses achieve ultimate success.
Why to bring smart technology in…
In order to bring down the cost of manufacturing, many buyers have started procuring from cheap African manufacturing destinations such as Ethiopia, Madagascar and Mauritius as well as emerging Asian hubs including Myanmar and Cambodia. “This shift towards Africa and low-wage countries in Asia is primarily due to the availability of resources, but what next after exploring these countries…,” pointed out Imal Kalutotage, Chief Executive Officer, n-Cinga Innovations, Sri Lanka. It’s become a widely known fact that, of late, the main pillars for maintaining a good relationship with buyers and most importantly surviving in the apparel business are on-time delivery of the products and maintaining the good quality of the same. But from quite some time, these two aspects, however, have not been able to reap extra profits for the apparel manufacturers, thus making it challenging for them to survive in this fierce competition. After shifting the base to other underdeveloping nations, there will be no scope to breakdown the manufacturing cost and the only thing left will be to bring in technologies and digitisation for continuous improvement in terms of productivity, efficiencies and quality.
According to Jagdish Ramaswami, Chief Digital Officer and Head of Business Excellence, Hindalco Industries Ltd., Aditya Birla Group, going digital to set up a smart factory offers numerous ways to successfully achieve greater efficiency and higher productivity. “Setting up a smart factory offers the ability to adjust and learn from data in real time and can make the smart factory more responsive, proactive and predictive and enables the organisation to avoid operational downtime and other productivity challenges,” said Jagdish adding that, “It’s only the right type of data being used at the right place and the right people behind it that help in making the significant changes.”
However, most of the organisations think that technology is exemplary and can fix everything but the fact is it cannot. Imal quoted with an example, “Buying a new car is not enough as the buyer should know how to run it and what all is required to maintain it with time.” Similarly to make a technology work, the company should be aware about the platform it is running on and what all the
processes that are needed to run the technology efficiently. In order to achieve this, the company should properly train the employees on technology. “Many
ERP implementations fail miserably as the companies are not aware about the processes such as technology upgradations and the maintenance required so as to make them run efficiently,” shared Imal.
What it takes to build a factory that is smart…
The term ‘Smart factory’ describes an environment where machinery and equipment are able to improve processes through automation and selfoptimisation. It represents a leap forward from more traditional mechanisation to a fully connected and flexible system, one that can use a constant stream of data from connected operations and production systems in order to learn and adapt to new demands.
Smart factories are being implemented in other industries such as automobile and steel industry. They are highly automated, making it much easier to capture data whereas there are certain challenges that pose hindrance while adopting this concept in the apparel industry. As of now, the industry is very humancentric, less automated and is increasingly becoming challenging with small order quantities. Connecting the sewing machines is one way to capture the shopfloor data, but the bigger problem lies in handling the large amount of data generated. The question is how to capture data from humans and the products in the garment factory which are not that smart.
There are various tools of Industry 4.0 that have made it possible to capture the data in an effective way in manual environment using devices and hardware such as RFID/ NFC, machine vision, QR/Bar codes, touch and sensors. By implementing these devices/ tools in the factories, most of the projects are becoming cost-profitable.
On a mission to empower the data-driven decisions to help build smart factories, CEO of n-Cinga Innovation asserted the need of disruption in the apparel industry. Information and communication technology is undergoing a rapid development and many disruptive technologies including cloud computing, Internet of Things, big data and artificial intelligence have emerged. These technologies are permeating the manufacturing industries and enable the fusion of physical and virtual world through cyber-physical systems which marks the dawn of Industry 4.0.
“For instance, the moment we book Uber cab, Uber allows us to use live-tracking so as to know the exact location of the driver as well as shows the estimated time of arrival to reach the destination. Considering the apparel factory, when a buyer wants to know the status of the order, the answers are either dated to yesterday or an hour ago,” boasted Imal.
With live-tracking feature on the shopfloor just like Uber, merchandisers and buyers would be able to fetch information related to their orders. Buyers would be able to know the exact number of units produced at a particular time. It is very beneficial for the suppliers. With real time data tracking, the workers in the factory would be aware about their hourly target based on the production and would know the exact amount of incentives they have earned.
Imal mentioned, “In order to disrupt the business model and make it agile, you need to disrupt the current operating model. And this can only happen with the help of agile digital infrastructure. The prime components of this digital infrastructure are cloud, sensors, 3D printing, data analytics and M2M robotics.”
The defects which can be detected at a very early stage rather than at end line station can help in bringing down the rate of rejection and reworks by easily identifying the cause of the problem, be it machine or human error. For example, with the help of data tracking, three defects per second would be known at a very early stage and rework can be initiated easily. This will not only improve the productivity and efficiency but also help during the time of incentives.
How is n-Cinga assisting to bring in change...
n-factory is a next generation smart factory solution by n-Cinga that digitally captures the events of a
Smart factories are being implemented in other industries such as automobile and steel industry. They are highly automated, making it much easier to capture data whereas there are certain challenges that pose hindrance while adopting this concept in the apparel industry.
factory in real time and makes the most tedious repetitive tasks simple by using the smart automation technologies. This cutting edge solution will eliminate the use of large number of sensors and replace them with devices and cameras to capture events from commonly used gestures of production workers on production floors.
“We do not capture data, but the events. A single event can consist of multiple events,” clarified Imal.
Once the events are captured, they are processed in real time in the cloud. The software solution then applies the machine learning techniques to the events captured so as to detect the anomalies. A detailed report containing the insights and analysis can be easily viewed on a smartphone device. “n-Factory creates a ‘digital twin’ of the factory as it provides the real time virtual map of the factory with operational insights on the go,” said Imal.
Each factory is viewed as a combination of stations such as cutting, sewing, washing, finishing and packaging and shipping. These stations are declassified into sub-stations, for instance in the cutting department, the sub-stations will include departments like laying, cutting, bundling and numbering. The events are captured at the input of the station, in-between the stations and at the output of the stations. Each and every event happening in the factory is measured as either counting or quality or downtime. “With these three aspects, we can easily model the factory and then derive the WIP and KPIs”, said Imal. Each event can then be studied and analysed for a number of aspects such as the top five downtime reasons, root cause analysis, predictive maintenance, number of reworks/rejects/ good garments, WIP and order reconciliation, etc. These events, when combined with the workflow, are used to create a digital print of the factory in a better way or what the company calls ‘digital twin’. In a nutshell, n-Factory allows a real time virtual map of the factory and the person can search any aspect about any orders.
This ground-breaking technology solution has been implemented in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. The use of the company’s solution has allowed paperless operation and real time visibility. Imal mentioned that the turnaround time for a sample was reduced to three days from three weeks and the efficiency increase was recorded at 10 per cent. Moreover, the quality defects per month also reduced to half. The social impacts are noteworthy since it motivated the workers. Higher motivation and increased collaboration among the workers led to the increase in productivity.
“The affordability of the solution can be decided from the fact that ROI of this product is achievable in less than six months,” concluded Imal.
How is Hindalco Industries assisting to bring in change...
Digital innovation is today’s mantra to maintain the pace of change or lose relevance in the market. The steel industry giant Hindalco Industries has transformed its factories into smart factories. Jagdish Ramaswami has discussed how apparel industry can reap the benefits of smart factories in order to compete with others in this apparel business.
It’s a fact that data analytics cannot be done for the entire areas within an industry. The identification of the critical areas in the processes and collection of data is the right way in order to get higher outputs. Any technology should not just be implemented because it’s new and has proved successful to others. A proper analysis determining the critical paths and the areas where the technology is required should be the first step towards implementing the technology. “Despite belonging to the steel industry, I can say there are so many areas in the steel industry which are more or less similar to the apparel industry and where digital transformation can actually take place. Safety is one of the areas,” averred Jagdish.
According to him, the garment industry should follow a practice where each of the managers should have an app in their mobile phones and that should in real time tell them who in the factory is moving in unsafe zones. This alert will make them aware about the unsafe practices being followed by their subordinates and they can take immediate preventive actions for the same. “In our industry, we are following this practice,” claimed Jagdish.
Furthermore, starting with the identification of areas that are critical to the
It’s a fact that data analytics cannot be done for the entire areas within an industry. The identification of the critical areas in the processes and collection of data is the right way in order to get higher outputs. Imal mentioned that the turnaround time for a sample was reduced to three days from three weeks and the efficiency increase was recorded at 10 per cent. Moreover, the quality defects per month also reduced to half.
manufacturing processes, the three important areas, apart from safety, that are crucial to apparel manufacturing process are Equipment, Processes and Customer relationship.
The quality of garment highly depends on the equipment life and its functioning. Any fault and any difference in the functionality of the machine may hinder the manufacturing process and the quality of the product. The equipment maintenance can help to increase the productivity and efficiency to a big level. The fundamental objective of maintenance is guaranteeing the quality of the product made by the machines and extending their working life. “The machines should be continuously monitored for data collection. The further analysis of data helps in determining the equipment highly prone to failure and with high maintenance requirement. Also, the data recorded makes a pattern for a particular event. For example when a machine requires a part replacement, it may show the same pattern of data; analysing the pattern, it will be clear about what the pattern was for the event before. Based on this, proper actions can be taken for preventing any further failure that may stop or delay the production,” elaborated Jagdish.
For a more precise and closer prevention of failure, the process (Preventive maintenance) can be applied to each of the component of the machine. Monitoring each component of the machine gives one a better insight and helps in the prevention of overall equipment failure. Therefore, any change in any component when encountered can be tackled so that the overall equipment efficiency can be maintained.
“With preventive maintenance of each of the component, we have been able to boost the OEE (Overall Equipment Efficiency) from 66 to 90 per cent,” said Jagdish, further emphasising that if the steel industry can achieve this, the garment industry should also step up to increase OEE.
The second area for data collection is the everyday process and a brief monitoring of these processes can also help to maintain the quality consistency. The hourly instead of daily production monitoring in apparel shopfloor can help rectify the faults and can help in maintaining the consistent quality. The end product should be checked for quality and quantity so that any change in that can be addressed to maintain the consistency in the next hour. The collected data over the process also helps in identifying the pattern so that it becomes easier for the Quality Checker to identify the source of flaw for quick handling of the situation. “One of the proven methods of production monitoring is IoT solution which the industry is still not very receptive to adopt,” commented Jagdish.
Enabling connectivity between the people of the organisation can also help in maintaining continuity in the overall process. There are a lot of applications available, for example chat bots, that make it easier to connect with the people. The approvals and quick queries help the production, quality
and design teams to handle the situation in the real time itself. Real time sharing of data and pictures can provide with the real time information that helps with the real time decision-making process. This can help to stop, make changes, alter or address any process at the point of origin itself, preventing it from effecting the end process.
“We have simplified peopleto-people communication for faster delivery and for dealing with quality issues and it has given us a positive result as 1.28 per cent defects in our end products have reduced to 0.3 per cent,” said Jagdish
Customer satisfaction is the ultimate goal that any company should aim for. There are few main areas that help in achieving overall customer satisfaction like transparency, responsiveness, empowerment and proactive engagement. Today apparel buyers want to know every single detail of their orders for which they have invested in. Trust is the biggest factor no matters how well your product is; if the customer does not trust the company he is giving orders to, he will look at some other company. “Building trust is not just used for making new customers, it is also used for retaining the current customers. Making the cost and the position of the order available for the customers helps in maintaining customer relation and also helps in retention of the customers,” stated Jagdish.
Challenges are surely there…
With the advantages of technologies, there come the challenges associated with it. The major challenge during the implementation of technology is convincing the people about the use of technology. Since the apparel industry is more costcentric where the struggle happens more to save cents than dollars, the apparel manufacturers sometimes do not understand what longterm benefits they can achieve by introducing a certain technology. The main reason is lack of real life experience of theirs. “They want to see a technology tested by others before implementing it in their own factories and sites. Till the time they see the profit and think of implementing, they are already behind the latest innovations and technologies,” emphasised Jagdish.
Secondly, using the right technology at the right place and at the right time is still an issue. Going digital does not mean making every single process digital without considering the delivery of it. Critical areas should be analysed for the deployment of the technology. The garment industry is humandriven industry, and it largely depends on the efficiency of the operators. A very good example for maintaining the operator efficiency that can be extracted from the steel industry and applied to the apparel industry is discussed below.
The steel industry’s end product is solely responsible for the working of the machines such as dye machines and heavy industrial machines. While the garment industry is driven by the sewing machines, which are operated by the operators. The stitching of the garment also depends on the concentration and experience of the sewing operator. The main focus of the worker eye while stitching a garment should be on the machine needle. The concentration/ movement of the eyeball of the worker determines the operator efficiency, but at the same time it is very difficult to measure the movement of the eyeball of the operator. Thought should therefore be given to detect the eyeball movement of the apparel industry operators. The steel industry is already using the technology used in the trucks going to the major highways, which detect the eyeball movement of the driver. When any change is noticed, for example, a driver falling asleep or moving in some other direction, the manager gets the notification and immediately calls the drivers for enquiry. The same can be applied to the garment sewing machine operator machines but as discussed earlier, with every technology come the challenges associated with it. Using this technology requires the will of the operators and the biggest task is to convince them.
The steel industry is already using the technology used in the trucks going on the major highways, which detect the eyeball movement of the driver. When any change is noticed, for example, a driver falling asleep or moving in some other direction, the manager gets the notification and immediately calls the driver for enquiry. Customer satisfaction is the ultimate goal that any company should aim for. There are few main areas that help in achieving overall customer satisfaction like transparency, responsiveness, empowerment and proactive engagement. Since the apparel industry is more costcentric where the struggle happens more to save cents than dollars, the apparel manufacturers sometimes do not understand what long-term benefits they can achieve by introducing a certain technology.
Building a smart factory