Automation – An imperative for the Apparel industry

How do we define Automation in the Apparel industry?

Automation is the use of equipment to automate systems or processes where the end goal in apparel manufacturing is to increase production capacity and at the same time reduce costs.

In the recent past, automation has emerged as a significant focus in the Indian apparel industry, driven by owners, and partners of large manufacturing units who exist in a fiercely competitive industry. Their end goal: is to endeavour to enhance efficiency and reduce costs. This last point cannot be overemphasized.

In the apparel and textile industries encompasses the utilization of technology and machines to perform tasks formerly executed manually. This includes a wide range of activities: designing, cutting, spinning, weaving, washing, finishing, packaging and shipping.

With the coming of age, automation has brought about several transformations in the apparel and textile industries giving rise to the Smart Factory or Factory 4.0

What is the context and background of the global apparel market post-pandemic and why is Automation relevant?

There has been a palpable drop in sales, largely driven by rising inflation across regions and as a consequence depressed customer sentiment especially in Europe and the United States.

Both these regions contribute over 50 percent of global apparel demand, and thus have a significant effect on the industry.

The fall in demand in the fashion market has had detrimental effects on apparel manufacturers in Asia- Indian manufacturers not being an exception.

Driving global apparel exports, top apparel manufacturers have been affected by the reduced volumes from Europe and the United States.

As per a McKinsey report, major manufacturing units across Bangladesh, India, and Sri Lanka have been forced to run at 60 to 70 percent utilization and to accept orders at near-zero margins to keep production lines running and labour engaged.

The resultant downturn in the industry has led to reduced profit margins for apparel manufacturers in Asia, including India.

Speed and flexibility are the new mantras for manufacturers to stay in the game and remain competitive. Yet many manufacturers are operating as per a traditional capacity-planning methodology. Besides a drop in demand and a simultaneous rise in input raw material costs, the fashion supply chain remains disrupted raising complexities for manufacturers.

Given these challenges, apparel manufacturers need to focus now on transforming themselves to succeed in the short, mid and long term and be future-ready by adopting automation.

Advantages of Automation for Apparel Manufacturers:

  • Automation ensures manufacturers remain competitive and deliver – low-cost, quality products.
  • Drives productivity: While most manufacturing units might be currently operating at lower than 100 percent utilization, the time is ripe to prioritize transformative initiatives that automate core parts of the garment manufacturing process, and digitalize these processes to drive productivity and deliver strategic benefits to key customers.

  • Automation helps reduce lead times helping manufacturers meet targets: Machines work faster than people do! As an example: instead of spending hours spreading layers of fabric manually, automatic spreading machines can handle up to 90 meters of fabric per minute. Lead times are reduced as a result. This keeps manufacturers competitive and their customers i.e. fashion houses happy.
  • Automated factories work smarter: Automation bestows apparel manufacturers with greater control over the entire production process; keeping almost all processes in-house. This enhances management’s oversight of the production process end-to-end and ensures that standards are met at every stage of the manufacturing process.
  • Better use of workforce:While scaling-up productivity the aim is to take the tedious out of human tasks and move the majority of the workforce up the fashion value chain, getting better ROI and optimizing operating margin.
  • Automation improves employee safety:Fatigue and incorrect use of machines can cause injury, disfigurement, and result in near fatal accidents for workers. Factory automation decreases workers’ contact with dangerous moving machines. Automation protects a workforce and helps them achieve their tasks faster, better more efficiently.
  • Automation reduces product defects and reduces error rate: Machines can be set to make clothing in a consistent way, leading to decreased wastage and reduced errors. Reduced errors result in reduced costs.

In conclusion, garment manufacturers must evolve if they are to meet global demand for high-quality clothing—and factory automation is an imperative for future growth.

Machines can perform monotonous and physically challenging tasks, removing the need for human intervention for processes that can be automated. This not only saves manufacturers’ cash resources but also removes safety hazards, further enhancing efficiency and reducing raw material wastage and saving costs.

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