Written by

Tommy See
February 12, 2019

What Industry 4.0 Means for Apparel, Fashion, and Footwear Manufacturers

The world is more connected than ever. The proliferation of ubiquitous mobile devices, sensor technology, and digital networking has made seamless connectivity something we take for granted. It’s also created a gold rush of data; data that organizations around the world have leveraged. First movers have spent years gathering and analyzing this data to understand their customers and their processes better. Digital transformation strategies have continued to push new boundaries of innovation that converge new technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), the internet of things (IoT) and robotics to give birth to the fourth industrial revolution.

Industry 4.0 – What it Really Means

The first industrial revolution used water and steam to facilitate mechanized production. The second was the mass production of electrical power. The third gave birth to electronic-driven information technology such as telecommunications and micro-processing. The fourth industrial revolution or Industry 4.0, is the current era when electronics and information technology enable complete digital connectivity by bringing together the physical, digital, and organic elements of modern human life.

The interactions between revolutionary technologies such as AI, ML, automation, IoT, 3D printing, augmented reality, virtual reality, energy storage and generation, quantum computing and robotics, are changing the very nature of the enterprise value chain.

For the manufacturing sector, especially in cases of mass-produced goods such as apparel, fashion and footwear, the Industry 4.0 movement is a revolution in the making.

Smart Factories – Creating the Factory of the Future

The key differentiator of Industry 4.0 lies in its ability to accelerate, expand, and fundamentally alter critical aspects of production and manufacturing. Factories of the future will be completely automated, self-servicing, and self-repairing structures that require minimal human intervention. A truly ‘smart’ factory is clearly on our horizons, thanks in large part to the synergy between new technologies of Industry 4.0.

A fully integrated smart factory enables a highly accurate overview of manufacturing operations thanks to the real-time processing and analysis of data from web-based IoT devices and sensors. A connected factory allows for capabilities such as predictive analytics, self-diagnostics, repair and self-optimization. One strategic method of digitalization is the Digital Twins approach. With digital twins, production and manufacturing processes can be replicated on a digital platform within a virtualized environment. Factory managers can then use this digital twin to experiment and test out new process solutions, without the expensive overhead or risk of real-world implementation. As a result, a smart factory can be iteratively enhanced over time for constant improvement at minimized costs.

Smart Apparel, Fashion, and Footwear Manufacturing

In the highly competitive world of apparel, fashion and footwear, integrated technologies within the shop floor are quickly advancing to Industry 4.0 standards. The rapid maturity of new technologies allows innovations in manufacturing processes that not only optimize existing systems but also lead to the invention of new processes. An apparel smart factory can, in fact, make iconic breakthroughs such as creating affordable mass customization a reality by entirely reimagining the production workflow to become more agile, modular and cost-effective.

Several companies are already experimenting with new apparel production systems at varying scales to make this a reality. Boston-based apparel company Ministry of Supply, uses thermal imaging, 3D printing and 3D knitting technologies to create personalized blazers, shirts, dresses, and sweaters. These items are customized to an individual customer’s body heat mechanics and produce zero waste material during production. It may seem like a niche segment but the acceleration towards mass personalization of apparel has already begun.

In 2017, Amazon filed a patent for an automated on-demand clothing factory that accomplished this very goal across the entire value chain. In the near future, we can expect Amazon’s fully automated smart apparel factory to process personalized orders as easily as one-click shopping. Such a system makes use of an assortment of modern technologies - augmented reality and computer vision for design and fitting, 3D printing for manufacturing, computer vision and artificial intelligence for shop floor operations, machine learning for logistics, and robotics for packaging and distribution. Once smart factories become widespread, customers will be able to purchase bespoke items of clothing as quickly as they order birthday cakes.

Benefits Beyond the Obvious

A smart factory offers an array of benefits concerning productivity and efficiency. It is equipped to constantly collect and collate massive volumes of data generated from every system. This gives companies an invaluable data-set that can be analyzed in real time across departments. Decision-makers with access to this information can gain essential insights into performance gaps and be better-positioned to recommend solutions. These insights ensure a predictable production cycle while improving asset uptime and production. Human effort is minimized, if not eliminated, in almost every manual task which dramatically reduces the cost of production and any quality variances.

Smart factories are equal partners in their own maintenance and are capable of proactively scheduling routine repairs and resolving issues. Smart factories can also be easily upgraded with new and improved software and configuration in the same way a smart car such as Tesla receives its software updates. The digitalization of factory equipment gives companies insight into the active ecosystem of the factory and can help enhance process functions from product development to logistics. In this sense, a smart apparel factory not only gains real-time visibility of its production flow but also benefits from predictive and prescriptive solutions to desired outcomes.

For example, machine learning-enabled smart factories can monitor various factors such as temperature variations, output efficiency, and component age. With real-time data, a smart factory can use machine learning tools to predict when a particular part of the sewing system will wear out and require replacement. This replacement can then be implemented using robotic tools and ensure a smooth production flow with minimal disruptions.

CGS Innovations: Apparel Shop Floor Automation with Smart Devices

In this regard, CGS has already made some significant strides of its own. CGS is helping apparel manufacturers digitalize their production processes by enabling automation and the tracking of production activities on the shop floor. By strategically distributing smart devices across the factory floor, CGS’ Shop Floor Control System offers companies a simple and effective way to gather, collate, and analyze insights that directly enhance their production processes.

Our latest innovative and exciting foray has been to bring the benefits of Industry 4.0 to the apparel industry with our partnership with Juki, a market leading industrial sewing machine manufacturer. By integrating BlueCherry Shop Floor Control with Juki digital machines, we unify the data from the sewing operator and the sewing machine using mobile and web integrations. This enhancement has real, tangible benefits in overall productivity, efficiency, and costs for users.

Machine operators can now optimize their workflows by using RFID tags on different fabric bundles that automatically reconfigure the settings on the sewing machine. This saves an incredible amount of time and effort. By integrating digital automation within the code of these industrial machines, shop floor engineers can quickly update the settings on every machine on the factory floor, and in the process, cut costs and enhance overall productivity.

Factory managers can now simply look at a screen and visualize their process analytics. In the case of Juki sewing machines, the reporting of operator data further helps them streamline production flows, saving valuable time and resources. The system sends out alerts about any issues on the production line faster than ever before, so it’s the best way to accelerate corrective actions before any real damage or downtime occurs.

Imagine your sewing machine is suffering from a higher rate of needle breaks. In a typical sewing machine system, a number of factors can cause this problem. The cause can be anything from a loose screw clamp to a bent needle, requiring a laborious diagnostic process. With Juki machines, such guesswork is no longer needed. Engineers can now rapidly diagnose the problem and discover the actual cause within moments, such as the machine operating at faster than optimal speeds leading to frequent needle breaks. With these machines, shop floor managers can monitor productivity in real-time and gain valuable insights into any performance variances.

The possibilities of Industry 4.0 are limitless. As more and more manufacturing machines and components become integrated with sensors and automation features, the closer we get to a fully realized smart factory in the world of fashion and footwear. The systems that support Industry 4.0 are getting smarter, better, cheaper and faster with each passing day, and are poised to elevate apparel manufacturing and production to a higher level of efficiency, productivity and competitiveness than ever before.

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Written by

Tommy See


Fashion supply chain and apparel erp trends report