If we observe traditionally, manufacturing can be termed as the process of converting raw materials into physical products and factories are the structure where this conversion happens. This was the simple goal with which gen x factories worked.
Then came the growing need for sustainability and optimization in meeting customer demands which drove these factories to become more agile, adaptive and aware of the environment in which manufacturing takes place. This lead to the birth of gen y factories.
The current generation factories have seen massive changes in all aspects: machines, processes, structure. And all of this to reach the goal of a more efficient and cost-effective production.
But the landscape of apparel manufacturing is soon going to change because manufacturing will not only be about simply making physical products. It will also cater the fundamental shift of economics of production through customizations and customer demand personalization.
This will be an era of gen z factories. Factories, manufacturing entirely on automation with a single goal in mind: efficiency and reduced manufacturing costs. These will be factories of the future.
One thing that is certain is the humungous role of automation and robotics in how the apparel manufacturing will operate. But how things will change in terms of structure and processes is something to look forward to.
What does the factory of the future actually look like?
There will a number of guiding principles which will act as the drivers of the factories of future, like factory’s interaction with its ecosystem, optimized value chains, and supply networks, agility of manufacturing systems, digitization and cyber security, real-time simulations, worker mobility, etc. but in the epicenter of all this, 3 factors will be of utmost importance:
1. Flexible manufacturing: In the core of the factories of the future, lies the capacity of the organization to have flexibility in its structure, be it by the means of layout flexibility like modular lines, or flexible processes. Easily transforming line layouts along with the process design will allow the factories to produce a much wider range of products and still achieve scalability.
If we see apparel industry, we are already moving in that direction; automated conveyor systems can help us achieve that kind of flexibility if tweaking the available infrastructure allows us to change our line layout without moving our machines.
If we are talking about customization, the value of that will have to go beyond novelty effect to a more functional and aesthetic purpose dictated by the biology of body shape, DNA or taste in design or functionality. Flexible manufacturing will have a huge role to play in that.
Apparel manufacturing will take a big acknowledgment from the automotive industry which has reached the farthest in terms of factories of the future.
The automotive, Ford and General Motors have invested in dynamically programmable robotics with interchangeable tooling that can switch agilely between models and variants, with no loss of efficiency. Companies from other industries adapting these technologies, for instance, Caterpillar’s production system, it cuts out shoe parts according to customers’ measurements with an automated, computer guided cutter .
2. Digitization and Cyber Security: In the factories of the future, the software will be one of the most important parts of the value chain. Automated systems, robotics, sensors and actuators, communication technologies, machine vision, and Service-oriented architectures which can be adapted to the individual factory needs will be the champions.
Fashion’s relation with robots will not be the stuff of fantasy anymore. Problems with elastic fabric will be a thing of the past with robots using real-time artificial intelligence to make adjustments accordingly.
From sewbots to budgers, the whole landscape of apparel manufacturing technology could change.
Though the expanded usage of internet in controlling and managing the digitization can make the factory vulnerable to cyber threats, security standards and safeguards against cyber-terrorism will be crucial.
3. Agile Processes: Garment industry, just like automobiles, is shifting towards lean systems. Factories of the future will have to integrate the best foundations of process and technology and move to reduce wastage in the system. The data these factories will have will be huge, and automated analysis through customized models for the factory will further help these factories to achieve flexible but sustainable lean processes, which can further be enhanced through continuous improvement. Through agility in processes, apparel factories will be able to accommodate even the last minute customer demands or changes into its products.
The biggest benefit of implementing these drivers of the factories of future will certainly be the mighty cost savings these changes will offer in the long run. As per a Boston Consulting Group’s study, 10 years post the implementation of the above elements can bring the factory’s manufacturing costs down by as much as 20%.
To conclude, apparel manufacturing of the future has a lot of potential in hand. Fashion will be in a position to follow the supremacy of industries like automotive and healthcare which have advanced by tapping the right chords of technology. We just need to start working in this direction to reach where the other factories of the future will be in next 10-20 years.
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