Today’s industrial world is known as an era of technical evolution. Technological advancements and automation are drastically transforming how goods are produced. This new era of manufacturing is gaining importance in the garment industry as well. Globally, garment manufacturing companies have made many strides owing to the advent of automation.
Globally, garment manufacturers are facing the challenges of manufacturing complex garments with multiple styles, improving delivery speeds, achieving flexibility and ensuring consistent quality. In addition to it, Indian garment manufacturers are facing the challenge to become more cost-efficient to be able to compete with low wage nations such as Bangladesh and Ethiopia. In order to sharpen its competitive edge, the Indian garment industry has to necessarily invest in automation to meet the global standards.
Automation is the use of control systems, which greatly reduce the need for human sensory and requirement. Automation is bound to play a crucial role in increasing productivity, throughput and flexibility of the production systems.
Need for Automation in the Garment Industry
• Quick Style Changeover: Global retailers are increasingly adopting the concept of fast fashion, which indicates that the styles are adapted to the current and emerging trends in the clothing industry. The retail stores are forced to change their stocks frequently to cope up with the changing customer demands. This has steered buyers to place orders with smaller quantities and higher style variations.
• Shrinking Lead Times: As the fashion cycles are becoming smaller and smaller, retailers are rapidly introducing different styles. To adapt with the market and to satisfy the changing customers’ needs, the buyers are continuously shrinking the lead times. This is directly affecting garment manufacturing companies as they are expected to manage the delivery of the orders within a shorter time span.
• Managing Inventories: Managing the inventory for raw material such as fabrics and trims is a major concern for garment manufacturing companies as it incurs a cost to the company. To cut down on the cost incurred due to stock holding, manufacturers can utilize automated systems to implement concepts like Just-In-Time, thereby, preparing themselves for the foreseen shrinking leading times.
• Increasing Labour Cost: Garment manufacturing is a highly labour intensive industry and hence, manufacturers are grappling due to increasing labour costs. To add to this, manufacturers are also facing issues of labour scarcity and heavy absenteeism. To deal with these issues, some manufacturers are compelled to migrate workforce for their factories and bear the extra expense of providing workers with dormitories and added benefits.
• Consistent Quality: Maintaining the quality levels as per the buyer’s specifications is a crucial aspect for any garment manufacturing company. With the consumer becoming more quality conscious, conventional buyers are moving towards a zero tolerance system when it comes to product quality. Garment manufacturers have the constant endeavour to offer consistent quality to buyers with minimum rejections. Buyers are also demanding products with complexity in design, which require more focus on quality.
• Aid in Cost Realization: As raw material prices are the same for all the Indian garment manufacturing companies, the productivity level at the production floor including the productivity at industrial sewing machines is the main area where the manufacturer can gain an advantage in terms of cost. With the help of automation on the production floor, manufacturers can become more cost efficient and sustain in this competitive garment industry.
All the above factors stress on the need of automation in garment industry. By making investments in automation, both in pre-production activities and production floor, garment manufacturers can add a layer of benefits, which will help them become more attuned to the demand of buyers and keep up with the ever-evolving sector.
Figure 1: Benefits of Automation in the Garment Manufacturing Industry
Challenges while Implementing Automation in Garment Factory
When upgrading the technology, one should be aware of constraints that would subsequently be faced in the entire production system. Unlike other manufacturing industries, garment manufacturing industry has been far behind in adopting technology. Some of the major challenges while implementing automation are discussed below:
• Technical adaptation: A garment factory may experience several technological shifts in the process of automating its production systems. For example, a machine operator may face difficulties in material handling in an advanced industrial sewing machine that may affect the quality of the end product. Likewise, due to the limp nature of certain fabric types, it is difficult for the automatic spreading machine to maintain uniformity while spreading the layers of fabric. However, these difficulties are for a very short span of time and can easily be adapted to in the long term without hampering product quality or productivity.
• Return on Investment: The initial investment to integrate automation on the production floor can be significant. The return on investment on technology may initially seem very low, However, the net cost savings can be realized in a short span of time.
• Choosing right technology: Automation in any manufacturing business idea in India is often perceived as installation of costly equipment such as industrial robots or fully automated machines. However, as per the requirement of the garment factory, a simple modification in the existing technology, for instance, attaching a work aid in the existing industrial sewing machine can help a garment factory increase its productivity. Moreover, such an attachment is a highly cost effective solution, in contrast to other highly automated solutions.
• Reluctance to change: Most of the Indian garment manufacturers have been working with the conventional production system using manual methods. This makes them reluctant to change their methods of production and find it difficult to adapt to new technologies. For example, the pattern makers, who have long developed the patterns manually find it difficult to suddenly shift to a digital system. This may initially lead to reduced productivity and higher absenteeism. However, the long term gains of adapting to newer technology are far more as compared to short term losses.
In conclusion, automation is no more a choice, but has become inevitable for any garment factory setup that aims to cater to global buyers and brands. In fact, it should be on the priority list in any garment business plan. While automation has become a resource for remaining competitive, solutions need to be customized as per the manufacturer’s needs. Wastra’s garment factory consultants help investors with garment factory setup, which includes the ideal mix of automates that will help reduce lead time and satisfy the demands of buyers.