Apparel Magazine: Sourcing as a Value Center – Winning with Technologies
Although manufacturing automation has been a focus in most industries for decades, the apparel industry has seen less advancement in this field due to the unique properties of garment production. Steps in the process such as cutting material or sewing buttons has been successfully automated, but the actual stitching of materials together has proved difficult to replicate. A robot cannot easily match the ability of a skilled worker manipulating the materials and tools to achieve a good seam. Retailers and manufacturers, as a result, have been reliant on cheap labor markets around the world to manufacture their products for decades. As labor wages in traditional sourcing markets grow and the availability of skilled labor shrinks, the potential benefit for automation is becoming apparent. Adding to the potential cost benefit is the ability to improve speed to market while building sustainable sourcing, manufacturing and supply networks for your products.
Innovators in this application are taking great leaps towards a commercially viable solution. For example, Softwear Automation Inc. partnered with super-agent Li & Fung to begin local, automated production of shirts, with the potential to expand product offerings in the future (https:// www.lifung.com/press-release/li-fung-accelerates-creation-digital-supply-chain-softwear-automation-partnership/). Softwear Automation’s SEWBOT® t-shirt line requires just one operator and achieves an output that is twice that of manual sewing. This partnership will demonstrate the ability to reduce labor costs while producing goods in or close to their final markets, enabling retailers to manage costs, shorten production-to-market cycles, improve execution management and drive sustainability in their sourcing and supply networks. to download and read the full report.
Technologies such as cut-and-sew robotics enable a labor-less production line for relatively simple SKUs including t-shirts, pants and shorts. While robotics for apparel production is still a relatively new concept, 18 percent of retailers surveyed this year and last year expect to adopt production automation technology within the next three to five years. Expect the technology to compete with some of the others as it continues to mature and labor costs continue to rise in traditional sourcing hubs.
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