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09.18.2018

just-style: Technology inertia is stalling Africa’s clothing industry

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just-style: Technology inertia is stalling Africa’s clothing industry

Peter Santora, chief commercial officer of Atlanta, Georgia, US-based SoftWear Automation, warns that tight labour markets, rising wages and pressures to deliver short lead times with zero inventory is pushing textile and apparel manufacturers worldwide to automate. Companies that ignore this fact are at risk.

And real robotics are coming to the clothing sector. For instance, SoftWear’s Sewbot system enables one employee to produce more than 1,140 T-shirts a day. Previously, that work was done by 10 people who would produce less than 670 shirts, he says.

Indian manufacturers working with SoftWear have seen labour costs for producing a T-shirt tumble from US$0.40 with manual sewing to US$0.05 with its digital and robotic T-shirt workline, Santora explains.

“In China, it has come down from US$0.52 to US$0.09.” Moreover, the hourly labour cost of a robotised station is US$0.77 to US$0.33 per hour. “The expected global average labour cost in all major textile production countries is US$2.50 per hour. When you hear about automation or the use of robots, many people think of job losses, but the future of manufacturing is customised solutions,” Santora adds, stressing that because there “will also be human-machine interaction…there will need to be people to monitor interfaces.”

Given the reluctance within Africa’s clothing sector hitherto to adopt even more basic upgrades in technology and working methods, it may take years before such robotics to become widespread in the continent.

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