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11.2.2017

WTiN: Inaugural Textile 4.0 Conference provides digital vision

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WTiN: Inaugural Textile 4.0 Conference provides digital vision

Tansy Fall reviews the first edition of the Textile 4.0 Conference, which took place in Amsterdam on 25-26 October 2017. The programme explored the potential impact of Industry 4.0 and IoT innovation on the textile and apparel value chain.

The textile & apparel industry is on the brink of an industrial revolution; or more likely, evolution. The much talked about theme of Industry 4.0 is swiftly becoming a technological reality and cyber-physical systems – the integration of computation, networking, and physical processes – are being integrated into the supply chain, opening up new possibilities for harnessing data, predicting maintenance needs and enhancing efficiency. In such a diverse industry, there are many ways in which this evolution will have an impact. But, for many, what this impact will be remains ambiguous and needs further exploration.

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Digital disruptors

The conference touched frequently on disruption of the traditional value chain through automation. Peter Santora, chief commercial officer at Softwear Automation, which offers automated sewing technology that could be a major disruptor in the apparel manufacturing sector, outlined the shift from a push-led supply chain to one that is pull-led. Santora noted that, whilst the industry was once brand led, pushing designs and garments to the end consumer, designs are now being pulled through the supply chain by consumers themselves. In an effort to embrace this change, manufacturers in the industry will need to be a lot more flexible, and lead times will need to be shorter. “New tech companies are only looking at pull,” said Santora, who added that ‘automating Asia” would not shorten lead times in Europe and the US. “It reduces costs, but it doesn’t solve the overall problem,” he added, saying that there is a need for businesses to start being more conscientious rather than chasing profit: ‘Fashion for good.’

Based on this, Softwear Automation has implemented a policy to only sell its technology to businesses manufacturing for their local market. Santora said the company would be happy to sell its machinery to a company in China if they were going to serve the Chinese market, but that if they were looking to export, Softwear Automation would refuse the business. This takes into account sustainability, with particular focus on reducing the carbon footprint of the textile and apparel industry as well as proximity to the consumer. Santora’s presentation asserted that the US consumes 3.1 billion T-shirts per year and that, compared to current T-shirt production methods, Softwear Automation’s technology is 17 times faster.

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