May 1, 2021

How Industry 4.0 Will Revolutionize Garment Manufacturing in Asia

Industry 4.0 is the name adopted by many for what is also known as the fourth industrial revolution. These cycles of change that radically transform our economies, manufacturing practices, and the very nature of work have been ongoing since the early 19th century. The earlier revolutions were characterized by the introduction of mechanization, mass production, and then automation in manufacturing processes. What makes this current period of change distinct to the last is the pace of innovation and disruption.

As Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic argues in his 2017 book ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution’, Industry 4.0 is not merely a continuation of the 3rd industrial revolution for three main reasons;

  1. Speed – the pace of change is now exponential rather than linear
  2. Scope – almost every industry in every country is being disrupted
  3. Systems – the breadth and depth of change is transforming entire systems of production & management

This new set of business challenges and opportunities is already changing the way garment manufacturers develop their strategy and investment plans for the coming years. The availability of new technology and rapid digitalization of processes is pushing the garment industry forward by maximizing human potential through the integration of people and machines.

From expectations to experiences

Consumer behavior and demands are changing; from relatively simple expectations of the quality and function of a product, to a growing demand for end to end experiences of a brand or product. We are living in a world that demands immediacy, a world where almost 90% of millennials report that their phone never leaves their side, a world in which consumers demand immediate data, content, products, and enhancements. 

As manufacturing becomes increasingly consumer-driven, these macro trends filter through the value chain to manufacturers as ever shortening product life cycles, increasing demand for product customization, and a faster speed to market.

Innovations that have emerged from this need for increasing agility and responsiveness include digital prototyping and the development of responsive manufacturing models. With digital product prototyping, powerful 3D rendering software is used to create highly configurable digital prototypes that can be used for designers and manufacturers to collaborate more effectively and efficiently in the early stages of product creation. Bringing products to market faster than before requires manufacturers to challenge their traditional operating model from order to shipping; reducing production lead times from 60 days to close to 20 days clearly requires significant change. Innovative manufacturers are developing methods of staging materials close to the point of manufacture so that demand is anticipated and can be responded to quickly, but without the multitude of risks associated with holding large stocks of finished goods. Although seemingly a simple concept, this model requires a certain level of organizational maturity for a manufacturer to successfully integrate systems and processes with both customers and suppliers.

Integration of products and data

The introduction of new technologies alongside the explosion in quantity and availability of data is driving new areas of integration between machines, people, and products. The most easily recognized examples of this are wearable technology such as smartwatches that are able to record and interpret data from the people that are wearing them. This trend can also be observed in the technologies used on the manufacturing floor where IoT, mobile technology, and connected devices are providing data and insights that were not previously available.

These advancements mean that manufacturers are able to use real-time data to maximize the effectiveness of production planning and execution, reducing unproductive time at various stages of the production process. Such processes allow for the development of flexible manufacturing models that can support smaller lot sizes and shorter production lead times.

New levels of collaboration

A defining feature of Industry 4.0 is the pace of innovation and disruption, and this requires manufacturers to respond with new approaches to how they collaborate with stakeholders. In a traditional model, relationships between competing manufacturers might be best described as adversarial. However, more progressive manufacturers now recognize that there are opportunities to collaborate; to pool knowledge and resources to jointly address challenges and limitations, without harming free competition or sharing commercially sensitive information. 

Manufacturers are also recognizing that investments in dedicated innovation teams enable them to scale innovations rapidly. These teams are either formed as in-house multi-disciplinary, dedicated teams, or as partnerships with external partners, often start-ups, as they provide the agility and skills in return for the capital and opportunity to implement at scale which they seek. Technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotics are areas in which garment manufacturers in Asia have built up a particularly formidable competitive edge, remaining on course to deliver value for the foreseeable future. 

New operating models

With such a level of transformation occurring within the operations of manufacturers, a similar level of transformation to organizational structure is also taking place. Not only is the nature of the work carried out by individuals changing, but the context in which it is carried out requires different skills and methods of organizing work. At an individual level there is increasing need for multi-skilling that support organizations in their need to be flexible. Increasing interaction and integration with technology also requires skills that were previously less important. Greater focus on collaboration and innovation at work will require a change in mindset and culture for manufacturers entrenched in traditional organizational structures.

The most successful manufacturers will be those who recognize and invest early in attracting and retaining the right people, provide a working style and environment that enable them to successfully use the skills they possess, and provide a digitally-connected working and learning experience at all levels.

Leading the change

None of these changes come automatically, of course. They are the result of expertly integrated technology, continuous investment in innovation, conscious changes in business culture, and the acquisition of talented people.

As a manufacturer and exporter of world-class apparel, Hi-Tech is embracing the opportunities that Industry 4.0 presents, and using these to provide maximum value for our partners. Contact us today to find out how we can help you.

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