Textiles are an integral part of everyday life. From clothes and furnishing to bedding and medical textiles like Personal Protective Equipment and surgical masks, it’s virtually impossible to do without them.
To meet this demand while grappling with supply chain issues and rising costs of energy, textile manufacturers have had to find ways to improve productivity by creating more with less – and digital transformation could be the key.
Why is digital transformation important to the textiles industry?
The productivity crisis in manufacturing has worsened in recent years, and this is especially true for the textiles industry. Three factors play a big part in this.
Firstly, the textile supply chain was badly affected by the pandemic and exposed how vulnerable the fashion and textile industry is to such disruptions. To better manage supply chains and mitigate disruptions, manufacturers need to enable greater visibility of their logistics and identify trends, as well as better predict demand. Textile manufacturers also need to create more products with less materials. This highlights the need for digital supply chain management.
Secondly, the energy crisis brought about by geopolitical issues has increased costs and caused energy-dependent countries much economic turmoil and hardship as power cuts have resulted in shortened work weeks. As such, the promise of digital transformation and the advantages of streamlined processes and energy savings have become more compelling than ever.
Thirdly, textile manufacturers have started to embark on green initiatives in response to shifting consumer sentiments as well as changing government policies. To establish a circular economy in textiles manufacturing, manufacturers must be able to track the textiles from sourcing to end-of-life. The CircularID project uses blockchain and RFID technologies to achieve this, and also informs customers through QR codes about the textiles used to make the product, where these were sourced, and how to recycle them.
The CircularID project enables greater transparency and visibility across the supply chain, ensuring the materials used are made or sourced in a sustainable manner. With these identifiers, it becomes much easier to collect, sort, reuse and recycle textiles in fully automated textile sorting plants.
Case study: Uniqlo makes ‘greener’ denim
Denim has been a global wardrobe staple for close to a century due to its timeless appearance and durability. However, producing denim harms the environment greatly.
According to some estimates, one pair of denim jeans requires 3,781 litres of water to produce. (Find out how to improve water efficiency in manufacturing to build a more sustainable business.) Toxic dyes are often used to create the signature blue colour, and the faded, distressed look is usually achieved through sandblasting, a labour-intensive process that can result in health problems for workers.
Fortunately, digitalisation and new technologies can help address these issues.
Manufacturing Uniqlo’s blue cycle jeans involves less water than traditional jeans. Ozone-mist washing machines – which use nanobubbles – greatly reduce the amount of water needed for the finishing process, by up to 99%. Uniqlo also purifies and reuses wastewater generated by the jeans-making process to reduce overall wastewater volumes.
In addition, instead of the traditional method of sandblasting or sandpapering, Uniqlo uses lasers to achieve the ‘distressed’ look, simultaneously reducing the burden of work and improving the work environment for workers.
What are the biggest challenges to digital transformation in the textiles industry?
Textile manufacturing facilities are often found in underdeveloped countries. As such, a critical obstacle that stands in the way of digital transformation is the typically poor state of infrastructure and the data network in such places. Basic aspects of smart manufacturing that developed countries may take for granted, such as a reliable electricity supply and decent internet connectivity, may not be available.
In other words, before textiles manufacturing can evolve and advance, we first need to improve basic infrastructure. This calls for a great deal of resources and strong commitment from multiple stakeholders, usually in the form of advanced technology investment capital. Unfortunately, investors may be hesitant about high upfront costs that do not immediately prove beneficial.
On top of that, workers in underdeveloped countries may not be equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to support and fully realise the potential of Industry 4.0 transformation. To properly execute digital transformation in the textiles industry, workers will need to be upskilled or reskilled – a feat which also requires resources.
Next steps to transform textiles manufacturing
Digital transformation could potentially improve productivity in the textiles industry by a great deal, as adoption of Industry 4.0 in textile manufacturing is still low at around 28%. In the fast-changing modern world, digitalisation is essential to future-proof the textiles industry.
To properly assess what your textile factory needs and to create a roadmap for your digital transformation, leverage INCIT’s SIRI framework and tools. Learn more about what INCIT is doing to facilitate industrial transformation as we work towards a more sustainable and future-proof manufacturing sector, or subscribe to our monthly newsletter to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the industry.