Business transformation in the light industry is linked to the introduction of technologies that have become available in recent years: analytics, use of big data and machine learning, artificial intelligence and robotization, digitalization of targeting and prospecting processes.
Textile development: planning more precisely
The first step in the production of any product is development. This is where you should look for the first opportunities to systematically improve business processes.
The demand for any textile products depends heavily on fashion trends, and at the moment of development it is difficult to say what would be popular at the stage of sales. In order to keep up with the changing trends, it is necessary to release each new product as quickly as possible – in other words, to shorten the time from the designer’s sketch to the store showcase. Those who have not managed it in time are forced to sell out at discount prices – until a few years ago, this used to be considered a common risk.
In addition, the textile and clothing markets are moving towards customization of orders: there are more and more independent fashion designers creating products in small runs. In this environment, planning and design are becoming increasingly complex. There are more and more R&D processes involved, and at the same time, manufacturers need to manage the life cycle of each product: select materials, control costs, manage test samples, and monitor compliance with contractors’ expectations. And to do it with a distributed team that works from different parts of the planet.
To keep up with everything, enterprises implement PLM-systems, software for product lifecycle management. They help to systematize data, assess the economic feasibility of individual orders and their portfolios, make recommendations based on calculations. And, in addition, quickly generate purchase and procurement tasks, modifing the supply chain, adding or removing product range items. Using such an online search tool as EasyList, procurement departments can in no time create a database of potential national or international suppliers in a few clicks and send them purchase requests for quotation or invitations to procurement tenders. The result is improved product quality, reduced production defects, better cost structures and faster time-to-market policy. In some cases, the time from product idea to its implementation can be as short as a week – a result that was completely unattainable just a few years ago.
Manufacturing: IIoT and Big Data
Product manufacturing is a key process for all businesses. Thus, it is not surprising that technology is most often introduced at this very stage: this is where there are the greatest risks, including to human life. And it is here that raw materials, repair and maintenance costs are the highest.
At this stage, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) helps to optimize processes. It includes interconnected controllers, data transmission, visualization and interpretation. The use of control
sensors with network access allows monitoring and timely routine maintenance, predicting accidents or preparing parts for replacement in advance. And understanding of actual and planned workload of the equipment connected to the network helps to organize an automatic flow of orders between different production facilities in the chain from material suppliers to end consumers.
The amount of data generated by the Internet of Things can reach millions of gigabytes per day – which is why it is closely related to the concept of Big Data. Computerization simplifies and speeds up many procedures in enterprises: physical parameters of equipment can be controlled remotely using a smartphone or tablet. As a result, some of the routine work is now done by automated systems. They work faster and more reliably than people, and this largely solves the problem of staff shortage.
According to Exploding Topics, the IoT industry is anticipated to top $1 trillion by 2024.
Design: digital and 3D printing
The concept of ‘fast fashion’, i.e. updating the product range several times a season, is becoming widespread in the design sphere. Thus, ‘fast fashion’ forces manufacturers to look for new ways of patterning, and the best option is digital printing. Its efficiency is explained by its wide possibilities – any print can be applied to almost any fabric.
The high speed of the method allows you to fulfill customer orders in a short time. An excellent example is Zara: thanks to digital printing, the retailer produces small batches of textile products to meet the specific requirements.
Another advantage of digital printing is environmental friendliness. It is provided not only by avoiding overproduction: according to available data, the use of this method of printing allows to minimize carbon dioxide emissions by 95%, reduce electricity consumption by 55%, and water consumption – by 60% compared to similar equipment.
Another area of technology development for design is 3D printing. 3D printing can be used to create molds or products, but more often it is used for individual design elements – for example, Nike and Adidas use 3D printers to print soles for athletic shoes.
Sales: 3D scanners, VR and AR, online prospecting
In marketing and sales, the future lies in customization – the personalization of products to meet the expectations of specific consumers. Products will be customized to fit the personal characteristics of the individual, such as height and posture.
Precise measurements can be taken contactless with the help of a portable 3D scanner. It works like this: a person stands on a platform, and the device scans his figure for three to four minutes. Then the image is displayed on the monitor. The data are fully compatible with modeling programs, and therefore it becomes possible to further create patterns. The designer can not only virtually try on the client’s product, but also make changes to the shape and cut directly on the model.
Not only that, customers can already try on clothes and shoes virtually thanks to VR- and AR-technologies. The very idea of a virtual fitting room appeared in 2012, when the Japanese company Uniqlo began to install LCD screens with augmented reality instead of mirrors: the item did not need to be put on – to see your reflection, you just had to choose the appropriate model.
With the widespread use of smartphones, AR-technologies came to the forefront. They were successfully used by Converse: the buyer could try on shoes by pointing the phone at his foot and, if he liked them, buy them immediately.
Online digital prospecting tools like EasyList have made it much easier for sales teams to enter new markets – all they need to do is combine filters to select potential buyers (e.g. fabric importers in Eastern Europe) and they have a targeted prospect database at their disposal in few minutes.
Management: comprehensive update of business processes
All of the above technologies not only solve the tasks of specific departments and teams, but also lead to the achievement of strategic business goals: efficiency growth, increased competitiveness, active development in the market. However, ‘to-the-point’ implementation of technologies at different stages of production is not enough – it requires comprehensive digitalization of management processes, which requires flexibility, fast decision-making, and simplified procedures.
However, there are promising opportunities here: light industry enterprises are introducing new technologies at all stages of the life cycle though at a small pace, but they are becoming more competitive and expanding their export potential more and more effectively.