In 2018, Niall Murphy, Co-Founder & CEO of Evrythng, spoke at the Stockholm Fashion Tech Talks about how smart fashion was poised to disrupt the apparel industry. This was not limited to just the world of wearables. He said that the Internet of Things (IoT) wasn’t restricted to connected cars or smart homes, but had promising applications to factory machinery in the apparel manufacturing process as well.
Two years later and the connected factory has certainly made a dramatic entrance. The apparel manufacturing industry can be a complex puzzle for industry newbies and experts alike. The old way of design and production often meant planning lines years in advance, but this is no longer the case. From CADs to packaging, IOT (and its manufacturing counterpart, the Industrial Internet of Things or IIoT) speeds up each and every process for the otherwise elongated production process.
Let’s look at some of the ways that IIoT has been transforming fashion’s factory floors.
With technologies such as AR, VR, and 3D imaging, designers are able to conceptualize and build prototypes at astonishing speeds. Through 3D technology, designers are now able to create digital patterns that fit to mannequins. This helps eliminate the number of rounds of physical prototypes for an approved final sample. This saves massively on time and also helps in producing made to measure simpler and practical. This means fewer iterations, lower costs, and saved resources.
It’s also noteworthy to mention the huge role that tech plays in predicting future fashion trends. All these important decisions that fashion brands had to base on gut feel and crystal ball-gazing are now data-driven. Millenials are the largest consumer base and the hardest to cater to. This is partly due to the fact that their needs and desires are ever evolving. Technology helps bring pace to production, which means that brands can quickly test and turnaround new styles without restoring to guesswork.
Inventory management is a headache for fashion brands of all sizes. How much stock do we have? How much do we need to reorder? When will new inventory arrive? How do we track multiple orders at once? Keeping track of all these inventory-related questions without the help of technology can be a nightmare. Relying on manual processes leads to errors which cost businesses money. IoT tech such as sensors, smart shelves, and RFID tags on packages can deliver accurate real-time information of the stocks -both in-store and in transit. This means that brands can go beyond keeping track of their inventory and can even learn how to optimize it. IoT allows apparel manufacturers to automate the replenishing of stocks based on the actual uptake rather than predictions of retail orders.
Connected devices are more accurate, consistent, and reliable than humans. They can take over the manual, repetitive, and bulk tasks and leave the more intuitive, creative, and judgment-focused tasks to the humans. Workers can monitor the production for exceptions and issues. Managers, on the other hand, have the task of monitoring the masses of data generated by these automated processes to identify issues in the overall processes.
One of the most important parts of connected factory floors is the ability to help manufacturers with asset monitoring, production, and even health-tracking of vital pieces of equipment. Aspects such as manufacturing performance, quality, and anomalies are easily identifiable thanks to connected devices. This helps manage the machines better, define maintenance schedules, and predict when issues may arise. Addressing problems early in the cycle, maybe even before they occur, could help save time, money, and reduce production downtime. The Industrial Internet of Things will help fashion brands make better decisions by understanding the machine health in factories.
IDC and SAP have reported that last year, 60% of global manufacturers were already using data generated from connected devices to make improvements to their manufacturing processes. They also reported that leveraging IoT would drive as much as a 15% increase in productivity. These gains could accrue to the fashion and apparel manufacturing brands too. After all, from better quality control to maximizing efficiency, there’s a lot for them to gain from the connected factory and IoT.