The apparel industry is going through so much change. Consumer, channel, and supply chain shifts and increased economic volatility are the drivers. With the power balance subtly shifting from the seller to the buyer, consumers are dictating what they want. Manufacturers must provide them with products that meet their needs.
While this shift in balance brings its own set of challenges, it also offers tremendous opportunities for forward-thinking manufacturers. These folks innovate and adopt technologies like IoT to drive higher value.
Gartner predicts that the number of connected things in use will hit 14.2 billion in 2019, and grow to 25 billion by 2021. While IoT is improving business processes across many industries, apparel manufacturing represents a massive opportunity for process improvement through connected devices.
IoT can not only help in reducing costs and increasing profit margins but also help in business growth, in opening up new revenue channels, and in enhancing the customer buying experience along the way. Here’s how IoT is impacting, well, completely transforming apparel manufacturing:
- Inventory management: Inventory accuracy is a major obstacle for many apparel manufacturers. Without clear visibility into the demand for a particular product, they will struggle to maintain optimum levels of inventory. IoT can help address that. IoT technology such as sensors, smart shelves and doors, robotic picking vehicles etc. can provide a crystal-clear, real-time image of the stocks. This will allow manufacturers to optimize their inventory. Using IoT, apparel manufacturers can automate replenishment based on actual customer needs and not just on retail orders.
- Process efficiency: IoT finds great application in improving process efficiency for apparel manufacturers. With workers performing tasks driven by instructions received through connected devices, there is more insight into the time it takes to complete work orders, filter through past work orders, and close them in time. Since all the information is recorded in real-time, shop floor managers can access the information instantaneously. This ability to track work, document it, and send it to managers – when paired with wearable technology – can provide managers with an elevated view of operations. They can use that data to boost process efficiency.
- Asset monitoring: Considering the various types of equipment and machinery that goes into manufacturing apparel, IoT can also find great use in monitoring these assets. IoT can help manufacturers carry out production asset monitoring and tracking –location monitoring as well as monitoring of parameters such as quality, performance, anomalies, bottlenecks, and more. With all moving parts connected by technologies like RFID, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth, manufacturers can get visibility into assets, monitor fluctuations in operation, and take proactive measures to ensure optimum performance.
- Process automation: In any manufacturing set up, some tasks are extremely time-intensive. However, IoT can deliver significant automation into the shop floor and reduce time-to-market. Robotics and process automation across every stage of production, including warehousing, can reduce labor intensity, control processing time and errors, and improve worker conditions. Robotic arms can accurately guide pieces of clothing through a sewing machine. Automation can bring down costs and speed up the process. And self-driving vehicles, and sorting and picking devices can transport items to the right shelves, while significantly reducing manual effort and increasing production speed.
- Supply chain management: As intense competition grips the apparel industry, shortening lead times is key to ensuring quick delivery of products. IoT allows manufacturers to integrate and carry out the entire process “in-house” to increase speed and supply chain efficiency. By carrying out tasks like materials sourcing, creative and technical design, samples, production and shipping physicallyor virtually under the same roof, IoT allows manufacturers to run all their processes seamlessly. The real-time flow of information across departments ensures that everyone has access to the same data creating greater consistency.
- Real-time feedback: The ecosystem of connected devices on the manufacturing shop floor can enable apparel organizations to receive real-time feedback and alerts for defects or damaged goods. Such timely feedback can help save money and eliminate waste. Errors caught early can be fixed faster and with less impact on the rest of the delivery. Real-time monitoring and data collection from the production process can facilitate quicker, more proactive, and clearer communication. With such insight, IoT enables everyone in the manufacturing unit to be always updated. They learn about changes in real-time. This helps in the replenishment of stock and optimizing business planning.
- Change management: As the demand for customized and personalized apparel increases, IoT makes it possible for apparel manufacturers to design and produce products tailored to customers tastes and needs – fast! Real-time data from customer preferences, when fed back into the production process, allows manufacturers to make changes in designs, instantly review changes, and improve quality of This can not only minimize unnecessary waste and error in samples before finalization but also enables necessary adjustments in real-time.
Drive speed and flexibility
With the various applications that IoT offers in the apparel industry, there is no doubt that the technology can actually act as a competitive differentiator. Through continuous visibility into the manufacturing process, IoT can make the garment manufacturing process far more efficient.
From inventory management, to process automation, asset monitoring to supply chain management, real-time feedback to change management – the use cases of IoT in apparel manufacturing are many. In an IoT world, consumer experience can be far more elevated and prioritized, and the constant communication between devices can become a critical factor to drive speed, flexibility, and success for apparel manufacturers.