Sportswear International

How Automation Will Change The Fashion Industry



In the February edition of Keyhouse at MUNICH FABRIC START, Sabine Kühnl, Editor-in-Chief at Sportswear International, hosted a panel about “Don’t be afraid of robots! How automation will change the fashion industry”. Five leading experts offered their unique insights into automation, digitalization and localization – which are currently some of the key trends driving the global fashion market.

With Ebru Ozaydin (Artistic Milliners), Jon Zornow (founder of Sewbo), Dr David Schmelzeisen (Research Associate of ITA, RWTH Aachen), Dr. Thomas Fischer (Head of Research at ITF Denkendorf) and Benjamin Baumann (Project Manager at Kuka).

Sportswear International Talk, February 5th 2020 at Keyhouse, Munich Fabric Start

Don’t be afraid of robots! How automation will change the fashion industry
As we move closer towards a fashion system which resembles Industry 4.0, the five experts offered their insights into our current status and the role of automation, digitalization and localization.

Are we operating in times of Industry 4.0?
In terms of the classic, mass production of our fashion systems, our panellists agreed we are not fully digitized yet. Where Industry 4.0 is concerned, it has a lot to do with digitization and digital product development and simply the necessary steps have not been integrated throughout all areas of the production chain. Fischer estimates the progress among the various fragments of the fashion industry only reaches a maximum of 50%, with Baumann also suggesting that if we break down the many subtopics, we are making greater progress in some areas than others.

What then is the greatest challenge facing our industry?
Industry 4.0 relies on the exchange and sharing of data, which is currently still a problem for our fashion industry which is greatly fragmented. Where progress is often stunted due to manufacturers working conservatively instead of as part of a community which makes sharing and accessing data difficult. Collecting and processing data at all stages plays a vital role for Ozaydin, in order to bring more information about the production into the hands of the end consumer. With greater investment in automation technology, linking systems together in this way Zornow elaborates will make data sharing infinitely more efficient and available.

Is there a role textiles can play as part of Industry 4.0?
Textiles can be distinguished as part of the network where clothes can play an essential role in communication with its environment and the wearer. Through various integrated CPS’s (Cyber Physical Systems) such as sensors and antennas, textiles can become extremely useful materials for Industry 4.0 as well as a lot of other sectors. We explored this topic in greater detail with The Nurture Room project by fashion technology expert Pauline van Dongen also at the Keyhouse.

Will there always be a place for humans in fashion and textile manufacturing?
Through greater collaborative efforts and research into digitization, it will be possible to drive down the initial costs of automation which would lead to increased investments into automating processes. However, these will be non-value adding tasks and currently cannot replace the labour-intensive processes carried out by human beings. Schmelzeisen typically advises that 40% of production should be digitised but views the future of robots in the fashion industry as a collaborative relationship, where robots are brought in to assist workers and provide relief in difficult or strenuous tasks. Repetitive or mundane processes can be out sourced while increasing focus on value adding tasks only achieved by humans. There will be more jobs which evolve are suited to the human nature, their creativity and craftsmanship also in the development and management of these processes.

What is the role of localization in this new fashion system?
With global trends indicating that labour costs are set to increase in the conventionally ‘cheaper’ countries, this could make the higher investment costs of automation technology more feasible. At the same time, from a sustainability point of view, there will be an increase in companies operating regionally where materials can be processed and recycled locally. With solutions such as nearshoring, micro factories and smaller production centres offering attractive alternatives in times of political and environmental uncertainty. Also offering a solution to the high demand for personalisation and bespoke design services at the point of manufacturing, leading to the invention of new, customised technology and automated processes scaled to these new production processes. “Everything that can be digitized will be and everything that can be digitized can be personalised.” – Dr Thomas Fischer

Want to know more? Watch the full discussion now available on our YouTube channel.