Textiles come in endless variations Historically product standardization has been the goto strategy for companies looking to maintain profits But with digital technology imagine smaller lot sizes and individualized orders that consequently improve profitability ndash a pipe dream several years ago

Sewing Digital Transformation into the Fabric of the Textiles Industry

Feb. 2, 2017
Thanks to advancements in digital technology, textile companies have the opportunity to achieve Industry 4.0 leadership and deliver automated control over the entire textile fabrication process.

It may be one of the oldest trades, but the textiles industry has come a long way from the early days of handcrafting. Once considered a labor-intensive craft, textiles has now become a heavily technology-driven process. Thanks to advancements in predictive analytics, IoT, artificial intelligence and ERP, there is an extraordinary opportunity for textile players to achieve Industry 4.0 leadership and deliver automated control over the textile fabrication process from design and coloring to fiber construction, fabric creation, finishing and delivery.

So what is driving these aspirations? For starters, consumer behavior and expectations have changed dramatically. Today’s digitally-connected consumer expects high-quality products; that much has remained constant. However, personalized, value-added services have shifted from traditionally premium offerings to assumed ones. Consumers expect quick, subscription-based product delivery and consultation. In addition, technological possibilities have increased dramatically since the last Industrial Revolution, delivering substantial improvements in production speed, precision, quality, and supply chain visibility. Digital transformation has fueled remarkable advancements ranging from 3D printing of dresses to smart factories.

But, a digital transformation journey is an intensive process, especially when applied to textiles – an industry built upon the finer details (e.g. dye stock management, workforce coordination, equipment monitoring). Supply chain visibility, strong partner collaboration, predictive information and analysis are all key requirements for success. If done correctly, a digitally-transformed textile business will be well-suited to manage and exceed customer expectations, adopt a transparent, omnichannel value chain, and identify profit-generating customer relationships and business segments – all crucial requirements in our increasingly demand-driven economy. Research suggests that those who embrace this challenge and execute a digital strategy outperform average industry standards by as much as 10%. The first step in this rigorous process: have a plan.

Have a Digital Transformation Strategy in Place

It’s easy to get caught up in the short and long-term benefits that digital transformation can deliver – reduced handling costs, predictive capabilities, activity-based costing – before actually understanding what it takes to get there. Large-scale business ventures require careful planning, and digital transformation is no exception.

Stefan Weisenberger: "While they are primarily known for producing thousands of pounds of textiles daily, mills also have the potential to generate massive amounts of valuable data."

Your organization should have a clear mission with specific objectives that outline your expectations and lay out the scope and volume of your digital transition: changes to structural and decorative design processes, legacy system updates, cost/benefit analyses, supply chain partnerships – all important factors that must be taken into consideration.

Case in point, Pacific Textiles, a $900 million manufacturer of customized knitted fabrics in Asia, established that it wanted to streamline operations, support international expansion and their overarching growth plan, and become an industry front-runner in Industry 4.0. A well-defined focus and an end-to-end operational audit allowed Pacific Textiles to effectively navigate their digital transition, laying the groundwork to then implement a platform that could support real-time data analytics and achieve transparent ERP management.

Getzner Textile has taken a similar digital-based approach to improving their operation that largely depends on keeping its weaving machines running almost every day of the year. With greater manufacturing integration and intelligence, Getzner has achieved rapid automation and greater transparency through maintenance automation (with faster root cause analysis). While rooted in a different, finance-backed objective, Everest Textile has also embraced digital change by consolidating their production sites and numerous lines of business into a single integrated solution for greater visibility and decision-making.

Treat Data as an Asset

While they are primarily known for producing thousands of pounds of textiles daily, mills also have the potential to generate massive amounts of valuable data. The key for any textiles company looking to establish itself as a digital leader is to view this information as an irreplaceable commodity. After all, ineffective sourcing processes, limited supply chain visibility, poor sustainability management and subcontractor integration, and disconnected financial systems are all issues that begin and end with poor data utilization.

Advancements in digital technology have pushed industries past the point where data can be ignored; competitive advantage depends on it. Tailored platform solutions enable automation in all aspects of textile fabrication – from design and coloring to fiber construction – and optimize asset utilization and productivity. Global organizations have taken notice, as digital transformation initiatives in textiles are becoming more widespread as companies grapple for market control.

Abandon One-Size-Fits-All

Textiles come in endless variations. Historically, product standardization has been the go-to strategy for companies looking to maintain profits. However, this approach doesn’t always provide the best fit for the customer. Organizations now need to draw value from the data generated by thousands of individual transactions and use this information to power quick order completion via tailor-made solutions. Market players must embrace this customer-centric approach, and digital technology is crucial to support complex data processing that helps them do so. Imagine smaller lot sizes and individualized orders that consequently improve profitability – a pipe dream several years ago. Fortunately, technological innovation has made this scenario a reality.

Executives Must Embrace Change

In the next few years, we will continue to see more investment in management platforms and data monitoring tools in the textile industry. The right systems will help businesses judge customer demand with greater accuracy and help deliver value-added features or individualized aspects in their products, boosting customer relationships and brand loyalty in the process. New manufacturing facilities filled with state-of-the-art equipment will help their skilled workforces work smarter and faster.

However, it is important to note that this change cannot occur without an organizational dedication to change and it starts at the C-suite level. Many organizations suffer from corporate cultures ruled by risk avoidance and a “don’t change what’s working” attitude. The last prong of a successful digital transformation campaign (that should apply to textiles and every other industry): senior executives must take it upon themselves to serve as role models for their organizations and inspire a culture of innovation and creativity for the shop floor to follow. 

Stefan Weisenberger is a director at SAP, responsible for the Industry Strategy, Industry Solution Definition & Portfolio Management for the Mill Products & Mining Business Unit. 

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