Tech is spinning a new wave of innovation on its loom. It can improve factory operations by locating errors, defects, and deficiencies faster than the human eye; it can spot, forecast, and analyze trends using real-time data; and the enhanced flexibility it delivers in fiber production has never made sustainable fashion more achievable.
Since the industrial revolution, the fashion and textile industries have developed a cornucopia of tools, techniques, and technologies that streamline textile production to deliver fashion products to the retail space in a quick, efficient manner. From the invention of the cotton gin to the development of synthetic fibers, innovative ideas realized have established new standards of operation across these two industries.
However, the modern fashion supply chain has become deeply complex and new, innovative solutions are needed to achieve a competitive edge in the newest industrial revolution: Industry 4.0. Integrating emerging technological solutions into the textile production process secures your brand the opportunity to thrive and shape this future of fashion. But, what are the technological solutions worth implementing and which are best left by the wayside? What key areas do the smartest ones address in textile production? Most of all, which are cost-effective to install? Let’s find out:
How can textile manufacturing processes – from fiber, yarn, and fabric production to dyeing, printing, and finishing – become controlled and automated to produce fashion products at a higher, more efficient rate while maintaining the high-quality standards of your brand?
Enter in the Internet of Things, or IoT for short. In IoT technology, a network of physical devices or, “things,” connected to the internet are embedded with processors, sensors, communication hardware, and software that collect, communicate, and exchange data with other devices and systems via edge computing. Using artificial intelligence (AI), the data collected by IoT connected devices filters through AIs parameters that deliver an intelligent decision, all without the need of human interaction.
Typically found in smart home technology, IoT devices have slowly shifted into the textile manufacturing sphere. Textile producers have begun integrating IoT solutions known as industrial IoT (IIoT) across a plethora of production processes to improve overall efficiency. With IIoT, textile producers now can:
- Conduct Predictive Maintenance – Machine downtime from factory equipment failures hurts the fashion supply chain. It increases production lead times and incurs more costs due to the labor and parts needed to identify and repair the issues. With IIoT devices, rather than reacting, factories can be proactive in their maintenance, using real-time performance monitors and sensors that collect and analyze data about their equipment. Machines in the process of going defunct can be identified in real-time, allowing informed decision making around the time, labor, and resources needed to conduct equipment maintenance and prevent a failure. This, in turn, prevents an unexpected delay in production.
- Manage Energy Efficiency – By integrating an IIoT device known as a smart meter, brands can collect and analyze gas, energy, and water consumption data to assist with textile manufacturer audits. This can help them determine if they need to make changes and modifications in their infrastructure or production processes to meet their stated sustainability requirements. On the factory floor, sensors in IIoT devices connected to machinery will detect low energy performance and through AI, send an alert to notify staff of which machines are underperforming.
- Provide Safer Work Environments – IIoT serves many different purposes in providing an optimized workplace that caters to employee safety. Using environmental sensors, air quality, CO2, temperature, and humidity levels are monitored in real-time to ensure they remain at safe, healthy levels for employees to work under. Predictive maintenance also helps prevent accidents and injuries caused by using faulty machinery. Most importantly, from the data collected by IIoT devices, factories can spot safety trends, identify areas of high-risk, and strategically plan ways to implement safety measures across the factory floor.
With an industry wide push towards sustainable fashion, textile manufacturers are researching and developing ways to produce sustainable clothing that is durable, long-lasting, and reusable. From mushrooms to hemp and other natural material sources, textile manufacturers have begun to diversify their material sourcing and production processes to comply with the changing attitudes about fashion’s impact on the environment.
However, is there a solution available for current organic material sources like cotton or synthetically produced fabrics like polyester? Can their fibers be manipulated to create more sustainable and durable fashion? With the emergence of an engineering field known as nanotechnology, textile manufacturers may have discovered their panacea.
The scientific alteration of nanoparticles can produce versatile fabrics called nanofabrics. To give you an idea of how small nanoparticles are, they’re measured in a range of 1 to 100 nanometers, where a single nanometer is a billionth of a meter, or 10-9 of a meter. They have a high surface area to volume ratio, which means that nanoparticles exhibit a greater level of interaction with other materials compared to objects on the macroscopic scale.
Using a process known as sol-gel, nanoparticles are dissolved and transformed into a gel-like, nano coating that, once applied to textile fabrics, will bond to the source material fibers to give them unique properties that improve a garment’s durability with:
- Water Repellency
- UV Protection
- Odor Elimination
- Wrinkle Resistance
Are IoT devices and Nanotechnology Worth It?
As the textile industry transitions into Industry 4.0, integrating IoT and nanotechnology seem like the next logical step for textile manufacturers. Their benefits are undeniable – IoT technology collects data from the work environment to automate processes and provide employers with valuable information concerning their machinery and employee safety. Nanotechnology has the potential to create optimized garments that are more durable and sustainable, reducing the fashion industry’s environmental waste impacts stemming from the disposal of worn garments and chemical run off.
Even with these benefits, there are a few considerations textile manufacturers must account for when evaluating these technologies:
- IoT costs vary – Costs for integrating Iot devices will depend on their functional components; the types of devices needed, the network they will communicate on, the support and application services (edge computing or cloud computing), and cybersecurity measures for data protection and privacy.
- Nanotechnology is still in its infancy – Currently, the main application of nanotechnology in the textile industry is the nano coating of garments. Nanofibers can be spun using a technique called electrospinning, but its use in the textile industry to create “smart fabrics” is developing and expensive to implement on a large scale.
With that said, the key importance for textile manufacturers is having leadership in place who will embrace and make the organizational commitment towards integrating these Industry 4.0 technologies into their business model. They are not simply an IT or operational technology (OT) initiative; all facets of the business must adjust their operations to successfully integrate IIoT and nanotechnology. To do so, manufacturers will need to:
- Generate a list of use cases and prioritize them, accounting for their potential financial impact and ease of implementation.
- Plan a rollout of the use cases at test factories that is value driven and pursues impact.
- Establish a common governance model for IT and OT teams that clearly defines their roles and establishes a common set of KPIs and communication channels.
- Build a team dedicated to the implementation of the technology who will monitor the installation process, look for and find solutions for deviations, and develop training guides and tutorials for employees.