Automation is gaining ground in the garment industry

Automation has grown significantly in garment factories, with modern machinery being used to manufacture high-end garments and increase productivity in an effort to become more globally competitive.

Nearly all of the regulation-compliant garment factories, especially the 157 Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified, have already automated large sections of the factories, producing sophisticated apparel items, primarily outerwear, at home. using robotics.

In apparel industry supply chains, where competition is fierce, delivery time is very important because almost all apparel producing countries are competing with the same types of items and bidding on price strategic.

Thus, prompt deliveries through maintaining quality is a very important factor in keeping the company competitive.

It is not possible to remain competitive by maintaining the manual process of producing garments using a large number of workers. As a result, automation has become key to this competitive business.

Abdullah Hil Rakib, General Manager of Team Group, which has a LEED-certified garment factory, said it is currently using a semi-automated production line to bring more efficiency in productivity and time management and become competitive. .

In his factory, he had to automate some important sections to allow for greater efficiency.

For example, he said that one of his machines can make six pockets at a time, which otherwise, if all other factors were held constant, would have required six workers.

So the number of workers here has been reduced, but efficiency and quality have been maintained, he said.

This is a small example of how local clothing manufacturers have automated their production.

Like Rakib, many apparel manufacturers have automated their units to be more competitive in the fiercely competitive global apparel industry.

Rakib said the need to produce complex and high-end, value-added garments, including outerwear, has led to an increase in the use of automation in the garment industry in Bangladesh.

Previously, many workers produced the most basic clothing items, but this was at the low end of the scale in terms of efficiency and profitability, too.

But now automation has brought efficiency and the use of a “Standard Allowed Per Minute” (SAPM) measurement is also increasing as time loss does not take place due to data analysis in real time in the plant’s management system, he added.

Over the next 10 years, automation in the apparel industry will reach new heights as local apparel exporters need to adopt new technologies to be more competitive.

“Automating production gives the real data, accuracy, management efficiency. So we can make a good decision in running the business,” said Rakib, who has automated sections for cutting, sew and measure fabrics.

He is now saving 10-15% on costs by installing modern machinery in his factory.

In a normal factory, if a production line requires 700 workers, installing modern machinery for the same job leads to the need for 600 workers, he said.

“Installation of modern machinery is not a requirement of retailers and international brands, but it is necessary for business survival,” Rakib said.

Automation of the production line does not mean that worker employment will decrease as the industry is experiencing a crisis of skilled workers, he added.

MA Jabbar, managing director of DBL Group, another major textile and garment manufacturer, said automation or the use of modern machinery was important to maintain quality and improve efficiency.

“I have already installed many machines in the group’s textile factories. I have to adopt new technologies for the sustainability of my business,” Jabbar told the Daily Star by telephone.

As the industry grows and the influx of orders for the sophisticated clothing items also increases, local manufacturers will have to adopt the technologies as the future of the Bangladeshi clothing industry lies in value-added items. , he added.

Local textile factories transformed their production systems much earlier by installing modern machinery and now garment factories are adopting the latest technologies to be more competitive, said another leading garment exporter asking not to be named .

“Special products require special machines,” he said.

Although local factories have adopted new technologies, the need for labor will not decrease as the production of value-added clothing items requires more skilled workers, he added.

Miran Ali, managing director of Bitopi Group, a leading user of programmable machines in the garment industry, said the sweater industry is almost fully automated.

The weaving and knitting sectors are rapidly embracing automation, he said.

However, end-to-end automation is not possible, he said, adding that there was a possibility of increased unemployment for automation in the garment sector.

Shahidullah Azim, vice president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), said nearly 80 percent of garment factories use modern machinery to improve productivity and efficiency.

But in terms of the use of robotics, artificial intelligence and algorithms, it’s between 5 and 10%.

Industry-wide automation is not possible now, he said.

BGMEA Chairman Faruque Hassan said automation was being done in phases and full automation would take longer.

Michael O. Stutler