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Preparing for a Global Digitalized Advanced-Manufacturing Sector (Experience from the Textile and Clothing Industry )

In the contemporary world, digitalization is a common trend in almost all industries. It is crucial in globally operating advanced-manufacturing industries where supply chain partners, such as raw material/component suppliers, manufacturers, intermediaries and retailers are located in different countries. Examples of such industries are the international textile and clothing industry, the automobile industry, the food processing industry, the energy industry, the toys industry and so on.
Conventionally, all the supply chain partners in any manufacturing industry operated independently connecting through conventional communication tools. However, the growth of information technology and telecommunication system, diversity of consumers’ preferences, pressure from huge competition to meet the rapidly changing market requirements, high concern for sustainability, global uncertainties and the need for resilience demand all supply chain partners to invest in the digital know-how.
This is because the digital know-how, which includes big data analysis, digital collaboration, online social interaction, e-commerce, computer-aided designing, computer-aided manufacturing an so on, not only connects the supply chain partners and business process but also facilitates to utilise the limited resources productively while fulfilling the ever-changing market requirements.
The book chapter titled ‘Digitalization of Textile and Clothing Sector’ written by Prof. Rudrajeet Pal and Prof. P. G. S.Amila Jayarathne in the book Digital Supply Chain edited by McCathy and Ivanov, and published by Elsevier, a reputed European book publisher mainly discloses the digital know-how and related strategies that practice in the global textile and clothing industry.
This book is available on both the Elsevier and Amazon websites. According to the book chapter, the global textile and clothing industry practices digital techniques and strategies in the different stages of the business process.
In particular, product designing, sample development, sourcing, manufacturing, distribution and selling are the main stages in the business process which operate with the globally spread supply chain partners.
Concept development, preparation of specifications, selection of materials, product development and sampling, are the main functions in the product designing stage. Garment designing takes place in a virtual platform enabled with 3D tools employing an integrated approach. Unlike the conventional way of making adjustments to the initial designs through tailors, simulations are made for every required modification efficiently and speedily and are concurrently updated to instantly generate detailed product specifications for manufacturing the 3D designed Garment.
Here, any modification can be easily accommodated without changing the first pattern, and it is not required to develop the physical fabric or Garment samples at the initial stage of the designing, thus avoiding repetitive fittings within the real models.
Sample development which is highly integrated with designing is also digitalized. Integrated digital 3D design systems allow Garment Manufacturers to incorporate manufacturing competency, for instance, in calculating consumption, cutting and sewing specifications, into the pattern development process by enhancing the accuracy.
Thus, the number of sample sets developed in the conventional sampling development process is reduced considerably as the initial sets of samples are developed and tried on virtually.
Once the Garment design and initial sampling are finalised the sourcing process is commenced through a digital system.
Here, material and its suppliers, as well as Garment Manufacturers, are selected using a digitally integrated approach. Retailers digitally receive a price quotation from garment manufacturers and textile suppliers, while the technical specifications finalised during product development get transferred digitally for checking the possibility of raw material supply and production competency.
Flexible manufacturing systems based on Advanced Manufacturing Technologies (AMTs) such as Computer Aided Designing (CAD) and Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CIM) have for a long time supported business processes in the textile and clothing supply chain, but in recent years, the use of robotics, additive manufacturing and Internet of Things (IoT) have significantly impacted the reconfiguration towards the future manufacturing set-up and in enhancing supply chain performance.
As various independent parties (e.g. freight forwarders, 3rd/4th party logistic service providers, multimodal transport operators, carriers) are involved in the logistic process of the textile and clothing supply chain, the documentation, payment and communication among such partners are highly challenging.
It makes the logistic process highly complex consequently demanding a common platform to store, share, transfer and track the information, documents and payments.
For instance, Peer-to-Peer (P2P) platforms embedded with Industrial Data Space (IDS), Block chain and IoT, act as solutions for digitalizing the logistics process for optimising the logistics activities and transport routes in novel ways.
Various tagging systems like Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology and QR codes have long been adopted by some major clothing retailers for the purpose of tracking supplies.
With the exponential growth in e-commerce platforms, more and more consumers connect to the internet through smart devices, resulting in massive amounts of data being stored, managed and processed by e-retailers.
In this context, fashion clothing value chains are becoming data-driven by performing advanced predictive analytics based on the extracted data on consumer preferences. Retailers can thus track sales, profile customers and the market directly to individuals and smart decisions made with the help of data analytics can give a better understanding of customer needs in terms of design and styles and also predict the next trends and demand through the use of ‘big data’.
Accordingly, it is evident that as one of the advanced-manufacturing sectors the global textile and clothing sector is transforming from a conventional business process to a digitalized process at an accelerating speed.
It is beneficial for all the supply chain players in numerous ways such as cost-effectiveness, flexibility, end-to-end visibility, minimise resource waste, increase customer orientation.
However, lack of technical know-how, high initial investment and development cost, strategic collaboration, information sharing and trust-building determine the success of digitalizing the global textile and clothing sector.
Sri Lankan apparel manufacturers serve a dynamic and challenging global textile and clothing sector while fulfilling ever-changing market requirements for several decades.
While they are struggling to survive the country’s political and economic crisis, they serve as strategic clothing suppliers for many world-leading clothing brands. Thus, Sri Lankan apparel manufacturers should upgrade their resources, techniques and mechanisms according to the novel business processes embedded in the above digital techniques, practices and strategies in order to maintain their supply chain positions.
The policymakers in the country should seriously understand the significance of the clothing manufacturers to the nation mainly in terms of foreign income generation and providing employment opportunities other than its contribution to national production; consequently, they should facilitate these companies to upgrade their systems and techniques with the use of novel digital applications while assisting the high investment and development costs.
In this kind of challenging global context, establishing and maintaining political and economic stability in the country is very urgent and essential for the survival of the Sri Lankan clothing manufacturers in order to facilitate them to contribute to our motherland with the novel approach in the digitalized world.
P G S Amila Jayarathne (PhD)
Professor in Marketing Management
Department of Marketing Management
Faculty of Management Studies and Commerce
University of Sri Jayewardenepura

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