Indian garment factories bet on technology post-COVID-19.

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The entire supply chain has been ruptured in 2020 due to the pandemic, and no predictions hold relevance in the uncertain market. Now when factories have started reopening post-lockdown, the apparel factory owners have gotten into the most critical issue – lack of funds, which is making it quite difficult for most of the factories to even survive, let alone be profitable. However, one thing is certain that digitalisation in garment factories is going to be the ‘new normal’ because the factories have already been facing some prolonged challenges such as low efficiencies, labour issues, and suppressed prices from buyers along with some bottlenecks pertaining to raw material procurement.

So, there are two ways out for them. One, keep working just like pre-pandemic period. Two, come out of the comfort zone and invest in technology to get rid of cost loss on various fronts in a factory. Some renowned Indian factory owners have followed the second approach, realisation of which was felt only in the COVID-19 period when they could think of reviving their business amidst tight order scenario. The factories have started rethinking on their investment plans which were made before pandemic hit the world. Most of the investment has been slowed down and the companies are now looking forward to opting for only those solutions which can get them better results by bringing costs down in the most complex processes.

One such company is Tirupur-based AKR Textiles which had expansion plans for every area – cutting section, sewing floor, and finishing department – and was supposed to procure efficient sewing machines along with working on reengineering of its production floor as well as digitalising the pre-production process. “Yes, tight order scenario is definitely there and there is no denying that massive struggle is prevailing. But we felt the need for technology adoption to secure future growth in these unprecedented times,” Loganathan Kalimuthu (Logu), Managing Director, AKR Textiles told Apparel Resources.

Having more than 13,000 workforce in around 8 factories in 2 states (Tamil Nadu and Karnataka), AKR Textiles is leading by example with its adoption of 3D virtual sampling technology which it started working on in COVID-19 times. The company had invested in Browzwear and CLO3D back in 2019, but never brought it into process due to lack of skilled operators and extensive traditional approach of sample making process. Since COVID-19 has put a halt on travelling, physical samples are becoming redundant on a larger scale now and apparel buyers are themselves supporting factories to use 3D virtual sampling technology. “We have understood that future is digitalisation, and not the physical methods of performing operations. Since we lacked skilled software operators, we asked software solution providers to conduct online trainings to develop technical know-how in our software operators which was a key learning of ours in lockdown period,” averred Logu.  

Also Read: Apparel technology industry is reviving following market recovery

The 3D technology is helping AKR Textiles in a better fit evaluation process in product development phase that is accurate, streamlines processes and increases the reliability of the decision. The 3D sampling is saving almost 70 per cent cost of sample development in AKR Textiles and the response time from the customers has been brought down by around 80 per cent, as digital samples enable instant feedback that helps rapid decision making, unlike traditional physical sample making process.

Riding high on this 3D sampling process, another giant from South India – KG Fabriks Ltd., has also utilised the lockdown period in India to develop their own software technology for digital sampling of its denim fabrics. Srihari Balakrishnan, Managing Director, KG Fabriks Ltd., shares that there is a monthly surge in export business, but yearly drop is a challenge, and the foremost effort of the industry should be to come down to the 2019 level first and that will happen majorly on consumer side. “This is possible only when apparel and textile factories give buyers a product in a way that was not followed before,” said Srihari.

KG Fabriks’ has got a huge set up if spinning mills which was impacted by COVID-19. However, the technology implementation is what Srihari feels something positive for his company in negative phase created by pandemic. His R&D team developed ‘Digital Denim’ during lockdown. “Just like apparel factories are creating ‘Digital Samples’ of their products, we have come up the same in denim fabric, 3D rendering of which is 99.99 per cent close to our physical samples. We understood that physical samples will not be in demand now onwards due to lots of cost and time related reasons so we formed a team of 10 people during COVID-19,” informed Srihari.

The mill’s R&D team worked hard all through the lockdown period to develop software in-house which costs around Rs. 2 crore so that it has been able to successfully create digital samples of its denim and twill fabrics. Till date, the company has developed over 6,000 samples, and the same is being mailed to the customers in the form of digital catalogues. “All our customers are quite satisfied and are embracing the newly developed samples,” shared Srihari.

It’s worth mentioning here that not just in pre-production side, the investment can also be seen in sewing floor and in long-term PPE projects. Another manufacturing bigwig Texport Syndicate has informed Apparel Resources about its investment in two big technology projects – coating and laminating lines for PPE and IoT in sewing machines. Talking about the connection between investment and COVID-19 mayhem, Avinash Misar, Director and CEO (Advanced Material Division), Texport Syndicate (India) Ltd. asserted that if recession is felt by the industry, the organisations remain ready for recession period, in general, but something like pandemic didn’t give time to the industry to get prepared before shutting down their offices, factories and entire business operations and that happened within a span of just 2-3 days. “COVID-19 is surprising, but if you see apparel and investment in apparel sector, it’s largely driven by just replenishment of old machines. However, I strongly feel, despite this COVID-19 issue, already committed upgradation plans, wherever they had been laid out, won’t be stopped,” said Avinash citing examples of Texport Syndicate’s plans. 

Almost every good sized apparel factory has realised the need of technology adoption and is trying to play with data with IoT machines so that reporting within the organisation should become easier, wherein the productivity can be directly captured through the software and they have real-time line productivity assessment and build a very good culture into the organisation that is largely labor-driven. The company has opted for Juki JaNets IoT technology and is under pilot process of a line of 20 machines.

Texport Syndicate’s investment has been happening on technical textile side as well which is already committed. Its coating and lamination lines are coming from Taiwan in December this year as Med-Tex has taken a shape now in COVID-19 time and it’s not just about coveralls anymore but other products such as surgical gowns, isolation gowns etc. All these perspectives have opened up wider horizons for factories now because of procurement challenges from China.

“For the apparel business, CAPEX is low but OPEX is high. So factory owners look for better technologies and better machines to increase productivity and quality. I personally believe this trend will continue,” opined Avinash.

Also Read: China’s Jack Stock takes a leap forward with its IoT technology; works to see more ‘digital’ factories