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ITA 2019: The collaboration process in Industry 4.0

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The Innovate Textile & Apparel Europe conference returned to Amsterdam in October, bringing delegates together from across textile market to listen and share ideas on the industry’s future.

Collaboration, mass personalisation and standardisation were key themes at this year’s Innovate Textile & Apparel (ITA) conference, which ran on 15-17 October in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. The event, which explored the advantages and risks of digital transformation across processes and materials within the industry, had three conference tracks across the three days – Textile 4.0, Re:Think Materials and Textile Business Futures.

Throughout the Textile 4.0 Conference, the digitalisation of manufacturing processes, the optimisation of production efficiency, and the employment of intelligent interconnected systems, as well as the emergence of new business models to accompany this innovation, were assessed.

Meanwhile, the two-day Re:Think Materials conference track, which ran concurrently with the Textile 4.0 Conference, identified possibilities for smart materials from fibre through to finished functional fabric and the advances we could expect in the market in the future with textiles that have the ability to interact with their user or the environment.

On the final day of the event, the shorter, more interactive Textile Business Futures evaluated the strategy and risks around digital transformation. It enabled delegates to examine any possible hazards and take precautionary steps in the reimagining of their business, its practices, culture and customer experience.

Organised by WTiN and sponsored by Alchemie, Gerber Technology, Kornit Digital, Lectra, Potter Clarkson, SPGPrints and Oerlikon, the event attracted delegates from 25 countries across the globe.

Humanising the industry

With the increase of technology, instead of becoming removed from society as traditionally thought, we have become human again, according to the event’s keynote speaker, Joachim Hensch, managing director, Hugo Boss Textiles Industries.

In the 90s and 2000s consumers wanted to be part of a brand, and consequently individuality was lost. However, Hensch said, the connection between the brand and the consumer is being reinvented as consumers reconnect with their individualism. Consumers today still want to be a part of the brand, but they also want to stand out, wearing something that is different and customised to them. In line with this, Hugo Boss has launched its Made for Me pilot scheme, which allows the consumer to personalise every detail of their tailored look, including suits and sneakers.

Having more customised goods means that manufacturing must be closer to the consumer market. However, this does not mean that this is the end of mass production. There are now two types of production, tailored and mass production, and both need to exist and have their own profitable markets.

However, these production types need to utilise digitalisation if they are going to succeed. Hensch noted that before digitalising the production workflow, manufacturers must first simplify their operation. “We must clean up the mess,” said Hensch. “Then we can digitise more simplified processes.

“Simplify what you do today to make space for complexity in the future,” continued Hensch. For example, a digital twin of a messy manufacturing structure will not streamline processes, it will just make production more complicated.

Digitised production needs to be flexible to cope with capacity fluctuation and customisation. To understand and accommodate this, along with other aspects of digitalisation in the textile and apparel industry, Hensch said that we must ‘unlearn what we have learnt’ and relearn the trade in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Hensch, however, is a big believer in “what took you here will not take you there”; meaning that becoming a smart manufacturer or becoming digitalised is not a goal or an end but is a constant process of evolution. Technological innovation never stops developing, it is always improving and, as a result, businesses must be fluid and constantly seek to evolve, too. We must “embrace the infinite game,” added Hensch. Hugo Boss Solutions in Izmir, Turkey, will now be a platform for training and management services in the smart factory arena and a marketplace for products and services.

And whilst the development and implementation of technology is important. Hensch said: “We are a people-heavy industry and we will always be a people-heavy industry.” As such, Hugo Boss also provides staff and management training to give businesses the cultural shift that they need to be successful throughout their Industry 4.0 journey and beyond.

Textile 4.0

Following the keynote speech from Hensch, Fernando Moncayo, co-founder of Inspectorio – a software-as-a-service company with a quality and compliance platform, powered by AI – discussed taking away manual processes through supply chain optimisation. He said that “races are won or lost on how we start a race”. Thus, we cannot digitally transform and optimise production if we don’t set the right foundations that lead us on the correct path. Digital transformation is an ‘endurance race’ rather than a sprint. And central to this endurance race is data – what companies do with it to maximise production and profit from the data they collect is critical.

Moncayo added that we must, ‘turn inventions into innovations’. One company that is doing just this is UK-based Alchemie Technology. Dr Alan Hudd, Alchemie chairman, presented the company’s recently-launched Endeavour technology – a smart waterless dyeing system. The technology addresses all the problems that previous industrial revolutions created, such as pollution, waste and long lead times, according to Hudd.

He explained: “It is a unique digital technology: it has all the advantages and propositions of digital and yet it’s able to produce high-quality dyeing with less than 1% variation across the web of colour consistency. Concurrent methods of dyeing find it very hard to match that level of colour quality. So not only does it have all these digital advantages, but it also creates a high-quality process.” Existing dyes in the market are used with the technology and although the company is focusing on polyester, at the moment, many other fabrics can be dyed using this method, which uses less dye than traditional techniques.

Similarly, on the second day of the event Per Stenflo – founding partner, Imogo AB – also showcased revolutionary dyeing technology. Imogo has created digitally-controlled, high-accuracy spray dyeing technology that dramatically reduces the consumption of water, chemistry and energy that is all digitally monitored and documented. This gives the modern dyer full control of the process, said Stenflo. Data collection of consumption and production parameters provides the possibility to compare the process efficiency to industry best practice. As well as providing dyeing accuracy and reducing the amount of dye, water and chemicals used, the technology also reduces the amount of wastewater. Like the Endeavour technology, the Imogo solution uses standard dyes in the industry and can be used on a wide-variety of fabric types. Stenflo added that nothing about the dye is changed, just the mode in which the dye is put onto the fabric is different.

WTiN’s editor of Industry Digitalisation, Madelaine Thomas, furthered the discussion on the evolution of the digital supply chain by assessing the impact of retail and technology giant Amazon on the textile and apparel supply chain. There are lessons to be learned throughout the textile industry as other businesses try to replicate Amazon’s success, albeit in a more modest manner.

Amazon is revolutionising the textile and apparel industry’s retail and manufacturing landscape. For the benefit of the textile and apparel industry throughout the next two decades, it is vital that more businesses learn from Amazon’s success and implement similar tactics. But not many companies have the financial power of Amazon and therefore collaboration will be key for them to keep pace with what is a rapidly evolving market.

Emily Weal


When it comes to collaboration, blockchain as a means for transparency is one technology that is bringing companies together. Feico Van Der Veen, CEO Summit Company – founder of Polylana Yarn, the only low-impact alternative of acrylic yarn; and Aware Solutions, a disruptive technology of fully-traceable recycled cotton yarn – and Mesbah Sabur, co-founder Circularise, a Dutch start-up that offers a blockchain-based transparency solution that provides absolute proof that the circular economy, sustainability and recycling practices can be merge to create traceable fibres and fabrics.

They pointed to the fact that the world’s population is growing and therefore demand is increasing. This has led to fears that there will be a shortage in the supply of cotton. Consequently, the industry must focus on the regeneration of old fibres, fabrics and garments, according to Veen and Sabur. To ease this threat, Summit Company and Aware Solutions have the technology to provide sustainable textiles courtesy of fully-traceable supply chains which utilise blockchain.

Meanwhile Lukas Pünder, co-founder of Retraced, also uses blockchain to offer transparency. Pünder discussed how Retraced offers transparency-as-a-service, to both the brand and its consumers, by providing insights into the brands' supply chains. He noted that the first step in supply chain transparency is to trace the supply chain and understand who is involved and what they are doing. However, information must be verified to make sure it is correct in the first place or the transparency is irrelevant. Pünder added that the push for this type of traceability and transparency, which is only achieved through blockchain technology, at the moment, is coming from the end consumer. Subsequently, brands have been keen to adopt this technology.

Although blockchain is proving popular with brands, Keith Hoover, president of Black Swan Textiles –a consulting company that specialises in digitalisation for the apparel and textile industries – discussed that the digital transformation has been a challenge for businesses as there is no standardisation in the industry and, because the technology is evolving so fast, it is becoming obsolete very quickly. Manufacturers are, therefore, reluctant to invest in technology that does not have a long lifespan. Hoover continued by examining overlooked fundamentals of apparel creation and identifying a foundation for real progress in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Utilising data

Marzoli is one company that has managed to successfully implement digitalised technologies and processes. Marzoli is a textile engineering company with a complete spinning line, components and digitalised solutions with an aim to optimise the spinning process. At the Textile 4.0 Conference, Cristian Locatelli, general manager, Marzoli Machines Textile, outlined the use of IoT-based data platforms for process optimisation. “Data is now the new material,” he said. This added value, from data, takes the form of machine monitoring and predictive maintenance to ensure the optimisation of critical parameters and the possibility to make intelligent and informed business decisions based on constantly updated information, said Locatelli. This data analysis allows companies to increase their flexibility and customisation offering and reach higher levels of efficiency.

Another technology that allows manufacturers to achieve greater levels of flexibility and automation is Formhand’s automated textile handling and manipulation technology for mass customisation. Christian Löchte, managing director at Formhand, presented the company’s latest gripper technology. He displayed how the combination of a gripper cushion and an air flow offers many advantages when handling limp and porous objects such as textile inserts, leather cut-outs or thin layers of printing paper.

“Individuals demand individual products,” said Löchte. As a result, manufacturing must become much more flexible and automated to achieve small batch sizes. This is only possible with digitised supply chains and reliable robotic technology. Löchte noted that the Formhand gripper can be used on a wide variety of fabrics and has a multifunctional use in the production chain. As well as handling, the technology could be used to combine processes in the production chain, where time is precious. For example, while moving a material it could also heat it in preparation for another process.

The second day of the conference, after a topical discussion on climate change, the circular economy and the opportunity for humanity and businesses by Nina Shariati, transparency and innovation business expert, focused on end-to-end optimisation, emerging business models and efficiency gains in Industry 4.0.

Green processes

Roseanne Van Der Meer, founder of New Industrial Order – a collective of artists, engineers, designers and entrepreneurs working together to create an independent platform that brings production on demand to customers globally – is convinced that, with today's technologies, fashion can be elevated to a whole new and sustainable level. The first product to be sold through the platform www.new-industrial-order.com will be a 3D knitted creation. Der Meer noted that the platform aims to connect ‘the world through knitting on demand’.

Following this, Yvonne Heinen, marketing & communications director, Gerber Technology and Jean Patrice Gros, managing director of Lectra, discussed end-to-end solutions in the textile and apparel industry and how manufacturers can leverage technology to create a unique customer experience. Heinen says that integration is the key for business success. She agrees with Hensch that there are two distinct co-existing value streams: mass production and mass customisation. Heinen noted that these value streams run in parallel, but that different demands are required to make them happen. This is where digitalised technologies come in.

Personalised products

Gros added that everyone currently wants to feel unique and that customisation is a collaboration process. He continued, “companies in the textile and apparel industry need to develop new business models that adjust their production to the actual demands of consumers”. A key strategy that would create a more sustainable business model for fashion companies is fashion-on-demand (FoD).

When it comes to emerging business models, Juliane Stephan - director at Strategy&, part of the PwC network - and Michal Bruns, partner at PwC Europe, shared their views on “turning shopfloor data into shopfloor value” and ways in which the smart factory can deliver value. From a macro-perspective, among these were: optimising value streams and the overall manufacturing network; assessing operational benefits around capacity utilisation and footprint; and enabling new business models and serving new markets. Connecting and optimising processes are critical in unlocking value, Stephan noted.

Guy Alroy, co-founder and general manager, Early Vision, continued the personalisation conversation. The start-up discussed that by leveraging Industry 4.0 processes, personalisation can be achieved at a reasonable cost in both B2C and B2B2C. Alroy noted that interconnected systems are critical for mass customisation but added that microfactories, without proper automation, are not profitable.

Business landscape

Other interesting business models were also brought forward at the conference. Andrey Golub, founder and CEO, ELSE Corp, an Italian virtual retail start-up that offers B2B and B2B2C technological solutions for virtual retail and cloud manufacturing, presented a business case for on-demand, customised manufacturing where virtual garments are sold before they are made. Thus, changing the industry from a push to a pull business model. This end-to-end digital transformation strategy would mean the end of the current unsustainable approach, helping to solve inefficiency at consumer level, by digitalising and interconnecting the most critical processes in the supply chain: design, retail and manufacturing, Golub said.

Ross Newens, co-founder and owner, Epicom (Cyprus), and Michal Tracz, CEO of Poland-based web2print company and microfactory, Print Logistic brought the technology and business models from the previous days together with a discussion on the company’s microfactory and web2print business. Reportedly the first microfactory in Europe, it can create 1,000 individual garments a day, according to Newens and Tracz.

They said that the microfactory is a production facility that can take orders directly from e-commerce platforms, brands and retailers, as well as digitally print, cut, sew, finish and dispatch on demand – either B2B or B2C. The microfactory reduces waste, offering customers personalised garments produced using eco-certified fabrics and inks to give designers and brands a sustainable opportunity to meet the individual needs of their customers, the duo said. Tracz showcased the process from its customer interface using 3D design software through to fulfilment.

Re:Think Materials

The two-day Re:Think Materials conference track saw a host of experts from various areas of the global materials industry speak on the most innovative topics and technologies across the market, with materials including textiles for electrodes, drug delivery and 3D printed textiles discussed. Material innovations Christian Dalsgaard, Chief Technical Officer, Ohmatex, explored processes and techniques for the creation of textile integrated wearables for a range of modern-day applications. He shared details of Ohmatex’s work with the European Space Agency (ESA), a project which explored if the impact of the two hours of daily exercise that astronauts complete each day on the International Space Station (ISS) complete in order to maintain muscle mass. While this training may have health impacts, it also reduces the amount of time the astronauts can allocate to their research.

In the project, three garment integrated sensor technologies are combined. EMG sensors will detect muscle activation; NIRS sensors will detect changes in oxygen content in selected muscle groups and Plethysmography sensors will measure limb circumference as an indication of changes in muscle volume. The combined data will then be used to analyse muscle activity and optimise training. This project is the second occasion that the ESA has contracted Ohmatex to work on smart wearable applications, following a smart sock development to measure astronaut muscular activity in 2009.

Smart garments related to muscle monitoring, were discussed in detail at the conference. diPulse, represented by director Mathias Jepson and International NMES expert Heiko van Vilet, uses Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation (NMES) to send electrical impulses to nerves and make training more efficient.

For example, Van Vilet claims that “what can be achieved in 60 minutes of normal training could take 20 minutes using NMES.” Describing his company’s development, Jepson said: “We wanted to move away from just muscle rehabilitation and pain management so we found a partner in Taiwan that has invented this dry nanocarbon electrode that can now be integrated into a smart textile. Here, we have a fabric where we can make a compression garment that is close enough to keep the electrode close enough to the skin, but loose enough to wear all day.”

The pair also explained that the electrodes can be placed on various parts of the body to optimise, or activate, specific muscles. “We can also measure heart rate through the garment,” they said. “So not only can we send the signals through the shirt in order to activate the muscles, but we can also collect data.”

Garments with increased functionality were also the focus on Jordan Schindler’s presentation. Schindler, the CEO and founder of Nufabrx, began by offering the questions “What if your pillow puts you to sleep at night? You fall asleep on your pillowcase in your sheets and it is infused with a melatonin-like ingredient. Or what if an athlete’s sock cured their athlete’s foot?”

Nufabrx looks to achieve this drug delivery concept through fabrics embedded with active ingredients which can be delivered directly to the skin. While the technology can be used for treatments including pain relief, it can also be used for other medication.

“What if your dad or grandpa didn’t have to remember to take his medications?” he asked. “This is a personal example for me. My grandpa has Alzheimer’s, so he can’t remember to take his medications every day, but interestingly, he still puts on a sock. We’re all accustomed to getting dressed in the morning and that is what we want to capitalise on.”

Fernando Moncayo

Commercialisation was another big topic of the conference, with Anna Borkowicz, team lead – Market Intelligence, leading the discussion. In her presentation, she explored a number of potential ways that companies may take their innovations to market.

One of the ways that companies could launch their developments to market in a modern-day way is through a subscription-style business model. Borkowicz explained: “IT is widely considered that connected devices facilitate the creation of outcome-based business models. It is an innovative business model in which customers do not pay for the product itself but instead for the results it delivers, shifting ownership and mindness back to the provider. One of the key business models which is most considered in the smart textiles sphere is the subscription-based business model.”

She added: “As you know, constantly customers want better features in their products and more advanced functionalities, and by switching to a membership style business model, companies can do it without increasing the price.”

Meanwhile, Daniela Zavec, director, TITERA, described some of the challenges associated with moving smart textiles projects from R&D labs. Zavec stated that successfully getting a product to market is often the biggest challenge of a company. She noted that many innovative ideas and prototypes are developed without understanding the ‘product/market’ fit relationship. The major restraining factors for upscaling from prototypes to serial production are in the slow rate of adoption of new technologies in industrial sectors, high costs of production and the lack of extensive standards and regulations.

Zavec then went on to explain that the roadmap for the future should combine academic and early prototyping work with a strong focus on solving the problems (frame the solution) and understanding the product/market fit relation and upscaling process (frame the resources).

Intellectual property

While much of the event’s focus was on material innovations, the conference also saw three presentations exploring intellectual property (IP). Deborah Maxwell, patent and design attorney, Potter Clarkson, and Dave Holt, IP solicitor, Potter Clarkson, discussed a template for effective IP protection.

The duo examined current trends in the smart textile sector and how business can ensure they protect their innovations in key geographical markets across a range of applications. Emily Weal, director – UK & European patent and design attorney, Keltie LLP, discussed IP strategy for start-ups and offered advice for companies in their infancy.

“Dealing with your IP is going to cost money, particularly if you are going for registered IP rights over unregistered IP rights,” Weal said. “That means that you are going to have to make some difficult decisions on how you spend that money and your resources and time. So, you need an IP strategy to guide you in making those decisions.”

Textile Business Futures

The third and final track of ITA Europe 2019 saw C-level delegates gather for Textile Business Futures. Designed to explore how digitalisation will change business strategy in the future. In the opening presentation of the day, Mark Jarvis, managing director, WTiN, explored the digital transformation of the textile value chain. He outlined three stages, ranging from short-term to long-term, that companies may go through in embracing digital transformation, and examples of companies that are already operating this way. He noted that agile manufacturing, material innovations and a pull economy are key pillars in the adoption of Industry 4.0 and that many are already on this path.

Elsewhere, Sriram Iyer, Director – Data Science & Business Intelligence, Coats, delivered his presentation The Smart Factory @ Coats. While developing its smart factory, Iyer stated that his company has also set a number of sustainability goals to meet along the way, including reducing water consumption by 40% and energy by 7%.

He also stated that adaptability is a crucial aspect of a smart factory, with is being “often seen as the holy grail of the IoT journey. However, it is not something you can start with, it is something that you have you have to build towards.” He explained that Coats is working towards having a Real Time Feedback Loop between its IoT sensors (machines, temperature, humidity, energy etc, and the machine learning layer to continually optimise machine parameters to deliver improved machine, operator and energy efficiency, quality, and predictive maintenance.

The final conventional presentation of the day came from WTiN business development manager Chinky Tyagi, who shared the results of the company’s Digital Transformation Outlook. She said that the aim was “to map where the global textile and apparel sector is compared to other industries because we were seeing a lot of other surveys talking about what is happening on the fashion side, for example, but nobody was talking about actual textile producers or machinery companies within the textile sector and how they are embarking on this digitalisation journey.

She stated that everyone at all stages of a company must come together and work towards the same goal in order for a digital transformation process to be a success. “This is a journey where you need to take your workers and your top management together,” said Tyagi. “Only then can you be successful. If it is just the top 5% of the business talking about it then it is not going to be a successful transformation.

Textile Business Futures closed with the ITA Academy Workshop which saw delegates come together in an interactive session to solve problems and share ideas. Team featuring delegates from different businesses and different backgrounds came together to solve problems under themes including condition monitoring, answering questions such as, ‘Which data can be recorded in production?’.

Looking ahead

Innovate Textile & Apparel is now global with the second edition of Innovate Textile & Apparel Americas to be held in Raleigh, North Carolina, US, in 2020 and the first edition of Innovate Textile & Apparel Asia to be held in Hong Kong in April 2020. For any information on future events email Dan Green at dgreen@wtin.com.

Photo credit: WTIN Innovate Textile Apparel Europe

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