Can the past determine our future in textiles for the garment industry?
It’s funny to see how things change or better
don’t change in our textile industry. As I have been working in it for more than
20 years in the textile printing industry, I found that change is the most
difficult and least accepted by the manufacturers and producers.
As we started the digital revolution over
20 years ago, transforming the analog textile print to digital printing, I
noticed how traditions and the common ways are hard to break. The way we
produce garments has not changed and the textile producing world seems not to
care how to increase the margin structures thru technology but only via cost
There is no need to change or innovate, according to many, just lower
the wages and get cheaper raw materials. We have been doing it this way for
years and we are happy with this way. These are many of the comments and
responses I get from customers and vendors in the industry.
Why change if it
Well you are wrong!
Looking back into our own technology history
is see a lot of similarity. Like in the early days of the mobile phone, most
people thought “I don't need this, I have a phone at home”, then came the
internet and people said, “I have a Fax, why do I need this Email and this new web
thing”, when the smartphone arrived people said, “Its a crazy gadget that
nobody would use”. The same goes for the textile workflow we have doing it like
this for hundreds of years why change now.
In the digital print industry, we have
seen that printers have not changed much in the last 20 years. Yes, they became faster, better print quality
and more colors are currently available, but the principle is still the same.
We print sublimation inks on paper and transfer to the polyester substrate via
a calander. First the printing was done
via screen print, then offset and now we use digital printers to do the same. The
reason for the change to digital was the benefit off smaller runs and better
quality. We also could save on the screen and plate cost. So, we changed because of financial benefit
not the technology.
But the finishing of the garments is still very much the
same and again has not changed at all.
We take the polyester sportswear fabrics,
lay them up on stacks for cutting them to pieces by hand with dangerous up and
down cutting devices. These pieces after cutting are bundled in hundreds of
items, that are extremely hard to keep track off in any factory. We also overproduce
at least 10% for the just in case situation. As we really don’t know how many
we might exactly need due to errors and failures. Then we have the issue of sizes, most volume
garments are made in XS,S,M,L,XL,XXL, but the specials like cycling garments
are made to fit one person. Let’s also not forget the amount of labor involved
in this process. Many companies don’t even cut these pieces themselves but hire
external companies to do this labor work for them.
The result hidden cost and less control on
the production side.
Then we still need to colorize these
fabrics, so we place printed paper on the calander table and have one or two
people place the white fabrics cut pieces on the correct location on the
Mistakes are made by
misplacement, wrong textile on the wrong space, forgotten items and the cost of
labor is again underestimated. I’m not
even talking about the optimal placement of the printed items on the paper,
lots of paper waste here also.
Hidden cost is again the key word.
After this process the pieces fall behind
the calandar and yet another person needs to sort them by type or even by single
shirt or pants. This is important, as
you don’t want my front side on your back side, trust me it will look strange. Also, the organizational complexity of this
and making sure that the right pieces arrive at the right sewing station is
always a stressful job and mistakes happen here also.
Using barcodes could solve some of these
They are sometimes used but have
we come up with the right solution to keep track of all. Partly yes, but the
use is minimal in the textile industry and it’s only good if all works
correctly and they are not cut off in the process.
Funny, the solutions are there, the better
workflow can be integrated in the current working conditions and the margins
will increase. Software and control
systems could be a solution, but the essential change is not software, a new
developed MIS system or control stations.
The answer, cutting garments with a belt
driven automatic laser cutting device that cuts from the roll and only one
operator needs to do the picking.
Laser cutters have a great benefit if used
correctly. There are some things you need to know, most glass tube lasers from
China will not give you the quality nor the speed needed for the production of sportswear
garments. The issue is mostly the
cheaper CO2 lasers burn the polyester fabric because the cutting fumes leave to
slowly from the area where the cutting takes place. The result is small polyester
bubbles that can irritate the skin are left behind. This is a no go in the textile garment
So up to now lasers have not been used a
lot in the garment industry due to these reasons.
it’s a different process, you need now to
print sublimation inks on paper and transfer directly on to the uncut fabric
(roll-to-roll). Later you can insert the roll into the laser cutting device to
cut the shapes needed.
There are a couple of things needed to
make this happen well:
A metal tube laser is essential to get
good results. A metal laser tube is long lasting, more precise and stabile laser
up to 10 years of production time. So, it’s much more accurate cutting and its
fast. There is still one problem the burn bubbles due to cutting accuracy and
fumes. You would need an incorporated fume extraction and fume dispersal
technology that cleans the cutting area of fumes.
So it’s getting complicated right, no there
is a solution at hand.
The L Series Laser cutters just introduced
to the market late this year from Summa NV is one of the first devices on the
market that fit this description. Summa
also included a conveyor belt in the machine that transports the fabrics
totally relaxed, making sure the fabric is not stretched or pulled, so there
are no sizing issues nor cutting errors. The very good automatic de-roller that
is included in the system, also eliminates the telescoping issues that can
happen at the calander station. The L Series de-roller automatically arranges and
feeds the textile substrate perfectly for fast and excellent cutting.
In the realization that operator errors
can still occur, such as loading the wrong cutting file, would mean that the cutting
shapes are not lined up with the fabric images. Even if the cut file is correct
there is still a lot of lost time in reading all the markers that are needed to
find the correct shapes and items on the textile print.
Understanding this issue Summa came up
with a fully automatic cutting system with a Vision camera. The camera detects
the shapes that need to be cut and cuts these on the fly via an intuitive AI
system and because of this, the laser can even keep on cutting while
transporting the fabric on the fly. No loss of time and accurate to the
Looks like we are starting to see some
margins coming back in the business.
There is a solution for the textile
garment industry to produce more for less, but would we use it? I believe yes,
because laser cutting is an essential part of an automated workflow.
We just need to understand that this
technology will bring more for less, just like our mobile phone that we did not
ZEMT Consultancy – Textile Leadership
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