Can trends in technology impact a manufacturing industry as old as textile? The answer is absolutely yes and the impact shows many similarities with other B2B and manufacturing sectors. New technologies not only enable new products and capabilities for value creation and competitive advantage, but also offer great opportunities to transform legacy systems and processes for continuous improvement.
IoT, Big Data, Business analytics conundrum
Textile manufacturing industry is not new to machine-to-machine communication technologies between the production systems, quality systems, laboratory systems and back office applications. However, the velocity, volume and variety of data have been growing over the years as the machines are getting smarter.
"New technologies not only enable new products and capabilities for value creation and competitive advantage, but also offer great opportunities to transform legacy systems"
Real-time, 24/7 monitoring of the entire shopfloor in order to manage and monitor the production process is essential and very valuable in terms of ensuring the optimum machine and labor productivity, energy efficiency and quality assurance. These systems remain as the foundation of any manufacturing company. The key differences today are the advancements in textile machine technology as well as availablility and accessibility of external third party data.
Utilization of “Big Data” and “Business Analytics” systems can provide improvements in the following areas especially when predictive analysis capabilities are available;
• Demand and production forecasting by accurately modelling the business and analyzing the lagging and leading indicators of market.
• Monitoring and proactive management of the operational processes by gathering and analyzing the statistics from the shopfloor.
• Predictive maintenance by analyzing the machine “tireness” and indicators for a failure.
• Supply chain optimization by modelling the whole supply chain and simulating the supply chain with what-if scenarios.
• Quality management by fabric pattern analysis and lab test results.
• Claim and complaint management by analyzing the production or logistics history of a product.
• Lean manufacturing by determining the most viable products to produce.
If such systems can be implemented successfully with the right modelling of the process and accurate data, they can create solid value for the company and deliver a clear competitive advantage in the market.
Product and Service Innovation
Advancements in processing and communication, mobile, cloud, social, and analytics enable all companies to explore new ways to differentiate by making smart products and providing innovative services.
The journey of smart products basically evolve with the built-in capabilities which are Monitoring→ Controlling→ Optimization→ Autonomy. Both industrial and consumer textiles are evolving with smarter products however, the consumer side has a clear edge in adoption and development of such products because of the increase in application areas and demand. Longer test and approval periods in industrial textiles hinder these types of product developments.
Smart textiles are used in various industries and robust growth is expected in sports and fitness, home health monitoring, protection and safety gear. Smart fabrics can be defined as products that are able to interact with their environment. They have the ability to interact with the environment and physical stimuli. Sensors and actuators are the key components of smart textiles and they need to be integrated seamlessly into the fabric.
Materials integrated into fabrics include optical fibers, RFID tags that can be sewn into fabrics, conductive polymers and solar cells to harvest solar energy. Use cases for smart textiles, also known as e-textiles include health monitoring of vital signs, sports training data acquisition, tracking the position and status of personnel or soldiers, monitoring pilot or truck driver fatigue.
In addition to product development which is the core business of a textile manufacturing company, companies also need service innovation in order to provide additional value for the customers and gain competitive advantage.
Service innovation’s main components are; to clearly define the service components provided around the product, to assess their value for each customer segment, to redesign and improve the process as necessary and to make this value clearly visible to customers. Technology is one of the key drivers for this process as well. Especially in B2B manufacturing companies, including textile manufacturing, service innovation is a very critical capability in order to avoid commoditization of products.
Technology trends such as mobility, social media and cloud computing are they key enablers for service innovations. Most of the B2B companies especially in industrial textiles industry are transforming into B2B2C companies by providing services to the customers of customers. Some examples of such technology driven services are:
• Providing user friendly, mobile tools for customers’ staff in order to become easier to do business with in terms of order management, complaint management,reports for past transactions etc.
• Providing training opportunities for customers’ staff via e-learning platforms.
• Developing joint projects via online project management and enterprise social platforms
• Managing the finished product inventory at the customer sites with pre-defined and integrated auto-replenishment processes.
While working on these new service and product developments, companies usually end up improving or fine tuning the relevant products or internal processes as a result of reviewing the process from a new perspective.
Continuous Improvement of Internal Processes
All manufacturing companies should pursue continuous improvement initiatives that aim to improve the core business processes. Even though the technologies used in the back office areas are pretty mature, new technology trends can help companies improve these processes. There are plenty of improvement opportunities with the use of latest trends such as;
• Migration of internal IT services to cloud based platforms in order to reap the benefits of cloud computing with cost, capacity and resource optimization.
• Utilization of an online enterprise social platform to improve collaboration within the organization.
• Development of a corporate application store front with internal mobile applications that help improve the productivity of internal staff.
• Utilization of in memory computing platforms in order to improve analyzing capabilties of real-time data in very large volumes.
• Seemless integration of all internal systems and services so that singularity and accuracy of data is provided and end-to-end tracebility is possible.
• Introduction of mobile technologies to the shopfloor environment to enable the employees at the production area to be mobile rather than being stationed in front of a terminal.
• Development of a shared, mobile, cloud based and secure platform which is integrated with CRM systems to support the commercial and market intelligence activities with historical and current customer data and notes.
All the continuous improvement initiatives need to be aligned with corporate strategies and priorities and governed under project portfolio management.
In conclusion, all of the latest technology trends provide opportunities to improve today’s processes and services as well as to enable transformation of business plans and processes for a more agile and volatile tomorrow.
One of the key success factors for any CIO remains to be the alignment of all these new opportunities with corporate strategies and to lead the IT organizations not as a support function but as a driver function that enables transformation and innovation in the company.