The knitting sector’s growth has been impeded by a dearth of transformative advancements within conventional technological frameworks. Reasons are many. The knitting industry has historically been characterised by a conservative approach, with a strong emphasis on preserving established practices and ensuring product consistency. This conservative stance, while maintaining quality standards, has inadvertently hindered the integration of new-age technological breakthroughs. However, the tide appears to be turning now as evidenced by progress in knitting technology observed in recent years, bringing a paradigm shift within the industry.
Technology reshaping the knitting factories’ future
Of all technology transitions that are happening in the knitting industry, the use of connected tools is taking centre stage. Companies like STOLL and others have developed IOT-enabled software for knitting machines which include various software solutions such as PPS (Production Planning System). PPS is a highly advanced piece of technology concept that excels in identifying issues (such as deviation in the production target, machine idle time and downtime, faults in machines, defects and wastage of yarns etc.) accurately.
How does this PPS help a knitting unit? By allowing the knitting unit to connect every machine in a factory, the system effortlessly generates a detailed report of all problems, compiles it and transmits it to the service team! The team can give precise instructions on how to address the issue in real-time using such software. The technology can also establish a connection between the technology provider’s location and the knitting plant, allowing the stakeholders to communicate the problem directly. Managers can send messages to the machines to change settings or perform inspections, helping the factories to reduce production costs and stay competitive.
Not just PPS, knitting technology companies have come up with their own 3D software to better help factories in the product development process of knitted garments. These software solutions allow for easy creation and simulation of shapes and samples in 3D, while enabling quick design changes and feedback, reducing the need for physical samples and streamlining the production process. These solutions also allows for customisation of yarns and surface designs, providing customers with a better understanding of the final product. Customers can even experiment with different yarns and incorporate their own materials into the design. This allows them to see the effect of the yarn on the final product through software itself.
The knitting garment manufacturers such as Pretty Sweaters (Bangladesh), Sonia & Sweaters (Bangladesh), Pakiza Knit Composite Ltd (Bangladesh), Floreal and Elegant Overseas (India) amongst many other such giants have started using connected technologies in some way or other and are steering themselves away from the lure of low-cost machines to invest in high-tech connected technologies that offer maximum flexibility, support and intelligence while knitting.
|Limited investment and research directed towards knitting technology have constrained the exploration of innovative solutions. The industry’s focus has often been directed towards optimising existing processes rather than exploring radical departure from the status quo.|
External sensors, when equipped with circular knitting machines, give real-time information of the floor
Unlike apparel manufacturing shopfloor, the use of Internet of Things (IoT) in knitting units is still not normalised, causing 92 million tonnes of textile waste globally that are generated annually.
Why these knitting/textile units need IoT or connected technology? Here is a simple answer – textile units are still very fragmented in their processes and IoT and connected sensors can help mills identify hidden losses, resulting in improved process visibility, efficiency and waste reduction.
Smartex – a Portugal-based technology provider – is driving innovations in this direction. The start-up has not just sensed the gap but has also come up with a breakthrough camera technology that works on an IoT network and leverages the use of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to connect knitting machines together so that the machines can communicate with each other and data of defects can be gathered in real-time for further analysis.
Since data is captured through sensors, the technology network has to be a robust system that helps capture real and validated data. This is where Smartex has an edge in an industry where no major players are competing in the similar segment. The technology helps textile factories identify inefficiencies, defects and losses – all in real-time and results in boosting gross margins of the factories as well as drastically reducing the wastage rate.
Smartex has been trying to position itself as a ‘quality platform’ for the textile industry, while aggressively working on its mission to make textile factories produce fabrics with ‘zero waste’ in a more transparent and correct way. Importantly, since South Asia is a textile hub – especially countries like India, Bangladesh and Pakistan – Smartex’s focus is to foray into these regions and upgrade traditional factories and make them data-centric.
Commenting on the technology, Gilberto Loureiro, Co-founder of Smartex averred, “We can’t be developing a technology just for two or three customers in Europe! We want to create a real impact in textile industry and, for that to happen, we need to scale up our operations and create a solution for a broad type of customers. Though we started in Europe, from the beginning of our business, we were always designing the solutions to be scalable worldwide. And it’s inevitable for us to come to Asia as over 80 per cent of the textile industry has a base here.”
Why should connected technology be embraced by textile industry, especially in India and Bangladesh?
It’s a fact that the textile industry, unfortunately, is one of the industries with less capital invested in technology and one doesn’t see many ventures’ capital investment in start-ups in the industry. Reasons? Its manufacturing is complex; its raw material is difficult; and it’s not easy for the companies to have software for inspection or for automation.
Moreover, another prevalent issue in the textile industry is that the challenges in its supply chain are very subjective. All these factors create a whole different layer of collective complexity. When it comes to India and Bangladesh, the former has decades’ old textile industry with a lot of improvement scope, while latter is still a new destination in textile business comparatively and poses a huge scope for improvement within its textile supply chain. Both the countries are increasingly becoming great textile markets but the required tech intervention is still not there. Plus, there is lack of traceability and digitalisation. Therefore, there is immense need for tech systems in these countries that can detect a wide range of defects, both visible and challenging or impossible to catch with the human eye. These include elastane dashes, broken elastane, sinker, thick yarn, thin yarn, oil, hole, needle and more in fabrics such as Single Jersey, Interlock, Pique, French Terry, Conventional Cotton, Organic Cotton, Lyocell, Viscose, Polyester, 100 per cent or blended (with or without elastane), Raw Yarns, Dyed Yarns and Melange Yarns, etc.