For a long time, production was guided by a “push” system. Volumes were calibrated on the basis of sales analysis of similar products from previous seasons, with products pushed to the consumer, then discounted if they didn’t find takers.
The massive increase in products on offer over the last 20 years, with online shopping and volatile consumer behavior, has made this model difficult to sustain. Production rhythms have been radically transformed, with more frequent collections being produced at shorter intervals, gradually leading to deseasonalization. Faced with changing market and production rhythms, various technological solutions are now being deployed to keep pace with these developments.
Adapt production in real time
To start with, it’s possible to rely on “fabric to sketch” design, where material will guide the development of shapes rather than the other way around. AI algorithms and cloud technologies then provide real-time sales analytics so manufacturers can streamline production and optimize inventory.
Depending on the success of an initial production run, subsequent quantities are adapted, or the material will be transformed into another type of garment or accessory, more suited to the needs of the moment. Here, environmental and economic performance go hand in hand, avoiding unnecessary production in a more agile approach. Responding to needs in real time, so as not to overproduce and discount products or store them in the warehouse, in the absence of won-over customers.
This shorter planning, supported by digital monitoring tools, can be combined with closer production hubs. If production is carried out on sites powered by renewable energies, or in nearby countries with a low-carbon energy mix, the environmental impact can be reduced. These agile production choices also appear to be assets for minimizing risks in an unstable context, with health crises, geopolitical conflicts or natural disasters weakening supply chains.
Rely on materials
Various technological tools can be used to optimize the use of materials. First of all, pattern-making software can be used to prepare the ideal cutting plans for optimizing the use of materials.
Thanks to Artificial Intelligence, it is now possible to go a step further and assist product quality analysis. Visionic technology can identify fabric defects, inspect patterns or check color matching. This review is carried out using special LED light bars, a camera and a fabric displacement sensor. With an analysis accuracy of less than 1mm, it accompanies the right placements for cutting parts with minimum waste.
Tools for optically projecting patterns onto the cutting tables also facilitate the set-up and precision of cutting operations.
3D knitting is also an asset when it comes to zero-waste design. These digital knitting machines, linked to CAD software, create a virtual twin of the product. Digitization is total, from programming to manufacturing. No need for remeshing or seams, the machine knits and assembles from end to end, for seamless parts combining production efficiency and absolute comfort.
Technology is bearing fruit in the search for new optimization systems. These digital piloting services will prove to be invaluable assets if industry seeks not only to avoid unsold stock, but also to produce better and less. This digital revolution will also be a cultural one, as teams will need to be supported in the acquisition of new skills and practices, if these new approaches are to succeed.