New digital approaches to transforming the manufacturing chain combine traditional production stages, such as cutting and assembly, with elements of virtual and augmented reality

New digital approaches to transforming the manufacturing chain combine traditional production stages, such as cutting and assembly, with elements of virtual and augmented reality

With the largest range of technology on display in its history, the upcoming Texprocess trade fair has a new exhibitor record within its sights. And once again it also has its finger firmly on the pulse of the sector – with the impact of Industry 4.0 on the manufacture and processing of apparel and technical textiles one of the show's major areas of focus. Ronny Eckert reports.

The construction of a new logistics centre was blamed as the trigger for the insolvency of the Gerry Weber fashion house at the beginning of the year. Speaking to news magazine 'Der Spiegel' at the end of February, founder Gerhard Weber said the logistics centre "was the crucial reason for our getting into difficulties." That an international fashion company with an annual turnover of EUR881m in the 2016-17 financial year can lose the plot because of the construction of a warehouse is not without symbolic significance for the current changes being experienced by the textile and clothing industry in general.

This, at least, is the way that Joachim Rees sees it. He is managing director of Multi-Plot Europe GmbH, a supplier of digital textile printing systems and, by its own admission, a pioneer in the digital transformation of the textile industry. "The insolvency of Gerry Weber was not entirely unexpected, and the problems at Esprit and Tom Tailor don't particularly surprise me either," says Rees. He sees the reasons for the current crisis in the clothing industry as a mix of various different factors: "'Fast Fashion' – over-abundant supply, a thirst for innovation, changing (online) purchasing behaviours and a reluctance to ditch outmoded logistics structures.

"The sector is in a period of transition," suggests Rees, who is certain that advancing digitalisation is joining the threads in new ways. "It is the engine of change and individualisation is the fuel," he says, characterising the development.

From Industry 4.0 to Impact 4.0

Artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data, automation and 'batches of one' – many of the threads of Industry 4.0 have been weaving their way into the textile industry for some time. And Texprocess, the leading international trade fair for the processing of textile and flexible materials, will make these digital links visible.

The impact of digitalisation on the textile industry value creation chain will be a key area presented to trade visitors at the upcoming edition of the show, from 14-17 May in Frankfurt am Main. "Very many exhibitors will, under the heading of 'Impact 4.0', be showcasing the effects of Industry 4.0 on the manufacture and processing of apparel and technical textiles," says Michael Jänecke, director of brand management for Technical Textiles and Textile Processing at event organiser Messe Frankfurt.

As a result, sewing machines are today being monitored in real time, robots and claw systems are already in operation at cutting tables, RFID chips are ensuring the traceability of blouses, shirts and trousers, and customers are ordering clothes 'on demand' so that they are not produced until they have been paid for. Yet, as is so often the case, author William Gibson's words apply: "The future is already here – it's just not very evenly distributed." By no means are all textile companies on track for the digital world. "We want to show our visitors today what the future of the textile and apparel industry will be tomorrow, in order to weave the individual threads that exist into a coherent 'digital fabric'," says Jänecke.

Clothes from the Cloud: digital doppelganger

Accordingly, there will be a new demonstration of the 'Digital Textile Micro-Factory' (Hall 4.1) at both Texprocess and at its sister show Techtextil, the international trade fair for technical textiles and nonwovens. The aim of the micro-factory, which has been planned by the Institutes for Textile and Fibre Research in Denkendorf (Institute für Textil- und Faserforschung Denkendorf – DITF) and their partners, is to make clear the increasing significance of the 'digital doppelganger' or 'digital twin'.

"This notion of a digital doppelganger will change, for ever, the procedures in development departments of the fashion industry and the way they relate to manufacturing departments," asserts DITF researcher Alexander Artschwager, who has been involved in the development of the Digital Textile Micro-Factory. And he speaks with some certainty. This means that anyone who is able to process more and more information, including size and measurements, orders, patterns and colours using digital procedures, partially in the Cloud, reduces not only development time, but also significantly reduces logistical effort. And anyone who can wait until the virtual representation is sold before producing it, and who has more and more customers who are more aware of what they are buying, will undoubtedly need fewer large-scale logistics centres.

Five micro-factories demonstrate the future of apparel production

Because the Digital Micro Factory was such a success with visitors to the trade show in 2017, four more of them will be added to this year's re-run. These will include a 'Fashion Line', a 'Technical Line' and a '3D-Knitting Line', all related to digitalisation and customisation. One will relate to apparel customisation and production management, another to integrated production in the sewing department, one to leather perforation, and there will be a 'smart textiles' micro-factory, which will, for the first time ever, give a live demonstration of the serial production of a smart textile.  

Further highlights at the upcoming trade fair include the Texprocess Forum (Hall 4.1). For the first time this will have its own lecture series as part of Messe Frankfurt's 'Fashionsustain' Conference, which is a regular feature of Berlin Fashion Week. The objective here is to link the sustainable manufacture and processing of textiles more closely to the end products. Not forgetting, too, the Texprocess Innovation Award, presented this year for the fifth time, and once again highlighting innovations and new approaches to processing in the textile industry.

Texprocess exhibitors from over 30 countries will be taking part in the trade fair this year, showcasing the entire spectrum of textile processing and finishing technologies, as well as textile-specific logistics and recycling. In 2017, taken together with those attending Techtextil, the event totted up over 25,000 visitors from 109 different countries to view the latest developments in the sector presented by 312 exhibitors from 35 countries. Based on the current number of bookings taken for 2019, Texprocess is, once again, set to exceed the results of the previous event.

Impact 4.0 – What is that exactly?

Anyone asking about the effects and implications of Industry 4.0 must also talk about Impact 4.0: real-time monitoring of machinery, factories networked across national boundaries, autonomous robots and grab-systems in textile production, batch sizes of one upwards, whereby production starts with the customer and the 'digital doppelganger' provides the starting point for personalised, perfectly fitting clothes (customising).

The fourth industrial revolution is already making itself felt in the value creation chain of the textile industry. Which is why exhibitors at the two trade fairs – Techtextil and Texprocess from 14-17 May in Frankfurt am Main – will be presenting, amongst other things, the very latest solutions, together with answers to the question: What 'Impact 4.0' does 'Industry 4.0' have on the manufacture and processing of textiles today, and what are the next steps?

Click here to find out more about Texprocess, and to register to attend.