Garment-sewing robots: A promise and a threat

14:37 | 19/09/2017 Science - Technology

(VEN) - The Fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0, is affecting a wide range of fields with robot technology and artificial intelligence creating useful applications for socioeconomic development. This is forecast to have strong impacts on labor-intensive sectors, including textiles and garments. To get ready for Industry 4.0, Vietnamese textile and garment companies should promote technological innovation and human resource development.

a promise and a threat

Global trends

Due to labor shortages, developed countries, such as the UK, the US and Japan, had to hire workers from Mexico, China, India and Vietnam. In the era of Industry 4.0, many textile and garment plants in Vietnam, China and India are expected to be moved to the US where robots have replaced humans in many positions. Using robots costs less than hiring manual workers.

A recent International Labor Organization report shows that more than two thirds of 9.2 million textile, garment, leather and footwear workers in Southeast Asia are being confronted by the rapid explosion of scientific and technological applications. Large amounts of work being done by humans will be passed on to robots. As a result, low-cost workers who account for about 86 percent of the total workforce of the Vietnamese textile and garment sector, 88 percent of that in Cambodia, and 64 percent of that in Indonesia risk unemployment.

In fact, the use of automatic equipment has helped businesses reduce their workforce considerably. The Viet Thang Jean Company Limited, for example, used to employ about 2,200 workers to operate a production line that creates 10,000 products daily. Now, with support of automatic equipment, the company needs only 800 workers to operate the production line. However, investment in automatic equipment is costly. A laser cutting machine that can replace 100 workers per day costs nearly €800,000, or about VND20 billion. To reduce the number of workers required to operate its production line, the company had to spend approximately US$10 million. Therefore, businesses should take into careful account investment in automation to ensure its highest effectiveness.

a promise and a threat
The application of information technology helps textile and garment companies save materials

How to prepare for Industry 4.0

In the opinion of experts, the use of automatic equipment has helped Vietnamese textile and garment companies increase productivity by about 20 percent. However, machinery cannot replace humans in the field of garment design that requires human creativity.

Vietnam currently is the world’s fifth largest textile and garment exporter. In recent years, countries such as Bangladesh, Cambodia and Myanmar, where the labor cost is lower compared with Vietnam, have attracted outsourcing orders from foreign investors in Vietnam. According to textile and garment experts, however, these countries can compete with Vietnam only in attracting orders that require simple techniques. A skilled and experienced workforce is Vietnam’s competitive advantage in attracting orders with more complex technical requirements.

According to Saurav Ujjain, Chief Representative of ThreadSol in Southeast Asia, garment and fashion companies should make the most of technology and software to increase productivity and save materials. Artificial intelligence and mobile applications should be used to control and minimize material waste. Human resources should be trained in information technology, network security, artificial intelligence, robot technology, the Internet of Things (IoT), and 3D printing technology, Saurav Ujjain said.

In the opinion of Nguyen Thi Tuyet Mai, Deputy Secretary General and Head of the Vietnam Textile and Apparel Association’s Representative Office in Ho Chi Minh City, businesses need to pay attention to information security when using software and technology in production. They should be careful in choosing the most suitable technologies to help them enhance economic efficiency and contribute to the development of the Vietnamese textile and garment sector, she said.

At a macro level, the government needs to increase the application of information technology in institutional and administrative reform to help businesses enhance their competitiveness and invest in Industry 4.0 technologies, she added.

Industry 4.0, artificial intelligence and huge data resources have had positive impacts on the Vietnamese textile and garment industry. Fiber, textile and dyeing factories have applied automation and information technologies to increase productivity. Foreign invested companies have used data resources to enhance the accuracy of coloration in dyeing to 99-100 percent.

Duy Thao