By Anke Henrich
End customers do not like to wait. Michael Jänecke knows exactly how impatient they are: "They want to send their favorite design to the manufacturer via an app today and wear their own individually designed and tailor-made sneakers or shirt tomorrow. This is already the reality," comments the Director Brand Management Technical Textiles and Textile Processing at Messe Frankfurt. "Complex production, processing, and logistics processes are needed," says Jänecke. He is referring to microfactories, which represent fully networked textile processing that enables individualized products while working quickly, flexibly, and locally. "These are a progressive approach to using fully networked processes to make textile processing faster, more flexible, and also more sustainable because they are closer to end customers. At the same time, they also make it possible to manufacture individualized products."
Manufacturers of garments and thus also their suppliers of sewing and garment machinery are used to varied and growing demands with regard to fast fashion, high quality, and sustainability. But in order to remain competitive, they need to utilize the opportunities offered by digitalization more than ever before.
Reject imperfect material
There is enormous potential. Three examples demonstrate how new technologies are transforming production in the textile industry - for everything from shoes to car seats. One is the ability to design shoes individually. After scanning the feet and analyzing the sole properties, manufacturing systems specialist DESMA sends the data directly to production using the FitStation software platform. "This allows us to produce batch sizes of one economically in an industrial process," explains Christian Decker, CTO of DESMA. Thanks to augmented reality and independent learning from every application, leather scanning machines can now detect even minute blemishes in leather and reject imperfect material before it is processed.
Digitalization also keeps everything tidy: Intelligent systems made up of robots and grippers clear offcuts from textile cutting tables.
As in automotive manufacturing, digital applications such as machine learning, big data, 3D product development, predictive maintenance, automation, and the deployment of robots are all used here. The objective is the same in both industries - more cost-effective production. However, the textile industry is reacting to this development more hesitantly than, for instance, the automotive sector, trade, banks, or insurance.
Connecting machines regardless of their age
"Despite all the advantages, the processing of textiles is not yet as well connected as other industries," warns Thomas Brinkhoff, Marketing Manager at Dürkopp Adler, Germany’s largest manufacturer of industrial sewing machines based in Bielefeld. The most important customers use their machines to sew home upholstery, technical textiles, leather, classic men’s clothing, and products for automobiles. Brinkhoff speaks from experience: "Getting all the participants in a production chain to work together digitally is a great challenge."
Dürkopp Adler has a major interest in connected production - not only because the company wants its own sewing machines to communicate with one another, but also because it has developed its own strategic business area by the name of QONDAC. QONDAC collects performance data from all connected machines in real time, automatically controls workplace settings, and raises productivity and quality.
To ensure fully connected production, Dürkopp Adler needs the status, process, and machine data of all participants throughout the production chain. Instead of waiting for uniform standards to emerge, the company has developed a standard interface itself. "We are actively reaching out to other companies," says Brinkhoff.
While developing this interface, Dürkopp Adler has also benefited from its status as a subsidiary of the Chinese Shang Gong Group. The manufacturer of industrial sewing machines possesses vast research capacity for developing new standards and, thanks to its power on the market, implementing them. Brinkhoff does not want to say exactly how much the group or its subsidiary Dürkopp Adler has invested in developing the interface, but "it is a considerable proportion of total research and development spending." The Bielefeld-based mechanical engineering firm’s demand for specialist staff is also changing in the light of increasing human-machine interaction: "There is now a 50:50 split between software and hardware experts."
Although automation and digitalization are important issues in the industry, Brinkhoff does not yet see artificial intelligence as a hot topic. But Dürkopp Adler is also moving in this direction with its latest developments. "Over the next few years, our sewing machines will increasingly carry much of the knowledge that people previously needed to have. In this way, machines are becoming assistants to people."
Texprocess trade fair
From May 14 to 17, 2019, Dürkopp Adler will present QONDAC at the Texprocess trade fair with a digitalized production chain consisting of cutters and welding and sewing machines. The entire spectrum of textile processing technologies will be on show in Frankfurt - from design, cutting, making, trimming, digital printing of textiles and finishing to textile logistics and recycling. Texprocess focuses on the aforementioned microfactories. Five production lines will demonstrate what is already possible today - one each for manufacturing clothing, making a 3D-knitted shoe, and processing technical textiles, such as those for the automotive or furniture industry.