The apparel industry in Bangladesh holds an indomitable position, contributing significantly to the country’s economic development. Accounting for a substantial part of the country’s exports and employing a considerable workforce, the industry’s influence on the economy is irrefutable. However, the global market, characterized by constant innovation, demands change. The apparel manufacturers in Bangladesh, traditionally operating on labor-intensive processes, now find themselves at a crossroads where they must adapt to advanced manufacturing technologies and automation. This article aims to provide an overview of the current state and future direction of the manufacturing techniques and technologies in Bangladesh’s apparel industry.
II. The Current State of the Apparel Manufacturing Industry in Bangladesh
The Ready-Made Garment (RMG) sector, the backbone of Bangladesh’s apparel industry, employs approximately 4.2 million workers, 60% of whom are women primarily from rural, low-income backgrounds. The industry’s product range is vast, including shirts, trousers, T-shirts, jackets, and other woven garments, mostly cotton-based. The production centers are primarily located around Dhaka, Gazipur, Narayanganj, Chittagong, and other nearby industrial clusters.
Despite its impressive setup, the RMG sector faces a shortage of skilled workers, particularly in technical and mid-level management roles. With a high turnover rate, the industry signals a crucial need for strategies focused on employee retention. Additionally, there’s an increasing need to adopt advanced manufacturing technologies, a change viewed as pivotal for maintaining competitiveness in the global market.
III. Skills and Training in the Apparel Manufacturing Industry
It’s been observed that most workers enter the RMG sector with limited pre-job training, leading to operational challenges. A gap in proper training has revealed issues with job understanding, performance, and skill development, affecting a significant portion of untrained workers. This has highlighted the pressing need for effective skills and training solutions in the industry.
In response to this challenge, several industry-specific and government-backed training initiatives have been implemented. Notable among these are the BGMEA-ILO partnership Centre of Excellence and the Manusher Jonno Foundation’s 2-month residential RMG skill development training program. Other initiatives include collaborations with the Bangladesh Skills for Employment and Productivity Project and the IFC-ILO Better Work Programme. However, the scale of these training initiatives remains limited and requires expansion to meet the industry’s demands. For a comprehensive view on the role of skills and training in the apparel industry, you can read more here.
IV. Adoption of Advanced Manufacturing Technologies
In a market characterized by constant innovation, manufacturers in Bangladesh have begun prioritizing technological advancement. The adoption of advanced manufacturing technologies in Bangladesh’s garment factories primarily focuses on information systems, such as Computer-Aided Design (CAD), rather than automation and robotics.
Despite the cost concerns, the adoption of advanced manufacturing technologies has started to improve efficiency and boost technical capabilities. Several advanced manufacturing technologies are being gradually implemented, including CAD systems, automated cutting machines, inventory management systems, and many more. These technologies have optimized production workflows, improved quality, increased data visibility, and accelerated product delivery to the market. However, the process of adopting these technologies presents its own set of challenges. If you are interested in learning more about how advanced manufacturing technologies are being adopted, click here.
V. The Role of Automation in Apparel Manufacturing
Automation has emerged as a significant potential solution to the rising production costs and the need for more flexibility and responsiveness in the apparel industry. Despite the potential benefits, most factories in Bangladesh still heavily rely on manual processes, with the levels of automation ranging from less than 5% in most factories to about 25% in the most automated factories.
Automation in fabric handling, spreading, cutting, and sewing operations can improve productivity by 15-25%, offset rising wage rates, reduce lead times, and allow for smaller batches and greater variety. However, implementing automation can be challenging due to high upfront capital investment, temporary disruption in production, and resistance from workers.
Emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Digital Twin Technology, Advanced Robotics, 5G Connectivity, Big Data and Analytics, Virtual/Augmented Reality, Additive Manufacturing, Cloud Computing, Cybersecurity Solutions, and Energy Management Systems can help manufacturers overcome these challenges and make the transition to smart factories of the future. For a deep dive into the role of automation in the apparel industry, you can read more here.
VI. The Future of Manufacturing in Bangladesh’s Apparel Industry
As the apparel industry evolves, the average monthly wages for garment workers in Bangladesh have increased significantly. This wage rise has made automation essential for the apparel industry to stay competitive. Automation helps improve productivity to offset the impact of these rising wages.
Apparel exports from Bangladesh have shown impressive growth over the last decade, signaling a growing demand for apparel goods. Automation allows scaling production to keep up with this increasing demand. Furthermore, automated material handling and information flows help bring down lead times, a critical factor for fast fashion which demands speed.
Automated quality control and monitoring help reduce defects and improve workplace safety compliance. It also enables manufacturers to cater to changing consumer expectations as consumers want more personalized and customized products. Automation allows quick changeovers and small batches, making this feasible.
Automation leads to more consistent and reliable production as automated processes are more precise and repeatable than manual work, leading to fewer errors. Data from automation enables smart analytics for efficiency as IoT sensors, machine data, etc., can feed analytics to continuously improve processes.
In a dynamic global market, the integration of advanced manufacturing technologies and automation is no longer a luxury but a necessity for Bangladesh’s apparel manufacturers. To remain competitive and ensure sustainable growth, taking the leap towards automation and technological advancement is vital. Not only will this augment the industry’s efficiency and quality, but it will also play a pivotal role in addressing rising wages and meeting the growing global demand for apparel. As we’ve seen, trailblazing manufacturers are already reaping the dividends of strategic automation initiatives. It’s evident that with a collaborative effort from both the industry and government, focused on fostering skills, adopting technology, and embracing automation, Bangladesh’s apparel industry has the potential to elevate its global standing even further.
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