Made Smarter says technology offers sector chance to lead next industrial revolution UK Fashion and Textile Association (UKFT) praises success of North West Adoption Programme.

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Made Smarter, the technology adoption programme, is urging textile manufacturers to adopt digitalisation to drive sustainability and growth.

125 companies from the sector based in the North West, including 45 in Greater Manchester, are embracing change by tapping into impartial expert technology advice, digital transformation workshops to help them take their first steps, a leadership programme, digital technology internships, and skills development support. 

Businesses tapping into Made Smarter support include: The British Millerain Company, a Rochdale-based manufacturer of performance fabrics, including waxed cotton; and DRM Industrial Fabrics, a manufacturer of specialist technical textile solutions for the filtration and industrial laundry industry, based in Bury.

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Meanwhile, several companies are also using matched-funding to invest in new digital technology to solve key challenges while increasing productivity, growth, and creating new high value jobs, including: Lynn Lloyd Soft Furnishings, curtain and drapery manufacturers based in Leigh, Creative Apparel, a clothes manufacturer based in Stockport; Dawson Rodgers, a manufacturer of nursery bedding based in Manchester; and Tibard, based in Dukinfield, which makes uniforms for Pizza Express, Wagamama and the NHS.

Tibard benefited from Made Smarter’s digital transformation process before securing support to invest in a modern IoT-connected, industry 4.0 machine.

Ian Mitchell, Managing Director, said: “The last two years have been extremely challenging, but we had to diversify our products and customers and are now currently operating at three times our pre-Covid capacity. Made Smarter has certainly supported our journey and without this new machinery, we would not be able to provide the best value for garments for both the hospitality and healthcare sectors.”

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Creative Apparel drew on Made Smarter’s support to invest in a full factory digitalisation. This includes a central IT system to drive and measure smart machinery, linking production all the way to their customers and supply chain, AI for social media trend-spotting and Big Data analytics to identify and respond to patterns sooner.

Phil Millar, Managing Director, said: “The fast fashion industry suffers from a reputation as one of the most damaging to the environment due to the amount of waste generated during the production process and the throw-away nature of many of the products. We want to help address that by becoming a leader for change in the sector by putting sustainability at the heart of our production processes. Accessing support from Made Smarter is helping us accelerate faster towards our vision.”

DRM Industrial Fabrics engaged with the digital transformation workshop process and enrolled Operations Director Andrea Kuehne on the Leadership programme.

Andrea said: “Covid has accelerated our need to digitalise and be smarter with our people and processes. We are more Industry 1.0 in some areas, so to think about going to Industry 4.0 and what that might look like was eye-opening. The workshop was a slick and streamlined process. Getting that third party, outside perspective was fascinating and encouraging. It threw some of the stigma of technology out of the window, and focussed our minds on challenges we need to tackle.”

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But with more than 1,000 fashion and textile manufacturers in the region employing around 15,000 people and with a collective turnover of £1.83 billion*, Made Smarter believes the sector and region synonymous with the ‘first’ Industrial Revolution has a golden opportunity to lead the ‘fourth’.

Alain Dilworth, North West Adoption Programme Manager at Made Smarter, said: “The textile industry in the North West was at the centre of the first industrial revolution with technological advances enabling cottons, wools, silks and dyestuffs to be produced at unprecedented rates for export around the globe. It is fitting that Made Smarter is now offering its support and expertise to help the same industry embrace the opportunity to lead the fourth industrial revolution.

“Covid-19 has had a huge impact on the industry with supply chains broken, falling sales and regrettably, some businesses having to close. Rebuilding is an opportunity to create a more sustainable approach which enables better resilience by taking advantage of the new digital technologies.

“I am delighted that Made Smarter has been able to support so many of the region’s textile manufacturers to start their digitalisation journey. Our ambition now is to reach out to the hundreds of others across the region to support them to take their first steps to future-proof their business.”

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The fashion and textile industry is under substantial pressure to change to reduce its environmental and social impact. It is responsible for 10% of all global carbon emissions, water pollution from the use of chemicals and dyes and microplastics in the oceans, as well as staggering levels of waste. In the UK 300,000 tonnes of clothing** – worth an estimated £140m – are sent to landfill or incinerated.

With the increase in consumer awareness of the devastating impact of the fast fashion phenomenon and a willingness among millennials to pay more for sustainable goods, the UK’s £32 billion*** fashion and textile industry has a huge opportunity to grow greener and more ethically.

Digital transformation is enabling a move away from traditional production methods and processes to make clothes, footwear and household textiles. 

Digital textile printing, for example, produces less waste, requires little set-up and equipment, and uses fewer resources like water. 3D printing also reduces waste as fewer samples, and therefore fabric, are produced.

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Companies are opting to provide more data to boost transparency across the supply chain. QR codes, for instance, to detail the item’s country of origin and carbon footprint. Others are using analytics to track fashion trends and cycles, helping reduce the number of clothes that end up in landfill.

Commending the impact of the programme, Adam Mansell, CEO of UKFT, UK Fashion and Textile Association (UKFT), which brings together a network of 2,500 designers, manufacturers, agents and retailers, said: “The success of the Made Smarter Adoption Programme in the North West has demonstrated the value of targeted support for SME manufacturers to help them take those first steps on their digitalisation journeys.

“The UK fashion and textile industry has a worldwide reputation for originality, quality, and innovation, combining skilled design and craftsmanship with cutting-edge technology. To continue building on this achievement and ensure the UK remains competitive against global competition, manufacturers need to embrace current and emerging technologies, and the huge potential digitisation offers, as well as to raise the skills and productivity of the people who work in our sector to the highest level.”

Made Smarter has produced a free guide to help businesses in the sector. To download a copy visit: https://www.madesmarter.uk/resources/guide-textile-manufacturing-how-digital-transformation-is-securing-a-sustainable-future/