There is a growing interest in using the Internet of Things (IoT) to improve inventory-related tasks that originally occurred through manual labor or educated guesswork. For example, smart sensors can give real-time updates about stock levels or client orders.
Using the IoT for better inventory management in textiles is not yet common. However, that could change as decision-makers get acquainted with the benefits mentioned below and others. Here are some of the advantages you can expect.
- Understanding customer behaviors and preferences
Mass production has long been the ideal in the textile sector. However, the fabrics used to make clothing for people around the world don’t always result in garments that fit most customers well. That’s why the IoT could spark a trend toward smaller lot sizes, driven by textile companies getting up-to-the-minute details about what people most want to buy.
For example, some companies let people access online portals and customize their garments. IoT sensors could provide accurate data from a brand’s warehouses to potential customers, letting them know the estimated lead times for clothes they want to create.
Similarly, IoT sensor data from a warehouse could show peaks and dips in different kinds of fabrics. Having that information gives useful insights regarding possible emerging trends.
- Keeping tabs on clothing waste and returns
When people no longer want clothes that are not in good enough condition to sell to another owner, they often take them to specialty clothing banks or recycling centers. However, people also return nearly new clothes due to flaws, such as if the stitching comes unraveled or there’s other evidence of poor-quality craftsmanship. The IoT could help with both these instances.
A textile waste collection company called Ekocharita used 600 smart sensors to monitor the fill levels of clothing drop-off containers. The results showed that this approach caused a 30% reduction in the time required to collect 1 ton of textile waste. The sensors also caused a 20% decrease in associated costs.
Textile company leaders could also use IoT sensors to track the items customers most complain about. For example, do they return items and express dissatisfaction due to fabric defects, inconsistencies in coloring or other reasons? Updated data then makes it easier to get to the root of the problem. Is it a processing issue inside the factory, a problem with the raw materials or something else?
- Maintaining worker health and productivity
Succeeding with inventory management means having enough team members on hand to keep operations running smoothly without swamping individuals or whole departments with the extra workload. There’s a lot of interest in manufacturing smart textiles that help people monitor their health. One prototype made at MIT featured 30 sensors in a T-shirt that measured things like a wearer’s heart rate and respiration.
However, the IoT can also help people stay healthy at the factory level, ensuring they can work at their best. For example, one research project involved using an IoT sensor to measure cotton dust at a textile facility. Raw cotton dust can irritate the eyes and lungs and cause permanent damage. That’s why regulatory bodies, including the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), have workday exposure limits.
The IoT sensor researched for this purpose collected temperature, humidity and dust data, then alerted managers when the levels surpassed the permissible amounts. Getting that ongoing information could encourage decision-makers to take action by using air filtration equipment or having people wear protective gear in areas where cotton processing happens.
Efforts like these to keep people healthy and avoid the side effects of their jobs could help factory leaders have enough workers to handle textiles and get them ready for shipment. That outcome has a positive knock-on effect by allowing brands to meet expectations for their fashion industry clients.
- Providing better textile processing visibility
The people who oversee well-run textile factories must consider things that people unfamiliar with the industry would overlook. For example, what’s the best way to store products in the facility? That often depends on their processing stage or format. Roll textile carousels keep fabrics easily accessible and off the floor, while vertical garment carousels are for fully finished pieces, such as suits and pants.
Factory managers must also figure out which factors enhance or limit successful production. IoT sensors can give richer details about every aspect of what happens in a textile facility, from fabric cutting to dyeing. Factory floor managers can then see where bottlenecks exist, which processes are particularly streamlined and more.
For example, Pacific Textiles uses real-time analytics to achieve the desired fabric colors, support growth plans and more. Having that information available at any time allows leaders to take corrective action before an identified problem becomes prohibitively costly.
IoT data supports improved quality control for various textile-handling steps, too. One machine automatically monitors yarn tension and alerts factory personnel when it falls outside of set parameters. Users can also access detailed machine performance statistics, helping them see where things went wrong and determine the cause.
Better access to real-time data can tie into restocking efforts, as well. It could reduce product waste, meaning textile company leaders don’t have to purchase supplies as often. Alternatively, IoT sensors could reveal how long it takes to make a certain garment from start to finish, helping managers set more accurate expectations for customers.
The IoT will help the textile sector stay competitive
These are some of the many examples of why representatives from textile companies often decide it’s worthwhile to pursue IoT technology for improved inventory management. However, people will see the best payoffs by identifying current weaknesses and determining how advanced sensors and similar products could help.