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Sweater manufacturers are switching over to automated production system

A technological shift has been taking place in the country’s readymade garment sector especially in sweater segment as manufacturers are switching over to an automated production system, industry people said.

BD sweater sector automated production system
Figure: Export earnings from sweater items stood at $3.67 billion in the fiscal year of 2017-18, making the items top five ready-made garments (RMG) items.

The main purposes behind the shift are to grab the growing demands for value-added items, increase the productivity of their units and also avoid any untoward labor unrest that took place over wage issues.

A good number of sweater units have already installed the required machines for automation, while some are installing and others are actively considering it, industry insiders said.

The sweater factory workers get their wage on the basis of piece-rate – the number of pieces they produce daily – and the rate is not fixed in the sector. Usually, it is the owners, who fix the piece-rate.

Industry people said they import the automatic machines, mainly from Germany, Japan, and China. Chinese machines are comparatively cheaper than those of Germany and Japan.

According to Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), about 786 sweater factories are being operated in the country, employed around 7,00,000 workers.

Many of the sweater factories have invested a huge amount of money in setting automated system in their units in recent years mainly to increase productivity and reduce the cost related to workers and others.

Moshiul Azam Shajal, Managing Director of Fame Sweaters Ltd

In 1985, a sweater factory with 366 machines first set up in the country with creating employment for some 570 workers, according to the trade body.

Jersey, pullover, cardigans and waistcoats are the major items shipped to the European Union, the USA and Canada. France, Germany, Italy, UK, Spain and Poland are the major EU markets while Japan and Russia are the potential non-traditional markets for locally made sweater items, industry people said.

Exports earnings from sweater items are also increasing each year. The country earned only $70.41 million in the fiscal year of 1995-96 from sweater items exports, according to Export Promotion Bureau (EPB) data.

Now the earnings from sweater items stood at $3.67 billion in the fiscal year of 2017-18, making the items top five readymade garments (RMG) items.

Moshiul Azam Shajal, Managing Director of Fame Sweaters Ltd, said many of the sweater factories have invested a huge amount of money in setting automated system in their units in recent years mainly to increase productivity and reduce the cost related to workers and others.

“But exports are not increasing as required as we are not getting fair price of products in line with the investment made in automation and other compliance issues,” he said.

A manual machine costs only $300 to $700 where an automated jacquard machine ranged between $2,000 to $30,000, Fazlee Shamim Ehsan, Vice President of Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA) said.

According to the BKMEA leader almost all sweater factories have installed the automated machine, many of them might not go for full automation. This is because to address labor issues including shortage of workers, possible unrest over payment.

Though automation resulted in job loss of workers, it has increased productivity, help producing more designed based sweater items with embroidery and value-added items.

The BGMEA leader explained that an automated Jacquard machine is not only able to produce diversified and fashionable products, but can also fabricate critical designs, not possible with the manual ones.

BD’s sweater export growth to the world

Source: EPB

Year Growth
2008-2009 26.09%
2009-2010 -3.40%
2010-2011 38.59%
2011-2012 -5.94%
2012-2013 11.98%
2013-2014 11.91%
2014-2015 -3.54%
2015-2016 12.49%
2016-2017 5.63%
2017-2018 9.32%

“Complexities over the payment of workers are mainly experienced in the knitting sector, and automation is largely taking place in this segment,” said Mohammad Hatem, a former leader of Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association.

A manual machine needs one operator and can produce a maximum of five pieces a day. On the other hand, an automatic machine, operated by a single operator, can produce about 30 pieces a day, he explained. So, many owners are opting for those expensive automatic machines to remain cost competitive in the long run.

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