Digital manufacturing transforms flat knitting

Published On: October 16, 2018

Connie Huffa, president of Fabdesigns Inc., doesn’t see the 4.0 Industrial Revolution as a factor that hurts jobs. Rather, she explains, “Jobs are changing but not being eliminated.”

Huffa, a textile engineer, discussed the how the textile industry, like other manufacturing businesses, is experiencing the fourth Industrial Revolution. Her presentation was part of the ATA’s 2018 Expo Pre-Conference on October 15.

The first Industrial Revolution happened in the 18th and 19th centuries when people moved from doing agrarian work in rural areas to manufacturing jobs in urban centers. The steam engine was a major driver for this transition.

Fast forward to 2007 when smart phones and the Amazon Kindle took the consumer market by storm, disrupting the need for brick and mortar stores. Huffa explained that the knitting industry has adopted its own technologies as the years have passed, so much so that the front end of manufacturing is now connected to the back end.

Huffa encourages textile manufacturers to ask the following questions:

  • How might digitalization disrupt my corner of the industry in the next five to ten years?
  • Where is the value of digitalization for my company?
  • What technology should my company invest in?
  • In what skills do we need to train our existing employees?
  • What talents should we be looking for in the future?
  • What happens if we do nothing?

There is no one size fits all for the industry, according to Huffa. However, one thing seems certain: As technology advances, consumers are demanding change. The days of huge orders from big retailers may be numbered. AI will be a fact of life as countries race to automate manufacturing, the top three being South Korea, Singapore and Germany.

“Automation levels the competitive field for products that are labor intensive, especially in countries with growing environmental and employee safety concerns,” noted Huffa.