The RMG industry has been one of the largest contributors to Bangladeshi exports over the years and a substantial contributor to the growing GDP. This industry has, to date, employed an estimated 4.4 million people, out of which 80% of workers are women. This has contributed to both economic growth and social development in the country. The availability of a large and cheap labor pool has created a favorable environment behind such exponential growth. Bangladesh is still the go-to destination for core garments like shirts, t-shirts, and trousers, because of low Free-On-Board (FOB) costs and high productivity.
However, the past few years have seen a significant shift in global fashion trends. The ready availability of high fashion garments with low lead times which is the time taken from the release of an order to production and shipment has emerged as an important factor for the industry. This fetches high FOB which results in better returns. The quantity per style of garment has also reduced and the number of styles per season has increased. This requires low lead times, and capacity to handle ever frequent style changes. According to industry insiders and technical experts, around 70% of the total manufacturing cost of an apparel product is fabric. This single cost can be reduced by around 10% with the introduction of new cutting technology. This is where ThreadSol steps in.
ThreadSol is a software company founded in 2012, with its headquarters based in Singapore. Operational in Bangladesh since 2014, ThreadSol brings new-age technology used worldwide, like Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, and IoT-based Mobility, to the apparel industry. ThreadSol products directly impact the P&L of businesses by targeting their biggest cost, the cost of fabric. The products have a sharp focus to deliver enhanced visibility, process control, and cost competitiveness.
The current planning and manufacturing process is largely human-centric, and this makes it prone to errors with its limited bandwidth. In order to see improvements in this space, there is a need for heavy investment in skilled manpower. However, this could lead to high running costs to ensure continuity of results and detainment of resources. But worker migration impacts the quality of results, leading to planning prone to errors, slow response time affecting lead time and causing production delays.
Also, as a consequence of human bandwidth, the solution space for planning issues is limited. AI ensures accuracy, quick response time, and with neural network assisted learning it only gets better with time. It has zero running costs and ensures cost effectiveness, accuracy, and speed. The thriving need of the industry for a credible and intelligent product which reduces the biggest costs in manufacturing: labor and fabric cost, is very smartly accomplished by ThreadSol products which encompass some very exclusive benefits for the global apparel industry.
The newest addition to the ThreadSol product line is IntelloCut Version 2.0. IntelloCut V2 was developed to provide manufacturers with the edge to automate their planning process which will reduce material wastage by using effective concepts of fabric utilization. This software meets the diverse requirement of fashion manufacturers across the globe to counter fast fashion problems and brings them closer to attaining the vision of wastage-free factories. IntelloCut V2 claims to reduce the order planning time from 25-30 min to just under 6 min. Moreover, it makes AI based decisions by planning small markers to use all the end bits on the floor. It is mobile-driven and generates a score of automatic reports, which are available on mobile phones.
The garment business is extremely competitive, but manufacturers can position themselves for breakthrough profits and improved customer service by focusing on managing material cost. The advantages of adapting technology in the garments sector are very clear as it will draw the attention of global buyers giving Bangladesh a cutting edge to help it remain the second-largest manufacturer of apparel products in the world.
Best in the Class
In conversation with Syed Naved Husain, Group Director, BEXIMCO
Syed Naved Husain
Group Director, BEXIMCO
What are the current RMG industry challenges you face, competing with other countries for orders? How is the industry tackling high fashion trickling into Bangladesh?
I think Bangladesh is very well placed, the reason being we have a population of 160 million, of which 80 million people are between the age of 20-30, and 80% of the foreign exchange of the country comes from the needle-work and RMG export. This is changing but it won’t change very quickly. Since we are not making bullet trains, we are not super big in IT, we are not in a hurry to start making aircraft, the garment industry which is the biggest employer will give Bangladesh a competitive advantage for the next 20 years. The minimum wage is now 8000 Tk, roughly about 30-35% increase of what it used to. After the increase, the cost per minute is still one of the lowest in the world. The garments owners here made big investments in machinery and in automation. This has helped attain higher efficiency and enhanced productivity. We have ten of the world’s best green factories, which are Leed Platinum certified. The other thing is that because of Accord & Alliance, Bangladesh’s record in terms of structural, fire and electrical safety is best amongst the apparel producing countries of the world.
Looking from a geopolitical scenario, the current US-China trade war benefits Bangladesh, Sourcing from China has become very expensive plus due to their increased domestic demand, big buyers are looking for alternate destinations and Bangladesh certain has a competitive advantage from that point of view. Myanmar has had its own issues due to the Rohingya crisis. Vietnam is very good but it is becoming expensive and again thanks to the current Trump Administration for not going with the TPP. This will be helpful for Bangladesh.
In Bangladesh, the main challenges are still the lack of infrastructure and energy supply. The latter is being worked on; similar progress is happening when it comes to the port. The government has been helpful in both cases. Both the government and the opposition have quite a stake in the garment industry because it provides 80% of the export earnings.
Is the RMG industry prepared to cater to ever-changing demands of high fashion based mfg?
Yes very much so. In the sense if you take BEXIMCO itself, we have a design studio in Spain, North America; we have design and product development centers in Hong Kong and China and there are a massive design and production center in Dhaka where we produce more than 15000 samples a month. We actually ship 250,000 garments per day so when we go to our customers we play the whole symphony: we sell tops, bottoms, knits, men, women, kids apparels and we approach the customer with our collection. Now we have moved into retail, so from cotton to retail, and I think that’s the direction that the big Bangladeshi players are taking. That’s the direction that the international brands and international customers want to go to: from a photo to a proto.
In the old days, someone would sit and make multi-page product pack telling you exactly what was needed, the measurements and all that, then you had to do a tailoring job. Now the focus is on co-creation. Better engagement between customer and manufacturer on new developments, trends, what to sell, etc. Sometimes with PVH, there are fabrics which we are jointly patenting together, and that connects the buyer with the manufacturer who then connects to our suppliers like Hunstmen, InVista who are also doing research on dyes and chemicals. It’s become an integrated industry where design and product development are taking place both ways. From the design point of view, Bangladesh has a rich cultural heritage and that’s now being translated into design and product development. I also think whether it’s food, film or fashion, consumers are more into fusion these days and that gives us an opportunity to be more interconnected and learn from each other.
What made you choose ThreadSol?
Every morning when you wake up, every manufacturer in every country is trying to steal your lunch, which means the competition is fierce and only the best and the most efficient ones would survive. Therefore, BEXIMCO wants to be the best in manufacturing with a huge factory on a 350-acre campus where 40,000 people are working. Our activities start from procuring cotton. We are shipping 2,50,000 garments per day. All these require seamless monitoring to track our activities, to make sure that we can avoid wastages as much as possible.
We chose ThreadSol for a number of reasons. 60% of the cost (FOB cost) of the garment is going behind the fabric. 15% is trimmed, and the rest is other stuff. How to cut efficiently to save fabric can breathe new lifeline in our business. If you don’t do it right it can kill you, and ThreadSol has done a fantastic job in that area. A number of companies like Lectra and Gerber showed us how to save fabric by making a more efficient marker, but ThreadSol came with this unique proposition that they allow us to save the fabric at the pre-cutting stage and shows us how to lay. So by using we had savings of 2-4% in the fabric. If you take 2-4% savings on half a million yards of fabric per day, that amounts to a lot of money saving, and it gives you transparency and control. I found the ThreadSol team very responsive and passionate about their work. They have a young team, so my experience with them has been very good.
How did the ThreadSol team partner with your production teams to help handle changing production requirement?
We have a big campus, so they sent a young team who came and stayed on the campus; held workshops to train the workers involved in our cutting area so they exactly understand how to use the software and then they went through the execution and the monitoring. They did a lot of hand-holding like most software companies need to do because you’re not actually selling a software, you have to sell a solution. What I liked about them was that they were committed to Bangladesh. They had people on the ground, people willing to stay with us, work with the teams till the thing was a success.
What control/visibility did ThreadSol provide? What extent of business benefit have you gained?
60% of the cost of a garment is due to the fabric. Typically ThreadSol IntelloCut and IntelloBuy get everyone focused and look at the fabric consumption and fabric saving, so you can end up saving up to 2-4%. 2-4% out of 60% is a good amount of money.
There is a big move all around the world with technology, we at BEXIMCO have also embarked upon that journey towards a more efficient tomorrow. We are putting up very sustainable plants. We are moving to waterless washing that allows washing garments without water. Laser finishing and flexible automation are there in our factory to reduce the minutes to make a garment. Being one of the largest corporations in Bangladesh, BEXIMCO has created a leadership role in the industry. We are looking into multi-country manufacturing. We have got our own retail Yellow, which is the number one retailer of Bangladesh. Yellow is also now selling products on platforms like Amazon, across North America and has gotten into countries like Indonesia. In a nutshell, the world is Bangladesh’s oyster as far as the RMG goes. I think that in the next 10 years you’ll see that.
Adapting to Automation: Ananta and ThreadSol join forces to tackle industry challenges
In conversation with Asif Zahir, Deputy Managing Director, Ananta Group
Deputy Managing Director, Ananta Group
What are the current RMG industry challenges you face, competing with other countries for orders? How are higher wages impacting cost competitiveness of core garments?
The RMG industry is quite competitive. It’s a global market, so we are not just competing with factories in Bangladesh; we are competing with those in Vietnam, India, Pakistan and China. Beyond that we have our own challenges in Bangladesh. The costs of production are on the rise. In addition, inefficiencies like port and logistics delays, power issues and the lack of a very good supply chain in the country have always taken a toll on the business. All these together puts a lot of pressure on us when it comes to delivering goods on time, adding further to the already increased costs of production.
We are actually not as competitive as we should be given that we have some of the cheapest wages compared to what our competitors are offering. In the context of that what we do which is woven garment manufacturing, the material side is really important since 60% of our FOB is material which is fabrics and accessories etc, with fabric occupying the lionshare. That’s also an area with a lot of scope since there is a lot of wastage, and if we can better utilize our materials definitely it would help to become more competitive.
Wages is definitely a very big component. Apart from procuring the materials, the wages are probably the second largest component of what goes into a garment, especially in a woven garment. We do have competitive wages globally but given the fact that it’s going up every year, and now it’s gone up 60%, which definitely poses a challenge for the industry.
What made you choose ThreadSol? What business objectives would they be solving?
We looked into the solutions available for tracking fabric consumption, cutting efficiencies, etc. We saw that ThreadSol has a lot of focus in those area. They’ve been doing this for a while, using a kind of best-of-breed software solution which mainly addresses these problems. They also have a lot of expertise and understanding on what’s happening on the cutting floor and how factories are actually utilizing the fabrics, and where the inefficiencies and wastages are. Given their experience in this particular segment we decided to go with them.
The main objective is better visibility of the cutting floor and to help us understand what exactly is happening in our cutting room. With the help of their software, we find answers to a number of important questions we have been grappling with: How are we utilizing the fabrics? How we are cutting and what is the wastage due to various factors? Is it a fabric quality issue which is leading to wastage? Is it the way we are laying the fabric which may not be very efficient? Is it some other factors that are leading to wastage? So it’s for better visibility and monitoring and having an effective and better control on our fabric consumption.
What control/visibility did ThreadSol provide? What extent of business benefit have you gained?
With the shop floor system that they have implemented on our cutting floor, it’s actually quite a nice android based solution that’s connected to the cloud. We are able to get real-time updates of what is happening on the cutting floor starting from the roll level like which rolls are we cutting, for which styles. It’s all on a tablet, ensuring that we get real-time information and ultimately we are able to react accordingly.
It’s been about 3-4 months since we began implementing the software. It’s still being implemented in the factories. We are already seeing some benefits. The target is to reduce about 1% of the wastage or save 1% of the fabric. We are hopeful that we are going to get there. It’s still a work in progress.
How do you see this business benefit being sustained?
Obviously ThreadSol is one aspect of the solution. At the end of the day factories themselves have to be vigilant about what is happening, and how the best practices are sustained. We have our own mechanisms and our own team to monitor the implementation of the software, and to ensure that the best practices are being carried out and upheld.
Infrastructural issues are an ongoing challenge. We have a lot of investments like for power we have backup diesel generators, and diesel tanks. A lot of the time power is unstable; therefore, we have UPS facility for sensitive equipments, which is an additional cost for us actually. That’s the reality of working in Bangladesh so we have to make those investments. It’s good that ThreadSol is focusing on this market and ultimately we need to adopt technology to keep improving, and be more efficient.
Anas Shakil, Director, Manufacturing Excellence at ThreadSol pens down how the company is partnering up with local manufacturers to provide the much-needed tech upheaval in the RMG industry
Director, Manufacturing Excellence at ThreadSol
Bangladesh has a rich history of expert craftsman spinning the most intricate weaves. Muslin, Jamdani and Indigo dye were crafted in its cradle. It’s only befitting that Bangladesh is looked at as the next big thing in the apparel trade.
I first came to Bangladesh back in 2015, looking at business opportunities for our technology. My previous experiences in Sri Lanka and India had painted a difficult uphill drive, coupled with the fabled fear of tech. The first year we added 12 manufacturers to our happy customers’ board. This was twice the rate of adoption that we saw in SL.
Since then we have never looked back, with over 50+ happy customers in Bangladesh alone. The rate of technology adoption, skill development and the need for machinery automation in Bangladesh have been unparalleled compared to anywhere else in the world.
The technology basically empowers the end user, by aiding faster decision making, providing accuracy and data backed solutions which help save Millions of Dollars over the lifecycle of the product. Low skilled manpower, with technology aided decision making can outperform a high skilled workforce, working with manual systems. This alone makes a strong case to trigger a tectonic shift in the status quo. and it has the capability to do so. We have seen this all over the world, on how the adoption of technology has been a strategic catalyst to drive economies and industries to scale up, outperform without any of the usual teething issues.
Our tech enables manufacturing to have a quicker turn-around, shorter lead time by reducing manual efforts and impacts manufacturing cost as it targets the biggest cost which is fabric. It has proven time and again, the capability to make per garment manufacturing cost cheaper by multiple % points.
The manufacturing space in Bangladesh is evolving, some players move faster than others. However, there needs to be a wide scale understanding of the importance of tech. In some regions, there still persists a fear of tech. This fear comes from not being able to understand technology or drive the change management needed to aid it. One of the cornerstones of our delivery methods is a successful change in management, ensuring a quick turnaround with all of the stakeholders having a keen buy-in.
Otherwise, just buying a software aids no one.
Also, we need to understand that smart technology, which aids decision making or replaces manual decision making is the need of the hour. Data storage/sorting platforms like ERP only aid in recording data and do not provide any optimization over it.
We don’t maintain a buyer-seller relationship, we have adopted a partnership model. Where we become an important stakeholder, this gives our customers the confidence to accelerate adoption. Which is why today we see most of the biggest manufacturing groups in BD adopting our AI-based technology to impact their P&Ls. Fabric cost has a strong correlation with the manufacturer’s P&Ls, be it a topline boost by shipping extra, earning FOB$ or a bottom line impact, reducing their spends on material costs.
The management in Bangladesh being extremely hands-on ensure a strong focused approach, alongside a strong feedback loop from on floor workers-this, has ensured our delivery times stand at two weeks, and the ROI reflects in their books within 2 -3 months.
Imagine, gaining in efficiency with a 2-week delivery program, getting 100% tracking and visibility on your biggest cost Fabric, with an added ROI of 2-3 months, no wonder we have seen so much success.
Right now Bangladesh stands at an interesting crossroad, where their efforts of the last decade will culminate to position itself as a leader in this industry. A much welcome focus change is the advent of fast fashion business to Bangladesh, a departure from doing core garments with low FOB. This will allow BD to leverage its massive industrial complex to cater to the world’s demand. The only missing piece of the puzzle is tech-enabled.
We as a tech partner are proud to be a part of this story, and take immense pride in our minute footprint so far. I am sure with the coming years, with the investments made in technology, Bangladesh will be the top manufacturing hub.