What Apparel Manufacturing 4.0 means for the future of the Brazilian Textile and Apparel Industry

What Apparel Manufacturing 4.0 means for the future of the Brazilian Textile and Apparel Industry

FernandoThe two Brazilian guest authors, Flavio da Silveira Bruno at SENAI CETIQT, and Fernando Pimentel ABITFlavio-Bruno, and Fernando Pimentel ABIT had the thoughtfulness to exclusively provide TextileFuture with their latest findings on the future of the Brazilian Textile and Apparel Industry by applying manufacturing 4.0 (Industry 4.0). We are most happy and honoured to present our readers with their work, however we deliberately renounced to publish the extensive bibliographic list contained in the original. At the same time, we provide you with the latest trade figures of the Brazilian Textile and Apparel Industry


Textile and Apparel Industry is classified by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development as low technology intensity industry. Meanwhile, new technological developments and trends suggest that, in the near future, this industry will adopt principles of Industry 4.0 that will substantially increase the application of science and technology within its entire value chain activities. The increase usage of new materials, processes, commercial channels, management techniques and the hybridization of products and services may transform the industrial structure. New production technologies and new interfaces between consumers and production systems may stimulate the development of new business models. Small businesses restrained nowadays by large-scale retail distribution channels, will be able to explore their own direct communication with their customers. Automated, modular, mobile and sustainable mini-factories will couple themselves to systems of virtual production. The diversity of wearable technologies, biotechnologies, 3D printing products, new fibres and breakthrough materials will expand the demand for smart and functional textiles to meet new consumer needs.

The spread of factories applying principles of Industry 4.0 may boost qualitative demand for scientific and technological development in the Brazilian textile industry. A new industrial structure, in local and regional bases, is then likely to arise. These are the perspectives that will guide the strategic actions of the Brazilian Textile and Apparel Industry until 2030. As a result of a prospective study, new technologies into four strategic links of the value chain are presented and discussed.

Bridging the gap between production and consumption

From the beginning of the final stage of the Multi-Fibre Arrangement, in 1995, until its conclusion, in 2004, the advantages brought by the exploration of low-wage labour in Asian countries have reconfigured the global production of textile and apparel products. Global competition for ever-decreasing prices and cost structures centred on low salaries seemed to condemn to certain failure any mass-manufacturing initiative not following this cost strategy. The widespread employment of unskilled labour prolonged the use of technologically obsolete and manually operated machinery, which in turn inhibited and delayed investments towards industrial automation in the production of mass goods. According to Gary Gereffi, the displacement of the industrial workforce to Asia was impelled by the computerization of work, the ubiquity of the Internet and private high-speed data networks.

Textiles and Clothing made of cotton. in million USD

Throughout the process of globalization, the evolution of the textile economy opened new and unforeseen pathways. Fast fashion and global value chains altered the structures and philosophies of production and consumption. The increase in work costs, new development policies, changes in consumer habits and political tensions were some of the causes that mitigated the advantages of low cost competition based on the exploitation of low-wage work. The Internet as well as information and communication technologies disseminated information in real time to anywhere in the world. Consequently, the transposition of physical space became the main limiting and differentiating factor between markets and new products. 

Tab-1-Brazils-1st-quarter-2016-textile-and-clothing-exports-according-to-segments-1T 214-05-_2016_10-30-39T3

At the moment, specialized consultants and analysts estimate that the end of competitive advantages of low-cost manufacturing is near. Outdated technology, productive inefficiency, unskilled work, physical infrastructure and precarious communication only add additional costs; regional political instability introduce threats and increase risks; and long distances increase energy costs. Physical distances between producers and end-consumers become the final bottleneck to be resolved. Consulting firms, government studies and specialized articles advocate the reindustrialization of countries in North America and Europe based upon the profound creative destruction of the sector’s current structures. Modular automation and the robotization of apparel attract public and private investments and even big global buyers who were used to invest in the emigration of production to countries with low production costs.


Cost control, together with the development of new forms of competitiveness based on principles of advanced manufacturing, may alter once more the geography of global manufacturing in a brief amount of time, including the migration of activities from low cost countries to more developed markets. The return of manufacturing to countries with highly complex economies is considered a certainty by several authors. Conscious of this window of opportunity, the Brazilian Textile and Apparel Industry Association (ABIT), the Brazilian Agency for Industrial Development (ABDI), and the Centre of Technology for the Chemical and Textile Industry (SENAI CETIQT), together with entrepreneurs, representatives of government bodies, academia, employer’s associations and labour unions have promoted a careful prospective study in order to establish strategic bearings for the sector. ABIT, ABDI and SENAI CETIQT were the institutions that constituted the management and knowledge production nucleus, responsible for involving a committee of 150 people.

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Graph 2 Trade Balance of the two textile sectors first quarter 2016vs15

The objective of the study was to synthesize the main disruptive technologies within four strategic emphases, beginning with the identification of fields of technological development that may be ubiquitous within all manufacturing processes.

The committee chose the following four strategic emphases for the futures study: apparel, design, new fibres and new consumer channels, in this particular order. This choice guided the research projects according to literature composed of governmental work, specialized consulting and academic studies, as well as interviews with entrepreneurs selected by the committee. Technological prospecting was guided by the principles of Industry 4.0, with the objective of intensifying entrepreneurial initiatives as well as bolstering investments in science, technology and innovation capable of promoting the sector to a new level of development and socioeconomic representation in the country. Interviews with leaders and visits to companies sought to establish the mindset of small, medium and large entrepreneurs in regards to the future of the strategic emphases, which, in turn, directed the analysis of the pertinence and relevancy of research parameters. Researching available literature resulted in the identification of ubiquitous technological trends; in other words, trends with the potential to impact all technological developments of manufacturing. Given the guidance provided by these technologies, research was conducted into the technological initiatives and trends within the sector that have the potential to transform the industry.

New technologies for apparel in Brazil

Robots 1Initially, technologies that presented high potentials for implementation and diffusion of Industry 4.0 principles were identified and selected. Following the principles of Industry 4.0 means the unification of material and informational systems through ICTs, sensors, actuators and controllers as well as the intensive use of the Internet of Things and the Internet of Services. Consequently, the fact to consider is that every transaction taking place on the web, including everything that is produced, is, to a large extent, information; thus the importance given to this dimension as a criteria in the identification and selection of these ubiquitous technologies. In regarding information as the mother cell of the new industrial organism, we have selected ten branches of technological knowledge based on the literature consulted:

•             Automation and robotics

•             Information and communication technologies

•             Sensors and actuators

•             Modelling and simulation

•             Cloud computing

•             Mobile web

•             Sustainable technologies

•             Biotechnology

•             Materials technology

•             Big data and 3D printing

These ten ubiquitous technologies guided the search for disruptive technologies within the four strategic emphases. In Table 1 below, we have listed the disruptive technologies capable of promoting the sector’s transformation in adopting principles of Industry 4.0.

Table 1 Brazil

Table 1: Disruptive technologies for Apparel 4.0

These technologies signal an increase in the complexity of apparel manufacturing, generating impacts in the entire value chain of production and consumption Automatic sewing machinethat may potentially eliminate such barriers as the lack of seamstresses or shortage of talented professionals within the sector. In complex environments, workers act in a more interconnected manner among themselves as well as other companies and must broaden their knowledge. Their productivity is, thus, measured more fluidly given their capacity to contribute to the creation of new value. Professionals capable of creating value may receive higher wages without resulting in a loss of competitiveness. In addition, the virtualization of production eliminates stocks and wastes, allowing for the productive work to be more efficient in regards to the use of energy and materials, also permitting tests to be executed without losses. Experiments to develop new products may be undertaken more frequently and in greater numbers since they do not result in significant waste, further stimulates productive intelligence.

Another matter that illustrates a chronic difficulty in today’s industry is the increase of big retail governance over the production chains. According to the specialists and entrepreneurs interviewed for our study, the competitive fragility of small companies on account of tax policies is aggravated by retail strategies that threaten to wipe out multi-brand stores, a traditional distribution channel for goods produced by micro and small businesses. Together with the lack of seamstresses, a difficulty in distribution would be a definitive hindrance to the preservation of these structures. Retail leaders interviewed estimate that only a small percentage of micro and small Brazilian apparel businesses are capable of meeting the quality, scale and deadline demands imposed by large-scale retail. Given both factors, even more cohesive and strategically integrated structures, such as Brazilian local productive arrangements, lack sufficient incentives to continue their investments.

Substituting micro and small businesses for automated mini-factories can ameliorate all of these issues. The diffusion of highly technological and sustainable mini-factories, in substitution of traditional microbusinesses, will provide few highly qualified jobs – which will attract talented professionals to the sector. The increase in productivity – guaranteed by automation, robotization and technological integration – together with improvement in product quality as well as low environmental impact will not only meet the demands of large-scale retail, but, more importantly, those of the final consumer.

As for the agglomerations of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), essential to the reanimation of the industrial sector, new investments in new production technologies must be made. Fortunately, however, cyber-physical systems costs are constantly decreasing. In order to support this leap, research and development institutions must find themselves a new role for providing adequate technical assistance to the MSMEs in their reformulation of processes and products in line with principles of advanced manufacturing. 



Final considerations

Traditionally identified as an industry with low technological intensity, the textile and apparel industry can make a significant qualitative leap in employing more science and technology if it is capable of disseminating cyber-physical systems, the Internet of Things, the Internet of Services and modular automation in its manufacturing processes. Favoured by the limitations of competition models based on the advantages of low-cost work, this gradual yet inexorable shift in the degree of technological intensity should significantly reduce Brazil’s current difficulties, such as those related to the attraction of talented professionals and unskilled labour. The intensification of the employment of new technologies throughout the entire value chain and the hybridization of products and services should result in changes in the industrial structure and changes to institutional profiles, offering brand new opportunities for new business models and bold entrepreneurs.

Small apparel enterprises will be able to explore their own channels of access directly to the consumer, reducing the power of large-scale retail. Automated, modular, mobile and sustainable mini-factories will be able to couple themselves to systems of virtual production, promoting the restructuring of the industry. The diversity of products with wearable technologies, the employment of biotechnologies and new materials will create new demands for intelligent and functional textiles, exponentially increasing the diversity and technological intensity of threads, fabrics, notions and required auxiliary products to meet new consumer needs. The dissemination of apparel factories adhering to principles of Industry 4.0 should promote the textile industry’s qualitative improvement as well as its scientific and technological development.

Flavio da Silveira Bruno SENAI CETIQT fbruno@cetiqt.senai.br

Fernando Pimentel ABIT pimentel@abit.org.br




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