The decision to replace garment workers with machines depends on wage levels, new technologies, available capital, workers’ technical skills and an expectation of constant or growing consumer demand.
But one exception is China, whose garment industry invested heavily in automation technologies while simultaneously shifting to higher value-added goods following the end of the Multi-Fibre Arrangement in 2005, the brief, titled ‘The post-COVID-19 garment industry in Asia’, noted.
Automating production in the garment sector is also far from straightforward. The manipulation of fabrics for sewing requires dozens of complex motions to get and keep the pieces in place. Only advanced sewbots can overcome this with the use of cameras, mapping technologies, artificial intelligence and algorithms as well as complex mechanics using vacuums, robotic arms and rollers. Automation systems are expensive and require new workforce skills to be in place before adoption can be considered.
Even though core processes, such as sewing, remain unautomated across the industry, there have been advances in automating auxiliary processes, such as cutting, fitting and support services.
Post-pandemic pressures in the industry will likely increase the uptake of new sewing technologies. But the speed or scale at which this is likely to happen remains unclear, the ILO brief added.
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