Are We Approaching Industry 5.0 Already?

Updated: Feb 16

By WhatTheyThink


This article was published in WhatTheyThink February 14, 2022.


With many of us barely beginning to understand what is meant by Industry 4.0, we’re now moving on to Industry 5.0! Acceleration is certainly a factor in today’s business and industrial environment. In this article, we define both Industry 4.0 and Industry 5.0, and provide examples of how the textiles and apparel industry in North America can accelerate along with the market trends.

It seems like we were just beginning to really grasp the concept and impact of Industry 4.0—defined as “a name for the current trend of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies, including cyber-physical systems, the Internet of things, cloud computing, and cognitive computing and creating the smart factory.”[1] And now we are talking about Industry 5.0? Truly, if there is one trend in today’s world that is driving change, it is acceleration. Acceleration of just about everything!


Industry 5.0 Defined

So what exactly is Industry 5.0? According to the European Commission, “Industry 5.0 provides a vision of industry that aims beyond efficiency and productivity as the sole goals and reinforces the role and the contribution of industry to society. It places the wellbeing of the worker at the centre of the production process and uses new technologies to provide prosperity beyond jobs and growth while respecting the production limits of the planet. It complements the existing ‘Industry 4.0’ approach by specifically putting research and innovation at the service of the transition to a sustainable, human-centric and resilient European industry.”[2]


Wow, that ticks a lot of boxes that we have been pontificating about in these pages, but didn’t have a cohesive name for. Now we do.


How Does Industry 5.0 Relate to Textiles and Apparel?

Platform E has launched a series of blog posts diving into the role Industry 5.0 and technology play in today’s market.[3] PlatformE was founded to help fashion brands sell to digital consumers and is on a mission to reduce overproduction ad waste in the fashion industry—something we have also been writing about—and we applaud their work.


According to their recent blog post, the shift from mass production (including the obnoxious term “fast fashion”) to mass customization, and even personalization, are key drivers for this shift to Industry 5.0.


Mass customization, something we have talked about in the printing industry for some time, allows manufacturers to produce products that are tailored to customer specifications instead of the “one size fits all” approach that has been the norm for many years. The next step in the evolution of fashion is the ability to create made-to-order items at nearly the same efficiency level achieved with mass customization, even being able to lower costs. For an example of that at work today in North America, watch this space tomorrow for a peek at a brand-new on-demand manufacturing facility founded by Kirby Best: BMC.fashion, located in Phoenix, Ariz., next to the airport. It’s a great example of Industry 5.0 with extreme automation, the environmental benefits that come with on-demand manufacturing, and an inviting and comfortable environment for its workers, including 120 sewing operators.


Mitigating Supply Chain Issues

Industry 5.0 also means that it becomes more possible for North America to compete in the textiles and apparel market. While labor rates are higher in North America than many other manufacturing hubs, especially in Asia, there are a number of mitigating factors that reduce the total cost of ownership and cycle time for at least some portion of a brand’s apparel manufacturing.


First of all, as anyone in the industry knows, shipping costs and shipping times from Asia to other parts of the world have skyrocketed. This has resulted in a huge increase in both shipping costs and carbon footprint. In addition, many of the factories in Asia are designed for mass manufacturing, perhaps with a shift toward mass customization, but it likely does not make sense to manufacture lower quantities—some of the factories we have spoken with offer minimum order quantities as low as 200. But BMC.fashion can cost-effectively offer a quantity of one. And these products can be delivered within a few days of order placement, with an ultimate goal of next day for some items, rather than the weeks it can take to get a container shipped from Asia.


Secondly, the adoption of technologies such as those we see at BMC.fashion and other on-demand manufacturing facilities in North America means a cleaner, more worker-friendly environment. Workers are paid a living wage, and in most cases, the work environment is pleasant. In the case of BMC.fashion, being one of the newest such facilities, workers are paid a minimum wage of between $13 and $15 per hour to start. And sewists can be trained on and become proficient with one operation in a day or less, with training on other operations offered in subsequent days. The combination of the wages, training, and work environment mean that attracting workers becomes much easier, especially in today’s crazy job market.


Continuous Improvement

Kirby and his team have learned a great deal about on demand manufacturing, both in print and apparel, and these lessons learned are being applied in Phoenix to create what is good model for others who want to establish North American manufacturing to follow. One significant workflow improvement is the use of programmable robots to deliver parts necessary for a garment—cut fabric, buttons, zippers, etc.—to the sewist who has the skill set and bandwidth for the specific required operation. If, while the robot is in transit, another qualified worker becomes idle, the robot is automatically redirected. Pretty crazy, huh? This approach replaces a very long series of conveyor belts that transported these parts in a previous facility Kirby ran. It turns out that there were a number of issues with the conveyors that caused errors and workflow disruptions, plus they took up a lot of space! The current facility is 50,000 square feet of apparel manufacturing space, and another several thousand square feet are being used for the manufacture of textile-based home décor.


That’s just one example of the continuous improvement this plant demonstrates.


Textiles Workforce of the Future

Throughout North America, there are a number of initiatives designed to attract and train textile and apparel workers, particularly in the cut-and-sew area, including ISAIC in Detroit, about which we have written in this space. Additionally, advanced gamified mobile-based training for sewing and machine repair offered by shimmy.io is another way to quickly get talent up to speed. Both sewists and sewing machine repair personnel are in short supply in North America. Addressing this labor issue will be key to growing the industry in North America, the ability to attract and retain talent in an industry that is often misunderstood by the general public.


We’ll continue to follow developments as the concept of Industry 5.0 for textiles and apparel gains broader acceptance and implementation in facilities such as BMC.fashion. We are happy to write about other on-demand manufacturing initiatives as well as education and training for textiles and apparel—just send us a note!

[1] Industry 4.0 and the fourth industrial revolution explained, published by i-scoop.eu. Full story: https://www.i-scoop.eu/industry-4-0/#:~:text=Industry%204.0%20has%20been%20defined,and%20creating%20the%20smart%20factory%E2%80%9D.

[2] https://ec.europa.eu/info/research-and-innovation/research-area/industrial-research-and-innovation/industry-50_en

[3] https://www.platforme.com/blog/industry-5-0-and-mass-customisation-the-future-of-production

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