Bangladesh's apparel industries have shifted their concern from prices to the efficiency of machines, demonstrating the intensity of rapid automation now taking place in the country.
"The price of a machine is no longer an issue for us. On the contrary, we consider how productive the machine is and how many people are required to operate it," said Doreen Garments Director General Indica.
"We will buy the machine which alone can accomplish the task done by ten persons, no matter what the price is." He was speaking to The Business Standard at the International Garment Accessories & Packaging Expo-2020.
The International Convention City Bashundhara is hosting this year's edition of the exhibition.
The organisers, participants and entrepreneurs are focusing on machinery that can produce more with less manpower.
Al Amin, Deputy Managing Director of Antrix Solutions Ltd, said that his firm had not brought any manual machine to the expo.
"Garments are not produced by manual machines anymore. People opt for automated ones, which have two to three times a higher productivity," he added.
The ready-made garment industries of Bangladesh are taking to automation, with a number of reports projecting that 60 percent of jobs in the sector will become automated by 2041.
The stalls have been showcasing state-of-the-art machines in numerous phases of production. For instance, an automated button-making machine can sew buttons in seconds.
The $9,000 machine can alone perform the tasks of five manual machines, said Jockey Smart Solutions Bangladesh Manager Helal Uddin.
"You can dispense with four operators and two helpers if this automated machine is in action. Though the price is a bit high, shirt manufacturing garments are opting for such automated devices," he added.
Accessories manufacturers are also exhibiting auto-machines geared to stitching trouser pockets, shirt collars and cuffs. All these machines need is the input of a design. Once the design is installed, the needles will automatically complete the stitching tasks.
Though such machines range in price from $10,000 to $25,000 per unit, the garments industries are showing keen interest in them.
A machine worth 14 workers
Stitching the back pocket of a denim trouser requires eight to ten manual machines; and those ten units need ten operators and five helpers.
Golam Mostafa, assistant general manager of AKH Knitting & Dyeing, said, "But an automated machine with a lone operator can replace the manual production units. Though the automated machine one is expensive, the use of such automated systems is profitable for us."
Besides, automated systems can save electricity use by up to 30 percent, according to the manufacturers. Again, the use of these machines can also cut down on trade waste and product rejection.
Apart from stitching, the stalls are displaying automated systems for embroidery, cutting and packaging.
Local manufacturers showcase cost-effective units
Although foreign-made products dominate the accessories show, two garment equipment manufacturers have brought in a locally-made boiler and a washing unit for display.
"These are not automated, but unique," said the manufacturers.
Golden Boiler displays a garment waste-fired tank. A 500-kilogram boiler costs Tk2 to Tk2.5 lakh monthly in terms of a use of power. The RMG waste-fired boiler can reduce costs substantially since apparel factories themselves produce textile and yarn wastes as leftovers.
Ataur Rahman, assistant general manager of Golden Boiler, said the product is also 10 to 20 percent cheaper than foreign-made ones.
Meanwhile, Team Star Bangladesh Limited has on display a washing machine for apparel units which can wash per kilo of fabrics by using only two kilograms of water. Usually garment units use five to six kilo of water to wash per kilo of apparel.
Team Star Assistant General Manager Kamrul Islam said that the machine will reduce costs for the operation of the Effluent Treatment Plan.
Participating manufacturers unhappy with buyers
The Accessories & Packaging Expo, though aimed at showcasing the latest machinery for garments, is the country's largest display for local accessories manufacturers.
The local accessories manufacturers have however raised numerous issues in their assessment of the organizers.
"The cannot even attract the buyers we need. Most of the people here are visitors," said Abdur Rahim, assistant general manager of Montrims Ltd.
Montrims is the largest accessories manufacturer in Bangladesh. The official of the company said, "Fairs in China or Singapore are different. The organizers invite buyers to events."
In his remarks, Moazzem Hossain Moti, member of the Bangladesh Garment Accessories and Packaging Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said, "We will need more time to reach their standard."
"Entrepreneurs will be benefited ultimately as they get machinery and technologies under the same roof. Renowned local and international brands are here so that entrepreneurs can verify the price and efficiency of their purchase," he added.
The fair will conclude on Saturday. Accessories and packaging manufacturers will honour machinery producers in small, medium, large and direct exporting categories on the concluding day.
Automation: A blessings of a curse
A a2i Project studied automation impacts on major industries and revealed the findings on December 7 last year.
The findings said automation will make nearly two out of every five employees jobless in the readymade garment industry.
Annual job growth in the sector dropped to 60,000 from 3 lakh in 2003-2010 period, said the study.
It said, "As many as 60 percent of the jobs in the readymade garment (RMG) sector will become automated by 2041."
According to the study, female employees with low education, and workers in low-wage positions, will be at a higher risk of losing their jobs because of automation.
The study recommended for training of the unskilled labourers.