4IR in the Apparel Industry: Is Bangladesh Ready for the Advancement of Automation?

LightCastle Analytics Wing
July 4, 2023
4IR in the Apparel Industry: Is Bangladesh Ready for the Advancement of Automation?

Photo Credit: Dhaka Tribune

The global scenario of multilateral industries in the world showcases a transformation towards an evolution in automation. Ever since the early 2000s, the 4th Industrial Revolution has promoted the use of the Industrial Internet of Things (IOT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and conjunctive database that will not only enable smart technology to facilitate automation, but also interact with each other. The 4IR is built upon nine pillars that are aimed at reducing cost and delivery time, improving efficiency and productivity, facilitating customization for customer satisfaction, shifting towards environmental-friendly practices to reduce waste, and creating a sustainable competitive advantage.

Automation in the Apparel Industry: Fourth Industrial Revolution

Since this revolution is primarily taking place in the manufacturing process, a significant shift in the global apparel industry has taken place. The use of data and artificial intelligence has successfully supplemented the global fashion industry. With the current social media-fueled fast fashion trend across the world, the expected lead time among buyers has shortened, causing a high demand for technology-driven efficiency improvement in the value chain. Industrial players that have adopted new technologies in their production lines have reaped the benefits with increased sales.

4IR in the apparel industry has changed the traditional operational methods through major applications in smart clothing, robotics, simulation, industrial IOT, augmented reality, Machine-to-Machine (M2M) communication in knitting machines, smart factory, 3D printing, smart fabrics, AI-infused Industrial ERP (enterprise resource planning) etc. [1] Apart from enhanced productivity, 4IR in this sector aims to achieve hyper-personalization on a massive scale that will lead to reduced levels of unmatched demand and increased environmental sustainability in the value chain. [2]

Key Areas of Automation in the Sector Globally

Garment manufacturing has been a labor intensive industry, for which the process has moved from developed to developing countries in order to reduce the cost of production. However, increased competition and demand for clothing have led countries to adopt automation as a competitive advantage. Automation in the apparel industry has taken place in the entire value chain, including the textile industry and apparel manufacturing.

Key Areas of Automation in the apparel industry

A garment manufacturer can source the finished fabric and start manufacturing the apparel, or it can integrate across the backward linkage by selecting fiber,producing yarn, weaving and dyeing fabric, and then manufacturing the apparel.

The required fibers are spun in the fiber selection process. In yarn manufacturing, fibers are converted into yarn of the required fineness, strength, and uniformity through several processes such as ring, rotor, and air-jet spinning. However, several automations in the spinning process have taken place, including automatic yarn mixing, auto-doffing, auto splicing, and automatic bobbin changes.

The fabric can be produced either by weaving or knitting. Apart from the traditional methods, automation in the weaving process involves automatic warp tension control, automatic pick repair, electronic warp and weft stop motion, and online fabric fault monitoring. Likewise, technological innovations such as seamless garment manufacturing, automatic yarn selection, and online fabric fault detection have taken place in the knitting segment.

Lastly, automation in the garment manufacturing process includes fabric inspection, computer aided design (CAD) and computer aided manufacturing (CAM), fabric spreading and cutting, sewing, pressing, material handling, and the role of radio-frequency identification (RFID). [3]

Automation in fabric inspection

Automation in fabric inspection

Fabric inspection has traditionally been conducted by skilled workers based on certain quality control parameters. However, human error has often led to inaccuracies and inefficiencies in the inspection process. Hence, the invention of online automated inspection systems has mitigated the major issues related to quality control. Technology includes the evaluation of fabric images via software to extract details related to the severity of the fabric fault. The detection process marks the faults in the fabric and matches them with a certain threshold. The fabric gets rejected if the threshold is exceeded. [3]

Fabric inspection has traditionally been conducted by skilled workers based on certain quality control parameters. However, human error has often led to inaccuracies and inefficiencies in the inspection process. Hence, the invention of online automated inspection systems has mitigated the major issues related to quality control. Technology includes the evaluation of fabric images via software to extract details related to the severity of the fabric fault. The detection process marks the faults in the fabric and matches them with a certain threshold. The fabric gets rejected if the threshold is exceeded. [3]

Computer-aided design and manufacturing

Computers have been widely used for the designing and production of garments as well as for the assurance of effective information flows. However, measuring body dimensions has been a manual process. Even with inconsistencies and inaccuracies, these methods are still followed for the custom production of garments. However, in mass scale retail production, 3D body scanning is used to measure accurate body dimensions. Advanced laser technology is used to capture the shape of the real body and create a virtual model. These models can not only be used in production, but can also be presented to buyers, retailers, or even consumers. In this way, customers can visualize mass-customized products and order according to their needs. [3]

Fabric: Spreading and Cutting

Fabric spreading has been widely automated throughout the industry. Machines can work with different types of fabric if length, width, and ply counts are entered. Similarly, cutting machines can cut multiple plies of a range of fabric types, ranging from lightweight apparel fabric to high-performance industrial fabrics, and can be performed using a laser, knife, or water-jet. Laser cutters have an added advantage over other cutters in terms of accuracy, precision, and no fraying of fabrics. Automation in this process increases efficiency and accuracy, as perfect cutting can be achieved with minimum waste. [3]


sewing automation

Fashion brands have transitioned their production towards low labor cost countries such as China, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Laos. However, the sewing process in the majority of countries is still done by skilled labor. While some manufacturers have stuck to the traditional methods to reduce capital investments, others have invested in automated sewing machines that enhance efficiency in the production line. Industrial robots have been recently developed to perform specific tasks such as overlock stitch, double chain stitch, and double lockstitch.

On the other hand, experimental sewing robots have been invented that are believed to perform the entire sewing process on its own. In 2015, Zornow developed the “Sewbo” robot that can complete a T-shirt production in 4 minutes. These robots can work with a wide range of fabrics except the fabric applied with hydrophobic finish or other specialty finish or leather material as it is hard to apply the stiffening polymer. Additionally, the use of 3D sewing technology can achieve new dimensions in sewing and can produce high-quality garments. [3] 


Pressing technology lacks automation throughout the industry. Hence, unskilled male workers end up doing this physically strenuous job. Achieving consistency in pressing quality is a major concern and the issue is compounded by high employee turnover. Although limited automation has taken place, some technological advancements, such as the pressing robot, jacket finisher (front), shirt finisher, and shirt press, have been commercially available. However, labor application is still prevalent in the loading or removal of the garment into the buck, smoothing, and shaping. [3]

Adoption in Bangladesh

Competitors like India, China, and Vietnam are also implementing Apparel 4.0 technologies in their factories. Raymond from India has started using sewbot technology, while Chinese garment manufacturers are introducing smart clothing, augmented reality, and 3D printing in their factories. On the other hand, Vietnam has significantly developed Radio Frequency Identification devices (RFID), additive manufacturing, and ERP.

This technology will enable the country to make garment production more cost effective and efficient. But it may cause heavy job losses in the future as humans are replaced by machines. According to the McKinsey Global Institute, approximately 800 million jobs could be lost worldwide due to automation by 2030. The garment sector in Bangladesh will be the most affected by Industry 4.0. A study by the Government of Bangladesh predicts that around 60 percent (5 million) of jobs will be lost in the next 15 years. [4]

possible number of job loss in each occupation by 2041

Numerous garment manufacturers in Bangladesh have embraced cutting-edge technologies to bolster their operations. Mohammadi Group has implemented automated knitting machines, while Envoy Textiles has integrated robotic autoconers into their processes. DBL Group has adopted automated systems for dyeing and chemical dispensing, while Beximco Group utilizes AI-infused ThreadSol software to optimize fabric utilization and minimize material wastage. Robintex Group, a Germany-Bangladesh joint venture, has recently installed the world’s first and fastest single-pass digital printing machine, the MS LaRio, for AOP printing.

Team Group, boasting a LEED certified garment factory, has implemented a semi-automated production line to enhance productivity, time management, and cost-effectiveness of around 10-15%. Masco Knitting, a part of Masco Group, has curated an assortment of circular and rib-knit machines supported by advanced software, ensuring continual upgrades to meet evolving industry demands.

The adoption of advanced technologies and automation in the ready-made garment (RMG) sector of Bangladesh reflects the industry’s commitment to innovation and competitiveness. These technological advancements, ranging from automated knitting machines and robotic systems to AI-infused software and digital printing machines, have revolutionized various aspects of garment production, including knitting, dyeing, printing, and overall operational efficiency.

By harnessing the power of automation, garment manufacturers in Bangladesh are enhancing productivity, reducing costs, improving quality, and positioning themselves as leaders in the global apparel market. The continued investment in automation signifies the sector’s determination to stay at the forefront of technological advancements and maintain a sustainable and prosperous future.

Factoring in the Learning Capacity of the Workers

Automation in the apparel industry is inevitable given the global competitiveness of the sector and the importance of reducing costs through improved efficiency production practices. Additionally, the country graduating from an LDC in 2026 poses an even greater threat factoring in the loss of GSP facilities by 2029. The probing factor of fast fashion in Europe and USA has also led to the development of new apparel industry in close countries such as Turkey and Mexico that are technologically advanced and have a lead time advantage due to nearshoring possibilities.

Considering the education level of the factory workers, adopting newer machinery could be challenging. However, in a survey conducted by MFO, it was found that workers who faced automation said it increased their productivity rather than causing any disruption. The machines required learning and respondents have claimed it to be easily learnable due to their decent educational background and training. [5] On the other hand, graduates from educational institutions focused towards this industry such as BUTEX and BUFT are being hired by companies prioritizing automation. This also reduces dependency on foreign nationals who are hired in managerial roles.

Additionally, the government has also initiated a Skills for Employment Investment Program (SEIP) that is working to enhance the training facilities of Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET) centers and Technical Training Centers (TTC). The program prioritizes identifying the skills level of the current workforce, developing updated training modules, and facilitating training provisions through different institutions. [6]

Efficient machinery will eventually lead to job losses in the sector, however, it is important to note that the apparel industry in Bangladesh is aged and heavy investments do not take place regularly. Adoption to automation is relatively slow in comparison to emerging players, alongside it, the industry boasts a huge number of small factories specializing in specific parts of the production process. These factories are risk averse and reluctant towards incubating new technology in their process.

Essentially workers displaced by automation are often not laid off but reallocated to other parts of the production process. If a worker’s productivity is low due to aging, they relocate themselves to smaller factories. Automation will affect both skilled and unskilled workers and both high and low-paying occupations. However, low-paid workers will disproportionately bear the brunt of its impact as they lack the basic knowledge to operate advanced machinery.

In the long run, the boom of the apparel industry due to automation will lead to higher economic growth, leading to creation of new jobs in other high value-sectors. The workforce may not participate in the apparel industry but rather get involved in other economic activities. However, ensuring the sustenance of the industry is reliant on automation and skilled personnel and the adoption and development of these go hand in hand, respectively. A holistic approach in facilitating both is needed to strengthen the future of the apparel industry.


  1. Apparel 4.0 revolutionizing Bangladesh RMG sector, Fiber2Fashion
  2. The power of 4th industrial revolution in the fashion industry: what, why, and how has the industry changed?, Fashion and Textiles
  3. Automation in Garment Manufacture, The Textile Institute
  4. FUTURE Skills: Finding emerging skills to tackle the challenges of automation in Bangladesh, A2i
  5. Workers and Automation, Microfinance Opportunities
  6. Labor Market and Skill Gap in Bangladesh, BIDS


The article was authored by Fahmid Kaisar, Business Consultant at LightCastle Partners. For further clarifications, contact here: [email protected]

WRITTEN BY: LightCastle Analytics Wing

At LightCastle, we take a systemic and data-driven approach to create opportunities for growth and impact. We are an international management consulting firm which creates systemic and data-driven opportunities for growth and impact in emerging markets. By collaborating with development partners and leveraging the power of the private sector, we strive to boost economies, inspire businesses, and change lives at scale.

For further clarifications, contact here: [email protected]

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