Journey towards Technology Innovation in Textile

Brad Whitehall, CIO, UniFirst Corporation
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Brad Whitehall, CIO, UniFirst Corporation

Brad Whitehall, CIO, UniFirst Corporation

Textiles of the Future

We expect that the textile options of the future will include a variety of smart fabrics with a range of abilities to gather data and communicate various pieces of information. Businesses in this industry will likely not be able to exist in a world where they simply make and provide garments, and then just forget about them. The leaders in the industry will be listening to what the garments are telling them about things like where they have been, what they have been exposed to, how long they have been in use, the stress points in the garment, and what would be the best way to care for them.

Artificial Intelligence—the Game Changer

Technology continues to evolve at a dizzying pace. Just as we begin to understand how mobile devices can be used to help us provide better service and to better connect with our customers, cloud computing comes along and forces us to think about how we structure our systems and infrastructure. At the same time, the IoT pops up on our radar. Now, potentially the biggest change of all is in the works-the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI). AI has the potential to change everything. AI can help us run the office more efficiently, recognizing patterns in purchasing and demand that we never previously noticed. AI, in conjunction with robotics, will dramatically change how clothes are manufactured, warehoused, and distributed. As the machines get smarter with more sophisticated sensors, they will be able to actually sew and manufacture clothes as well. Since the cost of robots is comparable almost anywhere in the world, why not put garment manufacturing closer in line with product demand? If the cost is low enough, and robots are capable enough, why not eliminate the need for large manufacturing batches and sew the clothes on demand, helping to ensure there is never any overstock? We expect all this will be possible in the future as technologies continue to advance.

 AI, in conjunction with robotics, will dramatically change how clothes are manufactured, warehoused, and distributed

Combined with sensors in the fabric, AI and machine learning will also be familiar with how a garment is be used, and provide valuable information that will allow for better manufacturing, and more comfortable or higher performing cuts.

Endless Opportunities for Innovation

The evolving technologies will help us know what happens when the clothes leave our facilities. It will provide a great opportunity to better support our customers. Imagine a shirt being returned to the industrial laundry that tells you the wearer was exposed to excessively high heat from flames or arc flash on the job, for instance. This would provide an opportunity to explain the wearer benefits of flame-resistant fabric to the customer—something we might not have even known existed in their work environment. Likewise, if a garment could indicate it was worn in dark situations, there is an opportunity to provide high visibility reflective, protective gear. The possibilities associated with textile advances and evolving technologies are endless.

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